Difference between revisions of "Tunisia"
Revision as of 12:23, 3 June 2009
Tunisia  is a country in Northern Africa that has a Mediterranean Sea coastline in the very centre of Mediterranean Africa. Tunisia lies immediately to the south of Italy and Malta. Libya borders Tunisia to the south-east, whilst Algeria lies to the west.
Temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers; desert in south.
Mountains in north; hot, dry central plain; semiarid south merges into the Sahara desert.
Independence : 20 March 1956 (from France)
National holiday : Independence Day, 20 March - a time when hotel rooms are completely booked. Plan accordingly.
Following independence from France in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In recent years, Tunisia has taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it has sought to diffuse rising pressure for a more open political society.
Malta and Tunisia are discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for oil exploration.
No visa is required for Americans, Canadians, European Community and Great Maghreb nationals (Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania). A landing visa (on arrival) is available for Australians. For New Zealand, other African and Asian countries' nationals, a visa must be applied for at the embassy of coverage.
Tunisia's main international airport for scheduled flights is Tunis-Carthage International Airport (TUN) near Tunis. From the airport, you can catch a taxi to the center of Tunis (beware, meters may be rigged). Alternatively, take bus # 635 or # 35 to Ave Habib Bourguiba for around 1 dinar. The bus comes roughly every half-hour and stops in front of the terminal.
Tunisia's second airport is Habib Bourguiba, Skanes-Monastir(MIR) which is served by low cost charter flights from all over Europe. Monastir is nearer to most of the holiday destinations. Inexpensive charter flights (at least from the UK) are also available. Other international airports include Tozeur and Djerba.
Other Airports countrywide are serving national and international flights, and here is a list of the Tunisia's Airports: Tunis Carthage Intl Airport near Tunis (North Tunisia) -  Habib Bourguiba Skanes Monastir near Monastir (Central East Tunisia) - Sfax Thyna Airport near Sfax (Central East Tunisia) - Tozeur Nefta Intl Airport near Tozeur (South West Tunisia) - Gafsa Airport near Gafsa (South West Tunisia) - Tabarka November 7th 1987 near Tabarka (North West Tunisia) - Djerba International Airport in Djerba Island (South East Tunisia) - 
Ferry services link Tunis to Malta, Trapani (Sicily, Italy), Naples (Italy), Genoa (Italy) and Marseille (France). Travelling boats generally leave from La Goulette port (near Tunis). Other commercial ports are also available (Rades, Gabes, Sousse, Sfax, Zarzis...)
SevenAir is the domestic airline branched off of TunisAir. You can fly between Tunis and Tozeur, Djerba and Gabes, as well as flights to Malta and Bizerte. French-only website, booking still not online only through agencies SevenAir.
Tunisian highways resembles US Interstate or the Highways of Europe with a dual carriageway : A-1 runs from Tunis south heading to Sfax (The section from Sousse to Sfax has recenly been opened June 2008), A-2 runs from Tunis north heading to Bizerte, and A-3 runs from Tunis West heading to Oued Zarga. Tunisian highways speed limit is 110 km/h. It is possible to maintain that speed on that road very easily. The routes shown on some maps have a planned extension to Gabes then Ras Jedir (Libya Frontiers) in the South as of 2011-2014 and to Ghardimaou (Algerian Frontiers) in the West, but several years later. The remaining Highways have single carriageways, with traffic round-abouts at major intersections, which follow the European model (those in the roundabout have the right of way). Consequently, on roads other than the A-1,2,3 it can be difficult to maintain an average speed of more than 75 km/h most of the time as the speed limit is 90 Km/h. Almost all road signs are in both Arabic and French.
Driving in Tunis is very different than in the rest of the country, with traffic signals being widely ignored, and lane markings likewise treated as theoretical only. To see the Medina of Tunis, it would be best to park some distance from the Medina, and take the light rail (called TGM) in from Marsa/Carthage, the green tramway (called Metro) downtown, or perhaps a taxi in from the nearer outskirts.
