Tunisia: Holidays

Backpacking in Tunisia

Trains link Tunisia's major cities, Tunis, Gabes, Sousse, Sfax and Gafsa (buy tickets in advance -it's much cheaper) and most towns also have bus service links, so a backpacking holiday in Tunisia is a viable option. Away from the touristic zones, the cost of living is also cheaper. Start in the north from Tunis and Carthage. The less touristy beaches at Cap Serrat may suit backpackers on holiday in Tunisia.

Inland Tunisia holds more of cultural interest to backpackers and will attract more similarly-minded travellers: the oases like Tozeur, El-Jem and Roman Thysdrus, the salt flats of Chott el-Jerid and troglodyte dwellings at Matmata (but their Star Wars fame brings crowds). The bigger cities like Gabes and Sfax and are largely industrial and commercial, but the sheer age and varied history of towns like Kairouan (the fourth holiest city in Islam) have appeal for adventurous travellers, as does the lure of almost any area bordering the Sahara.

If you're thinking of backpacking in Tunisia, you will most likely spend time inland, so don't assume English will be spoken. Away from heavy tourist regions it very likely won't be as Arabic and French are the local languages. Private health insurance is also essential if you are backpacking in Tunisia away from the main regions.

Away from the tourist resorts on the coast, budget accommodation can be very cheap indeed, but also rather basic and may not always have hot water. Tunisia does have a network of youth hostels accredited by the Association Tunisienne des Auberges et Tourisme de Jeunes and open to IYHA members, but some youth hostels are independent and most close during the day.

Beach in Tunisia

The beaches in Tunisia are the primary reason for its continuing popularity. At the northern tip of the country just below Tunis, the Gulf of Hammamet soothes the baking inland heat creating a more gentle, Mediterranean climate and plenty of year-round sun. Hammamet is the touristic hub of beach holidays in Tunisia and has seen major hotel development but hasn’t yet lost all of its charm. English is widely spoken and good, sandy beaches, along with plenty of watersports and beach activities make this area a popular family destination, also for more mature sun seekers in winter. Just south is newer Yasmine Hammamet, home to some of the swankier

Thalassotherapy spa hotels in Tunisia. Almost everything is new here, down to the man-made promenades and often opulent, huge new hotels. The clientele is often more Arab than European at present and it’s not unlike a less in your face taste of Vegas in North Africa. Out of high season though, Yasmine Hammamet can seem deserted.

South towards the middle coastline lie resorts like Skanes and Sousse, grouped around the charter airport at Monastir. The beaches here are much more prone to seaweed cover and hotels range from tourist class to bang up-to-date modern four-star family-oriented complexes. The attractive marina of Port el Kantaoui, developed from a fishing port in the late 70s, is a standout coastal resort in Tunisia in this region, fresher and more comfortably intimate than its neighbours.

Tunisia’s real jewel for beach holidays lies far south, the Tunisian island of Djerba, lying just off Libya. Building has been height limited to preserve the island’s unique style and charm and direct flights are now possible. Bathed in 324 sunshine days a year and rich in white sand beaches and golf hotels, Djerba is increasingly opening up to the English-speaking holiday market. Outside of daytime activities, it’s a place to unwind and there isn’t, in fact, much else to do. You’ll need to head to the mainland to see the sights of Tunisia.

Camping in Tunisia

Given its rich and romantic Bedouin heritage, a camping holiday in Tunisia might
seem a popular choice but tourist-oriented camping in Tunisia is not a developed industry. That’s not to say there are no campsites and beach resorts Hammamet and Nabeul both offer established sites with hook-ups, reasonable facilities and easy access to watersports and many other beach activities.

Inland, the oases of Tunisia like popular Tozeur and historically important Gafsa may attract campers looking for the more natural campsite experience. Both have natural camping areas still with basic facilities but perhaps giving campers a better chance to observe the real Tunisia and its day-to-day life than Tunisia’s holiday hotspots on the coast and quite likely the chance to meet more Tunisians than tourists.

At the other end of the scale, camping holidays in Tunisia can be a glamorous and romantic affair on a private oasis such as the Pansea Ksar Ghilane, found in the south at Zaafrane. More tented upscale hotel than campsite, the Sahara location adds an atmospheric twist and stunning scenery to camping in Tunisia, with service and dining more towards the luxury than leisure end of camping holidays. Overall, accommodation-based holidays in Tunisia are the mainstay focus of tourism and good campsites are few and far between.

