Tunisia is travel destination off the beaten path, which means it can be hard to find a whole lot of information about the North African country. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the capital city of Tunis!
1. Taxis should never cost more than 20 Dinar
The drivers at the airport will ask for more, but if you ask someone at the information desk inside, they let you know what the standard rate is for your destination. If you need a taxi from the city, you can flag one down in the street, just make sure the meter is on. Otherwise, your hotel should be able to arrange a car or a local may even help you book a driver through their ride share app.
2. The Louage is legit
Locals use a system of minibuses called louages to get around. At 5 dinar per ride, they are a safe, cheap, and efficient way to get around the country. We found a great explanation of how to ride a louage on this Authentic Traveling blog.
3. Arabic is the main language, but French is widely spoken
If you already speak Arabic or French, great! If not, I think French is much easier to pick up. Aim to have a basic knowledge of general vocabulary, especially numbers and directions, before you go.
4. There’s not a lot of alcohol
Tunisia is a Muslim country, so beer, wine and liquor are really only found in tourist restaurants and resorts. The local beer, if you’re interested, is Celtia.
5. You don’t need to dress modestly
But you should be aware that the local women will all be very well covered, even at the beach. I never felt uncomfortable and I didn’t receive any disgusted stares or crude remarks, but I did feel slightly out of place in my shorts and tank tops.
6. You are expected to barter in the souks
We heard from some locals that you should start bartering around the halfway mark of the price tag and expect to end around 30% less than the original cost.
7. The Medina doors close at sundown
Depending on where your hotel is, this may not affect you, but you should keep a map handy in case you need to find an alternate route home.
8. At night, the streets are full of men’s clubs
When the sun goes down, the women go inside and the men hang outside and smoke shisha (hookah) or watch soccer. They are not rowdy or rude, but it is important to know that women are not allowed. I was always with my fiancé, Jonathan, but like any city at night, I would not have wanted to be the only woman walking around.
9. There is canned tuna everywhere
Almost every dish we ordered at every tourist restaurant in Tunisia came with canned tuna. If you are a fan, lucky you. If not (me) you might want to ask if a dish has thon (french for tuna) before you order. In general, we found that the smaller local cuisine spots had the best food. I recommend the national dish, couscous, with some grilled fish.
10. Tunisia is desperate for tourists
Since a deadly terrorist attack in 2015, tourism in Tunisia has slowed tremendously. At no point during our travels did we feel unsafe or uncomfortable, in fact, we were very welcome and many locals asked us to return home and tell Americans to visit their country. However, there were men in every city that would use the same lines to get tourists into their shops.
In Tunis, multiple men asked ” Have you been to Ed Dar to see the old king’s palace? It’s free entry today!” This is a multi-level rug shop with lovely tiled rooftop terrace. Obviously, the first man to ask peaked our interest and yes, we did get talked into buying a rug.
In Hammamet, men had their own bit that went like this “Hi! Don’t you recognize me? I’m the cook, from your hotel”. Now, we were staying in a small Bed and Breakfast in Tunis and we ate breakfast with a view of the kitchen as well as the woman preparing our food, so we weren’t fooled by this one.
In Sidi Bou Said, we didn’t hear any sneaky lines, but one of the restaurants did bring us a slice of cake, which we didn’t order, but thought was just a nice gesture until we got the bill.
Again, we never felt that there was any malintent, simply an effort to get a couple of American tourists to spend some money and help the economy.
Thinking about heading to Tunisia? In my last blog post, Why Tunisia?, I addressed why we decided to go and 5 reasons to put it on your travel list.