Thursday, March 10, 2011

A backpacking route around Tunisia


I've done my fair share of raving about Tunisia - and it's certainly gained some international attention lately with the ousting of President Ben Ali and all its consequences. And while there are still some travel warnings current at the moment, I suspect things are getting calmer there and it won't be crazy to think about planning a backpacking trip of a lifetime there. Backpacking around Tunisia for a couple of weeks remains one of my all-time favourite trips and I thought I'd share my route with you in case I've convinced you that it's a must-see destination!

The Ribat in Monastir (can you spot me?)

I should warn you that this was a pretty hectic fortnight or so - but two weeks (and a bit, I think) were all I had for my Christmas holidays while living in Bratislava. Slowing this itinerary down would make it an even better trip. So, here's the route I took around Tunisia:

  • Flew into Tunis (probably most flights would, although I think from Europe you'll get flights to "beach" destinations like Djerba too?) - explored the Bardo Museum and the souk/markets.
  • Took a short train trip to Sidi Bou Said (I actually spent Christmas here) - it's all white and blue like some of those towns in the Greek islands.
  • Also visited Carthage (yes, super historical!) which is nearby.
  • Headed down to Monastir on the coast. I gather that at peak times this could be a bit "beach touristy" but it was off season. Home to a famous "ribat" (fort) - used in Monty Python films!
  • Took the train a little further south to El Jem, home to a fantastic colosseum (better than Rome's, I think!)
  • Continued further south to Matmata - home to many of the bizarre places used in the Star Wars films and actually worth visiting even as (like me) a total non-Star Wars fan - incredible landscapes and architecture including underground hotels.
  • Headed further inland to Douz on the edge of the Sahara, managed to time it to see the Sahara Festival (with incredible camel races!) and do some desert trekking.
  • South again to Tataouine (a name Star Wars fans will recognise) but ditto as for Matmata.
  • Out to the island of Djerba to stay in its main town, Houmt Souq - a beautiful old fort and a fishing village atmosphere (but same warning on summertime tourists applies).
  • Way back up north (via Tunis, in fact) to go to Dougga, home to incredible Roman ruins.
  • Back to Tunis, into the Zitouna Mosque and finally, back to Tunis airport.

My camel for the day stepping out in the Sahara Desert
There were a few other spots I would have liked to get to, but I did certainly manage to cram a lot in - but bear in mind that Tunisia is a relatively small country so getting from place to place didn't take too long. But oh, how I'd love to go back and explore these places at a more peaceful pace! My transport was a combination of trains and the minibuses which go from place to place, leaving when they're full; I didn't book any hotels or hostels in advance but always found somewhere to stay - mostly "hotels" as such, there weren't many hostels. Got any reactions or some questions? Just leave your comment below and I'll give you my opinion!

Map courtesy of Wikitravel

6 comments:

  1. Wow, I'm sold! Could u tell me how long was ur trip? Am thinking of doing one in March (the choice is between Jordan/Georgia/Tunisia) but cant take too much leave from work and so! Danke :)

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    1. I was there just over two weeks - similar situation, it was during the short Christmas break from work in Slovakia. It was a really busy two weeks but loved every minute of it and that itinerary is really doable just using public transport etc.

      I've heard fabulous things about Jordan though too! But having never been there my vote is totally for Tunisia. Adored it.

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  2. Haha ok, fingers crossed; thanks again Amanda!

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  3. How was the budget like for the hotels since there arent a lot of hostels? Also what sort of desert trekking did you do?

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  4. What would your suggested itinerary be for a week?

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    1. Great question Cassandra - I would be inclined to stick to the north (shorter distances) and try Tunis, Sousse/Monastir, El Jem and back. If it's a bit more than a week then down to Gabes/Djerba might work but could be a bit rushed. Enjoy - Tunisia is a wonderful country!

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