My holiday to Tunisia was booked on a whim — it was North Africa and it was cheap. In all honesty, I didn’t know a great deal about Tunisia before I went. I had travelled to Morocco before and so had some awareness of North African culture and the Islamic religion. But for £300 all-inclusive in March, you couldn’t go wrong, right? Well I like to wear my heart on my sleeve — I always let you know my honesty opinions about a place and today I’m giving the lowdown on my holiday to Tunisia — the Good, the Bad and the Ugly!
I do usually travel independently. But hey, everyone needs a package holiday from time to time! The capital of Tunisia — Tunis — is in the North of the country, but most tourist resorts are along the coast Popular tourist destinations in Tunisia include Hammamet, Sousse and Monastir.
I actually took my mom for a mini break and some culture. We stayed at the Belessaire and Thelasso resort in Hammamet. Tunisia is an amazing place full of religious and historical places of interest including some of the best Roman Ruins outside of Italy. However, there are a few things that you will need to be aware of.
My Holiday to Tunisia — The Good!
Excellent Value for Money
Tunisia is a very cheap destination making a holiday to Tunisia a cost effective choice for families or those on a tight budget. You can go from UK to Hammamet and Sousse for around £300-£400 all inclusive per person in low season.
Short Flight Time from UK
Tunisia is easy to get to from the UK and makes for a culturally rich holiday without the need for a long haul flight. You can fly direct to Sousse from London (approximately 3 hours). We flew direct to Hammamet from Birmingham International with Thomas Cook. It’s a North African destination but not too much further than Malta!
Beaches of Hammamet
The beaches of Hammamet were pristine and clean, making it a great option for families and couples looking for a relaxing beach holiday. I’ve also heard good things about the beaches in Djerba and Sousse. The best thing about them now — they are NOT crowded. Sadly, this may relate to the series of terror attacks that Tunisia doesn’t seem to have recovered from in the tourism industry (more on the effects of this later in the blog).
Exploring the Tunisian Kasbah’s
I LOVED exploring Tunisian Kasbah’s — the best thing about them, surprisingly was the doors! Colourful and beautifully decorated doors around every corner. There are amazing Kasbah’s in most Tunisian cities, the most touristy being Hammamet, Sousse and Monastir. I found it best to go very early in the mornings to get good photos and avoid the shop touts who are certainly out in full form by midday!
Roman Ruins of Carthage
One of the most amazing and surprising aspects of my holiday to Tunisia was the Roman ruins. I’de heard of Carthage and yet it was more spectacular in real life than I had anticipatedl The most astonishing Roman Site of Carthage is Antoninus baths — one of the three largest baths built by the Roman Empire. Carthage is near the capital of Tunis and is doable as a day trip from Hammamet (and Sousse or Monastir if you do an early morning!)
El Djem Roman Amphitheatre
But nothing could have prepared me for El Djem Roman Amphitheatre. It’s the largest collosseum outside of Rome and the best preserved in the world. We got to go underground and could imagine the animals in the cages and the blood dripping from the Gladiator battles! El Djem Roman amphitheatre is often combined with the Kairouan Great Mosque as a day trip running from Sousse, Hammamet and Monastir.
Kairouan Great Mosque
Then there’s the Mosques — if you like Mosques and Arabic Architecture, Tunisia will certainly not disappoint. One of the most amazing things I saw in Tunisia was the Kairouan Great Mosque, the oldest Mosque in North Africa. It’s commonly regarded to be the fourth most important Mosque in Islam after Mecca, Mdina and Jerusalem.
My Holiday to Tunisia — The Bad
Before I launch into the bad and the ugly aspects of my Holiday to Tunisia, let me just say this…my aim is not to put you off going, but simply for you to be aware of the challenges and the risks. It’s not my favourite country in the world, but I’m certainly glad that I went.
Sadly, I have to forewarn you about Tunisian hotel dining. If you have booked a 5 star hotel, this will NOT be 5 Stars according to Western standards! Ours was supposed to be 4* and was far from it. Tap water was used to mix the juice (more on that later 🤮) and quite often the milk and breakfast and for tea had gone off!
Fake Customer Service
Good customer service can, of course, make or break your holiday. The problem with the customer service in Tunisia was that it honestly all felt rather fake. Going down to dinner would almost be an argument between waiters over who would seat us. Not because they wanted to look after us, but because they wanted tips.
Sadly, the country’s tourist industry took a massive downturn after the terror attacks in 2015 at Port El Kantoui just North of Sousse. It’s unfortunate that the Tunisian tourist industry has reacted with what can often be described as ‘money grabbing’ techniques. Many are leaving hand to mouth and have been hit hard by the recession, struggling to make ends meet.
They haven’t clocked on to the fact that they are more likely to get tips if they genuinely help and genuinely give excellent service. Fighting to get you to their table only to ignore you once seated is unfortunately what you may experience in some Tunisian hotels and restaurants.
