From Daydreams to Discovery: Unveiling Tunisia’s Charms Through the Eyes of a Curious Traveler (me)

When looking for unusual travel destinations, I often check out one of my favorite websites–Atlas Obscura. As the name suggests, this company gives travelers unique, exciting, and off-the-beaten-path experiences. Though sometimes there may be a touristy place included in the itinerary, most of the time, it’s about exploring hidden gems that most people miss (they contract with a local guide who knows all the ins and outs). And the best part? They keep the groups small, meaning at most 10-12.

So, as I was browsing Atlas Obscura’s website, I stumbled upon a trip to Tunisia. I’ll be honest: Tunisia wasn’t on my radar, but the itinerary hooked me! The architecture, rich culture, Roman ruins, vibrant markets, the Mediterranean’s allure, and the thrill of the Sahara all called to me. As a lifelong vegetarian, I was relieved to discover that Tunisia’s cuisine offered numerous vegetarian choices. Worst-case scenario, I could survive on some good ol’ bread.

Tunisia is situated in North Africa and lies along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. It shares its western border with Algeria and is neighbored by Libya to the southeast. Steeped in ancient history, the influences of Phoenicians, Romans, and Carthaginians are evident throughout the country. And while Arabic is the local language, French is also commonly spoken. I, unfortunately, don’t speak either.  Once again, I was reminded why I should have, at the very least, kept up with my French. 

It didn’t take long for me to book the trip.

Excited and eager to meet my fellow travelers, I contacted Atlas Obscura to learn more about the group I’d be traveling with. I was thrilled to learn there would only be five of us: two couples and myself (a smaller group equals flexibility). 

After a full day of travel, I finally landed at the Tunis-Carthage International Airport.; deplaning on the tarmac. As I approached the airport, I was relieved that it wasn’t too big, and I hoped navigating through it would be a breeze.  Oh, by the way, a visa was not required for the United States or UK travelers.

The scene at passport control was nothing short of chaotic. The line was more like a free-for-all, with people pushing and shoving to get ahead. I witnessed a heated argument between two women, and the tension was palpable. After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally my turn to get my passport stamped.

Once through, I grabbed my suitcase from the carousel and stepped out of baggage claim, hoping that my pre-arranged driver would be there to pick me up. Luckily, he was waiting, and we began a 35-40-minute drive to my hotel. The driver pointed out some historic landmarks along the way, giving me a small taste of the city’s rich history.

Exploring Tunis: From Vibrant Medina to Authentic Cuisine – My Journey Through the Heart of Tunisia

After an exhausting flight, a lengthy passport control process, and a 40-minute cab ride, I arrived at the Hotel Carlton Tunisia—home for the next couple of nights. In the surrounding area stood grand colonial buildings, avenues lined with palm trees, and many sidewalk cafés. It was the perfect spot to explore and only a few blocks from the Medina.

It’s worth noting that Tunisia has a predominantly Muslim culture, and my trip coincided with the holy month of Ramadan. As a result, many restaurants and businesses had limited daytime hours or were closed, and the streets were pretty much empty. But, as sunset approached, locals gathered to break their fast, the streets suddenly packed and restaurants full. Visiting during Ramadan certainly gave me a unique perspective on the culture.

As the evening approached, I  met our guide, Ghazi, and my fellow travelers (Paul, Jane, Floriana, and Steve). With Ghazi leading the way, we set off on a walking tour, taking in the city’s squares, maze-like alleyways, and beautifully preserved historical district (we passed by the Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, Saint George Orthodox Cathedral, Bab El Bhar). The Tunis Medina was fascinating with its many market stalls, restaurants, and mosques.

 

 

While we were walking, Ghazi talked to us about the history and culture of Medina. It has a long history, going back to the Almohad and Hafsid periods in Tunisian history. This area is a living testament to the passage of time and the various cultures that have shaped its identity.

Stepping into the souk (a maze of small shops and stalls tightly clustered together in the Medina) was sensory overload. The sounds, the smells, the sights – everything was incredible, from those vibrant hand-woven rugs and beautifully detailed ceramics to the heavenly mix of aromatic spices and the assortment of leather goods and fancy jewelry. There was just so much going on – it was amazing! 

