Affordable, exotic Tunisia

This item appears on page 50 of the October 2010 issue.

My wife, Jeanne, and I took a 10-day tour of Tunisia with TunisUSA (Wayne, PA; 888/474-5502,, Dec. 20-30, 2009. It cost $3,770 each (excluding air).

Tunisia is modern, clean, safe, inexpensive and exotic enough to interest even the most experienced traveler. The reasons to go there are to experience their culture and see ancient Roman ruins, Spanish forts and souks from the Middle Ages or… to lay on the beach. Since the winter temperatures rarely reach 70°F, our tour was of the first type.

Make sure you have at least a day on your own in Tunis, and stay in a hotel within walking distance of the medina (the Old City). We found the medina’s old souk (open-air market) the most interesting part of our trip, wandering there several times (about eight hours total). There was no need to get lost in the souk; a good map showed us the names of the major streets.

Tunis was “Carthage” when Tunisia was a Roman colony, but relatively little remains there of the Roman era. After we left Tunis, however, we saw four sites that were as good or better than anything we could see in Italy.

The most interesting site I visited was Bulla Regia. When the Romans arrived there, the locals told them it got very hot in the summer and if they were smart they would build their houses below ground level. The Romans built houses with one story above ground and one below.

Generally, the lower floor was not a storage basement but had lovely mosaic floors, with columns supporting the upper floor. Only a few of the houses have been excavated, but you can go down inside.

Near the edge of the Sahara Desert in the south, we stayed two nights in Tozeur, which has two industries: dates and tourists. We stayed in the hotel Dar Cherait, which is in the style of an Ottoman palace and furnished with antiques. It was fun just to walk around the hotel and take pictures.

We had a special Christmas dinner in the hotel, with a Santa Claus, a belly dancer and a band. Tunisia is primarily Muslim, and Christmas is not an official holiday. Most of the dinner participants were Tunisians who saw it as an excuse for a party.

Farther south, we visited an area in which the locals have built underground homes by tunneling into a hillside. We visited one that looked quite pleasant.

We saw ancient cities, pretty beaches, vacation towns in the mountains and camels grazing in the desert and enjoyed good food and a fascinating culture, all at half the price we’d pay in Italy. We loved Tunisia, and the tour couldn’t have been better.


Irvine, CA