Travel guide to Tunisia

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The Tunisian Coral Coast is the place to go if you enjoy sun, water, and spectacular white sandy beaches. The country's only coral reef is found here just off the coast of Tabarka. Furthermore the area can offer beautiful and luscious green forests and the ruined town of Bulla Regia.

Facts

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Local name
Al Jumhuriyah at Tunisiyah
Capital
Tunis (1,500,000 inhabitants)
Size
163,610 square kilometres
Principal Languages
Arabic and French
Principal Religion
Islam
Inhabitants
9,214,900 (1997)
Government
Republic
Geography
In Tunisia you will feel the typical climate of the Mediterranean, with high summer temperatures and pleasant winters. Not surprisingly, in the Sahara Desert in the south summer temperatures may be over 50 degrees C - whilst you can experience night frost in the mountains. Water temperatures never go below 15 degrees C, and are approximately 25 degrees C in the summer. The highest mountain in Tunisia is Jebel Chambi, at 1,544 meters. In Tunisia you will find green vigorous valleys, small mountains covered with forest, arid plains, white sandy beaches and oasis-strewn deserts.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

The peak season is in the months of July and August, when millions of Europeans go to the sunny south. These months are the most expensive time of the year, most hotels are booked, and the heat makes almost any kind of activity difficult. The best time to visit is between March and May, which is when the temperature is comfortable, and the winter rain has left the landscape in full bloom. The time from mid-September to December is also an ideal time to visit.

Literature

Lonely Planet Tunisia

Local conditions

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Currency

Tunisian dinar (TD)

Net cafes

In the larger cities of Tunisia you will find Internet cafés, but because the Internet was only legalized as late as in 1997 here - it is still a quite new phenomenon, and therefore Internet cafés are rather few.

In case of emergency

Ambulance, fire department and police: 197

Tipping

Tipping is the only income for everyone working in the Tunisian tourist industry. When paying, it is customary to add approximately 10%, and if the tip is given at the beginning of the vacation, the level of service shown to you will go up. Give your tip with a smile. To a Tunisian it is not degrading to accept a tip, as this is not considered begging.

Timezone

When the time is 12 noon (summer time) in Great Britain, it is also 12 in Tunisia. When the time is 12 noon (winter time) in Great Britain, it is 1:00 pm in Tunisia.

Weight and Measures

Weight: kilo Length: metre

Photography

Tunisia is one big photo opportunity, with its white, sandy beaches, historical ruined towns and attractions, the desert and its oases. However the most exotic thing about Tunisia is its people and the Tunisian way of life. A lot of women and elderly people do not like to have their picture taken, so always ask for their permission and respect a no. Some people will ask for some money, which is quite appropriate as they are doing you a favour, but keep the price level realistic. The sun is powerful, so 100 ASA film is best for outdoor photography. Avoid photographing between 12 and 3 pm, when the light is the most powerful.

Drinking water

Drink the water you can buy in a bottle. Tapwater should only be used for brushing your teeth.

Electricity

220/110 Volt, 50 Hertz

Behaviour

When not in the tourist centres you are in a Muslim country and should dress accordingly, which for men means covering up your upper body when you are not on the beach, while women should cover up at least the part from their shoulders to their knees. If you follow these simple rules you will experience no trouble, and if you are properly dressed the chances of Tunisians inviting you to their home for dinner is much higher. Outside the tourist areas, drunk people wandering the streets are not approved of; most Tunisians do not drink alcohol. When greeting a Tunisian you should take his hand and hold it against your heart as a sign of affection. Most men leave single women alone, but should a man make improper advances, explain to him explicitly that you are not interested. If this does not help shout out or let other people know that he is bothering you. That will do the trick. Even the locals give money to beggars, as it is part of Muslim culture and Islam to help the needy. It will not do damage to your financial situation either, to give away some change. But never give any money to children as this will encourage them to make their living this way. Make them work or sell something for the money.

Business Hours

On weekdays banks are open in the morning from 7:30/8:00 to 11, and again from 2 to 4 pm, while stores are open from 8 to 12:30 in the morning and again from 2:30 to 6 pm. Saturday mornings stores are open for business from 8 to 12. Offices are open from 8:30 to 1:00, and from 3 to 5 pm Monday through Thursday, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 to 1:30.

Food and drink

The North African cuisine is very interesting. Tunisian cuisine is closely connected to its French source of inspiration, which results in some quite exotic dishes, consisting of for instance fish, lambflesh, chicken or beef in exotic spices and very often served with couscous (grain). Fruits and vegetables are delicious in Tunisia, all with a fantastic sun-ripened taste. When visiting Tunisia you must also go to one of the cafés and taste some sweet mint tea.

Disabled travellers

People in wheelchairs may have problems going to some places in Tunisia, but the Tunisians are extremely helpful, so you will get a long way with a little patience. The bigger the hotel, the better the facilities. Check with your travel agent when you make your reservation.

Holidays

New Year¡¦s Day, 1 January Independence Day, 20 March Youth Day, 21 March Martyrs¡¦ Day, 9 April Labour Day, 1 May Republic Day, 25 July Women¡¦s Day, 13 August Anniversary of Ben Ali¡¦s Takeover, 7 November Ramadan, which is the month of fast for the Muslims comes at a different time each year, as the Islamic calendar is 11 days shorter than the Western one.

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

Several cities have campsites, although this is not as popular as in other Mediterranean countries. Unlike in the South, the areas of Raf Raf and Ghar el-Melh in the North allow people to sleep on the beach.

Hotels

Hotel prices are state regulated, and will vary depending on the season, with summer as the most expensive time of year. Each hotel is categorized as either a 1-5 star hotel, or an NC (non-classificé). Because a hotel has been given stars does not necessarily mean that it is better than an NC hotel. Classified hotels include breakfast. The cheap NC hotel are located in the old parts of the towns, however a 1-star hotel will very often be a better solution for tourists.

Local transport

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Planes

Domestic flights are cheap in Tunisia, but due to the size of the country the number of towns you can fly between is limited.

Bus

The green-and-white buses run pretty much to schedule, and connect Tunis with other larger cities several times a day. The buses usually leave once a day for the smaller towns.

Trains

The rail network is not very well developed, but the part that is, is very effective and runs to schedule. The train leaves several times a day between Tunis and the larger cities in the country.

Taxi

The taxi system is extremely cheap and effective. Not all drivers are willing to drive you around by a meter, so it is a good idea to agree on a price before you get in. Large taxis for more passengers, louages, usually charge the same as the bus, but are faster.

Car rental

You have to be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Tunisia, which is quite expensive and during the peak season it can be difficult to get a car. A good alternative is to rent a taxi for a day, and this is usually cheaper.

Boat or Ferry

There are two scheduled ferry services in Tunisia. One that connects Sfax with the Kerkennah Islands, and one that runs from Jorf on the mainland to Ajim on the island of Jerba.

Other Transport

Because it may be unsafe, hitching is not recommended in Tunisia, but in the southern part of the country it is quite common. You will be expected to pay about the same as on the bus. When you want to be picked up, hold your arm out horizontally with your hand open, and then wave it up and down.

Special conditions

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Because of the heat in Tunisia you have to remember to drink enough liquid, even though you may not feel thirsty. The Hammam, which is a Turkish bath, is a wonderful experience, and an old, Roman tradition. Men and women go into separate rooms, very often in beautiful buildings with marble interiors. After enjoying the steam bath, a shower, a sauna, and having been scrubbed and massaged, you may feel like you have been born again. But do this at the beginning of your holiday - so your tan will not be scrubbed off. Citizens of the European Community can stay for three months without a visa.

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