Rental Cars are fairly easy to find, but somewhat expensive, at 80 dinars or so a day, for a medium sized car such as a four door Renault Clio. Www.rhinocarhire.com has a good range of rental vehicles.
Private taxis are reasonably priced even for long-distance travel, just be sure to agree on the fare before you set off. Sample fares for a four-seater are 40 euros for Tunis-Hammamet or 50 euros for Monastir-Hammamet .
The national train company SNCFT runs modern and comfortable trains from Tunis south to Sousse, Sfax and Monastir. There are three classes of service, namely Grand confort (deluxe 1st), 1st and 2nd, and all are quite adequate. Example fares from Tunis to Sousse are 12/10/6 dinars (6/5/3 Euros) in Grand/1st/2nd class.
A good thing to do is to buy a carte bleue (blue card). It costs around 20 dinars for a week and you can travel all around the country using the banlieue (short distance train) and grande ligne (long distance). For the long distance you will have to make a reservation and pay a small fee (1,50 dinars or so). These passes can also be bought to cover 10 or 14 days. There are rarely queues at the booking office and a little bit of French goes a long way. Trains go also to Tozeur and Gabes in the south where it is easy to access the Sahara and Ksour regions respectively.
A light railway (Called TGM) also connects Tunis northward to Carthage and Marsa. Take this light railway system to Sidi Bou Said as well. One-way light railway tickets will cost approximately 675 millimes (1 Dinar = 1,000 millimes = 55 Euro Cents).
Locals use louage or long-haul shared taxis where there is no train or bus. There are no timetables, but they wait in the louage station (which is generally near a train station if your destination is accessible by train) until 8 people turn up. They are nearly as cheap as the walk up train fares and operate with fixed prices so you won't get scalped. eg Douz to Gabes (120km) for 7 dinars. Be aware that while louages are very cheap, they can also be stifling hot during the summer months and tourists may be hassled. Furthermore, louages have the reputation to drive at a fast pace, and to be less safe than other transportation, so be aware of that. Louage departures are very frequent, a louage departs as soon as the seats are filled. All Louage cars are of white color, with a side stripe showing the coverage area. Louages between major cities are recognizable by their red stripe, louages within region are recognizable by their blue stripe and Louages serving rural areas are recognizable by thein Yellow strips (the Rural Louage can be Yellow with blue stripes, or a van fully painted in brown color).
Long distance bus (called car) is also a safe and economic way to travel between major cities such as Tunis, Nabeul, Hammamet, etc. You will generally find a station in each major city offering many departures per day (every 30 minutes between Tunis and Hammamet). Some of the bus locally called "car comfort" offer higher standards (tv, air conditioner) at cheap prices.
Arabic is the official language of Tunisia and one of the languages of commerce, the other being French — a relic of Tunisia's former status as a French protectorate until 1956. English is of limited use, but fine for use around tourist areas.
The national currency is the Tunisian dinar. US$1 = 1.42915 dinar, €1 = 1.85743 dinar and GBP£1 = 2.00834 Dinar (17 March 2009). Typical banknotes are 30,20,10,5 Dinars. The Dinar is divided into 1000 Millemes, with typical coins being 5 Dinars (Silver with copper insert), 1 Dinar (large silver color), 500 Millemes (1/2 Dinar: smaller silver color), 100 and 50 Millemes, (large brass), 20 and 10 Millemes (smaller brass) and 5 Millemes (small aluminum). It is prohibited to bring dinars in and out of Tunisia, so you have to change your money locally.
Prices are typically marked in Dinars and Millemes, with a decimal point like: 5.600 or 24.000 or 0.360 sometimes with TND as a label like TND85.500 . Markets typically sell items by the Kilogram. So tomatoes may have a sign "480" on them which means 480 Millemes per Kilo. Good cheese will be marked something like 12.400 or about $10 a Kilo. Most self-serve supermarkets expect you to put your purchases in supplied plastic bags and then bring them to a nearby "balance" where a worker will weigh them and apply a price sticker.