Most vendors welcomed and expected bartering – which I’m usually very good at. I came upon a scarf boutique tucked away amidst the labyrinthine alleys, displaying an array of scarves in various colors, patterns, and fabrics. I successfully bartered for several silk scarves, which I returned home with (for my daughters)—each unique and beautiful.

One thing that really caught my eye as I wandered around was all the beautiful doors. I honestly couldn’t get enough of them. Most of these were big double doors and, more often than not, made of wood—each side of the door had a knocker.

While some of the doors had a straight-edged design, others were curved or had a keyhole shape. They were typically painted in vibrant colors, mainly yellow and blue—but there were other colors as well.

Some of the doors had a smaller door within the main door.  Most had intricate geometrical designs on their front made using what looked to be black studded nails.  Some designs included fish, flowers, crescents, and stars — each more beautiful than the next.

Outside the traditional tea cafes called “Maison de Thé” or House of Tea, stone pathways were lined with tables and chairs, giving off a warm and inviting atmosphere. 

We stopped at the popular Café Chaouachine—located down a passageway with vaulted arches overhead. Normally, this place would be buzzing with people enjoying their tea, coffee, and some Shisha (you know, that flavored tobacco smoked through a water pipe, often with friends). However, since it was Ramadan, there were only a few others around; still, it was quite nice.

By the way, tea is a big deal here; it’s basically the national drink. And, for Tunisians, Tea is not JUST a drink; it’s a cherished tradition with profound cultural significance. Tea brings people together, fostering connections and creating moments.

“Tunisian mint tea,” or as the locals say, “Atay Bi Nana,” was the favorite choice. It’s made with green tea leaves, fresh mint leaves, and a dash of sugar, forming an aromatic and sweet blend. On occasion, pine nuts are added.

Though I’m not usually a tea drinker (I’m a coffee addict), during my time in Tunisia, I came to enjoy drinking green tea throughout the day. It was truly delightful.  

Ghazi’s passion for his city was contagious – I was already falling in love with Tunis, and it was only day one!

To end the day on a high note, we enjoyed a Tunisian meal after sunset at the popular Dar Belhadj restaurant.

The restaurant was housed in a former 17th-century mansion— the walls covered in traditional Tunisian mosaic tiles. It was stunning!

Our meal began with a tomato-based soup. It was supposed to be vegetarian, but I was pretty sure there was meat in it, so I passed.

Next up was Brik, a traditional snack or starter— eaten with your right hand only. It’s like this triangular or semi-circle filo-like pastry filled with an egg and usually some meat or fish, which is then deep fried. They served mine without the meat, but I didn’t realize the egg inside would be runny. I felt terrible but couldn’t eat runny eggs (I would have gagged), so I had to pass on that, too. My fellow travelers seemed to enjoy their Brix.

My main dish was a Tunisian rice dish made with raisins, vegetables, nuts, and some wonderful spices. It was delicious. 

Dessert was something called Krima tounsiya -Tunisian cream infused with rose water and sprinkled with ground pistachio – it had some really delicious flavors going on! The rose water was strong, but the dessert had a light and creamy texture without being overly sweet. I don’t know if I would say I loved it, but it was interesting. 

The fusion of historical charm and Tunisian elegance at Dar Belhadj created a lovely dining experience and a great ending to my first day in Tunisia!

Journey Through Time: Exploring Carthage, Sidi Bou Saïd, and Tunisian Delights

Today was all about Carthage, an ancient trading city that once thrived in the Western Mediterranean. Dating back to the ninth century BC, Carthage had been a formidable rival to Rome and the birthplace of the renowned warlord Hannibal, who reportedly led his massive army, complete with war elephants, over the Alps to attack Rome. 

We visited several Roman ruins in Carthage, including the Magon Quarter, Punic Port,  Zaghoun Aqueduct, Baths of Carthage, and Sanctuary of Tophet, holding a special allure. However, the latter was a bit disturbing, with its large number of graves, many of them belonging to children. 

The tales of Carthaginians possibly sacrificing their children left an air of mystery around these tombs. Some experts suggest a different point of view—that these graves may hold the remains of stillborn babies or children who might have succumbed to diseases. The cemetery is undeniably intriguing, even if the truth remains unknown.

