A Road Trip to Unravel the Wonders of South Tunisia

south tunisia

Updated On: May 11, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Huddled between the vast Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, South Tunisia beckons adventurous souls with its rich history, culture, and natural wonders. Beyond the well-trodden paths of the northern regions lies a captivating realm waiting to be explored—one infused with its people’s warmth and adorned with ancient ruins, vibrant markets, and breathtaking landscapes.

As travellers increasingly seek authentic and off-the-beaten-path experiences, South Tunisia emerges as a compelling destination that promises a unique blend of tradition and modernity. This article invites you to embark on a virtual journey through the southern reaches of this North African gem, where ancient history intertwines with contemporary life, creating an experience that will leave an indelible mark on any intrepid explorer.

Let’s hop into it.

South Tunisia

South Tunisia is a region of captivating contrasts. This small, less-explored part of an even famously small country—only 163,610 square kilometres—is a treasure trove of cultural richness and natural wonders.

The Sahara Desert dominates South Tunisia, stretching as far as the eye can see. Its golden sands form mesmerising dunes that rise and fall like waves, creating a panorama of breathtaking beauty. These dunes are a popular tourist destination and offer opportunities for sandboarding, camel riding, and exploring the desert landscape.

At night, the desert transforms into a celestial spectacle, with the Milky Way stretching across the inky black sky like a shimmering river of stars. The lack of light pollution makes South Tunisia one of the best places in the world to go stargazing.

South Tunisia is also where ancient Berber traditions blend seamlessly with the vibrant heritage of Arab and Saharan cultures. The region is also home to a number of Roman ruins, including the ancient city of Dougga, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and by far one of the best-preserved Roman cities in North Africa. Its temples, theatres, and baths are still intact.

In the following sections, we will explore some of the most enchanting attractions and hidden gems in South Tunisia that anyone ever making it to this part of the country should never miss exploring.

1. Djerba Island

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Djerba Island is a popular tourist destination for those visiting Tunisia.

As the best-known attraction in South Tunisia, Djerba is also the largest island in North Africa, located off the country’s southeastern coast in the Gulf of Gabès. It is a popular tourist destination known for its sandy beaches, historic sites, and a unique blend of cultures. Oftentimes, tourists land at Djerba Zarzis International Airport rather than Tunis-Carthage International Airport for a trip to the south of the country.

Djerba has a rich history influenced by various civilisations, including Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and more. The main town and the capital of Djerba, Houmt Souk, is a bustling town with a lovely medina, lively souks (markets), and a vibrant atmosphere.

Besides, the island is home to several historical and archaeological sites, including the Borj El Kebir fortress, which provides panoramic views. There is also a vast complex of several museums and parks called Djerba Explore, the most popular of which is the crocodile farm, where over 400 crocodiles live.

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Crocodile farm in Djebra Island, South Tunisia

The town also houses the Djerba Jewish community and the El Ghriba Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the world, dating back over two millennia. It is a must-see place symbolising the island’s religious tolerance. El Ghriba Synagogue is known for its annual Jewish pilgrimage, which attracts people from various parts of the world.

Though the island’s beauty does not stop here, Djerba is also renowned for its pristine beaches with golden sands and clear blue waters. Visitors can enjoy water sports, relax in resorts, or explore the secluded parts of the coastline. Many also like to board the famous pirate ship and cruise to the nearby Flamingo Island to taste local dishes and enjoy entertaining activities and dances.

2. Tataouine

Tataouine is a region in South Tunisia, basically a governorate, known for its unique desert landscapes, rocky terrain, and traditional Berber architecture. The area has a rich cultural heritage, with ancient ksour (fortified granaries), troglodyte dwellings, and other historical sites that attract tourists. It has also gained huge recognition thanks to being tied with the film franchise Star Wars.

As the story goes, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, was inspired by the Tataouine region, so he named “Tatooine”, the desert planet where much of the film series is set. Some of the scenes for the original Star Wars film were even shot around Matmata, located in the Tataouine region.

As a result, Tataouine has become a destination for Star Wars fans interested in visiting the real-world locations that served as the backdrop for the iconic film series.

Tataouine is also known for its unique architectural structures, which were homes to the Berber population. The presence of ksars and troglodytes characterises these.

