Tunisia Travels in 2018

#1
Tunisia Trip Report
April 3 – 19, 2018

Language: Tunisia is a dual language country: French and Arabic. Signage for the most part is written in both languages. Many people speak a few words of English except for gas station attendants (why, I have no idea). For a non-speaking English country I don’t think there is an easier country to get along in that we have traveled than Tunisia.

Tourist infrastructure: For the most part the tourist travel infrastructure is good to better than we normally can afford; i.e. hotel accommodations are of a nicer quality for the dollar than we normally can afford and your food dollar buys great café ($5 or less for two) or restaurant meals (roughly $30 to $50 for two depending on meal and if you order wine).
Usually made our lodging reservations the night before we arrived. Never had a problem finding good lodging at an inexpensive price. I use Expedia, Booking.com, Airbnb and for reviews use TripAdvisor.

Transportation: I can only write about its roads and the car ferry from Sicily, Italy – for the most part as good as any in the world. The toll roads of which we only found one and drove it twice is basically a six-lane highway built to U.S. standards without the potholes. Cost to use was less than $2 each trip.
The highway system varied from four-lane with wide shoulders to two-lane with almost no shoulder – usually through beautiful farming lands. The condition of the roads is excellent although some of the minor roads had rough spots – a km or two of potholes.
The city streets are four or two lane roads. Again I found them very easy to drive. If you deviate off the main city streets you may find the going slow – like when Goggle Maps decides to save you a km of driving and takes you though a town’s market rather than keeping you on the main streets.
I never put the 4Runner into 4-wheel drive even when we were driving the dirt roads (usually in search of birds; we are birders). The 4Runners high clearance was all that was required to make our off pavement forays an easy drive.
We didn’t drive the Sahara sand dunes – instead we took a camel ride with an overnight tent trip.
For American drivers Tunisia is easy in that they drive on the same side of the road – right side – as we do. If you are not experienced with roundabouts there is no better place to gain experience than in Tunisia. The out-of-city roundabouts have very little traffic and therefore are very forgiving of a beginner’s mistakes and the city roundabouts follow the rules of the road and on the whole Tunisian drivers are not as aggressive as American drivers again making the roundabouts easy to maneuver.
Traffic lights are few and sometimes difficult to see. I was pulled over by a traffic control officer for running a red light – I didn’t see it but had check for cross traffic, which there was none. The officer knew a little English, was very polite, asked for my (American) driver license, looked at my license and return it, and told me very nicely to more careful – that was it!
Tunisia traffic engineers use speed bumps to control or enforce the speed limits. The speed bump warning sign are located on the right side of the road and will noted you are to slow down to 30 km/hr or 18 mph. I recommend 15 mph even if you are outfitted with upgraded shocks – these speed bumps were built to slow you down and they don’t mess round.
I found all but maybe five were well signed as you approached them. The sign is located on the right side of the road anywhere from 0 to 15 meters or yards from the speed bump. The speed bumps usually come in sets of two to slow traffic entering an area from each side. Therefore after you have rolled over the signed speed bump be prepared to come upon another (usually signed) speed bump anywhere from 20 to 200 yards from the one you just rolled over.
The roads and highways plus the overall traffic allow you to speed. I don’t recommend speeding but Tunisian drivers either are well above the speed limit or creeping along. I constantly found myself going faster than the posted speed limit on the highways and out-of-town roads.

Road traffic is light. Yes, Tunis and several of the other large cities have slow traffic due to congestion but nothing like Washington DC or Los Angles or Atlanta or NYC.
Truck traffic is a non-issue. The truck traffic is much less than the U.S. and stay in the right lane for the most part.

On the smaller roads you will come across and pass farm and construction tractors, mule drawn carts and the occasional sheep herd.
You will have to contend with electric bikes and small engine motorcycles on the roads between towns and in towns. For the most they are not a problem.
Of course, in the small towns and cities be careful of pedestrians. Tunisia like most of the world has many more pedestrians then the U.S.

Fuel: Gas stations are many. I never bother to fill up our spare gas containers and at the same time always was looking for a gas station when I got below a half tank just in case. Premium or Super gasoline cost roughly $3.25 to $3.40/gal.
A strong recommendation is do not buy gas from an unknown station. I went brain dead, stopped at a small farming community’s gas station and had them put in about a third of a tank of what was either a very low octane or water down gas. I repeatedly apologized to my 4Runner for this stupid mistake.
There is always a Shell, OiLibya, Texaco, Total or Agil to buy Super/Premium Gas. After the bad gas I always pulled into a known gas brand station, got out of the 4Runner and pointed at the grade of gasoline I wanted and then motioned I wanted to fill the tank.
The full service pumps will get your gas pumped for you but don’t expect your windshield or headlights to be cleaned – full service is pumping gas for you not anything else.
I don’t believe I was able to use a credit card at any service station, only Tunisian cash. In Tunis or one of the other large cities you might get away with Euros but I didn’t try this currency.