The next stop was Sidi Bou Saïd, a village perched atop a cliff, offering beautiful views of Carthage and the Gulf of Tunis. The village was stunning, with its white-washed buildings adorned in blue accents. 

One of the standout moments was Dar El Annabi, a museum that was originally a private residence. Stepping inside, I got a glimpse of what a typical Tunisian family’s traditional home might have looked like. Every detail was incredible – from the many arches to the meticulously crafted tilework, the scrolled wrought iron window grates, and the intricate beauty of the wooden ceilings. It was pure visual splendor.

 

Sidi Bou Saïd
Dar El Annabi

With its gorgeous houses sitting among the Mediterranean cafes, bustling market squares, and narrow alleys, Sidi Bou Saïd exuded charm at every corner.

Lunch was La Victorie (Razgallah), a quaint (but empty) little restaurant located in the beachside town of La Goulette (a short drive from Sidi Bou Said).

While everyone else indulged in fresh fish and grilled delights and with few vegetarian options,  I ordered Brik, a side salad, and refreshing and cold Celita beer. I asked my waiter if the chef could cook my egg before putting it inside the Brik, I thought he understood, but my Brik arrived again with a runny egg. I did my best to eat some of it, but it was quite a challenge.

After finishing our late lunch, we returned to Tunis and enjoyed some free time to explore the city independently. I decided to stroll down Avenue Habib Bourguiiba— often regarded as the Champs-Elysées of Tunis. 

At one point, I came to the now-defunct Hotel du Lac. Its appearance was unique, almost like an upside-down structure. Rumor has it that this hotel inspired George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. The iconic sand crawler vehicle from “Star Wars: A New Hope” resembles the Hotel du Lac. It’s pretty cool to imagine this hotel might have influenced such a famous sci-fi series.

Tunis, Tunisia
Hotel du Lac

Sadly, though, I learned the hotel closed its doors in 2000. It stood there, a silent witness to its past glory. And apparently, there is talk that the hotel may be demolished.

Dinner was on our own, so I opted for a dish of ice cream around the corner from my hotel.

It was another great day.

Exploring Sousse: Roman Mosaics, Ancient Charm, and Culinary Adventures

We hit the road early, heading straight to Sousse, a busy port city resting on the stunning Gulf of Hammamet

The Sousse Archaeological Museum sat within the ancient walls of a historic kasbah and was the day’s first stop.

The museum has the most incredible collection of Roman mosaics, considered among the finest in the world. Quite a few of the mosaics were of mythological figures, such as Medusa’s head and Neptune riding his sea chariot—both sunning and well-preserved. If you love mosaics as I do, it is worth the visit.

Then, there was a quick visit to the Ribat of Sousse—an ancient Islamic defensive stronghold. This ribat is the oldest of its kind, constructed during the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb. I climbed its tower, which gave me a great view of the city.  

Ribat of Sousse
The entrance portal of the Ribat of Sousse

We continued to wander the Medina of Sousse – a mix of modern life intertwined in its millennia-old streets. I loved walking down all the narrow alleyways, soaking in the city’s ancient charm. We eventually made our way to Sousse’s open market, which was full of many interesting things for sale. I loved all the hustle and bustle.

But, at one point, I walked past a butcher’s stall, where I was horrified. It was one thing to see sides of meat hung from the ceiling of the shop— but they also suspended the head of the cow (something I got used to seeing quite often, along with heads of goats and camels). I thought how barbaric, but Ghazi explained that the butcher hangs the head to let people know the meat had been freshly butchered. 

It’s thought-provoking, you know? When you eat meat, maybe it’s good to remember where it comes from. Nowadays, we’re so disconnected from the process of killing the animals that provide us with meat.

We stopped by Beb Al Medina Café for lunch, and I had no trouble finding a vegetarian meal. We all ordered Makloub, a folded pizza-like sandwich with Harissa (a spicy chili paste), mayonnaise, and tomato sauce. While Makloub typically includes chicken, I opted for a chicken-free version, which was delicious! By the way, I recently read that UNESCO added Harissa to its “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list. This is because Harissa is a crucial part of Tunisia’s daily cooking and food traditions.

 

Sousse Medina, Tunisia
Makloub

Slowly, we made our way to Kairouan.

Tunisia’s ancient cities each hold a distinct charm, and at the heart of Kairouan lies a walled medina full of character.

