A few months ago, one of my best friends told me she would go abroad to work as a hostess for Jetair, and a little later she confirmed that Hammamet, Tunisia would be her new home for over half a year.
Not long after she had actually left Belgium to start her adventure, I booked a trip to go visit her with another friend of mine, and for me it seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore a whole new country and lifestyle, for I had never before thought about visiting Tunisia.
To get from Brussels to Enfidha (the airport closest to Hammamet), I’ve flown Jetair, (a belgian airline company) and I really had a nice flight. The catering firm went on strike, but we were all given a voucher to buy something in the airport before taking off, even though I didn’t really need anything for this three-hour afternoon flight. Nonetheless, I really appreciated their efforts.
Once in Enfidha, I had also booked a transfer from the airport to Hammemet. The transfer bus usually drops you off at your hotel (if you also booked it with Jetair of course), but we were dropped off at the closest hotel to my friend’s place because we lucky bitches were able to stay at her place. But of course, if you would stay at a hotel there, my friend told me she could recommend Riu Marco Polo.
Something I really like to mention before talking about the things I’ve seen, is the Tunisian mentality. First of all, don’t trust anyone. In the airport, don’t let anyone carry your luggage because they will let you pay for it. Also, in many hotels, street vendors are wandering trying to sell you camel rides etc but those people can’t be trusted. Be aware and if you have booked with a company like Jetair, be sure to consult your hostess before buying anything.
Secondly, if you’re a young girl travelling to Tunisia, prepare yourself to be hastled majorly. Not only by street vendors who are trying to lure you into their shops (which will happen to every tourist) but also by Tunisian men, who will blatantly stare at you and will verbally assault you. To me, that was the biggest stress factor on my vacation. Every time we passed a group of men (regardless of their age), we just knew they would stare and whistle etc. I felt digusted and even though I get that we’re some sort of attraction because we’re not completely covered like their women, it’s still so disrepectful and one of the reasons why I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back to Tunisia.
When you travel to Tunisia, don’t forget that they pay with Tunisian dinars. One dinar is about €0,45, which is about $0,60. Everything in Tunisia is relatively cheap, so that was really nice. You can have a nice meal for less than 15 euros, and sometimes even less.
WHAT TO SEE IN TUNISIA?
One of the things I “hated” most about Tunisia, was that it’s hard to get places by yourself, especially because we were two young girls. To be on the save side, we booked a couple of excursions, once again with Jetair. They have many amazing trips, which are really worth the (little) money. But know that any excursion can be cancelled if there aren’t enough people to join in.
I was most looking forward to a two-day trip to the Sahara and the saltlakes (and the filming location of Star Wars), but unfortunately, all of the excursions to the Sahara during my stay were cancelled. I’m still kind of upset that I didn’t get to see that while I was there because I’ve already seen pictures of it and it looked so beautiful.
Fortunatelly, there were still two excursions we were able to do. Jetair’s Discovery Highlights and Discovery Special. To fill up another day, we also took the train to Tunis (which was an adventure all on its own). On the other days, we discovered the city we were staying in; Hammamet.
The Discovery Highlights excursions takes you to a couple of Berber villages in Tunisia. This trip was with a jeep, which was definitely necessary for the second part of the trip, where the roads got really, really bumpy. Either way, our first stop was at a place where they showed us how Berbers traditionally baked their bread, and then we got to taste it, with a lot of other delicious stuff. One of the best breakfasts I had in a long time.
With our bellies full, we headed to another Berber village Takrouna which is situated on top of a hill (like most Berber villages are, for defence purposes). We got a really nice view of the Tunisian landscape and also drank a really good mint tea. (says someone who doesn’t like tea)
After the delicious tea, we headed to a Nomad family. To be honest, I felt a bit stupid there, because with us there, those people looked like animals in a zoo. There literally only was a tent with a few people underneath, and while it was interesting to see how those people lived, it still made me feel uncomfortable.
Lastly we headed to another site (which I’ve forgotten the name of. Sorry!). That was my favorite place of the excursion. They were also shooting a movie called ‘David’ there at the time. The sights were really beautiful and we even got to go inside a mosque that they were restoring. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot to make out of it.
Then we got back in our jeeps and headed to yet another Berber village where we would eat lunch, consisting of couscous and other traditional foods. The people there were really nice and after a quick tour of their village, we were led to the largest room to eat. Thanks to my friend, I got tricked into dressing up traditionally to go get the food (which was a really dangerous thing to ask of me because I’m the clumsiest!) and then do a little silly dance. Now, I can laugh with it, and I’m kinda happy I got the opportunity to do it, but at the moment, I was dying of mortification.
And that was the end of this excursion. Definitely worth it, but maybe a bit rushed at some points.
The Discovery Special excursion first takes you to the newly opened archeological site of Uthina. There are remains of a amphitheater and many mosaics. To me, this was one of the highlights of my trip.
After sweating out every bit of water in my body – because damn it was freaking hot in Uthina without any shade – we took the bus to a little outside of Tunis to have lunch. At first, the restaurant seemed really nice, but soon enough it was obvious that every group in the environment stopped there for lunch. It was really crowded, you had hardly time to breathe and the food was just mediocre. My least favorite food of the entire trip.
