Last fall, I rented a car and drove from Tunisia’s stunning Mediterranean capital city, Tunis, down to the golden dunes of the Sahara. I passed through a variety of climates and landscapes all while visiting mazes of medieval medinas, preserved colosseums, and ancient mosques.
The historical, cultural and natural splendour of Tunisia is truly hard-to-beat.
I was surprised to discover breathtaking scenery, fascinating souks, perfectly preserved Roman ruins, sacred sites, and magnificent views of the Sahara desert. From the country’s beautiful geographical diversity to its fascinating historical landmarks, exploring Tunisia by road-trip is a perfect and astounding journey for the off-the-beaten-path traveler.
This blog is meant to serve adventurers who believe in travel as education, and are in search of an immersive and local experience while discovering Tunisia’s gems.
Getting to Tunisia
I took a ferry from Palermo, Sicily to Tunisia’s capital city, Tunis. The trip took around 11 hours and I spent most of the morning and afternoon enjoying the Mediterranean sunshine and breeze on the boat deck. Ferries to Tunisia also leave from Civitavecchia, Salerno, and Trapani ports in Italy.
Tunisia has 10 airports, the largest being Carthage International Airport in Tunis. Carthage Airport operates flights to 63 destinations in 32 countries.
3. Land border
Traveling to Tunisia by land border is not the best option as the roads from the Libyan border are closed and crossing in from any of the Algerian border checkpoints is not guaranteed. Some travelers report having had no issue coming in from Algeria, while others were refused entrance.
As a solo female traveler, I was a bit nervous to visit Tunisia as it was my first time in Africa. I booked the trip spontaneously while touring in Sicily after hearing that a ferry ticket from Palermo was only €30, and had just one day to plan before getting on my boat!
I spent my first week in Tunis resting and settling in, and then decided to rent a car to have complete freedom to explore the country on my own terms. Renting a car gave me access to many of the more magical, unexplored places I ended up visiting, so while I highly recommend it, it’s not the only way!
Train, bus, louage (minibus share), taxis and flights are all available to make your way around Tunisia and navigate the stunning country smoothly. That being said, domestic flights within Tunisia tend to be expensive, and bus and train seats fill quickly, so make sure to buy tickets at least a day or more in advance. If you take taxis, always be sure that the meter is working, or that you discuss the price (and come to an agreement) with the driver first.
When is the best time to travel to Tunisia?
Tunisia’s climate is considered “summer-Mediterranean”; mild winters with moderate rainfall, and very hot, dry, and arid summers. June, July and August are the hottest months, with January and February being the coldest.
I visited in November and stayed a little over three weeks. Evenings were chilly and days were very pleasant — warm in the early afternoon and in direct sunlight, with need for a light sweater in the mornings and in shade.
How long should you stay?
I stayed in Tunisia a little over three weeks and this was the perfect amount of time for me. However, I tend to be a slow-traveler and really take my time seeing a new country, especially since I often participate in work exchanges or local projects or make friends and end up doing home-stays.
I would recommend staying in Tunisia for at least two weeks in order get a full and authentic experience of what the country has to offer.
From the capital city to the Sahara: my itinerary and experience traveling Tunisia off-the-beaten-path
I started my Tunisia journey in the country’s capital city of Tunis. Home to the world-class Bardo Museum, the ruins of Carthage, traditional hammams, and an ancient Medina, once considered one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the Islamic world.
Founded around the original core of the remarkable Zaitouna Mosque, the Medina, or center of the ancient city, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, and contains colorful marketplaces, endless alleyways, and 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas, and fountains. Unlike many other Medinas in North Africa, Tunis’ is relatively unspoiled by tourism, making it easy to wander endlessly.
I stayed in Tunis for a full week and spent my time here exploring the countless colorful Artisan shops, drinking Turkish coffee in cafés, stopping by Hammams for a Turkish bath, and allowing my curiosity to guide me. When I wasn’t exploring the Medina, I took a day-trip out of the city or the metro over to Sidi Bou Said for a Mediterranean sunset and some chill leisure time.
Sidi Bou Said
Just a half-hour drive or quick ride on the metro from the bustling Tunisian capital, the white and blue Mediterranean town of Sidi Bou Said sits on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, Carthage Palace, and all of Tunis.
I came here on multiple afternoons and evenings and strolled through the cafés, restaurants and galleries of the Old Town, wandered down winding side-streets and admired the mix of Grecian, Andalucian and Arabian architecture, and for sunset, enjoyed the spectacular view of the Gulf of Tunis from the lighthouse.
Cap Angela: The Northernmost Point of Africa
A couple hours’ drive from Tunis, Cap Angela is the northernmost point of continental Africa and was my first stop upon acquiring my rental car. The journey’s natural scenery is utterly captivating; rolling green hills, the majestic Mediterranean, the open sky.
I brought a picnic to enjoy on the seaside cliffs, and then spent the afternoon hiking the beautiful surrounding terrain. Aside from the local fisherman, I had all of Cap Angela to myself!
Bizerte is the northernmost city in Africa, as well as one of the oldest settlements in Tunisia. I stopped here on my way back to Tunis from Cap Angela, and arrived just before sunset.
The city had a really calm and peaceful vibe, and is so beautiful! Aside from exploring the Medina’s traditional craftwork shops and strolling in the Andalusian Quarter, I ate bambalouni — a Tunisian donut — from a street vendor, admired the array of colorful fishing boats beside the Kasbah walls, and people-watched at the picturesque Old Harbor.
Takrouna is an abandoned Berber village south of Tunis in the Sahel region. I traveled here as a day-trip from Tunis, and although the drive is a little bumpy, it’s so worth it!
