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.
Every Tunisian city has an old quarter known as the “medina”, packed with a maze of labyrinths, and at its center stands the open-air market called souk, selling colourful merchandises and bustling with activities. 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.
Evening departure from Kuala Lumpur International Airport with Air Saudi, transit in Jeddah, arrival in Tunisian capital city the following morning.
Morning arrival in Tunisian capital, transfer to downtown hotel. Explore Tunis medina (old town), getting lost in time amidst a maze of crooked labyrinths, lined with ancient monuments like mosques, madrassas, and mausoleums. The most impressive is the great mosque of Djemma ez Zaitouna (means olive tree mosque), nearly 1300 years old, with towering minaret, and a rooftop richly decorated with colourful tiles. The medina souk (market) is a great place for shopping. In the new town, broad boulevards are lined with French colonial style architecture, including centuries-old cathedral.
Drive to city outskirt to visit 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, theatre, horse racing ring, pier, and cemetery. Later, visit Bardo Museum, showcasing a wonderful collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics art. Late afternoon back in Tunis downtown, free & easy. At night, you may opt to take a local short distance train to the seafront for dinner, or enjoy a steam bath and scrubbed down at hammam (public bathhouse).
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, take leisurely stroll in the medina, lined with whitewashed old residential homes and shops, decorated with colourful wooden carved doors and windows, full of local vibes.
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 pubic 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”. Take a horse carriage to tour the oasis and learn more about life in oasis.
Morning take an excursion on board “Red Lizard Train”, former royal train, a gift by the French to Bey of Tunis. Embark from bustling market town into the lower reaches of Atlas Mountains. The train chugs through spectacular scenery of desert, canyon, amazing pink, red, and yellow rock formations. Afternoon visit filming location of Star Wars movie series, including Mos Espa and Lars Homestead, where the sci-fi movie props and sets still remained, appearing like mirage in the 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. This is also one of the shooting locations of Star Wars film series. Lots of photo opportunities at the salt lake. Later, continue driving to oasis town Douz for lunch. Afterwards, 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, another Star Wars film series shooting location, and known for its cave dwellings, 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 a “pilgrimage site” for Star Wars fans. Overnight in cave hotel.
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 such as Ksar Hadada and Ksar Ouled Soltane. Lastly stop in Chenini, a fortified Berber village perched on hilltop. Overnight in cave hotel.
A long road trip today back to the north of Tunisia, en-route visit El Jem, where a well preserved Roman amphitheater is located, which could hold a capacity of 35,000 spectators, step back in time and learn about Tunisia’s rich history. Later, drive to Sousse for overnight stay. The port city of Sousse is known as the pleasure garden of the Mediterranean, it has some of oldest and biggest fortresses in Northern Africa such as Ribat and Kasbah.
Take a morning stroll in Sousse medina, soak up the vibrant atmosphere at local market, sipping mint tea and watching locals play cards or chess in teahouse. Later, drive to the north, en-route visit the coastal town of Hammamet for lunch. Afterwards, continue journeying north to Sidi Bou Said, known as Tunisia’s most romantic town. Sidi Bou Said is overlooking the Mediterranean, perched on hilltop, it has a blend of Spain Andalusian and Arabic architectural styles, most houses have whitewashed walls decorated with bright blue doors and windows.
After breakfast, transfer to airport, bid farewell to Tunisia, board a flight heading to Jeddah for transit, then catch a connecting flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Arrival at destination the following day.
Late morning flight landed in Kuala Lumpur. End of tour.
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A passionate globetrotter, Lam Li once spent two years on an overland journey from Asia to Europe, and another half a year tramping along the ancient Silk Road in Central Asia. A former journalist, Lam Li is keen on collecting local tales while on the road, and she strives to understand the social and political fabrics of places she visited. She has lived and worked in Beijing for six years, and has published a book in Chinese entitled “The Wall Street Diary: US under Financial Storm” . She has also recorded her travelogue on film, and directed a feature-length documentary named “Surviving Beijing”.
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