Trip Notes: 3 Nights in Tunisia

Old May 15th, 2019, 11:05 AM
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Trip Notes: 3 Nights in Tunisia

We spent 3 nights in Tunisia, using Tunis as our base. We visited Tunis, ancient Carthage, the blue-and-white Mediterranean town of Sidi Bou Said, the Roman coliseum at El Jem, the holy Islamic city of Kairouan, and the port city of Sousse. For such a short trip, we had a good variety of interesting experiences. And we found Tunisia to be a relatively pleasant country with a low-ish hassle factor. What follows are some trip notes with practical information for those planning a trip to Tunisia, rather than a diary-style trip report.


Day 1: Arrival in TUN at 3 pm (delayed to 6:30 pm); evening walk around colonial Tunis; overnight in Tunis

Day 2: Day trip to Kairouan, El Jem, and Sousse with driver; overnight in Tunis

Day 3: Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, Bardo Museum and Tunis medina; overnight in Tunis

Day 4: Leisurely morning; flight from TUN at 2 pm


We paired Tunisia with Algeria, and thought that Algeria looked generally more compelling (more exotic, fewer tourists, bigger country, etc.). A lot of what Tunisia offered (all-inclusive beach resorts, Star Wars sites, made-for-tourist desert experiences) didn’t really interest us. So, we thought we could experience a good sampling of Tunisia in a relatively short trip and opted for a 3 night trip based in Tunis.

Djerba is the main place we would have liked to have seen, particularly for the 2500 year old Jewish community. The Roman ruins of Dougga would have also been very appealing, but we were already going to Djemila and Timgad in Algeria and didn’t want to OD on Roman ruins.


The major tourist highlights in and around Tunis are: the medina; the new / colonial area of Tunis; the Bardo museum; Carthage; and Sidi Bou Said. This can all be comfortably covered in one long day, but might be more leisurely over 1.5 to 2 days. Below are some details.

- Tunis Medina. We’ve seen a lot of souqs/medinas/bazaars in the Islamic world, and the Tunis medina was just okay and didn’t feel incredibly authentic or interesting. Most of the shops on the main drags peddle junk catered to tourists. Getting deeper into the medina, we liked the neat architecture and a tried out a few good sweets shops that were popular with the locals. The main mosque inside the medina (Al-Zaytuna) is very old (columns from Carthage), and definitely worth visiting. Just outside the medina’s Western gate is Kasbah Square, which has several nicely designed government buildings and is well worth a stroll. Most of the shops are apparently closed on Friday afternoon and Sunday.

- Colonial Tunis. Just east of the medina is Ave de France / Ave Habib Bourguiba, which is the heart of the newer, colonial portion of Tunis. It’s a huge tree-lined boulevard, obviously modeled after the Champs-Elysees. We enjoyed walking around this area for people watching, checking out the architecture, and having our dinners. The clock tower and Catholic church are major landmarks on this street. There is also the Grand Synagogue of Tunis, a huge synagogue for the remaining 300 Jews of Tunis. The synagogue is heavily fortified and it took some effort to visit inside; feel free to privately message me for details.

- The Bardo museum. This is a world-class museum with apparently the best collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Some of the mosaics are absolutely enormous in size. Unlike the typical dusty and dated third-world museum, the Bardo is well curated – mosaics logically presented by era, coherent signage in English, air conditioned, good lighting, and even a downloadable iPhone audio guide app. We spent about 2.5-3 hours in the museum. A decent visit probably takes 2 hours; one with a passing interest could do a quick walk-through and see the museum in an hour, and one with a keen interest could easily spend a full day there.

- Carthage. The main reason almost anyone is visiting is for the “Carthage” name. The ruins are in fairly bad shape, and there is not a whole lot to see. Also, what can actually be seen is mainly from the Roman era, as there isn’t anything noteworthy from the Phoenicians / Carthaginian Empire. “Carthage” actually consists of 8 different nearby archaeological sites, all of which are covered by a single admission tickets. The best preserved and most visited site – and the one depicted in the typical stock photo of “Carthage” – is the Roman-era Antonine Baths. We only visited the Antonine Baths, and skipped the rest of the sites because they didn’t seem impressive. The Antonine Baths can be seen in 20-30 minutes and are just okay, but the setting on the Mediterranean is beautiful. Go as early as possible; apparently the site gets flooded with cruise tour groups, especially in the afternoon. We went before 9am and had it almost to ourselves; tour groups were starting to arrive as we departed.

- Sidi Bou Said. A pretty blue-and-white town on the Mediterranean. It’s well paired with a visit to Carthage (they’re a mile apart), and well worth an hour or two to wander around and enjoy the blue doors, alleyways, and sea views. The main drag has shops peddling tourist junk, but it was very quiet and peaceful once we got away from the main drag. Apparently the seafood restaurants are all tourist traps, and we avoided them. The town apparently gets swarmed with tourists in the afternoon, but almost nobody was around when we visited at 10 or 11am.