To get to Takrouna Rock, travel to Takrouna Village and then follow the winding road to the top of a castle-like hill, where 200 meters above sea-level, an old mosque sits at the threshold of the impressive village ruins. The commanding view overlooks the countryside and the Gulf of Hammamet, and easily offers up one of the best sunsets in Tunisia.
Tunisia’s original resort town boasts white sand beaches and crystal clear water. The entirety of Hammamet is mixed into a garden, and aromas of olive trees, citrus groves, and jasmine permeate through the town.
I stayed in Hammamet two nights, which was the perfect amount of time. I loved exploring the walled-Medina and Kasbah, where meticulously crafted doors and stonework contrast the pure white Grecian buildings along the seaside.
Kairouan is the 4th most holy city for Muslims, and has been a major destination for pilgrimage and religious studies since 670 AD. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kairouan boasts a beautiful Medina filled with alleys and arches, as well as the famous Great Mosque, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture and one of the more impressive monuments of its kind in North Africa.
I passed through Kairouan for the day on the way from Hammamet to El Djem. I spent several hours taking photos of the Medina, and had a fantastic local meal at Dar Abderrahman Zarrouk.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ampitheatre of El Djem is the largest colosseum in Africa, and one of the best-preserved Roman stone ruins in the world.
I ate traditional Tunisian street food in El Djem before visiting the Ampitheatre in the late afternoon. I was absolutely blown away at how well-preserved this ancient ruin is, and could not stop taking photos! After wandering through the arcades and underground passageways, I climbed up high for a breathtaking sunset.
From El Djem I drove on to Sfax, where a $1 car ferry brings you to the Kerkennah Islands in an hour and a half.
Locals on Kerkennah do not believe in roadways, so much of the islands’ charm and natural beauty is unspoiled and preserved. I stayed a total of three nights and from relaxing on picturesque beaches to visiting charming, authentic fishing villages and the 1000 year-old Borj el Hissar Fort, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my time here, and did not want to leave when my time was up!
Ksar Ghilane Oasis, Tataouine
Ksar Ghilane Oasis remains one of the more magical places I’ve been. I stayed three nights in a Bedouin-style camp at the doorway to the golden dunes of the Sahara, wandered the desert by foot and camel, and bathed in the healing waters of a naturally heated spring oasis while stargazing by night.
I am already planning a return trip to Tunisia just to visit Ksar Ghilane again.
Ksar Ouled Soltane, Tataouine
The vaulted and fortified 15th century Berber homes of Ksar Ouled Soltane are just 15 minutes Southwest of the city of Tataouine. After exploring the complex, I drove around and the spectacular surrounding desert landscape, constantly stopping off for photos.
Ksar Hadada, Tataouine
No tour of Tunisia is complete without seeing an original Star Wars film set. Both the fortified Berber homes of Ksar Ouled Soltane and Ksar Hadada in Tataouine were used in filming, as well as Sidi Bouhlel ravine and the vast salt pan of Chott El Djerid in Tozeur.
I spent about an hour discovering Ksar Hadada, and enjoyed a local lunch from a Lablabi — chickpeas, harissa, and soft-cooked eggs in a cumin-flavored soup — street food cart before heading to Douz for the night.
Set alongside the Grand Erg Oriental, or ‘Great Eastern Sand Sea’, Douz has a special magic of its own.
I stayed one in Douz as a stopping point between Tataouine and Tozeur. I passed my time walking around the town as cafés filled in the evening, watching sunset over the sandy shores of the Erg Oriental, and visiting the central souk in the morning for a lively and exquisite market.
Tozeur is full of authentic, local charm, and aside from easy access to Chott El Djerid, the Sahara’s largest salt pan, the city is fabulous for eating authentic Tunisian food, relaxing and renewing at traditional Hammams (for ~$1!), and wandering Ouled Hadef, the Medina, where traditional desert houses and decorative brick facades are the backdrop to a bustling, cultural atmosphere.
I stayed three nights in Tozeur at the tasteful and authentic Residence Tozeur. Aside from my time eating ‘Dromadaire a la Jarre‘ — stewed camel meat — at Restaurant Le Soleil, visiting Hammams and exploring the Medina, I drove out to Chott El Djerid at dawn and dusk multiple times, and used the city as a base from which to explore more of the surrounding southwestern region, including Chebika Oasis, Tamerza, Mides, and Nefta.
Chebika Oasis, Tozeur
Just outside of Tozeur, Chebika is a mountain oasis and popular hiking area featuring impressive rock formations, waterfalls, and a steep, narrow gorge. Terraces and trails enable visitors to explore the terrain and even descend into the ravine, where plant life is abundant due to the natural water source.
I visited Chebika as part of a day trip from Tozeur, and spent several hours hiking the gorgeous terrain.
A long and winding road takes you from Chebika to Tamerza, the largest mountain oasis in Tunisia. The deserted town is based around a huge canyon, and is renowned for its clear water cascades and natural springs.
I hiked the canyon ravine and cooled off with a swim in fresh spring-water. And, as with most of the other sites on this list, I had the entirety of Tamerza to myself.
On the Tunisian-Algerian Border, Mides’ gorge stretches for 3 km. Steep and wild cliff terraces rise on both sides of the great wadi, where shimmering sunlight illuminates stunning layers of mineral-rich stratified rock.
Nefta is one of the most important religious centers in Tunisia. Traditionally linked with Sufism, the town contains 24 mosques and over 100 shrines. Visit the Corbeille, an ancient desert oasis surrounded by lush palm trees, then head to the desert dunes in the afternoon.
Nefta was my final stop before heading back to Tunis. I left Tozeur city in the late afternoon and arrived in Nefta just before sunset. After checking out the Star Wars set at Onk Jemal, I spontaneously decided to spend my last night in Tunisia under a starlit sky in a local campground.