Before traveling to Tunisia, we had certain expectations of how certain things would be. For example, we thought we would eat lots of Arabic food, that we would travel by bus or louage (the local shared cab), that Leticia would need to cover her head with a scarf at certain occasions, that we would visit mosques. There were many important tips about Tunisia that we haven’t found at other travel blogs, and you should read before traveling to Tunisia:
1. Fast food? Think again!
Although we much rather try local food in different countries, it’s good to know you have fast food brands you already know, like Mc Donalds, and Burger King, as available options, in case you find yourself at a place where local food makes you sick or you can’t eat it for any other reason. As of October 2018, however, there is still NO Mc Donalds, Burger King OR KFC in Tunisia. That’s right, folks. It’s not like WE didn’t find it, we actually googled it and it just doesn’t exist. This was incredibly surprising, in almost 30 countries we’ve been to combined, this is the first time this ever happened.
2. No Uber
A previous research to find out Uber prices online showed us some estimations of taxi costs in Tunisia. It was only after arriving there that I found out that there is actually NO Uber in Tunisia, so you gotta take a taxi the good old way, and many of them like to bargain or set fixed prices instead of using the meter, especially the ones that stay in front of fancy hotels. We had no problems in Tunis, and everybody used the meter, but in South Tunisia, it was harder. More about this on the next points.
3. Non-muslims are forbidden to visit mosques
Before we left, we’ve seen beautiful pictures of mosques in Tunisia. As it turns out, it is forbidden in the entire country for non-muslims to go inside mosques, and many mosques have a sign on the front stating the same. Some mosques may allow and some locals may help you in (Like the one in Kairouan), but given that we have a travel blog, we figured it would be better to not take any chances and not break any laws.
4. Arabic Food? Not here.
Arabic food is one of Leticia’s favorites, and in Brazil, there are plenty of restaurants serving kibbeh, tabouleh, kaftas, pita bread, hummus and other dishes known to Arabic cuisine. We didn’t cross a single place serving Arabic food, which was a surprise, given that 98% of the Tunisian population is Arab. It turns out that Tunisian food has a lot of Mediterranean influence, so you’ll find tons of fish (especially tuna, I mean, after all, it’s TUN-Isia hahaha), couscous, and Tunisian street food is actually delicious! After a few days trying the food at restaurants, we found out that street food is super fresh, it can be made according to the ingredients you want to add, and there are at least 5 types of sandwiches that you can order. All of them are very cheap and delicious!
5. Internet works well
Both of us bought SIM cards before leaving the airport. We got one SIM card with 25GB and one with 3GB, at a total cost of 60 dinars at Orange. To our surprise, we didn’t finish even the 3GB data pack in 9 days, and although we did have wifi at most of our accommodations, we accessed our e-mails and social media accounts with our internet data. We had a decent network at most places, even at most places in South Tunisia, except the desert and some troglodyte caves. We bought only internet data, not calling data, which turned out to be a mistake, because…
6. Whatsapp is not really a thing and Skype is SUPER expensive
In India and Brazil, we mostly call people using Whatsapp these days, so we figured it would be a waste of money to buy calling credit in our SIM cards. It turns out only 2 of our hosts used Whatsapp,, and calling on a phone is still a strong culture there, so we DID need to call some of our hosts. This forced us to buy Skype credit for it, and Skype calls cost 0,62 USD (or 46 Indian Rupees) in October 2018, so we spend a good amount of money with that. Calling people was most important because…
7. Google Maps SUCKS
It’s happened a number of times that we were with our heavy backpacks, trying to find our way to a place on Google Maps, and SURPRISE! Sometimes the location was wrong, or the street Google was showing us to take didn’t really exist, or it was blocked, or many other reasons. So we had to call or ask the cab drivers to call our hosts, which reminds us of the next point:
8. Transportation is a BIG challenge
This was such a hassle that it even deserves subtopics. The thing we suffered the most with was – by far – transportation. Near Carthage and Sidi Bou Said it was all good, taxis were easy to take and train lines were good and available. BUT as soon as we went to Tunis, our problems started. Here is a list?
