The ultimate road trip through South Tunisia
‘Impressive rock formations, endless white salt flats, lush green palm oases, vibrant Medinas, historic ksour and the irresistible vast sand dunes of the Sahara.’ In this article I’ll take you on a roadtrip through the surprisingly beautiful landscape of South Tunisia.
Tunisia doesn’t have the best reputation as a travel destination. The country is mainly labeled as one-sided with a focus on all-in beach holidays on the island Djerba. Until recently I thought the same way. About 15 years ago I traveled to Djerba with a friend. We didn’t have such a positive experience there, so I lost interest in visiting the country again.
In recent years, however, Tunisia has undergone a major evolution. I decided to give traveling to this destination a second chance. This time I did a road trip through South Tunisia together with the local tourist office and two fellow bloggers. Here I discovered the surprising beauty of the country, learned more about the deep-rooted culture and enjoyed the hospitality of the locals.
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As you probably know, Tunisia is located in North Africa. It’s not a large country, but because it stretches from north to south, Tunisia has an extremely varied landscape consisting of beautiful Mediterranean beaches, lush countryside, rolling hills, impressive peaks of the Atlas Mountains, dried up salt lakes, mountain oases with palm tree forests and vast sand dunes that are part of the largest desert in the world, the Sahara.
Besides the impressive landscapes Tunisia also has a rich history that goes far back in time. Scattered throughout the country you’ll find traces dating back to the various rulerships that succeeded each other. Just think of some of the sights that have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as: Carthage, the amphitheater of El Djem, the Medina of Tunis and Sousse, Dougga, … But also lesser-known places exude history and authenticity. In the south of the country, you can immerse yourself completely in the ancient traditions of the Berber culture.
In short, Tunisia is an interesting destination for both nature and culture lovers. Unfortunately, these assets are not put in the spotlight quite enough and the country is pictures as a beach holiday resort. This, in combination with the political and economic difficulties that occurred in recent years that resulted in the Jasmine Revolution, ensured that Tunisia became a lesser popular holiday destination. Currently, the country is trying hard to overcome these difficulties. Don’t let these prejudices stop you from planning a trip to this surprisingly beautiful and versatile country.
When is the best time to travel to Tunisia?
The best time to travel to Tunisia depends a bit on which region you want to visit. Tunisia is a large and varied country. For a sun-drenched, beach holiday in the north of the country, it’s best to travel to Tunisia between the months of April and October. Keep in mind that it can get very busy in the summer months of June, July and August.
Would you like to make a roadtrip through the south of Tunisia and especially visit the desert? Then it is best to travel there during the months of March, April, October or November. In the summer it’s barely bearable due to the heat, while during winter the months of December and January the temperature can drop below freezing point.
How to get to Tunisia and how to travel around?
We departed by plane from Brussels airport with Tunisair to Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. From Tunis you have the option to travel to Tozeur or Djerba via a domestic flight with Tunisair express at various times during the week.
Would you like to start your road trip adventure in Tunis? Then this is of course also possible! You can easily rent a car from different companies at the airports of Tunis, Tozeur and Djerba. In Tunis and Djerba this is possible through my favorite partner Sunny Cars.
Would you rather not drive yourself? Then opt for an organized tour with a car and driver. This is possible at Agence Alyssa or chibani-voyages. It is best to contact these services personally via email to see what the possibilities are for a personalized road trip through South Tunisia.
You can also do many fun day trips or multi-day excursions in Tunisia via Getyourguide .
The ultimate road trip through South Tunisia
Based on my own experiences, I have created an itinerary that can help you plan a trip through South Tunisia.I would allocate at least 8 to 10 days for this road trip. This way you have enough time to fully discover all the places on this itinerary.
We started our road trip through South Tunisia in Tozeur to end with a few days of sun and sea on Djerba. Of course you can fully adapt your travel itinerary to your needs. You can also start your road trip in Djerba to end in Tozeur or possibly make a loop so that you can take a breather at the Mediterranean Sea before and after your trip. And of course you have the option to add or omit some destinations yourself.
