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Continent:Africa National flag
National flag: Tunisia
Capital city:Tunis
Area:163,610 km2 ( 90. )
Population:10,074,951 Person ( 79. )
People density:62 Person / km2
GDP per capita:1,585 $ / Person ( 87. )
GDP:15,968,797,335 $
Official language:arabic


More detailed information about country

Sun, sea and sand are what most people come to Tunisia for, and you can easily pick up a bargain holiday here from Britain, Ireland or mainland Europe, and sun it for a fortnight on the beach at Hammamet, Sousse, Monastir or Jerba. But if you’re a bit more adventurous, there’s a land beyond the beach and hotel disco, a land of desert oases, Roman relics, beautiful mosques, and fascinating walled cities. Tunisia may be small, but it’s full of sights, and even if you’re only here on a package holiday, there’s all manner of excursions to be had. The easiest option is to join an organized tour – local travel agencies run them, and many package firms offer their own – but you can also rent a car, or scoot around the place on public transport. Tunisia is friendly, safe and generally hassle-free, but still offers an experience you can genuinely call an adventure.

Tunisia, especially in the north, is recognizably Mediterranean in character and very much moulded by a century of French colonial rule. The main language is Arabic, but most people speak French, and the French influence is still strong. As an Arab country, it sometimes seems quite Middle Eastern, but sitting on the top of North Africa, it’s a far cry from the oil states of the Gulf. Tunisian culture is firmly rooted in the Islamic faith professed by some 99 percent of its residents, but religion sits light, not heavy, on the lives of its citizens. They can drink alcohol if they want to – though most do not – and women have greater equality here than in any other Arab country in the world, largely thanks to Tunisia’s modern interpretation of Islam.

But French and Arab are only two of the many influences that have shaped this land. The country’s original Berber inhabitants, now largely assimilated into the Arab population, are responsible for much of its culture – not least the national dish, couscous. The first cities were built by the Phoenicians, a maritime trading nation from Lebanon, whose Carthaginian colonists carved out an empire in their own right, and dared challenge the might of republican Rome, a challenge which ended in their destruction. And the Romans left behind more than just ruins: they were the people who established Tunisia’s infrastructure, and introduced the olive trees that dominate much of the countryside to this day. Even the Turks, whose Ottoman empire was rather a loose confederation of territories, owing often only nominal allegiance to the sultan, put their stamp firmly on Tunisian culture, as seen most clearly in the country’s architecture.

If the diversity of Tunisia’s past cultures and their legacy of monuments comes as a surprise to most first-time visitors, the range of scenery can be even more unexpected. In the north you find shady oak forests reminiscent of the south of France, with the hill station of Ain Draham even described as "Alpine". The south is plain desert, with colossal dunes, oases and rippling mirages. In fact, the landscape of the desert itself varies a great deal, from the sand ergs of the far southwest with their endless dunes – most people’s image when they think of desert – to the rocky hamada to its north and east. On rugged crags in this hamada, Berber villages seem almost to be carved out of the rock they cling to, and indeed they partly are. No less precariously perched are the strange fortified granaries known as ksour, where once nomadic tribes kept their food supply, ready to defend it to the death if need be. Also here are the weird salt flats known as chotts, and in particular the Chott el Jerid, inexplicably shown on most maps as a lake. The towns in these desert regions are oases, where you can stroll among the date palms to escape the fierce heat of the Saharan sun. Between the extremes are lush citrus plantations, huge fields with row after row of olive trees, bare steppes with table-top mountains, and rolling hills as green and colourful (in spring) as any English county. Just offshore lie the sandy, palm-scattered islands of Jerba and Kerkennah.

Despite this huge variation in geography, Tunisia is a very compact country, and easy to get around. Even on a two-week holiday, you’ll have no problem taking off on a tour that covers coast, mountains and desert alike. The journey from Tunis, the capital on the north coast, to Tataouine, in the heart of the desert, can be made in a little over ten hours by bus or shared taxi and, while most trips are considerably shorter, the majority of journeys in Tunisia leave an impression of real travel in the transformation from one type of landscape and culture to another. All this makes the country very satisfying to explore – an accessible introduction to the Arab world and to the African continent.

[ Buy on Amazon: The Rough Guide to Tunisia ]

International codes

Map of country Tunisia

Map of country  Tunisia

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