• Danik Bates

Six places to explore whilst in the Tunisian Sahara

Updated: May 7

Tunisia is one of the North African countries to go and check out its amazing landscape. From its oasis, mountains, desert and sea views, Tunisia does have it all. Most visitors (especially those from Europe) usually head to the resorts near Sousse and soak up the sun and do a few nearby day trips, or maybe even a city break in Tunis up on the northern coastline. However, one of our favourite places to check out in the country was to hit the Sahara desert and check out a few places. We headed to the area surrounding the Chott el-Jerid, a huge salt lake in the Sahara.

Basing myself in Sousse, we headed to the Sahara for a couple of days with a guide and to break up the journey we stopped off in El Djem to see one of the country's historic monuments. The Roman Empire sailed over the sea into North Africa and built an impressive amphitheater in the city of El Djem, to which the arena is known as El Jem. Built in 238 AD, this is one of the biggest arenas in the world which can hold around 35,000 people. What we love about this arena is, as well as walking around the seating area, getting a view of the centre of the arena, thinking about the fights and shows which took place here, visitors can actually walk around the basement of the arena. Here is where the gladiators prepare for battle, tigers were held and a lot of wine stored from the African sunshine. What is more impressive is that we were walking around the set of Gladiator (the film which came out 2000 AD with Russell Crowe in it).

Further south we arrived in the town known as Matmata. It is here we got to visit local Berber people (the folk who have lived in the Sahara all their lives and were the first settlers to the region) who live in traditional underground structures, where the locals dig up a large pit in the ground and around the perimeter of the pit, artificial caves are then dug to be used as rooms.

In this town we also visited the Hotel Sidi Driss which was used as a filming location way back in 1976 for the huge motion picture, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, to which the hotel was featured as the home of Luke Skywalker and his family on the planet Tatooine. The hotel was also featured again in the 2002 film Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. We are not Star Wars fans but we have seen the films so to walk around this building, the set, was just amazing. We have to admit it did feel weird seeing all the souvenir tack near the entrance of the hotel and we can see why people flock to Matmata.

One place of outstanding beauty which really caught our eyes was when we were in Chebika, which is a mountain oasis and lies at the foot of the Djebel el Negueb mountains. It has the nickname of Qasr el-Shams (Castle of the Sun) and we can fully understand why with the amazing views of the surrounding area. In the past the village was once a Roman outpost and then was used by the Berber people as a mountain refuge. Also this area was used in many scenes of the movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (as previously mentioned in the town of Matmata) and The English Patient. However, we weren't here to spot movie locations, we were here to chill out besides the water gushing through the rocks in the oasis and sit in the shade of the only palm trees located in this area.

One activity we did take part in was camel riding whilst in Douz, known as the Gateway to the Sahara. Here we dressed up in traditional clothing for trekking across the desert and made sure we had the shades on. This was a fantastic experience, trekking out into the desert, seeing nothing but sand. Those camels sure love to grunt a lot and by god, their breath did stink but still, we had the time of our lives. Afterwards we made sure our camels were fed and heavily watered after all the hard work.

Afterwards we were picked up in a 4X4 and drove for an hour, further and further into the desert until we arrived in this make-shift camp. The camp had about twenty Bedouin tents which just had one room inside, with a bed. Despite it being hot during my sleep inside, we were so tempted to open the door but then that would let in all the bugs. Whilst here we did a walk in the middle of the night out into the desert, away from the light to check out all the stars and the full moon. It sure got cold out there. When we got back there was this small pool here which we had to do a dip under the stars. That is one moment we will never forget.

The next morning we were checking out the massive salt lake of Chott el-Jerid before exploring the beautiful gorge in Tamaqzah which are two amazing places worth stopping off when exploring the area. Both have their equal share of beauty but for me it was the peacefulness. There’s nothing like getting away from it all, looking at a stunning landscape and being captivated into your own thoughts. Well, that is what we felt that morning anyway.

We are not usually big fans of hot sandy places but exploring this area of the world and looking into the Berber way of life we found really interesting and we also found the locals we met were very helpful and wonderful people. Tunisia is a fantastic country to visit and we know since the problems in Sousse a few years ago with the terrorism and a lot of European governments banned tourists to travel for a while. However that has now been lifted but the tourists are not flocking back to this amazing country. We never encountered any problems and we totally love this country. We highly recommend people to go and visit here, even if it's just a trip to the beach.

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