Country Guide – Tunisia

The below guide has been written based on our experiences in Tunisia and will hopefully give you a good idea of what it’s like to travel there. However, things do change, so before you set off it’s worth checking for up to date travel information from the Foreign Office website, and the latest driving regulations on the AA website. At the bottom of the guide we’ve added links to our daily updates while we were in Tunisia, so you can live the adventure with us.

General Information

Country – Tunisia
Capital city – Tunis, 1400 miles from Dover
Currency – Tunisian Dinar
Languages – Arabic, many people also speak French, younger people also speak English
Visa requirements – EU citizens can stay for up to three months without a visa.
Borders – Land borders with Libya and Algeria. Most ferries arrive in Tunis from Southern France, Italy & Sicily.
Telephone country code – 216
Emergency numbers – 190 Ambulance, 193 National Guard, 197 Police, 198 Fire

Our visits

January – March 2013
Duration – 49 days
Route – Anticlockwise from Tunis. Across the north coast to Tabarka, then south, nipping east to Oued Zarga before continuing south to Tozeur, Douz and Ksar Ghuilane. Then north to Matmata, Metameur and south to Tataouine. Finally north to Metameur again then over to the island of Jerba before following the coast north back to Tunis, nipping inland to see El Jem and Kairouan. 
Miles driven – 2008
Average daily spend – €37.36 (€25.61 if you don’t include the ferry and insurance costs)
Average spend on overnight stops – €6.80 (5 free nights = 4 wild camping, 1 free aires, 44 paid nights – 30 guarded/youth hostel/hotel car parks and 14 at campsites)

Costs

Diesel
Diesel  is a fixed price at all of the ‘official’ service stations, by official we mean Shell, Agil, OilLibya, Q8 etc – all looking like the stations back in the UK. When we went this was 1.090TD (€0.52) per litre (diesel 50 was 1.300TD and petrol 1.470TD) – so unless you’re driving across from Libya, arrive with an empty tank.

There are also many, many unofficial stations selling diesel and petrol brought in from Libya where it is even cheaper. The unofficial stations range from plastic cartons of liquid stacked high by the roadside with a half drum on a stand and a hose running from it (occasionally with a bloke smoking in the middle of it all), to an old fashioned style pump outside a small shop. Some display prices, though usually what they are selling is written in Arabic. As the official petrol stations were so cheap for us we chose not to use any of the unofficial ones – although we saw many locals who did.

LPG
LPG prices are also fixed, when we were there it was 0.659TD (€0.35) per litre. The stations selling it were usually in the main towns on the outskirts, often Agil or Total branded. However don’t leave it until your tanks are almost empty, we tried to fill up our empty tank on our last day only to find the only station in Tunis selling LPG had run out and the delivery van hadn’t turned up.

Eating out
Eating out was very cheap, although the choice was often limited. 

  • 2 x ‘Berber’ pizza – takeaway wrap from hole in the wall €1.25
  • 2 x soup, salad, cous cous meal in campsite at Gafsa €9.00
  • 1 x Brik o’leuf, cous cous and 1 x brochette and chips in Douz restaurant €10.00
  • 2 x large takeaway wraps inc. salad & chips (in the wrap) in Tataouine from stall €2.00
  • 1 x small coffee, 1 x mint tea in Houmt souk €1.25
  • 2 x chicken & chips in Gabes medina €3.00
  • can of pop from stall – €0.50
  • 2 x Chipati and can of pop in Sousse main square €5.00
  • 1 x large takeaway vegetarian pizza (feeds two!) €2.50 

Supermarkets – supermarkets used Carrefour (huge one near Tunis GPS N36.86208,E10.31587), Magasin General and several other local stores.

Cakes, biscuits and pastries are in abundance and cheap, probably about half the store. There is also a lot of tuna, harissa (a spicy sauce) and cous cous. The stores in smaller towns often don’t stock fresh fruit, veg or meat, the latter can be bought from a butcher (the animal head/skin hanging outside will let you know what’s in stock and fresh!). Cheese is available but pretty tasteless and alcohol is available somewhere, we saw loads of empty beer cans as we travelled, but we could only find it in the huge Carrefour in Tunis. In the tourist areas, beware what is signposted as a supermarket is often a souvenir shop!

