Tunisia - Oasis to Roman Ruins across the Sahara

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Day 1: Arrive in Tunis

You are met upon arrival at the Tunis airport and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is free to rest or to explore Tunis. We meet our guide for dinner to discuss our upcoming adventure.

Overnight in Tunis.


Day 2: Carthage, Sidi Bou Said

After breakfast, we drive to Carthage to view the Punico-Roman ruins, visit the amphitheater at Byrsa, see the Roman baths on the coast and tour the National Museum.

After lunch in Carthage we move on to the quaint coastal village of Sidi Bou Said and explore its cobbled streets. We also stop to visit the moving US war cemetery, a profound experience.

Overnight in Tunis.


Day 3: Dougga, Bulla Regia, to Tabarka

Today we explore the ruins of Dougga and Bulla Regia. After breakfast we drive to Dougga to view what are widely held to be the best ruins in all of Tunisia. In addition to Roman and Byzantine structures, Dougga also has a pre-Carthaginian mausoleum. The town was actually inhabited until the 1950's when the locals were relocated down the road to Nouvelle Dougga in an effort to preserve the ruins.

After lunch in Dougga, we continue on to the ruins at Bulla Regia. The ruins here are unusual as they reveal the Romans adopting the local custom of building their homes underground to avoid the heat. In addition to the subterranean mansions, the site also contains a theater, baths and a temple to Isis, an Egyptian goddess who the Romans thought it fashionable to worship at the time. After exploring Bulla Regia we drive to Tabarka.

Overnight in Tabarka.


Day 4: To Ain Draham, Hike in the Kroumirie Mountains or Relax in Tabarka

Today we travel to the town of Ain Draham and spend the day hiking the wooded slopes of the Kroumirie Mountains. The buildings in Ain Draham are unique in Tunisia. They have sloped roofs, designed to cope with the winter snows that are common in the mountains. Those who don't wish to participate, can spend the day exploring Tabarka.

Overnight in Tabarka.


Day 5: To Kairouan, the Great Mosque

After breakfast we drive to Kairouan and spend the day exploring Tunisia's holy city. According to legend, the city was founded when general Uqba bin Nafi al-Fihri found a golden goblet on the ground which had disappeared from Mecca years before. The city's fortunes have fluctuated greatly over the centuries, but it has always remained Tunisia's religious center.

In the afternoon we visit the Great Mosque. The mosque was built by Aghlabites in the 9th century on the ruins of the original mosque built when the city was first founded. The mosque's courtyard slopes slightly toward the center, allowing rainwater to collect in the ancient cisterns below.

After lunch we visit the Aghlabite basins and the mausoleum of Sidi Sahab. Fed by an aqueduct from the hills to the west, the basins, built at the same time as the Great Mosque, held the city's water supply and were a popular place for the ancient rulers to relax. The mausoleum is part of a larger complex containing an inn for pilgrims, a small mosque and other tombs. Sahab was a companion of the Prophet Mohammed and his tomb is an important holy site for Muslims.

Overnight in Kairouan.


Day 6: To Tozeur via Sbeitla Roman Ruins and Gafsa

Today, we make the trip to Tozeur, stopping in Sbeitla enroute to view its remnants of the Roman Empire. The small town of Sbeitla is the site of the ancient city of Sufetula and possesses some of the best preserved Roman temples anywhere. In addition to temples dedicated to the Roman gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the site also has 2 early Christian basilicas and an extensive bath complex with a remarkably sophisticated system for heating the floors.

We lunch in Sbeitla. We arrive in Tozeur in time for dinner.

Overnight in Tozeur.


Day 7: Jeep Trip to Ong Jmal (Star Wars Set)

A fun and lighthearted day today as we drive by jeep northwest of Tozeur, across the desert to Ong Jmal, where we can see parts of the movie set from the Star Wars film.

Later we visit the Dar Charait Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection of pottery, antiques and art, but what really makes it fascinating are the exhibits which recreate Tunisian life throughout history.

Overnight in Tozeur.