The taxi driver that took us from the train station to our accommodation inside the Medina refused to drive inside the Medina area, claiming that the streets were too narrow for cars. Indeed there are streets like this, but he dropped us more than 700m from our accommodation, which is a lot to walk carrying 2 heavy backpacks and hand luggage, and get lost due to Google Maps.
The next day, to leave the Medina was almost impossible because apparently everybody stops working at lunchtime, which means more traffic and fewer taxis available. It took us more than half an hour at a busy street to find an empty taxi. The same happened on the morning of our flight – our flight was at 10.45am, and taking a taxi at around 8am is very hard because people are going to work. In South Tunisia, things were even worse, because ALL drivers refused to drive with the meter on, and only charged fixed prices.
We had read that transportation (buses, trains or flights) are usually late and ALL of our hosts told us the same thing, so when we decided to head to Tozeur (in South Tunisia) for a few days, we had a few extra hours to spare in case of any delays. On the day of our flight, we received an e-mail from Tunisair saying the flight had been rescheduled from 4pm to 7pm. At that point, we were already on our way to the airport, so we wasted this day without doing any sightseeing. Then, the flight changed again to 8pm and left only at almost 9pm. Instead of going directly to Tozeur, Tunisair thought it would be convenient to combine it with a flight going to Djerba, so we only arrived in Tozeur at 11pm. There were some cockroaches roaming around freely inside the airplane as well. At that point, there was no other way to reach the city center, so we had to pay 15 dinars for a taxi that should have cost 3. We decided to skip the flight back and take a bus or taxi, which was a smart decision because on the day of the flight back we also received an e-mail saying it would be delayed.
Buses and Louage:
Tunisia is a small country with a small population, so the timings of buses are scarce in South Tunisia. If you head to the desert, there is only 1 bus a day that crosses the desert cities and goes back to Tunis. While planning the trip, we read about buses, trains, and louages (shared cabs) being widely available and easy to catch, but NOWHERE we found a very simple information that turned out to be the MOST IMPORTANT one: the bus and louages leave ONLY IN THE MORNING time! This is SO important, because we had planned our days in a way that we would reach a location in the evening, explore the area the next morning, and in the afternoon we would take louages to the next destination. This got completely because the louages leave only when they’re full. In the morning, they leave all the time, because most people travel only in the morning, so after lunch, you could spend a LOT of time waiting for people to show up for the louage, and this will take your entire afternoon and evening. We had already paid for our hotels so we couldn’t change the dates and itinerary.
We’ve read in some blogs that rental cars are not a good idea in South Tunisia because they are expensive and can’t reach everywhere because of the roads. We found some companies renting for 80 dinars for an entire day (a private half day tour cost 170 dinars on average), and most of the roads we’ve been through are actually GOOD, so it’s a good option, safe and cheaper than getting a driver to show you around (although Google Maps is not reliable). They drive on the left side and the traffic is quite ok (if you’ve been to India, you’ll know the difference).
9. Everybody does NOT speak French fluently, but very few people speak English
Leticia speaks French, and allegedly everybody in Tunisia speaks Arabic and French. Some people didn’t understand what she said, and some understood perfectly, so at first, we thought her French was kind of rusty (it had been 10 years she hadn’t practiced). But later one of our hosts told us that in Tunisia nowadays, the younger generation is learning English instead of French. In fact, it did happen that the ones who asked us to speak English were younger, and the older people had no problems to understand French. That being said, very few people speak fluent English, so get your translating apps ready!
10. Liberal Islam
Tunisia is an Islamic country but considered one of the most liberal ones. At the North and Tunis area, you will find the Muslims are very liberal, with plenty of women walking on the streets, most of them not wearing hijabs, and the hospitality amazed us. Although not related to liberalism, we thought it was important to share this, given the bad reputation Islam has in many countries. We were hosted by Muslim families, who treated us like real guests, serving us amazing food, worrying about our well being, showing us around the cities when they didn’t have to, and just helping us in many ways imaginable. Although transportation was an issue, we’d recommend a visit to Tunisia to everyone – it’s a beautiful country filled with breathtaking places and very sweet people.