We had a good day trip to Kairouan, El Jem and Sousse with a private driver. It was a long day, from 8am to 8pm, covering 280 miles of road.

We wanted to pre-arrange a private driver to take us to Kairouan and El Jem, but the prices we received over the Internet seemed exorbitant (~$200+). Our main interest was to see the El Jem amphitheater, and we were almost going to take a painful 3 hour train each way just to see the coliseum. That would have meant missing Kairouan, which was our second interest.

The day before, we decided to ask our Airbnb host if he had any ideas, and he arranged, apparently though an agency, for a private driver to do the trip for a very reasonable price of 280 TD (about $90). The price also included stops at Sousse (which we did) and Port El Kantaoui (which we declined because it seemed boring).

The driver turned out to be great and very professional, and we highly recommend you try to book with him directly. (We don’t know the agency’s name.) His name is Munir, and his number is +216-98-319-961. The number does not work with What’s App. He spoke functional English.

Some notes on the three stops:

- Kairouan. The Great Mosque is one of the oldest and most important mosques in the Islamic world, and is huge and impressive. We took our shoes off and went inside the main prayer hall for a few minutes until we were kicked out; non-Muslims are apparently not allowed inside. We visited one other Islamic site in Kairouan, a small shrine called the Mosque of the Barber. We didn’t enjoy the Mosque of the Barber at all, probably because it is very small and we had the bad luck of arriving at the same time as two buses full of ghastly, misbehaved Chinese tour groups. There are three additional small Islamic sites in Kairouan, which we did not have time to visit. All five sites are on a combined admission ticket. We spent about 20 minutes exploring the Kairouan medina, which seemed by far the most interesting and authentic medina in Tunisia. Kairouan has a lot to offer, and, if we had the time, we could have easily spent more time exploring the medina and visiting the additional Islamic sites.

- El Jem. The amphitheater was perhaps our favorite site in Tunisia. It’s like the Coliseum in Rome, but in much better shape and with almost nobody around. Unlike in Rome, the whole site is accessible, including underground and the upper decks. The small El Jem museum is a 10 minute walk from the amphitheater, and is well worth a visit. It is built as a Roman villa, and has a great collection of mosaics. The museum is included on the same ticket as the amphitheater.

- Sousse. The small Ribat (old fortress) was neat and had great views of the ocean. The Sousse medina is awful, inauthentic and a complete tourist trap. It is plagued with riff-raff European tourists (staying at nearby all-inclusives or on cruises) and the typical third-world scammers and shenanigans that follow them. Sousse is directly on the way back from El Jem and was somewhat of a worthwhile stop just to see the Ribat, but the medina is definitely not worth seeing. In some ways, it might have been better to spend more time at Kairouan and skip Sousse.


Taxis are a very cheap way to getting around Tunis, assuming you insist that they use the meter (which they may or may not do voluntarily for tourists). If they won’t use the meter, tell them to buzz off and wait for the next taxi.

The medina and the colonial city (Ave Habib Bourguiba area) are entirely walkable. You’ll need a taxi (or to figure out public transportation) to reach the Bardo museum (which is ~20 minutes away, in a suburb), Carthage / Sidi Bou Said (also ~20 minutes away), and the airport (~15 minutes away). On the meter, none of these destinations should cost more than around 10 TD (~$3) from the center.

The only tricky taxi situation is at the airport, on arrival. The airport taxi mafia at TUN was fairly nasty, and we couldn’t find a taxi that would use the meter. We found a guy who eventually agreed to take us for a flat rate of 15 TD (explicitly including the new 3 TD airport tax and 1 TD / large suitcase surcharges that are set forth in the fare disclosure on the taxi windows). 15 TD was already a great rate for him and he should have been happy. Yet, once we were on the road, he decided to raise the price to 20 TD – the typical bait-and-switch move that third-world cabbies love to pull. We did not say anything due to fear of our safety if we protested, and figured we would deal with it when we safely arrived and had the luggage out of the car. When we arrived, I did not have exact change to give him 15 TD, and I showed him a 20 TD bill and asked him to show me 5 TD. Of course, I knew not to hand him the 20 TD bill. He insisted on 20 TD and argued with me, and I held my ground. Then he gave me a 5 TD coin (without taking my 20 TD bill) and walked away and got in his car and pretended like he was going to drive away. I slipped the 20 TD bill inside his window. Then he got out of the car and started screaming at us, flipped us the bird, and drove off.


The food in Tunis was just okay. The cafes / restaurants on main street (Ave Habib Bourguiba) are very European – both in food (crepes, pastries, sandwiches, pizza, etc.) and the leisurely outdoor dining experience with good people watching. Thankfully, these restaurants are authentic in that they’re inexpensive and the clientele is almost all locals. We liked Cafe Champs Elysees, which has a guy stationed outside making fresh crepes (both sweet and savory).

Unfortunately, we were disappointed that it was hard to find good, authentic restaurants serving actual Tunisian food. We saw a few overpriced and empty fancy restaurants that were obvious tourist traps, but didn’t see any real restaurants for locals serving traditional dishes like couscous, shakshouka, etc.