So, ksars are traditional fortified villages that were historically used to protect against raids. The granaries, or ghorafs, are integral parts of ksars. They are basically small, rectangular rooms with thick walls and small windows. Stacked on each other, granaries were traditionally used for storing agricultural products like grains. The design of granaries helps protect the stored goods from heat and pests.

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In other words, ksars are ancient villages, and granaries are the homes that make up these villages. Ksars often have a central courtyard, and granaries are built close to one another for mutual protection.

Tataouine has several well-preserved ksars, each with its unique charm. Some notable ones in the region include Ksar Ouled Soltane, Ksar Ezzahra, and Ksar Hadada. Ksar Ouled Soltane, in particular, is famous for its well-preserved ghorafs. The site gained additional recognition after being used as a location for filming slave quarters in Star Wars films.

In addition to ksars and granaries, Tataouine is renowned for its troglodytes. These were dwellings or homes that were either carved into rock or built into caves, providing a comfortable living space naturally insulated from the day’s heat and the night’s cold.

The term “troglodyte” is derived from the Greek words for “hole” (trogle) and “mouse” (dytes), suggesting a dwelling in a hole like a mouse.

3. Dahar

Dahar is a mountainous region in South Tunisia, located only 94 kilometres north of Tataouine and like Tataouine, it is known for its unique landscape, traditional Berber architecture, and historical significance.

The landscape of Dahar often includes terraced fields that showcase traditional agricultural practices. These terraces help prevent soil erosion and optimise the use of arable land in mountainous terrain.

As mentioned, the Dahar region is home to numerous Berber villages, where traditional architectural styles have been maintained over the centuries. Villages in this region often feature homes with distinctive designs, including troglodytic dwellings carved into the rock.

Matmata is one of those famous villages for these troglodyte dwellings, especially the troglodyte pits that form the traditional homes carved into the grounds. As mentioned earlier, Matmata gained international fame when it was used as a filming location for the desert planet Tatooine in the original Star Wars film. More specifically, the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata was the location for Luke Skywalker’s underground home.

Other villages in Dahar that feature troglodytes and are often visited by tourists include Chenini, Guermessa, Tamezret, and Douiret.

4. Douz

Another must-visit town in South Tunisia is Douz, situated in the Kebili Governorate on the northern edge of the Sahara Desert. Thanks to its strategic location, this tiny yet significant town is often called the “Gateway to the Sahara.”

As a gate to the Sahara, Douz is a starting point for tourists interested in Sahara Desert experiences. The town serves as a gateway for camel treks, desert safaris, and visits to the nearby dunes, including the Grand Erg Oriental, one of the largest sand seas in the world.

Secondly, Douz is known for hosting the International Sahara Festival, an annual event celebrating Saharan culture and traditions. The festival attracts visitors worldwide and includes various activities such as camel races, traditional music and dance performances, and handicraft exhibitions.

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A local festival in Douz, South Tunisia

The town’s significance does not end here. Douz has a well-known camel market where locals trade and sell camels. This market is a fascinating place to witness the traditional practices associated with camel trading and learn more about camels’ significance in Saharan culture.

Jabil National Park, one of Tunisia’s most significant natural parks, is located in Douz and is another famous tourist attraction. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered Dorcas gazelle, addax, barbary sheep, Fennec fox, desert hare, antelope, and jackal.

The park also supports a diverse population of reptiles, including the horned viper and birds such as ravens, bustards, and larks. It also offers desert exploration, camel trekking, and wildlife observation opportunities.

5. Tozeur

Tozeur is a spectacular oasis located in South Tunisia, on the northern brim of the Sahara Desert, near the border with Algeria. It is known for its unique landscapes, including a stunning waterfall, traditional architecture, and cultural heritage.

The medina (old town) of Tozeur is a labyrinth of narrow streets and traditional buildings. Visitors can explore the medina to experience the local way of life, browse traditional markets, and admire the architecture.

Speaking of architecture, Tozeur features traditional Tunisian structures with distinctive brickwork and geometric designs. The use of locally sourced materials, such as brick and palm wood, is characteristic of the region. Ouled el Hadef is a historical district within Tozeur known for its well-preserved architecture. It offers a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of the region.

