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Tunisia has changed hands more times than a parcel at an eight year old's birthday party, but for us travelling folk that has some nice consequences. Phoenician, Jewish, Roman, Vandal, Arab, Ottoman and Spanish Muslim influences have each had their say in Tunisia's past.
Really, it's an attractive affair for any traveller who can handle the heat and wants some variety in their next trip. In the south, where the Sahara engulfs Tunisia, offer 4WD trips through the desert - not exactly an authentic caravan, but when you compare the air-conditioned climate inside the car to the pummeling heat outside, you won't be complaining. Carthage, Dougga and El-Jem are the most notable Roman ruins and you certainly won't be alone in visiting them. Nor will you be alone if you head to one of Tunisia's fine beaches. But any complaints will be erased quickly by the warm Mediterranean waters.
At the beginning of known recorded history, Tunisia was inhabited by Berber tribes. Its coast was settled by Phoenicians starting as early as the 10th century BC. The city of Carthage was founded in the 9th century BC by settlers from Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon. Carthage was eventually conquered by Rome in the 2nd century BC, a turning point which led to ancient Mediterranean civilization having been influenced mainly by European instead of African cultures. After the Roman conquest, the region became one of the granaries of Rome, and was Latinized and Christianized. The Romans controlled nearly all of modern Tunisia, unlike other modern African countries, of which Rome only held the northern coast.
Around the beginning of the 8th century the region was conquered by Arab Muslims, who founded the city of Kairouan which became the first city of Islam in North Africa. Tunisia flourished under Arab rule. Spain seized many of the coastal cities from the 13th century onwards, but these were recovered by the Ottoman Empire. Under its Turkish governors, the Beys, Tunisia attained virtual independence. The Hussein dynasty of Beys, established in 1705, lasted until 1957. From 1881 - 1956 the country was under French colonization.
In 1942-1943, Tunisia was the scene of the first major operations by the Allied Forces (the British Empire and the United States) against the Axis Powers (Italy and Germany) during World War II. The main body of the British army, advancing from their victory in Battle of el-Alamein under the command of British Field Marshal Montgomery, pushed into Tunisia from the south. The US and other allies, following their invasions of Algeria and Morocco in Operation Torch, invaded from the west.
Tunisia's first President Habib Bourguiba had much hands-on political experience, after many decades serving among the leadership of the independence movement. As the major figure of the Neo-Destour Party, he was instrumental in obtaining full independence for Tunisia in 1956. He dominated the government until his removal in 1987. Ben Ali became President of the Republic in 1987, and remains so today. His economic policies have emphasized a market orientation. His attempt at reapproachment with Islamist groups did not meet expectations. The ruling party was reorganized. Under his leadership Tunisia's economy continued to perform at a pace which yielded a moderate but overall steady rate of growth.
In response to the 2010–2011 Tunisian protests, Ben Ali declared a state of emergency in the country, dissolved the government on 14 January 2011 and promised new legislative elections within six months. But on that same day Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power in Tunisia. Ghannouchi announced the change on state television and said he was assuming presidential duties. Unconfirmed news reports, citing unidentified government sources in Tunisia, said that the President had left the country. He fled the country on 14 January.
Tunisia is situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Nile Delta. It is bordered by Algeria on the west and Libya on the south east. It lies between latitudes 30° and 38°N, and longitudes 7° and 12°E. An abrupt southward turn of the Mediterranean coast in northern Tunisia gives the country two distinctive Mediterranean coasts, west-east in the north, and north-south in the east. Though it is relatively small in size, Tunisia has great environmental diversity due to its north-south extent. Its east-west extent is limited. Differences in Tunisia, like the rest of the Maghreb, are largely north-south environmental differences defined by sharply decreasing rainfall southward from any point. The Dorsal, the eastern extension of the Atlas Mountains, runs across Tunisia in a northeasterly direction from the Algerian border in the west to the Cape Bon peninsula in the east. North of the Dorsal is the Tell, a region characterized by low, rolling hills and plains, again an extension of mountains to the west in Algeria. In the Khroumerie, the northwestern corner of the Tunisian Tell, elevations reach 1,050 metres and snow occurs in winter. The Sahel, a broadening coastal plain along Tunisia's eastern Mediterranean coast, is among the world's premier areas of olive cultivation. Inland from the Sahel, between the Dorsal and a range of hills south of Gafsa, are the Steppes. Much of the southern region is semi-arid and desert. Tunisia has a coastline 1,148 kilometres long.
