Six places to explore whilst in the Tunisian Sahara
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 my favourite places to check out in the country was to hit the Sahara desert and check out a few places. I headed to the area surrounding the Chott el-Jerid, a huge salt lake in the Sahara.
Basing myself in Sousse, I 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 amphitheatre 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 I 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 were taken place here, visitors can actually walk around the basement of 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 I was walking around the set of Gladiator (the film which came out 2000 AD with Russell Crowe in it).
Further south I arrived in the town known as Matmata. It is here I 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 I 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. I am not a Star Wars fan but I have seen the films so to walk around this building, the set, was just amazing. I have to admit it did feel weird seeing all the souvenir tack near the entrance of the hotel and I can see why people flock to Matmata.
One place of outstanding beauty which really took my eye was when I was 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 I 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, I wasn’t here to spot movie locations, I was 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 I did take part in was camel riding whilst in Douz, known as the Gateway to the Sahara. Here I dressed up in traditional clothing for trekking across the desert and made sure I had the shades on. This was an 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, I had the time of my life. Afterwards I made sure my camel was fed and heavily watered after all the hard work.
Afterwards I was picked up in a 4X4 and drove for an hour, further and further into the desert until I 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, I was so tempted to open the door but then that would let in all the bugs. Whilst here I 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 I got back there was this small pool here which I had to do a dip under the stars. That is one moment I will never forget.
The next morning I was 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 captivated into your own thoughts. Well, that is what I felt that morning anyway.
I am not usually a big fan on hot sandy places but exploring this area of the world and looking into the Berber way of life I found really interesting and I also found the locals I met were very helpful and wonderful people. Tunisia is a fantastic country to visit and I 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. I never encountered any problems and I totally love this country. I highly recommend people to go and visit here, even if it’s just a trip to the beach.
Photos below are also from my trip to Tunisia, visiting places like Sousse, Monastir and attending a show near Sousse as well.