Day 8: To Douz via Chott El Jerid Salt Lake

This morning, we visit the oasis of Degache by caleche (horse carriage) to see a functioning oasis with a variety of crops. We then continue on to Douz, by way of the Chott El Jerid. This region has an immense salt lake which is part of a system of lakes that stretch from the Gulf of Gabes all the way into Algeria. A long causeway spans the lake and as we drive across, we are sure to see some strange optical illusions as the heat shimmers off the salt flats and the chemical rich water reflects unusual colors.

After lunch in Douz, we head off on camel back to the Sahara to enjoy a desert sunset.

Overnight in Douz.


Day 9: Ksours of Tataouine, to Jerba

Today we make our way to Tataouine. We use Tataouine as our central base to explore the surrounding ksour at Chenini, and Ksar Ouled Soltane. After lunch, we head to the island of Jerba, by way of the town of Mednine. We stop in Mednine to view the historic Ghorfas.

Overnight in Jerba.


Day 10: Jerba, Matmata

In the morning we tour the sights of Jerba. Jerba has a long and bloody history dating back to the 8th century BC. It has been settled and conquered by a number of political and religious powers including the Romans, Arabs, Spanish, Ottoman Turks, Kharijites and Normans.

We begin our tour and walk the markets and streets of Houmt Souq, stopping to see the obelisk where Dragut built a pyramid of skulls of the sailors of the Spanish Armada. We head south to see the synagogue at El Ghirba, the oldest synagogue in North Africa. From there, we visit the Ethnographic Museum of Patrimony in Guellala, as well as the pottery workshops for which Guellala is famed.

After lunch we leave the island for the town of Matmata on the mainland. We view the subterranean homes of the local Berbers. These buildings were used as locations for the film Star Wars.

Overnight in Matmata.


Day 11: Sfax, Gabes, Mahdia

This morning after breakfast we make our way to Sfax, stopping en route to tour the oasis at Gabes. In Sfax, we tour the old medina. The medina is very well preserved and still serves as the marketplace for the residents of Sfax.

It was also used as a location for the film The English Patient. We end the day by driving to Mahdia.

Overnight in Mahdia.


Day 12: El Jem Amphitheater, Mahdia

After breakfast we drive to El Jem and explore the magnificent amphitheater. The ruins at El Jem are almost as big as the Coliseum in Rome. The three-tiered seating could hold 30,000 people in its day. In addition to being able to climb to the top of the bleachers, we can also explore the underground tunnels used to house the gladiators, animals and slaves that were sent into the arena to entertain the masses.

After lunch we visit the El Jem Museum, which house an extensive collection of Roman mosaics. Later return to Mahdia and tour the old medina.

Overnight in Mahdia.


Day 13: Monastir Fort, Sousse Medina and Fort

This morning we drive to Monastir for a tour of the ribat (fortress) and the mausoleum of the Bourguiba family. The ribat was built at the end of the 8th century AD. The central watchtower provides excellent views of the coastline and local landscape. The fortress was used for the filming of Zeffirelli's religious epic Life of Christ, and Monty Python's religious satire The Life of Brian.

After lunch we journey up the coast to Sousse to tour the city's medina and ribat. Founded in the 9th century BC, Sousse has long stood (under various names and rulers) as a center of industry and trade. The city first became a walled fortress during the Byzantine rule in the 6th century AD, but the current walls were built by the Aghlabites in the middle 9th century AD.

The medina contains the Great Mosque. Fortress-like in appearance, the Great Mosque actually pre-dates the outer walls of the medina by several years. The oldest monument in Sousse is the ribat, built in the late 8th century AD.

Overnight in Sousse.


Day 14: Takrouna - Berber Village, Ruins of the Aqueducts, to Tunis

After breakfast, we drive to Takrouna, a wonderful Berber hilltop village, and then continue on to Hammamet for a brief stop to explore the old city. After lunch, we make our way back to Tunis, stopping enroute at Oudna. We also visit the remnants of an incredible Roman aqueduct that used to stretch over 30 miles from Zaghouan to Carthage.

Overnight in Tunis.


Day 15: National Bardo Museum, City Tour

In the morning we visit the National Bardo Museum, which houses a unique collection of mosaics, pottery and other finds from around Tunisia. We also tour the city's old medina and the Arab souks. After lunch together, our afternoon is free to spend exploring Tunis.

Overnight in Tunis.


Day 16: Depart Tunis

Today, you transfer to the airport to connect with your international flights homeward.

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