This medina isn’t just a relic of the past; it remains Kairouan’s spiritual and cultural center. And, its narrow alleys might look familiar if you’re an Indiana Jones fan – they were part of the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Much like those in Sidi Bou Said, in the Medina of Kairouan, the buildings feature white walls with blue accents, creating a simple yet beautiful aesthetic. The decorative grates on the windows, along with Mashrbiyas (a style of bay window that sticks out from a building, usually on higher floors, and is surrounded by intricately carved wooden latticework) which added to the beauty of this area. There was an incredible amount of visual richness to absorb.

After wandering around the medina for a bit, it was time to hop in the van and head to the beautiful Hotel La Kasbah, where we’d stay for the night. Our accommodations were gorgeous, and the staff was terrific.

Hotel La Kasbah

From Ancient Wonders to Unexpected Encounters: Exploring Aghlabid Basins, El Jem, and Djerba’s Delights

The day started with a visit to Aghlabid Basins, a massive hydraulic structure built back in the ninth century keeping the people of Kairouan hydrated for over a thousand years! 

 
Kairouan, Tunisia
Aghlabid Basin

Then, we headed to the Grand Mosque of Kairouan. Kairouan is one of Islam’s holiest cities and an important pilgrimage site. And to say The Grand Mosque was breathtaking is an understatement. Its intricately carved walls, elaborate tilework, and marble columns were amazing. 

Tunisia
The Grand Mosque of Kairouan

Back in the van, we headed to my favorite stop of the day – the colossal Colosseum in El Jem

I was riding shotgun (because I’m prone to getting car sick on long rides, I take the front seat if available), so as we headed towards El Jem, we approached this marvel straight on; it was nothing less than spectacular. I could barely wait to get out of the van and begin exploring!

El Jem—a Roman-era wonder where gladiatorial battles took place in the third century. With a capacity of 35,000, this amphitheater is one of the biggest the Romans ever built. And did I mention how incredibly impressive it was? 

El Jem
El Jem

 

I especially loved that, unlike when I visited the Coliseum in Rome, there were no crowds at El Jem, and we were free to explore unrestricted on our own. And though smaller than the coliseum in Rome, it seems to be in better repair, and being able to wander everywhere and without a crowd is a huge plus.  

Afterward, we enjoyed lunch at an outdoor café, Restaurant Afe le Mires, across from Elm Jem, owned by an especially friendly and welcoming gentleman. He was one of those people that just exuded happiness.

From lunch, it was a 3-hour drive to catch a ferry at the port of Joff (taking us and our van) to the port of Ajim, located on Djerba Island, where we continued to Djerbahood, a place that not only has a rich history but also a happening contemporary art scene. Interestingly, it is also a vibrant Jewish community and home to one of Africa’s oldest synagogues. This island is a melting pot of culture and history.

And, for those who don’t know, I love street art, and it’s one of those things I always look for when I travel. I was excited to learn that Djebahood was basically an open-air art museum. Artists from various corners of the globe came together to transform the walls and rooftops of Djerbahood. And he was right. The murals were beautiful, and my hotel sat in the middle of it all. I loved wondering about looking at it all. 

My evening in Djebahood ended up being one for the books! I was browsing in shops near my hotel with one of the couples I was traveling with, Paul and Jane. We stumbled upon this shop where I spotted a hat “I needed.” 

I decided to try to bargain with the salesgirl (Sabrine). It was near closing time, but Sabrine was kind enough to call her sister, who was the shop owner, to see if we could strike a deal. And guess what? Success. I got the hat at the price I had hoped for. Yay!

But then, out of the blue, Sabrine invited us to her mother’s home, conveniently just around the corner from the shop. Why? Because her family was having a fabulous feast to celebrate the end of their day’s Ramadan fast. She wanted us to join them; how could we say no to that?

Sabrine’s family warmly welcomed us at her mother’s home. Two sisters, a sister’s classmate, her mother, and her brother were just as friendly and welcoming as Sabrine. Apart from Sabrine’s mother, everyone gathered around the table was fluent in English.