Tout Scams — I’m a Waiter at Your Hotel — NOT!
Touts seem to pray on tourists especially near the souks and Kasbahs of tourist destinations. The line is always ‘oh, do you remember me, I’m a waiter from your hotel!’ which of course is not true. They hope that you will pretend to remember or go along with it to strike up a conversation which will be followed by some rip-off souvenir shop or tour. This is rife around Hammamet and Sousse Kasbahs.
Touts can easily be dealt with by smiling and walking on, avoiding conversation or a simple ‘no thank-you’. I’ve come across touts in many places. But in Tunisia, it is the lying that isn’t very nice. You can swap your hotel wrist band around so that they cannot see where you are staying which can help — they won’t be able to name your hotel and their plan will be scuppered!
Shopping — Poor Quality Goods
Don’t be deceived by the rip off brands or pay over the odds for poor quality clothing and bags. On the plane, we learnt from a Tunisian fellow passenger that many Tunisians fly to the UK for their shopping because quality in Tunisia can be very poor. Personally, I prefer to spend my money on experiences rather than things anyway these days.
Tunisia is an excellent destination for summer sun, but good weather is not guaranteed in low season (October through to April). We experienced weather not much warmer than UK and periodic showers when we were there in March. I guess that’s what happens when you go for a cheapy out of season!
Security and Terrorist Threats
Although there was nothing going on with regards to terrorism when we were there, the atmosphere just didn’t always feel so safe. Several army trucks full of soldiers were pulled up by the toll roads on the main road from Hammamet to Tunis. Always check the Foreign Office Advice before you travel and be aware of security risks.
My Holiday to Tunisia — The Ugly
Let’s go all out here and talk about the two things I hated about Tunisia! The first was the projectile vomiting. The second was getting bitten by a stray dog! The third was the taxi driver who nearly killed us by speeding and dodging cars on the motorway!
Literally the evening of the first day the tummy rumbles started. I ran to the bathroom and just about made it in time! I didn’t want my mom to worry or know that I had proper chucked up, and so I told her it was probably just my endometriosis.
The next day, poor sweet mommy projectile vomited — we just about managed to whisk magazines down on the floor ready! It was definitely something we ate or drank at Belissaire and Thallasso resort as we hadn’t eaten anywhere else. We lost a couple of days of the holiday from the sickness which cut it down to 5 days rather than 7.
Later in the week we saw that they mixed juice with tap water which probably gave us the bug.
I’ve been to many countries where there are stray dogs on the street. India and Turkey to name a few. It’s never been a concern to me as I’m not scared of dogs and can usually recognise a dogs body language. I usually just remain calm, walk past them and it’s all good. Well, not in Hammamet! I was walking along a row of cafes and shops between the old town and new town and saw a stray dog eying me up. As usual I carried on walking calmly. The bugger nipped the back of my calf! A cafe owner came out banging a pan which scored him off! Don’t worry, I was wearing trousers and the skin wasn’t broken, so we were all good and no necessary rabies shots, but I was like WTF?!
Here’s me at Carthage Roman Amphitheatre!
Marked Up Taxis and Dangerous Drivers
The first thing to note is to book your own taxis in Tunisia. Hotels there are notorious for marking up. I was really angry with Belisaire and Thalasso for marking up our taxi almost double the price! They tried to charge us £60 for a half day private driver to Hammamet. I pushed him down to £50 which created a lot of fuss. When I saw the receipt in Dirhams and did the maths in my head, it was only around £30. For this reason I’d be apprehensive about booking with Thomas Cook or staying at this hotel again. They don’t have Uber or Grab taxis in Tunisia and I don’t speak Arabic, so it was not so easy to book our own.
Anyway, after much debate with our hotel manager about the taxi price, he claimed that the price was higher for a good English speaking driver. He did not speak much English. he was not a good driver!
Although we did achieve the desired result of visiting most of the historical sites Carthage, he drove back like a maniac, almost crashing into the back of the car in front of him on the motorway! Be warned — Tunisian drivers are not the safest. This topped my bad road experience in India!
Would I go on Holiday to Tunisia again?
If you asked me whether I would go on holiday to Tunisia again I can actually say that I would. Despite the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ elements on this trip I still felt that it was worth it for the Roman and Arabic history that I got to experience. I would like to go to Djerba and Monastir one day, but I’m honestly not in a hurry to go back.
Are there any Alternatives to Tunisia?
I think I’d sooner rather go back to Morocco. I felt that the customer service was more authentic and a higher quality of food and drink there. Here are my top things to do in Marrakech. I’d love to explore the North of Morocco next time including Fez, Casablanca and Chefchaouen. If you want an alternative to Tunisia, Morocco is a good option.
Originally published at https://www.globetrotterguru.com on August 16, 2019.