City Breaks in Tunisia

Tunisia’s capital city is a different animal to its neighbour, the ruins of ancient Phoenician and later Roman Carthage 11 miles away. Both grew thanks to location and the rich trade routes surrounding them, spidering back over the Sahara and out across the Mediterranean. But unlike the Phoenician and Roman past grandeur across the lagoon, a city break in Tunis would reveal a modern, clean and efficient North African capital and international port, well served by city transport and infrastructure, and a bustling centre of commerce and business conventions.

Tunis is popular as a day visit for tourists staying in Tunisia’s beach resorts for shopping and a port of call en route to see Carthage; the capital of Tunisia is not an obvious choice for an extended city break. Tunis is not without culture and leisure options. The Bardo, Tunisia’s national museum, is housed in a 13th-century palace and particularly rich in Roman antiquities. The city’s modest but well-stocked zoo is another point of call. The old town’s 7AD medina houses the beautiful Zitouna Mosque and the souks unveil an array of goods from local crafts to luxuries, spices, fabrics and tailors. The summertime Carthage Festival held in the 3000-seat Roman amphitheatre attracts stars from Arabic, African and Western music. Theatres and cinemas in Tunis largely offer their entertainments in Arabic or French and offer little for English speakers.

Dining is varied and reflects the international influences of the country, along with more traditional North African. For many visitors the Tunis nightlife is too limited to make a Tunis city break rewarding by night, with a still male-oriented bar culture and unaccompanied women a relatively rare sight. Other than a few high-end choices, hotels are more oriented towards business than tourism, giving few choices ideal for a city break in Tunis.

Unlike the wider country of Tunisia, tourism is not a primary business of the capital. For many, Tunis makes a better day trip than city-break destination.

Corporate Weekend in Tunisia

With a growth in modern, upmarket and very capacious hotels in Tunisia, particularly in areas such as Yasmine Hammamet, and the prevalence of corporate-style leisure facilities such as golf on Djerba, there is much potential for corporate events in Tunisia. Examples such as the 5-star Karthago in Yasmine Hammamet are starting to target this market. While not a huge part of the leisure and tourism industry, many of the larger modern hotels in fact have good business facilities and event spaces to offer and this may become a growth area.

Cruises in Tunisia

Despite its influential role in the maritime history of the Mediterranean, cruise ship calls to Tunisia are relatively low in number. MSC, Voyages of Discovery and Costa are lines whose ships do stop in Tunisia. The port of call tends to be La Goulette.

Culture and Arts in Tunisia

If you are prepared to venture further than the tourist zones while on holiday in Tunisia, the country has a wealth of arts and crafts to enjoy, from the most ancient of civilizations to modern-day Tunisian, and an extraordinary number of world-class heritage and ancient history sites for such a relatively small country. Cinema fans will enjoy location tours of sites immortalized in major , such as Monastir’s ancient Ribat or the cinematic magnets of the south and deserts.

Most performing arts are not English language but there are a wide variety of music and arts festivals in Tunisia through the year. Tunisian is known for beautiful ceramics, the main centres of production being Nabeul and Guellala on Djerba. Carpets and rugs are also a world-famous export and mostly made around Kairouan and Jerid.

Disabled Needs in Tunisia

At present, Tunisia can be a difficult country to negotiate for travellers with restricted mobility. Public transport is rarely easily accessible and public areas often overlook issues such as wheelchair access. Tunis Carthage airport now at least has satellite buildings designed to make access much easier and the UK Embassy is one example making major strides at making Tunisia more accessible and inclusive but there is some way to go yet. A pity since the relatively easy terrain of much of the coast could make an enjoyable destination for travellers with restricted mobility.

In the hotel industry, matters are changing slowly and the more recent hotels, particularly from international chains, are waking up to the issues. While disabled access rooms are quite often advertised, do thoroughly check in advance as this can imply fully adapted rooms and facilities but the reality may be a lot less comprehensive and nothing more than a ground floor room or lift.

Family Holiday in Tunisia

Family holidays in Tunisia are the major source of revenue for tourism in Tunisia. The coastal resorts make ideal family holiday destinations with established hotels and beaches, plenty of daytime activities, all-inclusive deals for catering-free holidays and safe, proven resorts.