Now that we have mentioned palm, we should mention that Tozeur is famous for its lush area of date palms, fruit orchards, and other vegetation sustained by natural springs. Date palm cultivation, in particular, is a significant aspect of Tozeur’s economy, and the city is renowned for producing high-quality dates. The city even celebrates the harvest in several local festivals.

Right at the heart of Tozeur, the Dar Cheraït Museum is located. The building is divided into two parts. The first is a replica of a small palace where scenes from 19th-century Tunisian life have been reconstructed, and a collection of artworks from the 17th to the 20th century of the Ottoman Empire is displayed.

The second part is the world of One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin and Ali Baba.

The Chak Wak Leisure Park is a cultural project by the creator of the Dar Cheraït Museum, covering an area of 50,000 square metres. There, visitors can see nearly 50 figures of dinosaurs, giraffes, camels, and humanoid figures. Special effects of sounds and lights create a natural, historical route in this garden.

6. Mides

Mides (also spelt Midès) is a mountain oasis town in South Tunisia, near the border with Algeria and within the Djerid region. It is renowned for its deep, breathtaking canyons carved into the rock by ancient rivers. The canyons are surrounded by high cliffs, creating a dramatic and picturesque setting.

Like Tozeur and other towns in South Tunisia, Mides has an oasis with date palms and other vegetation. The oasis is a vital water source and sustenance in the arid environment.

Mides features traditional Berber architecture. Houses are often constructed using local materials like stone and mud brick, and they may have flat roofs to deal with the arid climate. The architectural style blends harmoniously with the natural surroundings.

The town also has historical significance, as the ruins of an ancient Roman settlement can be found nearby. It is also known for being a filming location for the Star Wars franchise.

7. Tamerza

Tamerza (also spelt Tamezret) is by far the largest mountain oasis in all of Tunisia, located in the country’s south. It is part of the Tozeur Governorate and is situated in the Atlas Mountains, only six kilometres from Mides.

As an oasis, Tamerza is characterised by date palms and other vegetation. Receiving fresh water from a few nearby hills, the town serves as a crucial source of water in the arid environment, supporting both agricultural activities and the local ecosystem.

Speaking of the landscape, Tamerza is renowned for its stunning canyons and gorges. These feature deep ravines and canyons carved by ancient rivers, creating a dramatic and scenic environment. A waterfall is also a unique feature in the desert landscape and one of the town’s notable attractions, offering a refreshing and scenic spot for visitors.

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Like every other town in southern Tunisia, Tamerza exhibits traditional Berber architecture. The houses are often constructed using local stone and mud brick materials, reflecting the indigenous architectural style that blends with the natural surroundings.

8. Chebika

Not very far from Tamerza is Chebika, another mountain oasis in the Atlas Mountains in South Tunisia. It is also part of the Tozeur Governorate and can be accessed there on a louage ride. Chebika is also in the western part of the country and just eight kilometres away from the Algerian border.

Thanks to its location, which allows it to receive plenty of sunlight, Chebika was nicknamed the Palace of the Sun.

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Palm of Chebika, South Tunisia

Like Tamerza, Chebika is a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors with its stunning scenery and historical significance. The oasis features a lush palm grove surrounded by rocky hills and cliffs, creating a dramatic contrast between the greenery and the arid landscape and excellent trails for hikers. 

One notable feature in Chebika is the old village, abandoned in 1969 after catastrophically flooded. Years later, a new village was constructed near the old one and became the new home for hundreds of people.

This new village is perched on the hillsides overlooking the oasis, providing panoramic views of the surrounding terrain. The ruins of the old village and the new settlement in the oasis give visitors a glimpse into the traditional way of life in this desert region.

Chebika, along with Tamerza and Tozeur, forms part of the popular tourist circuit in South Tunisia. It offers a unique blend of stunning nature and cultural heritage.

With its blend of history, nature, and culture, South Tunisia invites travellers to embark on a transformative odyssey where the echoes of ancient civilisations harmonise with the timeless whispers of the desert winds. From the ancient city of Matmata with its troglodyte dwellings to the mystical landscapes of Dahar and the vibrant markets of Tozeur, every corner of this region whispers tales of history, resilience, and a profound connection to the land.

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