Tunisian cuisine is very much in the Northern African Maghreb tradition, with couscous and marqa stews (similar to the Moroccan tajine, however what Tunisians refer to as "tajines" are nothing like the Moroccan variety) forming the backbone of most meals. Distinguishing characteristics are the fiery harissa chili sauce, the heavy use of tiny olives which are abundant in the country, and tajines in Tunisia (not to be confused with their Moroccan counterparts) refer to a type of omelette-like pie prepared with a ragout of meat and/or vegetables mixed with ingredients such as herbs, legumes and even offal, then enriched with eggs and cheese and finally baked in a deep pie dish until the eggs are just set, somewhat like an Italian frittata. Lamb forms the basis of most meat dishes. Local seafood is plentiful.
Regrettably, Tunisia has a very underdeveloped restaurant culture and most food prepared outside of Tunisian homes is disappointingly bland and carelessly presented. These characteristics tend to apply across the price scale, though one can occasionally eat tasty couscous or "coucha" stew in some low-priced restaurants. One's best hope for good eating in Tunisia is to be invited as a guest in someone's home.
Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin General shops. Large department stores (Carrefour at Marsa/Carthage) and some supermarkets (e.g. Monoprix) sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays. Female travelers should be aware that, outside resort and areas of significant tourist concentration, they may find themselves with a beer in a smoky bar full of men drinking in a rather dedicated fashion. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality. Look around a bar before you decide to imbibe!
There are lots of fine hotels in Tunisia. You can also rent a furnished apartment. Some private people offer their own apartments for rent especially in summer. It is advisable to organise your accommodations online or by phone prior to your arrival.
The Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages  offers intensive summer sessions in July and August for anyone interested in learning Modern Standard Arabic or Tunisian dialect. In the 2005 summer session there were over 500 students of all ages from throughout the world. This included students from the USA, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Turkey, Japan, China, etc.
On the first day of class, there is placement exam. The levels range from absolute beginner to advanced, with 15 to 25 students per class. Only Arabic is allowed in the classroom. We used both a course book developed by Bourguiba Institute and also music videos in Arabic with the accompanying text.
The courses are daily from 8:00 AM to 1:15 PM. In the afternoon there are activities and tours of the medina and museums. They also offer optional weekend excursions to sites in Tunisia. At the end of the one-month course there is both a written and oral exam.
Several students complained about the lack of cleanliness in the student dorms. Some students stayed in a hotel and then rented a beach-side apartment for the month. It's usually easier to negotiate rental prices once you are in Tunis.
Some students also expressed concern with the school's methodology, which appears to be antiquated and in need of great revision. If you have studied Arabic before, whether in your home country or in another school in the region, be prepared for a substandard continuation of your Arabic studies.
The school is located in the city of Tunis. It's about a 20 minute metro ride to the beach. If you go to the summer school, be prepared for the hot temperatures.
Work issues are quite sensitive in Tunisia as job offers are limited even for Tunisian nationals. Foreign investors are welcome to establish projects and the government is providing facilities related authorizations for such initiatives. For a high level job lots of experience and excellent skills are of course required. Low level jobs are mainly in the service sector as in much of the world. Salaries in Tunisia are naturally lower than those in Western Europe or North America, due to the lower cost of living.
It is apparently not considered rude for a man to stare at a woman's body which should indicate that modesty will attract less attention. Women can expect to be the target of frequent catcalls ("Gazelle" seems to be especially popular).
Tunisian women often wear outfits that would normally be seen on the streets of any major world city (tight jeans, slinky top), but they do so while showing traditional modesty by exposing virtually no skin. Arms are covered down to the wrists, collars go to the neck (cleavage is non-existent) and a head scarf may be worn. Western women visiting can minimize attention by selecting clothes that minimizes skin shown. V-necks are fine if another layer with a higher collar is worn underdeath.