Discover Tozeur and the breathtaking surroundings
Tozeur is an oasis city with more than a hundred thousand palm trees. The city lies at the foot of the majestic Atlas Mountains and is best known for its traditional architecture and delicious dates. Not only the town of Tozeur, but also the surrounding landscape is fascinating. So be sure to take enough time here to immerse yourself in the deep-rooted Tunisian culture and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
During our visit in Tozeur we stayed 2 nights at Hotel Palm beach Tozeur. The hotel is located about 2 kilometers from the city of Tozeur. In the morning and in the evening you can enjoy a richly filled buffet with both local and European dishes. With its free car park and budget-friendly prices, this is the ideal place to stay during your road trip.
Do you prefer to stay in the city? Then I would advise you to spend the night in one of the authentic dars. A Dar is the Tunisian variant of the Moroccan riad. It’s a traditional house built around a courtyard, usually located in the Medina. We were able to take a look in Dar Tozeur ourselves. Let me tell you that behind those typical bricks and wooden gate there is a real paradise hidden. Once inside you find yourself in a peaceful, green oasis where you immediately relax. This is definitely one of the places where I would love to stay when visiting Tozeur.
For a luxurious stay I can recommend the beautiful hotel Anantara Sahara-Tozeur Resort & Villas. Here you can enjoy the dazzling interior in which contemporary design and traditional elements come together. This stay is in a higher price range. However, if budget isn’t a problem, then be sure to check out the private suite with swimming pool.
Soak up the Tunisian atmosphere in Tozeur
To experience the Tunisian atmosphere, you should definitely visit the city of Tozeur. There you can meet the local population and get to know the local products. On the main market square you can find various stalls and shops. A well-represented local delicacy is the date. Here, you’ll find them in large numbers. The dates from this region are labeled as the best in Tunisia, so tasting them is definitely a must.
Get lost in the Medina of Tozeur
When in Tozeur, don’t forget to visit Ouled el Hadef, the Medina of Tozeur. This is the oldest part of the city and is one of the best preserved Medinas in Tunisia. Here, you can also admire the special architecture with the traditional golden yellow bricks for which this city is so famous. These bricks are made by local craftsmen using an ancient method. They can be found in almost all buildings, which creates a beautiful street scene. You can also see various geometric figures in the brick facades. Besides the fact that it looks stunning, these strategically placed bricks filter the sunlight so that it stays nice and cool inside.
In the maze of narrow alleys in the Medina you will also find many shops where local craftsmen sell their creations. The good thing is that the atmosphere here is very jovial. The sellers are very happy to show their products, but are above all very friendly and hospitable.
Need a break? Then I have the perfect spot to relax with a refreshing drink. Above La Grande Boutique de la Medina you will find Tozeur’s best rooftop bar ‘Cafe Berber’. Here you can fully enjoy the view over the Medina in a cozy, artistic setting.
Discover more of Tozeur?
For a beautiful piece of traditional architecture and an extremely photogenic spot as well, it’s best to walk past the old station of Tozeur. In 1984, this beautiful station even became the subject of the Italian Eurovision song “I treni di Tozeur”.
You can also extend your trip with a visit to Eden Palm Tresors de l’Oasis, a museum where you can learn more about the history of the palm. There you have the posibility to taste some products made with ingredients from the palm. Don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful palm garden before continuing your trip.
Tozeur is not really a big city. The time you need to visit the city depends a bit on whether you want to add extra sights such as Eden Palm Tresors de l’Oasis to your visit. Otherwise half a day is certainly enough to soak up the Tunisian atmosphere in the city.
Visit the iconic Star Wars sites Mos Espa and Ong Jmal
That South Tunisia is still an undiscovered gem is not entirely true. Several places in this stunning but rugged desert landscape were used as a film set for the popular Star Wars films. Today, these are the attractions for which tourists are only too happy to travel to the south. Even we, not exactly the most ‘die-hard’ Star Wars fans, absolutely didn’t want to miss these sights.