Tunisia
During Ramadan the daily fast is broken at sundown with a meal referred to as Iftar

As the dishes started arriving at the table, they graciously invited us to have a seat. Being a lifelong vegetarian, I naturally opted out of meat dishes with polite discretion. While I was concerned about appearing impolite, Sabrine kindly intervened and explained to her mother the reasons behind my selective dining.

I did enjoy some of the delicious bread on the table and indulged in some desserts afterward. The whole experience was just incredible. Imagine being invited to a local family’s celebration while traveling! It’s the unexpected and heartwarming encounter you dream of when exploring new places. It’s moments like these that make traveling so special, don’t you think?

Exploring the Enchanting Charms of Djerba Island: From El Ghriba Synagogue to the Mystique of Tataouine

We spent the morning exploring other areas and sites on Djerba Island before heading to the Sahara.

Our first stop was the beautiful El Ghriba Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in Tunisia, the heart of the island’s Jewish community, and a significant pilgrimage site.

It’s situated in the village of er-Riadh, formerly known as Hara Seghira, the El Ghriba. This ancient synagogue holds a sense of mystery and spirituality, echoing its glorious past.

From what I heard, “Ghriba” doesn’t just denote the synagogue; it also refers to a young woman known as the Ghriba. This figure is featured in different legends recounting the synagogue’s history and the establishment of the Jewish community on the island.

Inside, the decoration was rich and intricate—the walls adorned with colorful blue, green, and yellow tiles made for a visually appealing visit. The ceiling features ornate coffered designs and arches that add an elegant touch. 

The blue and white painted arches are particularly striking. Amidst the detailed tilework and stained-glass windows, there’s a perfect blend of design that might seem overwhelming at first but is, in fact, stunningly beautiful (at least I think so).

When visiting, it’s customary for women to cover their hair with a scarf out of respect (if you don’t have one, the synagogue provides scarves for borrowing). It was a place worth visiting.

We made a quick stop by an abandoned hotel, The Coralia Hotel, which looked like it had been quite something in its day. It opened in the early ’60s’ and was one of the original mega-resorts constructed in Sid Mahrez. It has been abandoned for years and in ruins since 2005. A pack of stray dogs and a few cats called these grounds home. A local woman comes daily to leave them food. They were feeding as we pulled up.

Tunisia
Stray dogs and cats in front of the abandoned Coralia Hotel

We stopped in Guellala, home to a large and thriving community of skilled potters.   While there, we stopped in one of the shops to watch one of the potters working on his wheel, making it look effortless. 

Then it was on to Tataouine (home for two nights), passing Sebkhet el Mèlah, a vast evaporite basin along the way.  There was even a little makeshift stand in the middle of the salt lake where a family was selling what else— salt.

Sebkhet el Mèlah, Tunisia
A little roadside stand selling salt

Lodging for the night was Ksar Ouled Debbab.  Once a traditional fortified granary (ghorfa) used by local communities to safeguard their precious grains, it was transformed into the hotel it is today.  I liked my Adobe-like room, and the property was well cared for.  But, what took away from the authenticity was a couple of dinosaur replicas randomly placed around. It just didn’t work for me at all.  That said, the restaurant and overall stay were quite lovely. 

 
Tataouine, Tunisia
Ksar Ouled Debbab- If you look closely, you can see one of the dinosaur replicas.

Unveiling Tataouine’s Hidden Treasures: From Ksar Ouled Soltane to Ancient Berber Villages and Star Wars Legends

After breakfast, we headed out to explore some of the cool stuff around Tataouine. First up was Ksar Ouled Soltane, which, like our hotel, was also once a fortified granary.  

 
Tataouine, Tunisia
Ksar Ouled Soltane

Sitting on the hilltop, the Ksar was strategically designed to fend off raiding parties that roamed the land centuries ago. The elevated location served as a protective shield, preserving the traditions and culture of the inhabitants through the ages.
And in case you are a Star Wars fan, Ksar Ouled Soltane was featured in Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace. NOT that you must be a die-hard Star Wars to love this place. Tataouine’s beauty is out of this world (pun intended). The stunning landscapes are spectacular – again, no exaggeration.

We visited the Chenini village, the oldest Berber town in Tunisia and a”must-see.” We parked below the village and walked up (maybe a 15 to 20-minute walk) a dirt path to get there. This picturesque village sits between two hilltop ridges—with desert-colored homes that looked like they had been dug into the mountainside.  

