Tunisia

El Djem Amphitheatre Tunisi

I wrote this post before the recent terrorist attack on British holiday makers in Tunisia. I actually finished writing it on the day of the shootings on the beach. I didn’t hit publish, because I felt it would be inappropriate to have a piece about enjoying the country in light of the terrorism. In a recent discussion with fellow bloggers, I was convinced otherwise, and would love to hear your thoughts about it.

A few years ago, we visited Tunisia, which is a country at the top of the African continent, in between Algiers and Libya, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea.  The weather is lovely and the landscapes varied within in the country. We saw brilliant scenery and archaeological sites, while having a great time on holiday.

Tunisia is a great destination for people who like to do something on holiday. We took two bus trips while there – both organised by the company TTS and sold by Thomas Cook. We were told that TTS was government regulated and so the tours were the best way to visit Tunisia. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly the case that the tours were professional and great value for money.  I’m going to tell you about the tour named Sahara Explorer in this post; we have also taken the Past to Present tour, which is shorter and more pretty!

el djem tunisia amphitheatre

We saw El Djem – one of the best preserved, third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It’s so cool to see!
On another visit to Tunisia, we actually caught the train here from Sousse, and it cost hardly anything. The thing that really struck us about Tunisian trains was their punctuality; the train is scheduled for 12:43 – it comes at 12:43 and not a minute late or early!
tunisia train station el djem

Entry to the amphitheatre includes a ticket to the museum nearby, too, and you can see some fabulously preserved mosaics. How they transferred the little stones to the museum would surely be an interesting story. Alas, I don’t know it, but I’m in awe of them doing it!
mosaic el djem tunisia

From El Djem we travelled to Matmata, which is the set of a part of Star Wars, but actually where there are a few Berber houses in the caves of the desert.  We were lucky enough to be allowed in a couple of the houses, and they were cool and whitewashed. The yards were where they cooked, washed laundry and kept animals.  It was a very interesting place, but to be honest, I felt as though I was intruding in someone else’s house (which I was, I suppose!).

matmata tunisia

On we went on our journey, to ride a camel through the Sahara. We were “warned” before we got onto our camels (have you ever ridden a camel? – very uncomfortable!) that we may bump into some horsemen.  If we did, we must not take photographs of them, and if you did and were caught doing so, you’d have your camera taken by them.  So.  Yes, we saw the glamorous horsemen, wearing black with silver trim, all very romantic.  I don’t have any photos, but they were very cool, in the Elvis sense of the word.

camel sahara desert tunisia

Do you see this bag in the photo below? It was free with a magazine. It was a thin tote, very handy for carrying our water, and each morning while on holiday we would pick up a couple of snacks from our breakfast buffet for later in the day. We often picked up hard boiled eggs, and this day we had two white eggs and a couple of bananas along with our water bottles. We took that bag in to El Djem, to the Matmata caves, on the camel rides, and then we went for a little horse ride to the date farm.

tourist tunisia bag flowers

The date farm in the oasis of Tozeur was really interesting. They showed us how they got the dates down from the trees (a boy climbs up and chops the bunches of dates off!) and told us all about the two different types of dates you can buy in Tunisia. I don’t remember the names except for deglet nour, which is apparently the best.

horse cart tunisia date farm boy in tree
So, from the farm we got back on our horse and carts, the drivers gave the ladies each a bunch of flowers, hoping to woo us (it’s all part of the tour, I’m sure!).

Then we got back on to the coach. We were sat on the back row, and after a little while we decided to eat our afternoon snack – the eggs and bananas we’d picked up at breakfast. Those bananas hit the spot, then after a slurp of water we cracked the first egg on the handle of the seat in front of us… tap tap… egg everywhere! These were not the hard boiled eggs were thought they were – they were raw! So, they’d been on quite a journey in that free-from-a-magazine flimsy fabric bag but survived. We found this out by only cracking open one egg. For some reason we decided the second egg needed looking after (even though they’d clearly survived quite a lot of jiggling around) and so I sat with it cradled in my hand until we got half way to our next destination, when I fell asleep and it rolled out of my hand and smashed on the floor of the coach.

We went on to the canyon of Tamerza, while the sun was on its way down, before heading to our hotel for the night.

map sahara explorer tour
The next day we were up and out super early, and went to see the sun rise at a salt lake at Chott el Jerid.  The ground was pink and white, and although we were really tired, it was beautiful to see in such light. The Disney documentary The Crimson Wing reminds me of this place, but really only because of the heat and the salt, I guess – no flamingos in Chott el Jerid (if you haven’t watched that movie, do look out for it; it’s sad but the cinematography is brilliant).

salt flats tunisia chott el jerid
Then on we went to a 4×4 jeep ride to the waterfall oasis of Chebika.  There we walked through some trees, along a twisty-twiney path to the waterfall area.  It was so beautiful.  There were a few Berber men at the pool of water, and one of our fellow tourists approached one, saying “pull my finger.. ” You know what he did when the Berber man grabbed hold of his outstretched digit. Yep, pffffttthhhppp! Well, that was the funniest thing the Berbers had seen in a long time, and the tourist’s finger was pulled repeatedly to get him to fart over and over. Boys, eh?!

oasis tunisia frog

We had a terrific time on the tour. We made a few day trips from our hotel, also, including to the medina in Sousse. You can get the tuc tuc from Port el Kantaoui to Sousse very cheaply, and near the tuc tuc rank is a small zoo.
tunisia tuc tuc zoo sousse port el kantaoui
We also caught a taxi to Monistir, and while there saw the fort el ribat, and the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, who was the first president of Tunisia. The mausoleum has a beautiful interior and a small museum about his life and legacy. He did a lot to fight inequality in Tunisia, and we were told, improved education in the country massively, among other social reforms.
mausoleum tunisia monastir
I have to say, I love social history and anthropology more than dry old rocks, so I found the information and artifacts of Habib Bourgiba very interesting.