For such a small country, Tunisia surprisingly has a lot to offer for the traveller, ranging from cultural to natural attractions. It has some good cities to visit as well and the old city of the capital Tunis is a real gem.
Kairouan is one of 7 holy cities of Islam and the religious hart of Tunisia, with over 100 mosques. It is an old city and its fortified wall structure proves this. Entering the old city (medina) through one of its gates is stepping back in time, although back in the old days tourists were probably almost unheard of, especially the lobster coloured one of today.
The place to visit old ruins in Tunisia, Carthage boasts an enormous variety of remains of different people/periods in history, like the Phoenician, Byzantine, Arabic and Romans. This archaeological gem can be found just northeast of Tunis, along the Mediterranean coastline, which gives the place some extra beauty.
Just like its counterpart in Rome, El Jem basically is impressive because of its simplicity alone. It may not be as well known as the Colosseum, but this amphitheatre is said to be about the same size. It is built around 230 A.D. and today is a very popular trip for people escaping the crowds at the Tunisian beaches. The town of El Jem is nothing much by the way, so spending the night here just is not necessary.
Tunisia, like Morocco is one of the best countries for beginners to experience the desert. The southern town of Douz is reached easily along a surfaced road from where a camel brings you to the sand dunes which form a beautiful yellowish sea to the south of the town. Douz itself is pleasant enough to wander around and has some good places to stay, including a hotel with views of the sandy parts of the Sahara desert.
Chott El Jerid is a mostly dry salt lake in the south of Tunisia, roughly between the towns of Douz and Tozeur. Although Chott means lake, it usually is a dry salty flat, but in winter after heavy downpours there sometimes actually is a real lake. That said, it still is best to experience the vastness of this area outside winter, with spring (May) and fall (October) being the best months when it's dry and warm weather.
Apart from the holy city of Kairouan, Tunisia has a wider collection of cities and towns which are very enjoyable to walk around and give an impression of everyday life, both outside and inside the medina (old quarter). The best examples are the capital of Tunis and Sousse, more south along the coast. Although the latter is smaller and more touristy (because of its beaches), it is also more quiet than the capital. The cities are linked to each other by a 2 hour train journey.
There are also so smaller cities to be found in Tunisia, which are just as great to just wander around, admiring the people, their way of life and the historic structures. Some cities enjoy having a large maze of small paths, like Tozeur and Douz in the south.
Part of the Star Wars series was recorded in Matmata, which instantly made it a popular Tunisian destination. Besides Star Wars fame, the area around Matmata looks like what you'd expect to see on the moon, with its barren plains, hills and craters. Temperatures can reach 50º C here and therefore some people are still living in houses beneath the surface.
Although Tunisia is small, there are quite some differences regarding the weather. The northern part of the country has a mediterranean climate with warm summers and mild winters. Temperatures during the day are generally between 30 °C and 35 °C during the day and around 20 °C at night. Most rain falls during the cooler winter months and higher up in the mountains there is some snow possible as well, but usually not more than 10 days or so. The central parts are becoming drier and hotter, while in the south there is a desert climate, with only several days a year seeing some precipitation, usually in the form of heavy downpours. Temperatures in the south can rise to 50 °C but usually are somewhat lower.
Tunisair is the national airline of Tunisia and is based at Tunis-Carthage International Airport (TUN) near the capital Tunis. International destinations include those to and from Algiers, Amman, Amsterdam, Athens, Bahrain, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Cairo, Casablanca, Copenhagen, Damascus, Dubai, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamburg, Istanbul, Jeddah, Kuwait, Lisbon, London, Lyon, Madrid, Marseille, Milan, Munich, Paris, Rome, Stockholm and Zürich, among many others. Several French cities are served as well. About 20 other airlines serve the airport as well, mainly from Europe and Northern Africa.