There was one restaurant in the village called Mabrouk where we stopped for— you may have guessed it— a cup of Green Tea!

Tunisia
Village of Chenin the oldest Berber town in Tunisia

From Chenini, we went to Douiret to see a ruined Berber village— once a fortified granary.  

Tataouine is also known for its unique underground cave dwellings. The underground homes are a refuge from the scorching heat, offering a cool oasis amidst the desert terrain. 

These ancient Berber villages scattered throughout Tunisia – were strategically constructed either within mountain summits or beneath the ground, serving as a defensive measure against invaders.

Tunisia
Ruined Berber village of Douiret

Then, we went back to our hotel for some dinner and downtime. After I grabbed a little something to eat, I chilled for the night and watched one of the Star Wars movies I had downloaded to my iPad! I mean, I was in Tataouine, after all.

Exploring Berber Villages, Desert Adventures, and Celestial Marvels: A Journey through Southern Tunisia

We headed towards the mountains bright and early. 

We visited several Berber villages—Metameur, Toudjane, and Matmata.

While in Matmata, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant inside Hotel Sidi Driss. This location became famous as a filming location for Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope, specifically as the interior of the iconic Lars Homestead. I chose the vegetable couscous for lunch from the aptly named Restaurant Cous Cous. 

Matmata,Tunisia
Hotel Sidi Driss

A quick stop followed, where we enjoyed a traditional Berber snack, Khobz Mella (which we dipped in olive oil and honey) – and some aromatic green tea while sitting in a cave, no less!

And guess what else I saw in Matmata? My first camel sighting—three of them.

 
Metmata, Tunisia
Camels    

We made a quick pit stop at a roadside store during our drive. While there, we each got a shemagh, a traditional scarf meant to protect heads and faces from the harsh desert conditions. I picked a turquoise one, and Floriana helped me tie it on – I was ready to rock the desert look.

Douz, Tunisia
Hot spring in the middle of the desert

Finally, we reached the ultimate stop on today’s journey (and maybe the trip) – Douz! Tucked away in Southern Tunisia, this place is famously known as the Gateway to the Sahara

As we approached our campsite, a row of ATVs lining the road caught our eye. Excitement filled our small group, and we couldn’t resist the urge to take these vehicles for a thrilling ride in the desert. Thanks to Ghazi’s initiative, he made it happen. Each couple shared an ATV while I hopped on the back of the one Ghazi was riding.

With a local guide leading, we sped and spun through the vast desert landscape. It was incredibly exhilarating racing through the hills and valleys of the Sahara—a total blast!

Doug, Tunisia
Fun in the desert!

We even stopped at a standalone stone archway in the desert during the ride, adding a sense of wonder to the adventure. But we wasted no time getting back on the ATVs for more fun and excitement. I loved all the laughter, the adrenaline, and the sheer joy of exploring the desert.

As the sun descended, we reached our campsite, Campemente Zmela Labrissa.  And to be clear, we were NOT camping but rather glamping (my speed, for sure).

The tents were fantastic, and I got one all to myself since I was traveling solo. Woven rugs covered the floor and walls. There was also a little battery-operated overhead. And the bed was comfortable and nicely made up. It was evident to me I was going to have a great sleep. 

Douz, Tunisia
Campemente Zmela Labrissa - campsite for the night

Once settled in my tent, I was off for a walk barefoot!  The sand felt so different from what I was used to—so soft and light. It was almost like baby powder and felt so cool on my feet.

We had a traditional Berber dinner waiting for us in a community tent. And you know what kicked off the feast? Brik! And it was hands down the best one I’ve had while in Tunisia. The Brik was filled with perfectly scrambled eggs that were just delicious and cooked well. I washed it down with a cold can of Celtia. Perfection.!

I also savored more of that delightful Berber-baked bread—it looked like a pita but way bigger. The dough was rolled out in a large circular shape and then cooked in hot ashes. Once baked, the ash was brushed off and the bread served—steamy and fresh. 

As night descended upon the desert, I grabbed a blanket from my tent, and while lying on my blanket, I witnessed a celestial spectacle like no other. Devoid of city light, the sky was like a glittering mosaic; the clarity was truly out of this world. I wish I could describe what it felt like to be there and experience this – it was truly epic and an experience I will never forget.