The very nature of many Tunisian tourist hotels with good security, outside space, a range of food including the easily familiar, plenty of staff on hand and organized activities lends itself well to taking children on holiday. With a wealth of sightseeing possible, that fact that many of the inland sights are usually accessed via organized or guided tours makes adds another practical and worry-free plus to family breaks in Tunisia. Visitors will find a very child-friendly culture in which family plays a very important role in the nation’s daily life and thinking.

The greatest risk is perhaps from the heat and sun where care must be taken, particularly with the very young. Inland heat can be intense and the Tunisian sun is powerful and not to be underestimated.

The greatest part of the five million or so visitors taking holidays in Tunisia will indeed be families, many returning for subsequent holidays. Where family holidays may falter is in the later teenage bracket, due to the relative lack of evening venues and entertainment suited to tourists.

Gay and Lesbian in Tunisia

For a Muslim nation in which male homosexuality is still actually illegal, Tunisia is remarkably tolerant, so long as a veneer of reasonable discretion is maintained. The concept of lesbian women in Tunisia is barely even considered, let alone legislated against and Tunisia would probably not be the most comfortable or rewarding destination for single women or lesbian couples/groups.

Not surprisingly, there is no commercial or recognizable gay scene or gay culture, only bars with a certain local reputation and typical cruising areas like the Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis. But like Morocco, gay men have been coming to Tunisia for years and many well-to-do mainland European gay men own property around the Cap Bon area. Gay holidays in Tunisia are clearly a longstanding, if underground possibility. US tour operator Toto Tours even markets Tunisia directly to gay men. For a gay male couple requesting a double room in a Tunisian hotel, the situation may become uncomfortably awkward and apartment or villa rental will be a much more comfortable and relaxing option, hence the leaning towards holiday home ownership.

The strongly male-oriented nature of Tunisian bars and cafes, along with public displays of male intimacy may confuse gay visitors to Tunisia, but once there, an organized gay scene is not so necessary to meet the locals. They will quickly find you. Go out as a single, male Westerner, particularly in tourist zones, and it is highly unlikely you will be alone for long. Single heterosexual men may often also be assumed to interested in male company. Be aware, of course, that such approaches may have only monetary gain in mind, not conversation or companionship and avoid making yourself vulnerable.

Hen Destination in Tunisia

Although an extremely popular holiday destination, Tunisia does not make the ideal choice for an hen or stag getaway. The greater majority of tourist activity is by day and Tunisia does not have the loud and alcohol-rich nightlife that typically lends itself to riotous hen or stag parties. Excessive consumption of alcohol is hardly unknown but still frowned upon in what is largely an outwardly polite nation. Hen groups out on the town in party gear may not find much of a welcome and nowhere to party except within the confines of their hotels.

Honeymoon in Tunisia

Natural beauty, a warm, sunny climate year round and a wide choice of hotels within all budgets make a honeymoon in Tunisia an appealing choice. For some, the tourist zones may be too busy and family oriented for the intimacy of a honeymoon but the romance of an oasis such as Tozeur, a Saharan safari or an upmarket Bedouin tent hotel may well appeal to honeymooners in Tunisia.

The relative tranquility, glorious climate and good range of quality hotels make Djerba a compelling choice for honeymooners. Also the swish new Thalassotherapy hotels could offer the ideal pampering haven for a honeymooning couple in Tunisia.

Naturism in Tunisia

Although a blind eye may often be turned to topless sunbathing in the most Westernised of tourist zones, nudity is not an option for holidays in Tunisia.

Party Holiday - Singles Life in Tunisia

With a very wide range of tourist hotels in Tunisia catering for most age groups and nationalities from the Eurozone, a party holiday in Tunisia can be lively, particularly if the group is more oriented to the good range of daytime activities and excursions easily available. While the larger resorts such as Hammamet and Monastir have night clubs and bars, even some open-air beach clubs, serious nightlife partygoers will most likely find the evening bar and club scene in more well-trodden party destinations such as Ibiza, the Greek Islands, coastal Spain or Turkey able to offer a far greater and more developed range, along with a more up-for-it atmosphere and crowd by night.