Tunisia was our holiday destination of choice for a few years. We said, while we were there, that it would be a great place to visit with children, though I guess that it will be a very long time before we head there with our boys, in light of the recent terrorist attack.

My Travel Monkey
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  1. July 14, 2015 / 10:06 pm

    Lovely post – it is incredibly sad to think about how much the Tunisian tourism industry is going to suffer in the next few years 🙁

    • July 14, 2015 / 10:29 pm

      It’s awful, really, because at the end of the day Tunisians are just people too, trying to get by! They’re all affected by the terrorism more directly than we are as holiday makers.

  2. July 14, 2015 / 10:11 pm

    This post makes me sad for the tunisia we won’t see, as you know I should be there now and I too am hesitant about publishing a post I’ve had written for a week or so!

    • July 14, 2015 / 10:28 pm

      I hesitated, it’s terrible, but I did want to share that I’ve had some brilliant times in the country. Hopefully they will recover.

  3. July 14, 2015 / 10:17 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this – Tunisa looks such so interesting and full of history and culture. I’ve always fancied going, especially to ride in the Sahara and see the Matmata for Star Wars. The recent attacks hasn’t put me off. I went to Egypt a few years ago when the riots were happening in Cairo and I saw the devastating impact it had on the staff at the hotels and how they were struggling to provide for their families. I’m glad you had a fantastic time, though. Hopefully, Tunisia will recover. Please do post this next week.

    • July 14, 2015 / 10:26 pm

      Egypt is so changed since the ‘revolution’, though I believe they will bounce back. Tunisia is slightly trickier because tourism is such a massive part of their economy but they have 20% unemployed already before this atrocity.
      We loved Tunisia, we considered going there in June, but Egypt won out.
      See you next week 🙂

  4. July 15, 2015 / 11:21 pm

    I’m really glad you did publish this – I visited Tunisia about 5 years ago and there is so much to see, so lovely. It’s a tragedy for the country and everyone working in tourism as well as those holidaymakers caught up in it. #traveltales

  5. July 16, 2015 / 1:22 pm

    Love post. It’s such a shame what happened on the beach. It’s sad as I think a lot of tourists will be put off in going.

  6. July 18, 2015 / 9:09 am

    I’m so glad you’ve published this. It’s such a shame that a country which thrived on tourism is being punished for the extreme beliefs of terrorists, but I guess it’s natural that people will feel nervous about travelling there. We had a debate recently and concluded that actually, nowhere is safe from terrorism, so writing off a country due to one horrible incident is so unfair, and would be doing exactly what the perpetrators want. It’s lovely to see something of the country here, having never visisted. I do hope Tunisia recovers quickly.

  7. July 20, 2015 / 2:51 pm

    The only way to counteract terrorism is to continue on as normal and not be cowed by it, so I think it’s great you’ve published this and I hope it helps lots of people continue to go to Tunisia, a truly wonderful country. By visiting the country we are honouring those who lost their lives and those who bravely tried to protect the tourists. People haven’t stopped going to NYC, London or Paris so why stop visiting Tunisia? I’ve been once and would certainly go back, your article is very inspiring. #MondayEscapes

    • July 20, 2015 / 3:07 pm

      Thank you, Phoebe, some good points. I did agonise that people would call “too soon”, or “insensitive”, so I’m pleased to have had the reaction of support.
      I really enjoyed writing it because we’ve had some lovely times in Tunisia.
      Maybe I’ll write up the other tour we did!

  8. July 20, 2015 / 2:51 pm

    Hi there, thanks for sharing this post despite the attacks recently. What was your reason to visit Tunisia when so many travellers are heading to Morocco? I’m just curious because I have seen a lot of blog posts on Morocco but not Tunisia, however, am not writing it off either 🙂 #MondayEscapes

    Cheers,
    Kat

    • July 20, 2015 / 3:03 pm

      Interesting question, Kat, it does seem that Morocco is the North African destination of choice these days. Tunisia has so much to offer, it’s a shame to write it off because it’s less fashionable! Maybe you could visit both and see which is the best!!

  9. July 21, 2015 / 12:32 pm

    I’m glad you posted this too. Terrorism greatly relies on fear, so the best thing we can do to fight it is to not let it change our behaviour (within reason).

    I’ve never been to Tunisia but it looks lovely – so much history and beautiful architecture. I know how important tourism is to the country, so I really hope they can bounce back from this because it clearly has so much to offer. Hopefully one day I’ll make it there for a visit too 🙂

    #traveltales

  10. July 21, 2015 / 6:52 pm

    I think that it is just right that you publish this. This is an amazing experience you had of a lovely place and country. I hope everything will be better in there soon. #MondayEscapes

  11. July 23, 2015 / 1:48 pm

    It’s very sad what has happened there. But it is always nice to read positive things too!
    And your tour sounded soooo much fun. After camel riding in Egypt, I think my hubby would say no to it again haaha… I would definitely do it 😀

    Thank you for linking up with #MondayEscapes 😀

  12. July 27, 2015 / 6:50 pm

    This is a fantastic and well written post! It’s so sad what happened in Tunisia and I hate to say it, but it’s certainly put me off travelling there or to anywhere near it. It’s such a shame as it looks like an amazing place, but then I suppose anything could happen, anywhere in the world at any time. Just got to live life to it’s fullest! Thanks for sharing, great photos too!

    #traveltales

    Kay xx
    Idreamofcoco.blogspot.co.uk

  13. July 28, 2015 / 9:56 pm

    What a lovely post! It really is so sad that the Tunisian tourism industry is going to suffer so much, it has so much to offer.

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