  • 1l UHT milk €0.55
  • Loaf of bread €0.12
  • 125g grated mozzarella €1.50
  • 1.5l still bottled water €0.19
  • 240ml Celtia beer €0.55
  • Bottle of Tunisian wine from €2.50
  • 3 x ‘Duo’ (Twix-esque) bars €70

Travel

Fuel
Unleaded and diesel are both widely. LPG (GPL) is available in a few of the bigger towns and when filling you will need the same dish type adapter as France. Make sure you don’t run low though as we tried to refill on our last day only to find that the station had run out of fuel and the delivery truck hadn’t arrived.

Tolls / Vignette
There are a couple of motorways, both of which are toll roads. The tolls to travel from Tunis to Bizerte was 1.90TD (€0.80). Just after the toll booths on the motorways you’ll find a small parking area with toilets – we used these a couple of times to empty our loo cassette.

Road regulations – the ones we know of!
Traffic drives on the right and overtakes on the left, so you need to ensure your headlights are deflected either with stick on adapters or duct tape. At roundabouts there was sometimes a sign to let you know who has right of way, but not always – so go slowly as it seems to vary! We came across many, many unmarked junctions – at one point we were in total gridlock at a cross roads as everyone though they had priority.

Distances are all in kilometres, and so are speed limited. As you enter a town the urban speed limit of 50kph applies, unless otherwise stated, until you are out of the town. To ensure you stick to this, speed bumps are placed around towns, often on the entrance and exit. They are frequently unmarked, unsigned and can be steep slow down for the sake of your crockery!

In some town road signs were only in Arabic, we used our Rough Guide to Tunisia to navigate our way around town centres as our Michelin map of Tunisia wasn’t detailed enough and we didn’t have a sat nav. 

Road conditions
Off the motorways the roads were bumpy and often in a bad state of repair. On three occasions we found stretches of road where the tarmac had been removed so instead of a nice A road we were effectively on a piste for over 20km – not fun! There were also many areas of roadworks, which will be going on for an eternity as there appeared to only be five people working on a 15km stretch!

As mentioned above, there are loads of speed bumps to slow you down as you enter towns and villages, but sometimes they are in the middle of nowhere and frequently unmarked or signed. Keep your eyes peeled. Some of the smaller roads are barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, but this doesn’t tend to slow down the locals who will happily speed past and overtake. 

Standard of driving
In our opinion the standard of driving was poor. Drivers didn’t tend to follow any rules and went where they wanted – this included going to wrong way around roundabouts and along dual carriageways if it was
quicker! Lack of road markings didn’t help either, often a junction will have no lines.

Pedestrians walk on the road, even when there is a perfectly good pavement, and will drift out in front of you without looking. Mopeds will try to squeeze through anywhere they think they might be able to fit, even if they can’t and taxi/lougaes will stop with minimal warning to drop off / pick up passengers on even the fastest of roads.

Shepherds do graze their flocks at the side of the road, but they are one of the few things that don’t tend to stray in your path! 

Overnight stops

Aires/Service points
There are no dedicated motorhome parking places in Tunisia. However marinas, hotels and youth hostels will usually let you park in their car park (some even supply power and toilets/showers) for a small fee (€4 – €15 pn). See our list of campsites and secured parking places in Tunisia.

Campsites
Campsites in the north are virtually non-existent, however as you get further south there are many more of them. Facilities very wildly as do the state of the toilet blocks (hot showers are often charged as extra). Expect to pay anything from €5 – €10 per night for a motorhome with two people. See our list of campsites and secured parking places in Tunisia.

Free / wild camping
When we first arrived in Tunisia we were under the impression you could wild/free camp pretty much anywhere. However our arrival coincided with the second anniversary of the revolution and the assassination of the leader of the political opposition party. After being woken by police at midnight and advised strongly to move closer to the police station we chose to limit our free/wild camping. We met many people who were wild camping around the country, and while on the island of Jerba we free camped by a beach for the night with no problems.

Contact with home

Phone
Our mobile phone always found a signal in Tunisia although we never used to it call anyone. We sent a couple of SMS and they cost around 12p.

Email/Internet
When we arrived in the country we bought a 3G SIM and dongle from Orange, see Jay’s article about internet access in Tunisia.

Post
There are post offices in even the smallest of villages and they are often the best signposted building in a town. We went into a couple in fairly large towns and they were packed. Look for a man behind a desk at the back of the room and explain what you need as often you don’t need to join the huge queues for buying stamps or sending parcels (people were queueing to collect their wages). When we did send a parcel the queueing system was sort of non-existent, draw on any experience you have of trying to get a pint in a busy pub – elbows out and take no prisoners!

Read our daily updates

At the bottom of each daily update there is a link to take you forward to the next day or back to the previous. The links below will take you to the first day of that part of our tour.

Tunisia – January – March 2013