From Desert Slumber to Enchanting Tozeur: Exploring Colorful Markets, Salt Lake, and Captivating Streets

Douz, Tunisia
Morning in the desert

Wow! Just as I thought, I had the most fantastic sleep in the desert.

Back at camp, I enjoyed a hearty breakfast before hopping back into the van. 

We browsed the market area of Douz, where one vendor caught my eye. He was the owner of a shoe shop. And his shoes, all lined up on display, were made from the skins of goats and camel- all dyed in rich, beautiful colors.

Traveling further, we came to the mind-blowing Chott el Djerid Salt Lake – a sight to behold. The lake showcased wild colors like greens, reds, and whites (though my photos did not pick up what my eyes saw). And, though it’s called a lake, it’s mostly dry. And it went on for miles.

Finally, we arrived in Tozeur and our hotel for the night, the beautiful Dar Tozeur, where we were greeted with a cold glass of juice and fresh Tunisian dates.

 

The ideally situated hotel exuded elegance and was perfectly located for exploring the city. My room had a comfortable bed and large windows that overlooked one of the two pools, and my bedroom floors were adorned with stunning marble. On the desk in my room was a basket filled with fresh fruit and more of the delicious dates I had on arrival. 

The hotel’s pathways and shared spaces were filled with abundant potted plants, creating a lush and inviting atmosphere. Our breakfasts were delicious and plentiful. And the staff were attentive and helpful. If ever in Tozeur, I would highly recommend staying here.

I loved wandering through Tozeur’s medina. The brickwork on the buildings caught my eye, with its unique patterns like diamonds and zig-zags, giving the facades a touch of artistry. Apparently, this area is well-known for it. Plus, I spotted some really beautiful doors along the way.

Later that evening, we dined at the Eden Palm, a short drive from our hotel. An oasis beyond imagination with countless date palms, banana trees, and pomegranates. A must for palm tree enthusiasts– offering insight into their global and Tunisian history.

Upon arrival, we followed a staff member down a palm-lined brick path to a spacious patio adorned with twinkling lights and a table covered in rose petals.

My main course was a mixture of rice, peppers, and mushrooms paired with delicious and interesting sauces. Dessert was some of the most wonderful tasting date-filed cookies.

Post-dinner, we explored their date-based products, indulging in ten distinct sauces and learning about date cultivation and processing. Their impressive laboratory conducted diverse research and crafted imaginative recipes.

Sahara Adventures: 4-Wheel Drive and Star Wars Film Sets

We stopped in the Degueche area for some hiking and checked out Sidi Bouhlel Canyon, a spot within the Atlas Mountain range. Interestingly, scenes from both Star Wars and Indiana Jones were filmed here. I would have loved more time to explore, but we needed to head to the desert!

After a short drive, we arrived at the desert, exited our van, and jumped into an all-terrain vehicle. The driver revved up the engine as we hit the dunes, one after another, stretching for miles and miles. It was a bumpy and crazy fun ride, bouncing about in my seat, laughing till it hurt. Four-wheel driving in the Sahara— what an adventure!

As we drove, the music of French singer Gims blasted from the speakers (whenever J’me Tire plays – I always think of this beautiful day) 

As we made our way toward an abandoned Star Wars film set, we approached a massive dune. Adrenaline kicked in as the engine powered us up the incline, and we hung suspended in the air for a moment. It was a thrilling experience. However, upon descent, our vehicle met the sand, and the back tires became stuck. Thankfully, a group of guys from the Tunisian Desert Challenge were riding their motorcycles nearby. Noticing our predicament, they came to our aid, and after about an hour’s effort, we managed to free the vehicle.  

 

As the guide and a few bikers dug our vehicle out of the sand, my fellow travelers and I headed down a massive dune toward the abandoned Star Wars film set. Unexpectedly, a dust storm swept in. It was quite a wild encounter – sand swirling all around. I had to use my scarf to shield my face and eyes (a scarf is essential in the desert).

Next, we made our way to the Lars Homestead – the iconic residence of Luke Skywalker. With the house just sitting there in quiet isolation amidst the salt lake – it was obvious why George Lucas had picked this location. It really was perfect.

