With its inviting climate and pristine natural environment, Tunisia is ideal for holiday-making. And what makes it even better? In 2014, Tunisia returned to the list of visa-free destinations for South African passport holders. Contrary to its reputation following the Sousse terrorist attack (along with a few speed bumps in its recent political history), Tunisia is generally a safe country to visit, given that you travel to the coastal towns and avoid the Algerian and Libyan borders. Tunis, Djerba, Hammamet and Sidi Bou Said have had the green light for a number of years as safe hotspots for tourists from all over the world.
So, if you’re on a mission to uncover Africa’s hidden gems, Tunisia should be your first stop. Start by finding the cheapest flights on Cheapflights.co.za. We’ve made the rest of the planning a bit easier with this guide to travelling Tunisia on a budget.Search flights to Tunisia
Travel during the shoulder seasons
Tunisia has a Mediterranean climate with higher temperatures in the south and hot, dry weather throughout the country in summer. Temperatures can reach up to 40˚C during the months of June, July and August, so tourists flocks to the beaches to keep cool. Off-peak season is in January and February – these months are the coldest, with the most rainfall. Don’t do it unless you want to feel the freeze. The best time to visit Tunisia is during the shoulder season from September to November, when temperatures are more manageable, and April to June, when springtime causes fields of poppies to bloom and apricot season is at its peak. Generally, crowds are smaller, temperatures are more moderate and accommodation prices are lower.
Opt for self-catering accommodation
Here’s an interesting fact – Tunis is amongst the most inexpensive cities in the world, so prepare to get a lot of bang for your buck. Expect to pay as little as R450 per night for a self-catering, free-standing apartment. In Djerba, an island just off the coast, you can expect to pay as little as R300 for a self-catering apartment that’s walking distance from the beach.
Travel like the locals
If you want to see Tunisia on the cheap, your best bet is travelling from city to city using a louage (a long-distance shared taxi, with fixed rates and routes). They have no fixed departure times and leave as soon as they’ve filled up – so patience is key. What they lack in ‘punctuality’, they make up for in travel time – louage drivers rule the roads. It’s not always the most comfortable way to travel, especially with luggage, so prepare to feel squished. But it is cheap and relatively efficient. Louage stations are like bus stations or taxi stands, only a lot busier and louder. When you find one, listen out for the drivers who scream out their destinations. Expect to pay between R30 and R70 per seat depending on how far you’re travelling between cities.
Or take the train
An efficient and safe way to get around is by train – these run between Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, El Jem, Touzeur and Gabes. You can book tickets online or purchase them directly at train stations. If you’re travelling during peak season, book 3 days in advance and prepare to pay between R30 and R150 per journey depending on how far you’re travelling. Book first class for reclining seats and more room for luggage. However, if you’re watching your budget and your journey is under 4 hours, second class is pleasantly accommodating.
Find the cheap eats
If Tunis is your destination of choice, you’re in for a treat. The Marche Central is the place to be if you’re looking to try some local cuisine without breaking the bank. The quality is high, the prices are low and the vibe is infectious. If you’re not in Tunis, you’ll find street-side vendors in every city, each selling their own versions of local specialities including Brik – a thin, deep-fried half-moon-shaped pastry stuffed with various ingredients including egg, tuna, parsley and capers. Or try fricassé – a savoury fried doughnut filled with tuna, boiled egg, olives, harissa, and boiled potato. And be sure to try Le lablabi – a thick stew make of chickpeas and flavoured with cumin and garlic.
What to Do
It won’t cost you a dime to explore the streets and alleyways of Medina, the historic heart of Tunis. It is considered to be one of the most pristinely preserved Arab-Muslim cities in the world and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Make sure you visit the Mosque of the Olive Tree – the most venerated sanctuary in Tunis and the home of the country’s finest examples of religious architecture. And be sure to check out the Souk des Chechias, where the artisans who make Tunisia’s trademark traditional woollen hats have had their workshops for centuries.
Explore the New Town (Ville Nouvelle)
A far cry from the ancient, organic jumble that is Medina, the Ville Nouvelle was developed during the French colonial era. At its centre is Avenue Habib Bourguiba – an avenue lined with palm and eucalyptus trees. Here you can treat your eyes to the nuances of colonial and post-colonial architecture like the gilded, obelisk-shaped Monumental Clock that symbolises the new era of Tunisia. Another must-see includes the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul – a magnificent structure that reflects Moorish revival style and as well Gothic revival and Neo-Byzantine architectural styles. The Bab El Bahr, or Sea Door, is a landmark that marks the separation between Medina and the European part of the city.
Discover traditional pottery
If you find yourself on the Tunisian island of Djerba, a visit to the village of Guellala is a must-do. This village is Djerba’s main pottery centre. The main street is lined with ceramic workshops displaying endless rows of traditional pottery, which are unglazed storage jars painted in bright, eye-catching colours with vibrant designs. It is said that over 450 local potters call Guellala their home. The Guellala art museum boasts a fine collection of locally crafted pottery and has an observation tower that’s excellent for viewing the golden sunset.
Stroll through the market neighbourhood on Djerba
Houmt El Souk is a commune and the main town in the island of Djerba. The streets are filled with displays of traditional handicrafts including textiles, brass and silverware, hand-painted pottery and leather goods. The town is also known for its picturesque fishing harbour with its pastel-coloured boats. The town has a certain mystical element about it with its history of harbouring pirates and merchants from all over the world.
Enjoy the beach
The Mediterranean coastline of Tunisia is lined with beautiful beaches, including Hammamet Beach where the waters are known for being clean and warm. One of the most delightful features of this beach is its oceanic inhabitants – the little fish that live in this part of the ocean are infamous for giving swimmers little nibbles as they swim by. But nothing to worry about – they’re harmless. Quaint shops and cafés surround the beach, so everything you’ll need is within reach.
See Sidi Bou Said
Located just north of Tunis, the town of Sidi Bou Said is situated on the top of a steep cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The town is renowned for its whitewashed architecture, cobbled streets and history of artistry and craftsmanship. Sidi Bou Said is draped in sweet-smelling flowers, cascading off walls, wrapped around gates and tumbling down the cliffs. This bohemian paradise is said to have been the geographical muse for famous artists Paul Klee and writer, Andre Gide. Popular tourist attractions include the Roman Ruins of Carthage and the Souk (local market) where you’ll find souvenirs and local artwork.
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