The popular Star Wars attractions are located about 50 kilometers from Tozeur. Mos Espa and especially Ong Jmal are situated several kilometers in the desert. It’s therefore not easy to do this excursion with your own car. Moreover, at the end of the route there is no longer a clearly visible paved road. So on top of the bumpy ride, it’s almost impossible to find the right directions if you don’t know the area. Fortunately we could count on our loyal driver.
If you’d like to add these sights to your road trip, you can opt for a half-day excursion. Below you will find some options from Getyourguide’s offer.
In the early 1990s a fictional town Mos Espa was built near Ong Jmal. It served as a filming location for the Star Wars blockbusters ‘Spaceport in The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Episode II Attack of the Clones’. I can imagine that visiting this place is a unique experience for true Star Wars fans. Since I’m not a Star Wars fan, I have to admit that I might have expected a bit more from it. It’s nice to see the film set and to walk around. But you immediately notice that this is just a decor, since the inside of the houses are not finished. Besides that Mos Espa is rather small, so you have seen it quite quickly.
It goes without saying that it can get quite busy here. You’ll also notice this in the approach of the local traders. They are definitely not ashamed to speak to you and try to lure you to their sales stall. However, they do make peace with a friendly rejection. The local children, on the other hand, are not quitters. They come with captivated desert foxes and ask if you want to have your picture taken with the animal in exchange for some money. It’s not a pleasant sight to see these poor animals dangling while being held by their necks. So I definitely didn’t do it. Although I did see some tourists who were caught by this.
According to the local population, this is a recent phenomenon that mainly started at the time of the corona pandemic when the children could no longer go to school. Hopefully it will be nipped in the bud soon too.
A few kilometers further away in the desert you’ll find the unique rock Ong Jmal aka the camel’s neck which owes its name to its curious shape. The ride there took a bit longer than expected and was super bumpy. It was our driver’s first time driving his own car up there. Normally he does this route with a 4X4. Until we got there, he couldn’t say for sure if he would be able to drive us there. Just to show that you better not drive this route with your rental car.
When I arrived at Ong Jmal I was flabbergasted. What an impressive landscape, not just that one specific rock, but the whole environment. On one side I saw rugged, orange rock formations and on the other side the immense salt flat of Chott el Gharsa. I was super impressed with this fascinating place.
After a short but steep climb we were at the top of the mountain. There we had an even better panorama of this breathtaking landscape and could also take a picture with the famous rock.
I would definitely recommend you to visit Ong Jmal. Btw, I forgot to mention that Ong Jmal was not only a film scene for ‘Star Wars’, but also for ‘The English patient’. I now fully understand why this is a favorite spot among filmmakers.
Exlplore the mountain oasises near Tozeur
Due to its strategic location on the Sahara route between Carthage and Algeria, Tozeur was an important trading city. If you follow this route towards Algeria, you will pass the beautiful mountain oases of Chebika, Tamerza and Midès.
You can do this trip yourself, but from Tozeur you can also opt to do one of the many excursions to these unmissable locations.
We started with the canyon of Midès, the mountain oasis furthest from Tozeur. The road alone is an experience in itself, a winding route through the mountains with beautiful views.
When we arrived at the viewpoint over the canyon of Midès, I felt like I was in one of the famous national parks of the United States. I never imagined that Tunisia had such a varied and impressive landscape. From this point you can admire the rounded shapes and the different soil layers of this beautiful natural phenomenon.
Next to the fort you’ll find a path that leads you down in the canyon. There you can admire the geological landscape even better. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to do this, but I’ve read this is a very unique hike.
From the impressive Midès canyon we continued to Tamerza. Tamerza is called one of the most beautiful mountain oases because of the paradisiacal environment in between the imposing rocks, with as icing on the cake a rock waterfall where many tourists like to seek refreshment.
When we arrived Tamerza we made our way down the valley past the ruins of the old city. Because no one lives here anymore, this place is often called a ghost town. In 1969, residents were forced to leave their homes due to collapses caused by heavy rainfall. They settled in a new place a few hundred meters away. Today the ruins are occupied by local merchants who set up their stalls there.
