When visiting Tunisia, you’ll notice it is a county filled with diverse beauty from the lush green landscapes in the north to the pristine sandy beaches along the coastlines, to the magical mystery of the Sahara Desert in the south. There’s so much spectacular charm for you to explore in Tunisia, but you might also encounter some surprises in this foreign country. Here we have prepared the top 10 things to know before visiting Tunisia to help you prepare for your upcoming trip.
1. The Sahara Desert is Farther Than You Think
Many travelers visiting Europe often consider hopping on a budget flight to spend a few days in Tunisia. At the top of their travel bucket list is to visit the Sahara Desert to ride a camel and take a few selfies where some of the most iconic Star Wars scenes were filmed. What they don’t realize is that the Sahara Desert is about a 7 to 8-hour drive away from the Tunis capital, where the country’s main airport is located.
At Mosaic North Africa, we often receive inquiries from travelers with a 3-day stopover in Tunisia who want to visit the Sahara Desert. This is possible as long as you are willing to spend Day 1 and Day 3 mostly in a vehicle and only have Day 2 for sightseeing.
We recommend a Tunisia tour circuit where you can maximize your itinerary to visit many spectacular sites on the way to the Sahara including the El Jem amphitheater, the historic Sousse medina, and the great mosque in Kairouan. Consider the 11-day Splendors of Tunisia Tour or our 14-day Highlights of Tunisia Tour.
2. The Summer Months are HOT!
Generally, the summer months from June to August in Tunisia can be very hot with temperatures reaching up to 40 C / 104 F. This can be fine if you’re looking for a beach holiday staying at one of Tunisia’s luxury beachside hotels. The best months for swimming in the Mediterranean Sea are from June to September.
If you’re looking to visit the Tunisian Sahara desert, then you’ll want to go during the months before or after summer. The scorching heat in the desert can be unbearable and there is little to no shade covering in the desert. You may also consider visiting the Sahara during the Winter months from November to March when the maximum temperature is normally below 30 C / 86 F). You’ll enjoy the mild daytime temperature with decent sunshine, but the nighttime can be very cold so you will want to pack extra layers of clothes and socks for warmth.
3. Adjust Your Expectations When Traveling During Ramadan and Other Religious Festivals
The activities of daily living in Tunisia can change dramatically during Ramadan and other Islamic festivals. This can be a very enriching cultural experience to observe a different side of Tunisia as non-Muslim tourists. When traveling during Ramadan, you should expect most restaurants to be closed during the daytime, but you will see the city come to life in the evenings after the breaking of the fast. It is important to adjust your expectations. Expect road traffic before sunset as everyone is trying to get home quickly to break the fast. Expect some delays as it may take longer than usual to get to your destination. This can be very frustrating for tourists to find that shops and restaurants may be closed during regular hours. Travelers wanting to maximize their sightseeing without delays should avoid visiting Tunisia during Ramadan and other religious festivals.
4. Hard Cash is King in Tunisia
Since Tunisia is a primarily cash-based society, we recommend you use primarily cash instead of Traveller’s checks or credit cards. Aside from carrying Tunisian Dinars, we also recommend keeping extra USD or Euros on your person throughout all your travels. Select restaurants and grocery stores will accept credit cards and there is usually a credit card surcharge.
Keep in mind that the Tunisian Dinar is a closed currency. This means Tunisian Dinars cannot be purchased in advance from your home country, and can only be purchased in Tunisia. In fact, importing and exporting Tunisian Dinars is illegal. As a result, currency exchange is only possible within Tunisia, and you should spend your remaining Tunisian Dinars before leaving the country.
5. Bargaining is a Skill
The souks (Arab markets) are a shopper’s paradise to find artisanal goods, beautiful textiles, and all sorts of souvenirs to remind you of your wonderful trip to Tunisia. Each city in Tunisia may have its own souk with unique crafts that are unique to the specific region. Finding souvenirs that you want to buy is the easy part. The confusing part is when you don’t see any price tags in the store. It is best to carefully examine the souvenir and only ask the shopkeeper for the price if you’re considering the purchase.
Once you are given the price, keep in mind that the given price is the highest price that you can pay for the item. In many cases, the price can be brought down to more than half depending on the item. Bargaining is not only a part of the culture in Tunisia, it is also a skill that requires knowledge of the local customs, patience, and a willingness to haggle.
Bargaining at the souks/markets can be very frustrating and intimidating for many travelers coming from countries where bargaining is not a norm. Typically you can find a few shops in the souks with fixed prices that might be slightly more than what you would pay with a decent bargain.
6. Paradise for Stray Cats
No matter where you travel in Tunisia, you’ll find many stray cats in the streets. Don’t be surprised to find a few stray cats that frequent your hotel especially if there is a large garden area.
Touch or pet these stray cats at your own risk. It is advised not to feed the stray cats.
7. Ask Before Taking a Photo
It is proper camera etiquette in Tunisia to ask before taking a photo of someone in Tunisia. If someone does not want their picture taken, please do not insist, but respect their wishes. DO NOT take photos of any police, military, or security personnel and government buildings.
8. Restrictions in Visiting Mosques
Islam is the predominant religion in Tunisia and there are many mosques throughout the country. There may be some restrictions if you are visiting the famous Mosques in Tunisia as a non-Muslim tourist. When visiting the Mosque of Uqba in Kairiouan, non-Muslim tourists are permitted to enter into the courtyard, but cannot enter into the prayer area. When visiting the Mosque Sidi Sahbi (Mosque of the Barber) in Kairouan, non-Muslim tourists cannot enter the holy shrine area and the prayer area. If you are interested in visiting the Zitouna Mosque in the Tunis capital, there are nearby rooftop cafes that offer a picturesque panoramic view of the UNESCO Tunis Medina including a view of the mosque’s courtyard.
Also, remember that your driver and tour guide are Muslims and may visit the mosque during prayer times. Feel free to ask questions to gain a further understanding of how Islam affects the daily lives of Tunisians.
9. You Can’t Truly Explore Tunisia In Just a Few Days
Know what you want to see and do in Tunisia before traveling there. Remember that it takes 7-8 hours to drive from the north to the south of the country. If you are interested in visiting the Star Wars locations, then we recommend an 8-day tour itinerary. If you want to see the historic highlights of the country, then we recommend another 8-day itinerary that is focused on history. Our 11-day Splendors of Tunisia Tour and our 14-day Highlights of Tunisia Tour are popular itineraries designed with a blend of historical and cultural highlights.
10. Leave Your Drones at Home
A special permit is required to use drones in Tunisia. Bringing your drones into the country may result in confiscation at the airport. We neither encourage nor can be held responsible for any consequences, so travelers to Tunisia must know in advance that they bring drones at their own risk.
Visiting Tunisia on a Private Tour
Planning on visiting Tunisia? One of the best ways to experience authentic Tunisia is on a private guided tour with a licensed professional English-speaking tour guide. Consider one of our popular Tunisia tour itineraries such as our 14-day tour or our 11-day tour. Or we can customize a Tunisia tour itinerary that meets your travel preferences. Contact one of our Tunisia Travel Experts to start planning a hassle-free holiday to Tunisia.