Tunisia – the smallest country in North Africa – has coastline measuring some 1200km, while tucked inland is the vast Sahara Desert, forming the unique half-sea-half-desert landscape. Tunisia has many historical ruins, including Carthaginian, Romans, Byzantine, Arabs, Ottoman, and the more recent French Colonial period. For sci-fi film series Star Wars fans, Tunisia is a pilgrimage destination, as film sets scattered across the desert in the south, the home of the Berbers, the indigenous people of North Africa.
Wee hours depart from Kuala Lumpur, transit in the Middle East, arrive in Tunisian capital city Tunis around noon, transfer to Sidi Bou Said (16km) overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Perched on hilltop, Sidi Bou Said has a blend of Spain Andalusian and Arabic architectural styles, whitewashed buildings decorated with blue doors and windows. Afternoon free and easy; leisurely stroll along a maze of winding alleyways, lined with a mixed of traditional residences, souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Explore nearby Carthage ruins. The UNESCO heritage site dated back to 814 BC, an ancient seafaring city founded by the Phoenicians. Excavated structures include city walls, palace, temples, bathhouse, and cemetery. Later, visit Bardo Museum, showcasing a wonderful collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics art. Late afternoon return to Sidi Bou Said, free & easy, enjoy seeping coffee or dining at café offering superb sea view.
Drive to Kairouan, visit the Great Mosque of Uqba, one of the most impressive and largest Islamic monuments in North Africa. The fortress-like mosque, built between AD 670 and 675, is regarded as the forth holiest Islamic site (after Mecca, Media, and Jerusalem). Later, visit Zaouia Sidi Sahab, the centuries old complex consisting a mosque, madrassa, and mausoleum, richly decorated with tiles art. Afternoon, explore the medina (old town), lined with whitewashed houses and shops, decorated with wooden carved doors and windows.
Morning drive to Sbeitla, visit the Roman ruins dated back to the 2nd century. The ruins have the world’s most well preserved Forum of Roman temples. Other interesting ancient remains include public bath, theatre, fountains, triumphal arch, and city gate. Later, drive to the oasis town of Tozeur, surrounded by palmaraie (palm groves), its medina was featured in the acclaimed movie “English Patient”. Tozeur’s traditional architecture has tall walls covered with yellow ochre handmade bricks arranged in geometric motifs.
After breakfast, take a horse-carriage into the oasis, and learn about the importance of palm groves for residents in desert region. Later, walkabout in the medina of Tozeur, admire unique traditional architecture, with bricks arranged into decorative motifs on the façade. After lunch, drive through barren landscape to Ong Jamel to visit filming location of Star Wars movie series (Mos Espa), where the sci-fi movie props and sets remained, appearing like mirage in the desert. Sunset viewing in desert.
Drive towards desert campsite via Chott El DJerid, the largest salt pan in Sahara Desert. The salt lake is located in very dry and hot region, most of the time its waters evaporated under high heat, exposing a vast white plain of salt deposit. Photo stops along the way. After lunch in Douz, change into four wheel drive suitable for negotiating sand dunes, and head towards the desert camp. Arrival around sun set. At night, gather around bonfire for stars gazing.
Leave the desert camp for Matmata, known for its cave dwellings, which are still resided by the indigenous people of Northern Africa, the Berbers. Matmata has a unique lunar-like landscape, its rolling hills dotted with man-dug pits for making underground homes. Today, Matmata is also a “pilgrimage site” for Star Wars fans, visit Sidi Driss hotel that was once a shooting location. Overnight in cave guesthouse.
Today continue heading south, en-route visit Medenine, known for its ancient Berber fortified granary, which was featured as the slave quarters in Star Wars films. The granary was also used as the exterior of Anakin Skywalker’s home. Later, journey further south to Tataouine, the planet Tattooine in Star Wars got its name from this town, visit traditional fortified complex Ksar Hadada. Lastly stop in Chenini, a fortified Berber village perched on hilltop. Overnight in cave guesthouse.
Today depart from desert region in the south back to northern Tunisia, half of the journey by coastal road. Upon arrival in Sfax, second largest city in Tunisa facing the Mediterranean Sea, visit Kasbah cum Traditional Architecture Museum, admire intricate wood carved ceilings and richly tiled floor, also possible to walk along a section of the old city walls. Sfax medina is untainted by tourism, its main thoroughfares and souks (market) are narrow and crowded with stalls and local shoppers.
Drive north towards Tunisian capital city. En-route visit El Jem, a well preserved Roman amphitheater, which could hold a capacity of 35,000 spectators. Later, lunch stop in coastal town Hammamet. Afternoon arrive in Tunis, explore medina, stroll through a maze of labyrinths lined with shops, mosques, madrassas, and old houses. In the center is the 1300 years old mosque of Djemma ez Zaitouna (means olive tree mosque). In the new town, broad boulevards are lined with French colonial style architecture, including centuries-old cathedral.
Morning free and easy, one could visit local wet market selling all sorts of fruits and seafood, or do last minute souvenir shopping in the medina bazaar. Noon check-out from hotel and transfer to airport, bid farewell to Tunisia, board a flight bound for Kuala Lumpur via Middle East. Arrive at destination the following day.
Afternoon arrive in Kuala Lumpur. End of tour.
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Jason is a barista, a cafe owner, a music teacher, and a traveler; multi-roles for a fulfilling life, he believes self-realization could be found in different corners of the world. When he is not traveling, he indulged in brewing coffee, retreating into his aroma filled cafe. He too conducts courses for Chinese traditional plucked-string music instrument named “Zhong Ruan”, and he has a deep interest in Central Asian music. He is full of curiosity and passion about the world; he dares to dream and acts upon it, travel is his means in reaching out.
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