Travellers report problems being pestered either to buy something or for other purposes. Persistence is a major complaint. Some say that a refusal often results in a bad reaction, "being hissed at" is one example, but those who have been advised to refuse politely with a smile rarely complain. "Non, Merci" is a very good response, with a smile. This seems to be borne out by the reports of sole female travellers who you would expect to receive the most attention, but who often report the least problems (from an admittedly small sample), perhaps because they are more cautious than accompanied females. It certainly seems to be the case that sole female sea bathers attract a good deal of unwelcome attention (even molestation) until a male friend arrives.
Theft of belongings, even from hotel rooms and room safes, is widely reported and the usual caveats apply - keep valuables in a secure place (e.g. supervised hotel safe deposit), do not flash too much cash, and keep wallets, purses and other desirable items where pick pockets cannot reach them. A good recommendation is only to carry enough cash for your immediate requirements and only one credit or bank card, provided you can be assured of the security of your reserves. Besides, most of the Automatic Bank-notes distributors are available and foreign credit cards are accepted. You can take cash (in equivalent Tunisian Dinar) directly from your bank account with a small extra fee (Bank transaction from 1 to 2 euros).
Theft is also reported in the Airport. Keep your belongings under your direct supervision all the time.
Always check with your doctor 8-4 weeks before traveling (The 8-4 weeks is important, as some vaccinations take weeks to become effective, and with Polio you can be contagious for a while too):
Tunisia is a Muslim country, and dress code is important, particularly for females. Whilst a lot of skin (even topless) is tolerated on beaches and within hotel complexes, a modest amount of exposed skin may be frowned upon outside these areas.
Be warned that the Tunisian government discourages critical discussion of local politics, particularly in public forums.
Public telephones are available in all towns and cities and in most villages under either the name of Publitel or Taxiphone - in cities simply look around - there is at least one on every street. International calls tend to be quite expensive (DT 1,000/minute to call anywhere in the EU). There are two mobile GSM operators, private Tunisiana and state-owned Tunisie Telecom, both offering wide mobile coverage (including some oasis in the Sahara). Rates tend to be quite low for domestic calls, but very high for international cals (around DT 1,500/minute). Ask for a carte prépayée for a prepaid SIM card.
Public internet access is available in many cities and towns, usually using the Publinet logo. Since home internet access is quite expensive in Tunisia, many locals will use these, so they are very widespread, especially in the non-touristic areas of cities. Look for a large purple sign with the Publinet logo. Access is usually 0.8DT/hour, and speeds tend to be quite low (512kbps is the norm in Sousse and 2048 in Tunis). Note that FTP and peer-to-peer access is not available anywhere in Tunisia, and access to certain web sites, particularly those that engage Tunisian political issues, is restricted by the government.
La Poste Tunisienne is quite efficient and fast. Post restante is offered in certain (bigger) offices. A stamp for international letters costs DT 0,600.
Rapide Post is the Poste's service for sending mail and packages quickly. Once a Rapide Post package enters the US it is handled by FedEx. It is the best and most secure way to send things in Tunisia.
Vacationing in Tunisia
There are several ways to enjoy your vacation in Tunisia, including spending your vacation on the gorgeous Mediterranean beaches, or planning a circuit of Tunisia. Numerous charter flight companies can arrange flight and hotel, many that waiver a visa to enter. There are also some agencies that have ongoing tours for groups and private travelers.
Tourism is pretty well developed in Tunisia, although not at par with other countries like Egypt and perhaps even Morocco. Hotel star ratings are not at par with European and US standards-- a 4 star hotel is the equivalent of a 3 star.
Hedfi Consulting Partners' Authentic Tunisia offers group tours, custom trips, circuits for specialized groups, and seminars and meetings for businesses. They work one-on-one with our clients to arrange the perfect trip in Tunisia. They specialize only in Tunisia, being the leading American Tunisia Experts.