Full of impatience I walked down to admire the famous rock waterfall. Unfortunately most of the source had dried up due to the persistent drought and this place looked a little less heavenly than in the photos. When my eye fell on the impressive rocks surrounding the oasis, my disappointment quickly turned into amazement. I definitely understand why this is place is so beloved. Also here you can hike very beautiful trails through the canyon.
Last but not least we visited the most famous mountain oasis Chebika. This place attracts many visitors every day. Because most excursions start in Chebika, we did the reverse route. In this way we’ve avoided peak hour. We arrived around noon and there were no other tourists to be seen.
Once we arrived at Chebika, we were welcomed by the vendors of various stalls located at the entrance of the village. They were happy to show off their extensive range of sand roses.
This small historic village dates all the way back to Roman times. It later became a mountain refuge for the Berbers. Take your time to stroll through the village. From there you have a beautiful view over the lush palm oasis. You can also walk through this exotic palm forest to see a waterfall. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for this anymore, but that’s definitely a reason for me to come back.
Admire the largest salt flat in Tunisia
We only had 2 days to discover Tozeur and its beautiful surroundings. Personally, I found this a bit tight and I would therefore advise you to take 3 days to explore this location This way you have more time to do it at your own pace and maybe have relaxing moment by the pool of your accommodation.
It was about a 2 hours drive from Tozeur to our next destination, Douz. The route was pretty spectacular, because it goes straight through Sjott el-Djerid, the largest salt flat in Tunisia. Somewhere in the middle of the route we drove off road onto the salt flat. It’s not safe to do this everywhere. So if you like to stop to take pictures, be sure to pay attention where you can stop for a while.
At that moment there was a fashion show of Tunisia Fashion Week taking place on the salt flat. This way we could see up to where it was safe to drive the car.
We lingered there for a while to take pictures and enjoy a dreamy sunset. What a special experience to watch a fashion show on this endless white salt flat while watching the sun slowly fade into the horizon.
1 night in Douz
We arrived in Douz in the evening where we spent the night in hotel Sahara Douz. Douz is often referred to as the gateway to the Sahara. And nothing could be further from the truth, because Douz is the place where various excursions to the Sahara depart. That’s why this oasis attracts many visitors, because who wouldn’t want to visit the largest desert in the world?
In Douz you can find many businesses that organise local activities such as a quad tour or a dromedary ride through the sand dunes in the area.
If you want to know more about nomadic life in the desert, you can also visit the museum of the Sahara in Douz.
We spent a morning on the quad bike in Douz to then take a 4X4 into the desert to our next stay, Camp Mars. Spending the night in the Sahara was definitely the moment of the trip that I was most looking forward to. Camp Mars is located in the middle of Jebil National Park. So you literally have to cross part of the Sahara to get there. Of course you can’t do this with your rental car. Fortunately, Camp Mars also offers transport from Douz.
Glamping in the Sahara
After a long two hours of shaking back and forth in the jeep while enjoying this impressive, vast desert landscape, we arrived at our destination. Camp Mars is completely surrounded by orange sand dunes and the imposing Mount Tembaine, which literally means ‘the mountain we see from afar’ in Beber. The perfect place to experience the magic of a night in the desert. We were warmly welcomed with a delicious cocktail.
I was quite curious about the tent. I have already camped in the Sahara in Morocco, but never in a luxurious tent. When I entered my tent, I was so happy to see a real bed. There was even a small bathroom with a toilet and sink where you can freshen up. The only thing that was not there was electricity and of course Wifi or 4G. But this only makes your stay more authentic. That way you can really be in the moment without unnecessary distractions.
Once settled, we climbed the highest sand dune where we could enjoy the most amazing sunset.
The sublime sunset was just the beginning of a super fun evening. We got cozy by the campfire where we could see how a traditional bread was prepared on coals in the sand. Then we ate a delicious meal. In between the different courses we could enjoy a bit of show cooking. Afterwards, songs were sung and to close the evening we let lanterns into the air.