We tried the national beer (Celtia) at a bar just off the main street. There are a few bars around, and they are total sausage fests. To make the wife slightly less out of place, we chose the bar with three degenerate women in it. Every other bar we walked into had zero women. It was amusing people watching and an interesting sociological study. Most of the patrons seemed like degenerates and alcoholics, rather than normal guys out for a good time with their friends.


We stayed at a great 1 BR Airbnb that was about $45/night and a 3 minute walk to the main street. The link is: . We found Airbnb to be a much better value than any of the nearby 3* hotels, which all had mixed TripAdvisor reviews.

Two Italian guys, Enzo and Filippo, run this and a few other nearby Airbnbs. Based on our apartment, and the photos of their other listings, they’re all very well decorated and maintained. We’d definitely recommend any apartment they’re listing. Plus, they were great hosts and even arranged our day trip for a reasonable price.


We flew in and out of TUN on Tunis Air – arriving from Constantine, Algeria and departing to Rome. What a complete disaster of an airline. Avoid it like the plague.

Each flight is about one hour. Yet, the first flight was delayed 3.5 hours and the second flight was delayed 6 hours. So, two short hops turned into two entire days wasted. Tunis Air provided no information about these delays, and did not even push the departure time back. The monitors would just list a departure time that had already passed. The airline reps didn’t care one bit, and acted like these delays were no big deal and happen all the time.

Separate from the delays, our original TUN-FCO flight (at 9am) was cancelled for no apparent reason, one week before the flight. We were rebooked on their 2:30 pm flight (which did not actually depart until 8:30pm). Thanks to Tunis Air, we wasted an entire day that could have been spent in Rome.

The flight data indicates that Tunis Air is notorious for long delays. In hindsight, we should have done anything – even if it meant a more expensive fare or a worse schedule/routing – to avoid Tunis Air.


- Money: ATMs are everywhere, and it is easy to get TD whenever you need it. Credit cards are not widely accepted; the big grocery store was the only place we went that took credit card.

- Site Admission Fees: Admission fees have gone up from those listed in tour books and on the official government website. Each ticket was 12 TD, except for the Bardo (13 TD). Thankfully, there is no longer a separate 1 TD “camera charge” at any of the sites; thankfully, someone realized the ridiculousness of enforcing that in the smartphone age.

- Visa: Visiting Tunisia is easy, as most major countries (US, EU, etc.) get 90 days visa free.


Tunisia has long been a big tourist destination for Europeans, but the terrorist attacks several years ago devastated the tourism economy. Other than at a few major sites, we barely saw any other tourists. We even had El Jem and the Bardo museum almost to ourselves. Tourism is apparently starting to slowly come back, so now may be a good time to visit – before things get more crowded and expensive.

We also visited Algeria on this trip, and Tunisia didn’t feel exotic and untouristed like Algeria did. The locals didn’t seem the least bit fascinated with us and seemed totally used – and immune – to tourists. So, while the people in Tunisia were mostly nice enough, we didn’t have much of an opportunity to speak to the locals and really get to know them.

The hassle factor in Tunisia is low-ish. The usual shenanigans, touts, junk peddlers, scammers, etc. are certainly around, but if you’re a savvy and experienced traveler, you’ll be able to easily ignore them.
LAX_Esq is offline  
Old May 16th, 2019, 10:46 AM
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Thanks for an excellent report. Were you there before Ramadan?
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Old May 16th, 2019, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001
Thanks for an excellent report. Were you there before Ramadan?
Welcome. Yep, we flew out the day before Ramadan (to be technical, it started the night we left).
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Old May 17th, 2019, 06:24 AM
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Fantastic (continued) trip report! Thanks for posting. Tunisia is a place I would love to visit someday! And the Bardo is on my list of must-sees, if we ever do get there.
progol is online now  
Old Oct 21st, 2021, 12:59 PM
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can you recommend a private guide with a car?

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Old Oct 21st, 2021, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by monsoon99
can you recommend a private guide with a car?
Hi. I can't recommend any guides because we didn't personally use any, but I can point you in the right direction because I did extensively research private guides and emailed with several. We generally aren't so into guides -- we prefer being on our own within cities and using private drivers for day trips and getting between cities.

Here are a couple I seriously considered, each of whom I found to have received good reviews and whom were very responsive to my emails: (1) Moez Sghaier - his wife Yvette is European and she handles the booking/itinerary/communications stuff, and her email is [email protected]; (2) Ben Jebara M. Tahar - his email is [email protected]; and (3) Boukari Noureddine - his email is [email protected]

I'd encourage you to do your proper homework -- Google them and see if they still have good reviews and if there are any more recent reviews, email them and see if you like them and if they respond coherently and quickly, ask for references, etc.

I will say that I found them all to be VERY expensive for what things should cost in Tunisia. It seemed to me that Tunisia received a lot of ignorant cruise people who are suckers and will vastly overpay for a guide, so that drives up the market price for a guide.
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