Singles holidays in Tunisia are available, for example with companies such as travelone.co.uk, but the target market will tend to be 30 and more often aimed at finding suitable accommodation for single holidaymakers to reduce excessive single occupancy charges and place them among a like-minded crowd or help arrange activity or theme packages. Large, highly organised 18-30 -style holiday centres and parties are not currently operating in Tunisia.

Couples Holiday in Tunisia

Couples holidays in Tunisia can make an attractive option. Most likely couples will find more tranquility and other like-minded people to socialise with away from the larger very family-oriented resorts such as Hammamet, Monastir and Sousse. Yasmine Hammamet with its good range of higher quality, modern hotels and the less developed island charm of Djerba are likely to please couples looking for peace when they want it, reasonable dining options, glamorous spas, good daytime sports and activities and a generally more adult crowd. Sidi Bou Said offers both Tunisian traditional charm and a relatively convivial, sophisticated atmosphere not unlike the French Riviera.

Safari Activity Holiday in Tunisia

With the spectacular Sahara desert inland covering 40 per cent of Tunisia, a safari holiday in Tunisia can be arranged to take maximum advantage of one of the country's most compelling
attractions. Most holidaymakers tend to base themselves in the more forgiving coastal resorts and take advantage of the many organised desert excursions, the most affordable and probably safest way to see the desert regions.

Operators such as tunisiafirst.co.uk can also arrange 2 to 4-day desert safaris with groups or even private 4-day safari tours. Although there are two national parks in Tunisia, the Sahara is undoubtedly the number-one focus for safari holidays in Tunisia.

Golf Activity Holiday in Tunisia

Golfers should have little difficulty finding a location for a rewarding golf holiday in Tunisia. Although the country doesn't have the huge number of courses as say Portugal or Florida,
the country's climate is ideal for golf, particularly by the coast and few courses will impose complex membership requirements for visiting golfers.

Prices will also generally seem very reasonable for golf in Tunisia. The 36-hole championship course at El-Kantaoui is a favourite. The 18-hole Carthage golf course dates back to 1927. Hammamet and Monastir both offer 18-hole courses, as does Tabarka.

The very popular Djerba Golf Club is ideally situated for most of main hotel zones and offers three 9-hole courses, a 40-place driving range and 6 putting greens among its extensive facilities. Many of the quality hotels near the golf courses in Tunisia have access to their own pros and concierge links.

Sailing Activity Holiday in Tunisia

A sailing holiday in Tunisia is best taken around the regions with large and established marinas such as Marina Yasmine Sud at Hammamet, Marina Cap at Monastir or Montazah Tabarka, Sidi Bou Said or Port el-Kantaoui where good established facilities exist. Often larger 4 and 5-star hotels will also be happy to arrange charter or daily sailing directly with costs onsite. Djerba's attractive coast is also a popular region for sailing in Tunisia. For non-VAT paid yachts, Tunisia's convenient location situated outside the European Union but within easy reach of the typical Western Mediterranean cruising lanes makes it an appealing choice for sailors.

Scuba Diving Activity Holiday in Tunisia

Diving holidays in Tunisia are particularly popular around the Tabarka region where the red coral, reefs, grottoes, cave systems and an abundance of marine life offer something for divers of every ability. For non-divers it's also possible to learn to dive in Tunisia and Tabarka's Club de Plongee offers 7-day courses. Port El-Kantaoui has a popular International Diving Centre catering both for experienced divers and novices, and also covering diving in nearby Hergla. Diving clubs in Tunisia will generally require divers to be 14 years or over as the minimum age for scuba diving.

Hiking Activity Holiday in Tunisia

Hiking holidays in Tunisia offer a wide range of options and styles with two national parks, the Saharan Desert regions (where extreme care and local, experienced guidance are advised), plenty of fascinating sights to explore inland, an interesting diversity among the regions of Tunisia, generally good road systems and accessible transport links between major towns and regions backed up by a reasonable network or hostels and lower-budget accommodation. Good, established campsites are not readily found in Tunisia but natural site camping is possible in Tunisia, although permission from landowners or local authorities should usually be sought.