Fortunately, we were quickly back on our way to our next stop; Sidi Bou Saïd. With it’s white houses and blue doors etc it quickly reminded me of Santorini (Greece), but it’s definitely not as beautiful as that city. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood, but no worthy alternative of Santorini. It looked a bit detoriated at some places.
Sidi Bou Saïd was the last stop of that excursion, but the kind bus driver made a little detour to Tunis so we could get a few glimses of the capital of Tunisia. For us that was pretty great considering we had planned to go to Tunis the next day.
Because I could not accept being that close to the capital of Tunisia without actually visiting it, we decided to be brave and go to Tunis by train. That on its own was a pretty big adventure. We were a bit scared at first because the trains didn’t seem all that modern but in the end it wasn’t that bad at all. Yes, we got stared at by lots of men – surprise! – but the inside of the train was really nice ánd airconditioned. It was really packed though, because it was a really short train, but to me, the most important thing was getting in Tunis decently, and that worked!
We first headed to the Tourist Office because we didn’t really know where to start our exploration of Tunis. A lovely lady handed us a map of the Medina quarter and showed us how to get there.
So we walked over the Champs-Élysées of Tunis, past the Big Ben of Tunis and the Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, towards the Medina quarter, the oldest part of the city.
At first it looked really promising. The Town-Gate of France at the edge of the Medina quarter and the surrounding building were really nice. Also the first few streets in the Medina appeased me. We decided to follow the “Tourist route” that was on our map and also pointed out in the streets.
But soon enough we got lost in the maze of streets, and while at first we weren’t really harassed a lot by the street vendors (which surprised us immensily) we then again got a few remarks. (Apparently they seem to fall in love at first sight -iew- and can’t understand why I’m so white (because I can’t bronze, DUDES!). Either way, we ended up back on track and then out of the medina for a while. On the other side of the Medina (when you enter via the Town-Gate of France) there is a big square. That was also a pretty lovely sight.
After staying in the shade a bit, we headed back to the Medina Quarter to continue our route throught the Medina. It was quickly clear that the landmarks on the map weren’t that impressive after all. A lot of time we just walked past it without even noticing anything. On top of it all, we ended up in really dirty allyways with heaps of trash. Gross! (And we were still on the Tourist Route, yes!) I was disgusted. There were only two landmarks that I found beautiful enough to take a picture off:
We ended our tour in the Medina with a “visit” of the Mosque. I put visit in between quotation marks because honestly, there wasn’t much to see. As a non-muslim you’re not allowed inside. You can only see the courtyard, and for that they charge you 5 dinars. Rip-off, if you ask me. Nonetheless, it was the most beautiful thing in the Medina.
Thoroughly disappointed by Tunis, we decided to head back to Hammemet earlier than planned because we were done with this kinda gross city. After a quick lunch of “something burrito-ish the people on the table next to us were eating, and we didn’t understand the menu, so we just pointed at it and asked the same”, we headed back to Hammemet and spend the rest of the day on the beach.
And last but not least, I’ll also talk about the city I stayed in during my stay in Tunisia; Hammamet. There are two parts of Hammamet. ‘Centre Ville’ and ‘Yasmine’. Both parts have a Medina quarter, but for me the one in Yasmine was definitely prettiest.
In Hammamet Centre Ville, the Medina wasn’t that big and there were many people trying to sell their souvernirs. Apart from the atmosphere, there wasn’t a lot to see. You could also access the Old Fort (access price: 4 dinar). The inside of the Fort wasn’t interesting at all, but from the top you have a lovely view on the city of Hammamet.
My favorite restaurants of this trip are also situated in Hammamet Centre Ville. The first one is in the Medina itself and has a lovely view on the beach and the city; La Barberousse. They have many great dishes and while the prices are a little more expensive for Tunisia, it’s still pretty cheap compared to what I’m used to.
The second restaurant in Hammamet Centre Ville that I’d recommend is Resto La Plage. The view from the terrasse is so pretty and the food is also really good.
And then my favorite part of Hammamet; Hammemet Yasmine. It was a lot more touristy there, but there was a really lovely promenade with many lovely places to drink/ eat something. There is also a really beautiful harbor with amazing, luxurious boats. Close to the harbor, there is a great place called Le Mistral where you have have breakfast for literelly no money compared to what you get.
The Medina Quarter in Yasmine is bigger than in Centre Ville and I liked it more as well. More open and more beautiful corners. It was one of the cleanest places I’ve seen during my stay in Tunisia. There are also camels there, so if you want to ride one, you can. Just make sure you set a price before mounting the animal and don’t let them trick you into paying more afterwards. I paid 2 dinars and afterwards they tried to make me pay more but you just have to stick to your price and then just walk away.
There there, that’s all about my trip to Tunisia. While I enjoyed discovering another culture, I’m pretty sure I won’t go back anytime soon. I still get the creeps thinking about all the comments I got every day, or how dirty some places where. I guess Tunisia (at least the part where I was) is still more of a beach-destination. Nonetheless, I saw some really beautiful things and it’s another experience they won’t take away from me anymore.
Until next time,
With love, Ellen