Visiting Tunisia was my first time on African soil. Of course, it wasn’t anything like the safari-Africa I read about in books at school, yet it was still very different from anywhere else I’d ever been. When people ask me that horrible question about the “best place” I’ve ever been, I always include Tunisia in my top three. It is now ten years since I visited (eeeeek! How does time go that fast?) and that’s making me über-sentimental about it. So, I’m going to try and explain why it made such a big impression on me – and I hope it might help you decide to book a trip there too, one day.
Tunisia has mosaics + I love mosaics = I love Tunisia
|Mosaics in the Bardo Museum, Tunis|
I knew virtually nothing about Tunisia before I arrived, just what I’d skimmed through in my guide book, which I’d bought shortly after I’d booked flights there (before which time: I hadn’t even been sure where Tunisia even was!). Arriving in Tunis, the capital, and figuring that the highly-acclaimed Bardo Museum was the best place to make a first stop, meant that I was overwhelmed by these old Roman-era mosaics, all brought to the museum from various sites across Tunisia. (When I later saw the much poorer condition of those mosaics which had been left on-site, I was glad they had rescued so many.) Anyway, I have a particular love of mosaics, I think because I love “busy” patterns and these are intricate and gorgeous, and I was thrilled to have found so many to look at.
Tunisia in the off-season is the best Tunisia
|Monastir’s ribat on the west coast of Tunisia|
Unbeknownst to me (growing up here in Perth, where Bali is the “we need warm weather now” playground), Tunisia is a relatively popular destination for Europeans looking for a higher chance of sunshine. Fortunately, though completely by chance, I was there in the “depths of winter” at Christmas time, and the resort holidaymakers were not. My hotel at Monastir (about three hours south of Tunis) was right on the beach and a short walk to this amazing ribat (fort), and I guess in the summer months it was probably full of tourists. I prefer my travels less crowded and this was perfect.
Tunisia has a colosseum to rival Rome’s
|Colosseum or amphitheatre in El Jem (El Djem) in central Tunisia|
At the time, my guide book, and anyone I spoke to, told me that this amazing structure in El Jem (or El Djem, depending on what you read) was a colosseum. Since then, most of my reading seems to suggest it is “just” an amphitheatre but whatever you call it, it was incredible, and what’s more, I could see it through my bathroom window of my tiny hotel room. (Bonus info: it was even used for filming some of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, as was the ribat in Monastir.) Anyway, for some reason when we visited Rome as a child we didn’t go to the colosseum, and now I feel like I don’t need to, because this one impressed me enough.
I could trek in the Sahara Desert in Tunisia!
|Camel foot hits the Sahara Desert near Douz, Tunisia|
Growing up, the Sahara Desert always sounded like this truly mystical, far-off place where you would go for weeks without seeing a sign of life. And yet, just out of the southern town of Douz, here it was! Sure, we were on the very edge of it, and perhaps my childhood image of it would be more accurate if I’d had the time to take a multi-day trek, but I just had a day and took a guided trek out across the dunes on a camel who was intent on trying to tip me off by constantly reaching down looking for something to eat. I stayed on (though I did have a rather sore bottom after!) and I loved it, even the crazy sand blowing in my face, and finding that sand in all my belongings for weeks afterwards.
There are so many more reasons why I loved Tunisia, but really they all come down to one thing: it’s a country which is full of contrasts and you can see completely new and unique things every day. If I’ve intrigued you, check my backpacking route post for some suggestions but don’t forget to take my advice to NOT bet on a camel race while you’re there.