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Tunisia advice

edited August 2014 in Africa
Hello! My friend and I will be going to Tunisia in early October. We would like to see as much of the country as we can.

I am trying to learn some French and Arabic. However, I've heard that Tunisians speak a local form of Arabic. Are there any resources online to learn some key phrases in derja?

We were also thinking of driving from Tunis to the Sahara (and back) on a road trip, but is sounds like driving is not recommended. Why is that?

Also, are there any websites that list the favorite restaurants in different Tunisian cities? In the US a lot of people use the Yelp website. Is there a Tunisian equivalent?


  • You really do not need to learn Derja. English is widely spoken in Tunisia as is French. I have travelled off the beaten track in Tunisia as well as the main areas and even twenty years ago there were no language problems.

    Driving in Tunisia is not a problem , there are motorways connecting all the main towns and resorts. the signs are in Arabic and English. However Tunisians do not stick to the rules of the road and speeding, not indicating where they are going, driving in the middle of the road and passing on the right are all very common.

    There are places you should not go to look here

    Trip Advisor may be your best bet for restaurants as there is no Yelp in Tunisia

  • A few words of Arabic is always appreciated here. It is only the younger generations that speak English and in the bigger cities and the tourist areas. In the villagex the older people speak only dialect and this varies from even city to city, however you can communicate easily with the universal language of signs etc lol. My mother in law for eg does not speak Frenh or English, but she manages to communicate with foreigners very well. Dont worry about the language issues, we are warm and welcoming! Even if hou have some standard Arabic you will be understood very well, and some basic French will get you through.

    Sorry to disagree Alethia but we dont have motorways linking all cities, the major autoroute is from Bizerte to Tunis and from Tunis to Hammamet, that is it. The road just outside Tozeur has been upgraded also. Most foreigners find it rather traumatic driving here! But co t be daunted, we are very forgiving on the roads and most drivers will slow down for you to get into the traffic while wildly gesticulating, that is our way.

    You can definitely drive to the desert. Head fot Tozeur which in itself is a fantastic city full of historic sites, then my suggestion is to take a tour or guide for the full desert experience. This can also be for your safety.

    Any restaurant is a favourite lol! As a guide, wherever you see locsl families eating should be good. If you let me know your intended sites to visit I can give you some suggestions.
  • edited August 2014
    Lesley, the road from Tunis to Sfax is categorised as a A1 motorway and is part of the Trans African Highway. A category A3 motorway links Tunis to the town of Oued Zarga and the A4 category motorway links Tunis and Bizerte.

    I did not say there were motorways linking all cities. Tunis, Hammamet, Sousse, Sfax and Bizerte  are main towns and resorts and that is what I wrote. 

    When I provide information on this site I endeavour to give good up to date advice to assist people and that I can back up. I am not into one upmanship.

  • Thanks......but I live here so I believe I am in pretty good situation to comment on my own country. You should understand that our auto routes are not as they are in Europe. I live between Bizerte and the south and travel frequently these routes. They have pot holes, some parts in bad condition. It is only areound the sahel that some money has been spent for comfort of tourists. No one upmanship, just the facts from a resident
  • Lesley once again read what I wrote, I am not talking about the state of the roads but the fact that they are categorised as motorways. Tunis, Hammamet, , Sousse  etc are in the Sahel .
    Perhaps as a resident you should contact the UNECA , United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and tell them the Trans African Highway in Tunisia does not exist. 
    For to quote you.
    "Sorry to disagree Alethia but we dont have motorways linking all cities, the major autoroute is from Bizerte to Tunis and from Tunis to Hammamet, that is it. "

  • Shall do
  • Thank you both for your comments!  I can't tell you how much I appreciate your input.  I wonder if it is faster to take a train down the eastern coast, and to then drive only for certain parts (for example, to get to Tozeur).

    As far as language is concerned, I always try to learn a few phrases in the local language (greetings, gratitude, etc).  However, based on your feedback, I am much less worried about trying to learn Derja. It sounds like I can focus on some standard Arabic phrases, and brush up on my French.  

    At this point in time, our itinerary is broad and flexible.  We definitely want visit the Sahara (so thank you for the Tozeur recommendation). Other than that, we listed a few sights that seemed interesting to see but we do not yet have a real itinerary.  Some of the sights include: El Djem, Carthage ruins, Utique ruins, and Dougga, just to name a few.  (Pretty much anything that is on an UNESCO list, and/or is very old.) However, what we are truly interested in is getting the broadest experience/understanding of Tunisia.  It seems there is a lot of history (as well as history currently in the making) and we are interested in that.  It also seems like Tunisia has coastal resort-type of areas as well as the desert, and so we are interested in a little of both.  We're interested in city life as well as rural life.   Sorry if this is a strange way to approach a vacation, but this is just how my friend and I do things!  We want to learn about Tunisia and its people.  

    If there is anything about Tunisia that we absolutely should not miss, please let me know! I welcome all suggestions and thank you for all the help.

  • Christina, I think you are approaching your visit here in a great way. Dougga is a fantastic site and very, very large, also Utique. The are both in the north so you could base yourself in Bizerte for a few days to explore. The most beautiful beaches are here also and Cap Serrat is beautiful. Make some time to stay a few days in the capital Tunis from where you can visit Carthage, also a very large site. The Kasbah and the medina are fantastic with mix of Arabic, French architecture and in the souq you can find cafes from hundreds of years ago. Also you can discover one of the Bey's Palaces and from the rooftop .

    I dont advise taking trains here but bus routes are very comprehensive and the louages (mini bus) are a good and fast alternative.

    If you have the time you should head for Matmata and Tataouine where you can find our berber heritage and life. Another must is Chott el Jerid a straight stretch of road that crosses what used to be a vast inland sea but is now kilometres of salt which is still being used. On a hot sunny day you will see mirages.

    The island of Djerba off the east coast is the fabled Land of the Lotus eaters and is worthy of a visit.

    Oh I could go on and on but if you want more suggestions just ask and bienvenue a Tunisie.
  • I forgot to tell you that the major coastal towns are very tourist oriented, so if you want some beach without the hordes I can suggest Nabeul which is close to Hammamet but a world away. It is also the ceramic and pottery centre of Tunisia. A great souvenir is one of the beautiful hand made tiles. Another coastal town is Mahdia, a very historic, ancient city, it was a fishing village but you will find the beach clean and tranquil. It was a very importantc city and the ancient medina is wonderful. Again if you wish for any more suggestions just let me know
  • Thank you so much, Lesley! This is all very helpful information. This is helping our vacation take shape! I'm going to do some research/planning this weekend, and I may be back with more questions afterward. Thanks again!
  • Very happy to help.
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