Police/Traffic Control: There are more than several traffic control stops on the Tunisian roads. Driving our 4Runner with Texas plates we were waved through all these stops. It appeared to me these stops were mostly for any type or size of truck.
I already wrote (above) about my good experience with a traffic police officer.
The only other experience was with two tourist police – or at least that is what a café owner told me they were. Both were very polite. I had parked up on a sidewalk at the direction of a café owner less than a block from El Jem’s 35,000 seat and 2,000-year-old coliseum. One of the tourist police had a working knowledge of English and asked where I had come from and where I was going to spend the night – cities not the name of the hotel, etc. Entire conversation last only two or three minutes.

Phone Service: Since Feb. 2018 we have been using the U.S.’s Sprint International for phone and data. Easy and the price isn’t too bad. However, Sprint’s price in Tunisia is outrageous – over $2/min and something like $15/M of data. We carry an extra Apple phone for just such cases. It was very easy to go to the country’s phone company (lots of stores), ask for a Sim card and a service plan. The card, 15 minutes of international calls, all the local calls for a month and 5G of data cost less the $15. The store I used allowed you to pay with a credit card. Don’t forget to take your passport with you.

Terrorism: In 2015 Tunisia had two very bad tourists directed terrorism attacks. Therefore their booming tourism – mostly Europeans seeking an inexpensive place in the sun – came to a crashing halt. It is only now just recovering and both Great Britain and the U.S. earlier this year (2018) have rescinded their no travel warning for a large portion of the country. Both governments still warn tourist not to travel within 30 miles or so of the Algerian or Libyan borders – check the appropriate web pages and do not rely on my writing or knowledge. Almost all of the southern Sahara is off limits to foreigners per the Tunisian government – I believe this is considered a military zone.
Although we drove into a portion of the U.S. do not travel area close to the Algerian border – Mides, Tunisia, etc. – I strongly suggest you follow the State Department’s directions.
The Tunisians we met or just walked by all were great people (OK, the touts at Chibia are a total pain in the ass) with ready smiles. Don’t let the foreign terrorists and a few home grown affect your thoughts on Tunisians. Tunisians are great people!
 
#2
Continuation of Trip Report

Our itinerary: We took the car ferry from Palermo, Sicily, Italy to Tunis, Tunisia. This is an 11-hour trip with one time zone change.
We landed in Tunisia. We passed through customs and passport control. We exited into a parking lot – without a pre-approved phone service and therefore no Google maps or any Tunisian money. And we have been driving the world for almost the last two years and backpacked for five months in South America, driven to Panama, etc. – old age makes you forget the basics!
Found a cab driver who knew no English, made a deal using mostly hand signals and had copied down our hotel into my book that I could then show him and followed him to our hotel. He drove like a bat out of hell but kept his emergency blinkers on so I never lost him. Heck, when we were about 2/3rds of the way to the hotel and had to stop for some traffic he rolled down his window and gave me the thumb up sign.
3-7 April: Tunis: Didn’t drive Tunis except into and out. Used a taxi to go to Bardo National Museum – don’t miss this museum – and to Carthage all on the same day. Spent the better part of day walking the Median or old town – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
7 - 9 April: Drove from Tunis to Ichkeul Lake using Google Maps (roughly 100km and 90 minutes of driving and another couple of hours of birding/driving). The map took us to a farmer’s house about a 2 km away from the Lake. Great guy who using his hands explained we needed to turn around and go back to the main road, oh well. We took a great dirt farm road that got us close to the lake and stopped more than once to walk and bird. We ended the day by visiting the Ichkeul National Park and this park is a UNESCO World Heritage site – and I think this is the most disappointing National Park we have ever visited and the same for a World Heritage site. Don’t waste your time here.
Late that afternoon we pulled into a tourist resort hotel in Bizerte (Andalucia Beach Hotel & Residence $77.50/night including breakfast). The next day we kicked back and relaxed in our two-bedroom and two-bath hotel suite with kitchen. Hotel has a pool and then there is the beach and ocean. Hotel food was less than average (I believe this was the only food we thought was lousy) but we went to the nearby grocery store and stocked up on food that Nancy then prepared for our meals on our second full day here.