Cycling Activity Holiday in Tunisia

Touring Tunisia by bike is not unusual and the more adventurous will typically travel from Algeria, down through Tunisia and on into Libya. Much like hiking holidays, cycling holidays in Tunisia offer a wide range of options and styles with two national parks, the Saharan Desert regions (where extreme care and local, experienced guidance are advised), plenty of fascinating sights to explore inland, an interesting diversity among the regions of Tunisia, generally good road systems, particularly in the northern half of the country and accessible transport links between major towns and regions backed up by a reasonable network or hostels and lower-budget accommodation. Few cycle lanes are available however and if touring by bike, carry spares as few parts and repair facilities will be found away from major towns or tourist areas in Tunisia.

Shopping Holiday in Tunisia

Shopping in Tunisia offers an unusual variety of local craft and art work, silver, food and exotic spice. Tunisia is world famous for its beautiful ceramics and carpets, which may range from uninspiring tourist-trade varieties to the genuinely outstanding.

Shops tend to close for lunch, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and some on Friday afternoons. Cash will generally be required with only major stores in large cities accepting cards.
A shopping holiday in Tunisia is nothing if it does not include the many souks in and around the country's ancient medinas in larger towns, where the surprise and sheer variety of goods should be a constant pleasure to even the most jaded bargain hunter, but you will need to develop the art of haggling. It is expected and enjoyed by the Tunisians. Remain polite, don't mention a price before the trader does and don't continue a long and protracted haggle over an item if you have little genuine interest in actually buying.

Shoppers seeking familiar high-street brands and designer labels will largely be disappointed in even the major city shopping areas where prices for these imported goods, where even available, will be high and there isn't as ready a market as in Turkey, for example, for filling a suitcase with low-cost counterfeits of well-known brands.

Well-being and Spa in Tunisia

The recent growth in Thalassotherapy breaks in Tunisia – spa and sea treatments exploiting Tunisia’s rich seas and coastal minerals – is creating some very swanky spa hotels in Tunisia and a booming area of the country's tourism industry. The Carthaginians first developed warm seawater or Thalassotherapy treatments before even the Romans and Tunisian waters are rich in mineral salts and oligo-elements. Hammam baths are also another staple feature of Tunisia and found onsite in many of the larger hotels.

There are some outstanding spa and well-being hotels in Yasmine Hammamet, in the north such as The Residence near Carthage, near Port el-Kantaoui at the 5-star Hasdrubal and now on Djerba such as international chain Moevenpick's fabulous Ulysse Palace, which can offer well-being breaks as good as anywhere in the world.

Touring - Driving holiday in Tunisia

With a largely modern and good road system throughout the country, a driving holiday in Tunisia can offer a rewarding range of sights and environments from modern North African towns and cities to world-class sites of ancient history and antiquities, surprisingly lush fertile regions to the widescreen wonder of the Sahara, glorious coast and beaches to villages with ancient cave houses.

Most major car-hire operators offer car hire in Tunisia but thoroughly check the condition and driving safety of any vehicle before accepting it as local standards of maintenance are not always as thorough as in the Eurozone. Driving can be slow on smaller local roads, as it's not uncommon to find yourself stuck behind a wobbling truck or van piled alarmingly high with goods and sometimes even people. It is possible to take your own vehicle for a touring holiday in Tunisia with car ferry links from France and Italy.

Wine Tasting Holiday in Tunisia

Despite being a Muslim country, Tunisia has an ancient history of wine making and still produces good, if not internationally famous wines. September is the best time to see the winemaking industry in Tunisia with Grombalia in the north being one of the country's major winemaking regions, also Jendouba in the west. Newer varieties of grape have been introduced since the 1990s and white Coteaux de Carthage is particularly good. Wine tours in Tunisia are not a major industry in Tunisia but operators such as tunisiafirst.co.uk do arrange 4-day wine and food tours in Tunisia.

Winter Sun in Tunisia

Tunisia's near year-round warm climate is one of the major reasons for its growth as a holiday destination with regions like Djerba averaging 324 sunshine days a year. Winter sun holidays in Tunisia are also particularly popular around the Hammamet region, with many hotels following Spain by attracting longer-stay, more mature winter sun seekers with a variety of appealing deals.

It can still be relatively cold in the north, however, and winter sun in Tunisia is not infallible but remains a good overall bet against many of its competitors. Some resorts such as Yasmine Hammamet can seem oddly deserted in the winter season, others remain lively and busy.