What a magical place and experience! Unfortunately we already had to leave after breakfast. Too bad, because I could definitely stay here another night. Camp Mars also offers various activities and excursions in the area, so you can easily fill another day here
After 2 hours of bumping in the desert, we arrived in Douz. There we switched back to our car to drive another 2 à 3 hours to Tataouine. Along the way, the sandy landscape of the Sahara transformed into impressive rock formations.
Around noon we arrived at hotel Al Rayan where we stayed 1 night. After checking in and having lunch, we immediately left to visit the ksour of Tataouine. A ksar (plural ksour) is a historic fortified town or village in typical Berber architecture that was usually built on a strategic location.
The most famous in this region is Ksar Ouled Soltane, which served as a grain store for the Berbers in the past. This beautiful piece of cultural heritage is very popular among tourists, because it’s also one of the famous Star Wars filming locations in Tunisia. I definitely understand why. This place is so special and shouldn’t be missing from you road trip through South Tunisia. To be honest, Ksar Ouled Soltane impressed me way more than the Mos Espa film set.
We would normally also visit Ksar Hadada and Ksar Ouled Debbab but unfortunately we didn’t have time anymore. Too bad, because I thought they looked impressive on photo, so I definitely would like to have visites these ksour as well. We ended our day with a spectacular sunset in the mountains.
Personally, I would advise you to stay a little longer at Camp Mars. Then you can arrive in Tataouine before dinner. This way you can start your visits to the different ksour early in the morning the next day and then immediately continue to the last destination, Djerba.
Sun, sea and sand in Djerba
After a road trip full of adventure, nature and culture, it’s time to relax and the island Djerba is the perfect destination for that. Here you can enjoy the sun, sea and beautiful beaches. But Djerba definitely has way more to offer than only that. Besides to the most popular sights in Djerba, I would like to list some lesser-known, but not to be missed activities.
Enjoy a relaxing Thalasso treatment
Thalasso what? Thalassotherapy uses seawater and other elements from the marine environment such as mud, algae, air,… In this therapy it’s assumed that when the water is heated to body temperature, it can penetrate the body through the skin. Our body takes out what it needs and breaks down the rest. This would be very good for the skin, but would also help with emerging muscle or joint complaints.
With its multitude of Thalasso centers and excellent climate as a bonus, Tunisia has become the second most important Thalasso destination in the world. Therefore, it’s an experience not to be missed when traveling to Tunisia. We were able to enjoy a Thalasso treatment at the hotel Royal Thalassa Monastir on our way from Tunis to Tozeur. I found this to be a really super fun and relaxing experience.
In Djerba you can go for Thalasso therapy at Hasdrubal Thalassa & Spa Djerba, Hasdrubal Prestige Thalassa & Spa, Radisson Blu Palace Resort & Thalasso and Palm Beach Palace.
Explore the most colorful neighborhood in Djerba: Djerbahood
Are you an art lover or do you just like colorful places? Then Djerbahood is the place to be. Djerbahood actually refers to an art event that took place in 2014 in the village of Erriadh. Artists from all over the world came here to create a total of 250 unique works of art on the wall.
Today, Djerbahood is an open-air graffiti museum where you can still admire these gems. Moreover, it is also a super charming neighborhood to stroll through where you can also see a lot of authentic houses and visit local shops.
Where to stay in Djerba?
Djerba is known for its splendid luxurious all-inclusive resorts, such as the Thalasso hotels that I’ve already mentioned above. More often you can also find smaller and unique accommodations. We’ve visited two very different but unique gems in Djerbahood that I can absolutely recommend: Dar Bibine and Dar Dhiafa.
Excursions from Djerba
Are you on vacation in Djerba and are you less eager to do a road trip, but would you like to explore more of the inland of Tunisia? Then you can opt for one of Getyourguide’s organized (multi-)day trips. Check out some of my favorites below.
During this article you could probably read in between the lines that this road trip through South Tunisia pleasantly surprised me. I’m glad that despite my first not so great trip to Tunisia, I have now got to know the country in a completely different way. Hopefully I can encourage you, through my experiences and tips, to travel to Tunisia and help you plan the perfect road trip.
Would you like to do a road trip through South Tunisia? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you for reading.
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