9 April: Dougga (155 km and almost 3 hrs) and then on to Kairouan (150 km and another 2 ½ hrs). Again Goggle Maps got us close and when we saw signs to Dougga we followed the signs and turned off Goggle. About 30 minutes before arriving in Dougga is when I did the stupid bad gas buy. Dougga is a well-preserved Roman small town – we spent two or three hours wandering the sight and birding. Dougga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(Stayed at Hotel Continental: very large room w/breakfast $56/night)

10 April: Explored Kairouan; recommend seeing the Grand Mosque and Sidi Hibid El Gharieni and skipping the Rakkada Museum, Bassin des Aghiabites (across the street from the hotel) and the Mosque 3 Portals. Had a great fresh fish lunch: buy fish at market, go next-door have fish cooked and then severed with salad and French fries. Total cost for 3 people (the evening hotel receptionist was our free guide): $5.50 for fish and almost $7 for cooking plus a take away rotisserie cooked chicken which came with bread – our dinner.

11 April: Drove to Tozeur by way of Bou-Hedma National Park (380+km and 6.5 hrs). Goggle Maps got us to the park and we saw a sign announcing the park – and that was it. We stopped several times to bird an area and drove several dirt paths.
(Stayed at Maison D’Hote B&B $50/night including breakfast + $10 for 2 home cooked meals & a similar small amount for a bottle of wine. Great hosts: she teaches French, he teaches Arabic, oldest daughter a psychiatrist in Germany, 2cd daughter an engineer in Germany and son is in school in Paris. No jobs in Tunisia for the young.) Note: the dates from Tozeur can’t be beat!

12 April: left our luggage in our room and drove to Zaafrane (140 km and 3 hrs) and met a guide who provided camels for a ride into the Sahara. (Two guides, camels, dinner, breakfast and tent w/blankets roughly $55/60 per person.) Before camel safari we stopped at small café for lunch; $3.25/person.

13 April: Returned to Tozeur and declared the remainder of the day a rest day.

14 April: Drove the tourist route of Chbika to Tamaghza to Mides back to Tozeur. Good two-lane roads all the way. The trip home at times the visibility was down to 300m or yds due to blowing sand. Hike one of the canyons and took several signed dirt roads to see what was there.

15 April: Drove to El Jem (345 km & 5 hrs) and then on to Sousse (70 km & 1 hr). Stopped in El Jem for about two hours to explore the Coliseum (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Used Airbnb to book an apartment in Sousse: nice one bedroom with bath, kitchen, living room w/TV, kitchen balcony with washing machine and living room balcony.$53/night.

16 April: Grocery store and walked the neighborhoods.

17 April: Took a taxi to Sousse Archaeological Museum (about $2) – great museum. Then walked the Medina (old town) including the fort and grand mosque and then walked back to apartment: stopped for two beers for me.

18 April: Plan was to drive to Kerkuane Punic Ruins (UNESCO World Heritage site) by way of Korba lagoon for birding. Did the birding but decided against the ruins and stopped for the night in Kelibia. Rented a large two bedroom and one bath apartment with a kitchen w/hot plate and living room overlooking a wheat field the Mediterranean ocean for $39.

19 April: Took a short birding walk in the morning and then drove back to Tunis to catch ferry to Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Had another great fishmeal for lunch with a beer for me and a glass of wine for Nancy -- $45 for the two of us.

Will add to this post on the ferry trip and getting into and out of the countries in the next couple of days.

Never discovered an answer to my question on vehicle insurance so we drove naked.

We enjoyed Tunisia. We spent more than others will spend. At age 67 and two weeks short of 70 we like our comforts and food. The scenery is beautiful, the highways and roads easy to drive, the cost is inexpensive, and the people are GREAT.
 
#4
I second that request for photos. Just found out we maybe heading there in November and looking for places to go and sights to see. I'd really like to do the camel camping trip, don't think my wife would be game for that.

-Chris
 
#5
We are returning to the U.S. in a week. Will be home for about ten weeks. I will do my best to post photographs during this down time at home. Lots of good reasons to visit Tunisia and hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
 
#6
Can't wait for pictures either!

I am also interested in details of your vehicle shipping arrangements to Europe and back? If you're interested in sharing. :)
 
#7
rallygabe, We shipped our 4Runner from Mumbai, India to Genova, Italy. I can provide the name and email address of our importer in Genova -- highly recommend him and his company. Our man in Genova may be able to provide a company in the U.S. to ship to Europe and a company to import your vehicle wherever you want it to land in Europe.
So far we have shipped our 4Runner from U.S. to Australia to Singapore and Malaysia to India to Italy (4 ocean voyages for our 4Runner). The company we used in the U.S. I can't recommend but may work for you. The company that received our 4Runner in Australia, shipped it from Australia, received it in Singapore, shipped it from Malaysia I will highly recommend. I can't recommend the company that received our 4Runner in India but I have an individual in India that again I highly recommend.
 
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