Habib Bourguiba International Airport (MIR) serves Monastir and Sousse. Around 25 airlines serve Monastir, many of which are charter airlines which only fly here during the summer season of April to October. Some of the main destinations include Berlin, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Munich, Paris, Dresden, Warsaw, Zürich, Helsinki, Belgrade, Brussels, Manchester, Luxembourg, Malta, Tunis, Dublin, Bucharest, Aberdeen, London, Cardiff, Moscow, Lyon, Nice, Lille, Marseille and Geneva.
Enfidha – Zine El Abidine Ben Ali International Airport (NBE) opened in 2009 and has become an important airport for the central coastal region since then, attracting more flights and adding flights which previously flew into Monastir Airport. Many airlines now serve routes from cities throughout Europe, and in 2011 several big airlines like Air Berlin, Tuifly and Tunisair will start operations as well.
There are no international trains to and from Tunisia.
Tunisia is the starting point of the central overland route through the Sahara. The most popular route and crossing is at Hazoua on the road between El Oued and Tozeur. You can cross by car, but you'll probably need an escort to travel further onward in Algeria. Other borders are not an option.
Shared taxis travel across the border with Algeria at Hazoua (see above). Although there are also buses from a number of Tunisian cities towards Libya (Tunis - Tripoli is around 10 hours for example), these can not be used by travellers (not being locals), you will need a guide/tour from Libya onwards.
Sevenair operates several daily flights between Tunis and the island of Djerba and several weekly flights from the capital to Tozeur, Sfax and Gafsa.
SNCFT operates the train network in Tunisia. The main route is north-south between Tunis and Gabès, stopping in places like Sousse and Sfax. One train per day branches at Mahres, south of Sfax, going to Gafsa and Metaloui. There are also branch lines to Bizerte and Nabeul (in the Cap Bon). Another train link is the Metro de Sahel linking Sousse to Monastir and Mahdia along the coast.
Tunisia is a good country to travel around by car and if you are from Europe, it is easy to bring your car on one of the many ferries from Italy or France. Otherwise, you can rent one at the international airports, major cities and many coastal resort areas. Most roads are paved and in good condition and there are well maintained road signs and fuel is available at frequent intervals. Valid national driver's licenses and sufficient insurance are required.
SNTRI operates an extensive network of bus connections between all major cities and regional towns. Minibuses and shared taxis provide services to even the most remote villages.
Ferries operate between Sfax and the Kerkennah Islands, and between El Jorf and Djerba.
A visa for a stay up to 3 months is not required for nationals of the following countries:
Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Denmark, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guinea, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Monaco, Montenegro, Montserrat, Morocco, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States and Vatican City.
All other nationals need to apply for a visa at the nearest embassy or consulate.
See also Money Matters.
The dinar is the currency of Tunisia (code: TND), subdivided into 1000 milim.
Coins come in denominations of 1,2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 milim, ½, 1, 5 dinar, banknotes come in 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 dinar bills.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is only required upon entering Tunisia when you have been to an infected country within 7 days of entering the country.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Tunisia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
See also International Telephone Calls
La Poste Tunisienne is the national postal service of Tunisia. Services are generally very reliable and relatively fast as well, up to international standards. It usually takes less than a week to European countries and no more than two weeks to the USA or Australia. Opening times of post offices vary, but the larger ones in cities usually are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Mondays to Saturdays and a few hours on Sunday morning (usually 9:00-11:00am). Note that in July and August, there are long lunch breaks (kind of like the Spanish siestas), closing between 1:00-5:00pm. Smaller officies in towns also keep slightly shorther hours, closing for lunch year round and only open during the morning on Fridays and Saturdays. Als note that during Ramadan, opening times might be different as well. Stamps can also be bought outside these times at small shops and kiosks selling postcards. For sending larger packages, you might also choose international companies like DHL, TNT, FedEx or UPS, which are about the same price but have better standards.
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