The day was far from over. We stopped at the breathtaking (yes, no exaggeration) Tamaghza Golden Canyon, close to the Algerian border and Tunisia’s largest mountain oasis. Amid the scorching desert, this oasis offers a refreshing break with its cool water and lush palm trees. And if you’re a fan of films, you might be interested to learn that some scenes from “The English Patient” were filmed here.

Tamaghza, Tunisia
This was a beautiful place to explore

 

It was a long but wonderful day, and I was happy to have another night in Dar Tozeur. Before calling it a night, I walked to a little bakery where I purchased three different Baklavas, which I ended up having for dinner. They were delicious!

Tozeur, Tunisia
Some sweet treats for my dinner

 

Exploring Sbeitla: A Journey to an Ancient Roman City Along the Algerian Border

From Tozeur, we headed to this super cool ancient city called Sbeitla —also known as “Sufetula.”

Sbeitla was the entry point for the Islamic conquest of Africa back in the day.

We stopped at the Archaeological site of Sbeitla—hands down the best-preserved Roman town you’d find in North Africa (yes, more Roman ruins), and if you are interested in ancient history, you’ll be impressed; I know I was.  Next to El Jem, this was my favorite Roman ruins I visited in Tunisia.

Three temples –JupiterJuno and Minerva –were perfectly preserved on the Capitol. Byzantine walls encircle ancient homes, and the Diocletian arch is a gateway.

It’s a full-blown Roman city: temples, houses, a public bath, and mosaic floors that take you back in time—another must-see for anyone exploring Tunisia.

Sbeitla, Tunisia
Public Baths

 

Though it’s close to Mount Mghila and Chaambi Mountains, two areas known for trouble, it was quiet and peaceful. And even better —no crowds.

After a tiring day of travel, we decided to call it an early evening. Our accommodation was the Hotel Byzacene, a sprawling yet somewhat chilly establishment that oddly boasted a 4-star rating, though I couldn’t fathom why. 

The hotel property was enclosed by metal fencing (I presume for tight security, given our proximity to the Algerian border). While the hotel appeared clean, it somehow exuded an unwelcoming ambiance. Despite the hotel’s near emptiness, I was assigned to a room farthest from the rest of my group. Dinner didn’t leave much of an impression.

I had hoped to venture out and explore the ruins I had visited earlier in the day, but I was advised against solo wandering. So, essentially, I was stuck at the hotel for the night.

Exploring the Timeless Treasures of Dougga: Roman Ruins and Ancient Wonders

Our last and final visit to Roman ruins was to The Archaeological site of Dougga. Dougga was a Berber, Punic, and Roman settlement near present-day Teboursouk.  

The Roman Theater and temples of Saturn and Juno Caelestis are some of the famous sites here. There was even a well-preserved latrine here. Though I had seen a lot of ruins, this had different stuff I hadn’t seen at some of the other sites.  

 
Dougga, Tunisia
Dougga Theater

And much like El Jeb and the Archaeological site of Sbeitla, there were barely any crowds. 

It was a long drive from Dougga to Tunis, almost 4 ½ hours. We passed vast groves of date trees and numerous stork nests. We stopped at a few little villages to stretch our legs during this long drive. 

Journey’s End: Reflecting on the Enchantment of Tunisia – History, Culture, and the Call to Prayer

After a fantastic 11-day adventure around Tunisia, we came back to where we began: Tunis. It had been an extraordinary trip—rich with history, impressive architecture, breathtaking landscapes, wonderful people, and a newfound fondness for dates, which I discovered during my time here.

One of the things I enjoyed during my time in Tunisia was the Adhan (call to prayer), which I heard several times a day (5 times to be accurate). I’m not religious, though I respect and am interested in all the world religions. I was nonetheless moved by it. It was like a beautiful, soul-stirring melody that seemed to fill the air with tranquility.

Whether exploring the bustling streets, relaxing in a cozy café, or admiring the beautiful landscapes, the call to prayer added a unique charm to my experience in Tunisia. And though there have been episodes of violence in the past, I felt nothing but safe and welcomed as I traveled throughout Tunisia.

So, if Tunisia wasn’t on your radar, maybe you should rethink it. If traveling with a small group isn’t your thing, I have a great guide to hook you up with. That way, you could come up with the exact itinerary you want.