This is a trip report of a two-day Sahara desert trip my girlfriend and I made early June when we were spending a week long holiday in Hammamet. We booked this trip with Jumbo Tours (through our travel agent Abreu) which included visits to El Jem amphitheater, Matmata village, Douz, the salt pan of Chott el Jerid, Tozeur, the oasis of Chebika and Tamerza, and Kairouan’s Mosque. Meals and overnight in Tozeur included, total price 200 DT each. The original price was 210 DT, but strikes closed El Jem amphitheater for 3 days, and since we would not be able to enter, the price was cut 10 DT.
At first, we were a bit reluctant of making this trip, since it would imply riding a bus for 1100km in two days and we did not want to spend two days away from the beach and our all-inclusive program. Eventually we came to the conclusion that we would not be able to do something like this in a while, so we decided to go. Best decision ever.
We were picked up very early, around 6am, in an old mini bus which was somewhat uncomfortable but had the A/C up and running, which was good. Our guide’s name was Taufik (don’t know if I’m spelling it right) was a very nice guy, despite speaking in Spanish rather than Portuguese.
After a two-hour ride we arrived at our first stop, El Jem amphitheater. Although we could not enter, the trip was enjoyable as the amphitheater is very well preserved. Despite the scorching heat, we walked around the building, were given a few minutes for pictures and souvenirs. There’s a small shop, nearby the main entrance, in which you can actually see people making handcrafted mosaic pictures. Did not buy one and regretted it later.
From El Jem, we headed to Matmata, which is home to the Berber houses advertised to us as George Lucas’ inspiration for the houses of Anakin Skywalker’s childhood in Star Wars. We expected a different village from everything we have seen, and were a bit disappointed when, after a 4 hour trip, found out most houses were normal, with only a few specials. The landscapes around, however, were absolutely amazing. Dry river beds appeared everywhere, cutting the arid ground and shaping it like a mountainous desert. I couldn’t take enough pictures.
We eventually arrived at our restaurant, Les Berbers, which was a traditional Berber house – a giant hole dug on the rocks, with rooms carved out in the walls, like caves. This one was adapted to a hotel/restaurant, and as unusual as it was, this was its only quality. The food was horrible and scarce. One piece of chicken for each!
After lunch, we visited another traditional Berber house just outside the village. This one was private, and the family welcomed us into their home, showed us around and offered us tea and cookies. Very nice people!
Our next stop was Douz, the Door to the Sahara, 1h30 away. On the way, herds of wild camels started appearing in the distance. We signed up for the optional camel ride in the desert for 25 DT. We were dressed up for the desert ride (with a turban and a tunica) and went to meet our camels. We rode for about an hour in the middle of a sea of sand, marvelous views. Amazing! Our guide even let us lead the way, although our camels did not obey our commands and took which way pleased them most.
After Douz, we crossed Chott el Jerid, the World’s 2nd largest salt pan. The Chott was mostly dry, but there were a few puddles. Very windy place, as there’s nothing to break the wind in many kilometers. Nothing but salt as far as the eye can see. We were lucky to visit at sunset, which provided great sights and colours.
At Tozeur, we spent the night at the Ras El Ain Tozeur. Our flush didn’t work, so we called the reception and they sent someone to fix it. After it was fixed, the WC was a mess. We called the reception again, they sent someone to clean which made an even greater mess. Besides, there were many dead mosquitoes in the walls, so not a very clean place, although picturesque.
In the morning, we were picked up in 4x4 to visit the oasis of Chebika and Tamerza. Chebika was, in my opinion, the highlight of this trip. A mountain oasis, on the eastern tip of the Atlas Mountains, is a true desert paradise. The palm trees hide many freshwater springs and waterfalls, and the Mountain landscape is just amazing. We couldn’t resist in going for a swim at one of the springs. Not even the pestering vendors can ruin this place.
Tamerza was also a pleasant surprise. An oasis inside a Canyon, with many waterfalls and great views.
After Tamerza, we got back to Tozeur for a chariot ride through an oasis inside the town – also optional, 10 DT each. We could only see trees. And – worse than vendors – thousands of mosquitoes bit us through the whole ride, so I don’t think I would repeat this.
We had half an hour free to explore Tozeur. Almost every building in the city is tiled to keep the heat out. We hung around the very busy market area, where the pestering continued.
After this, we started heading northeast towards Hammamet. We stopped for lunch at the Jugurtha Palace Hotel in Gafsa. The decoration was awesome – great colours and many elements of Arab architecture. The lunch itself was not a big of a deal, but still way better than the one at Les Berbers. However, there was something I could not quite figure out – there was no one at the restaurant at lunch hours (?!?!?!).
Next stop: Kairouan, the 4th most important city of Islam. We stopped nearby the Mosque, our guide took us inside a shop in which we could go up to the terrace and enjoy the view. Right away, it was time to leave. I understand that we still had many kms ahead until Hammamet, but I was disappointed that we weren’t given 20 minutes to stroll around the Mosque. I mean, when am I gonna visit Kairouan again?
Fotos from this trip in this link: www.tripadvisor.co.uk/members-photos/espm252
I think Jumbo tours should attend a few improvements, such as:
• Change the restaurant at Matmata;
• Portuguese-speaking guides: from what I’ve seen, Portuguese people are a significant parcel of the tourists in Hammamet, so I think that it is more than justified that the tours be guided in Portuguese rather than Spanish.
• More time to visit Kairouan;
But overall, it was an amazing trip, and I recommend to anyone visiting Tunisia.Edited: 03 July 2014, 09:41