Wonders of Tunisia

Adriana Smirnova, 19.02.2014 11:18
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The number of Russian tourists coming to Tunisia is growing by the year. In 2013 the country was visited by about 300 thousand Russian travelers, which is 50 thousand more than the year before. The majority of our countrymen only go to Tunisia for the local beaches, but the country can offer plenty of other recreational activities. At the end of December Tunisia’s tourism office organized a media tour for Russian press, wherein journalists were given an opportunity to experience first-hand everything that the south of the country had to offer. TRN magazine invites our readers to take a virtual tour of the country and see it in all its breathtaking glory.

An eventful desert

Winter, when the weather is most suitable for excursions, is the perfect time to visit the southern tourist regions of Tunisia. All that travelers will need to have a great time is a jacket, a pair of sneakers and a camera. One of the must-see places is the town El Djem, where the third largest Roman amphitheater in the world is situated. It used to host gladiator shows and chariot races, and nowadays it is a venue for classical music performances. The amphitheater was built back in 230s, yet it remains well-preserved and retains the atmosphere of the times long past. It is no accident that famous director Ridley Scott picked this place to shoot his movie ‘Gladiator’. By the way, tourists now have the opportunity to enter the dungeon which used to be occupied by wild animals and gladiators. The amphitheater was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.

 





In order to add a bit of flavor to your stay in Tunisia, you need to stop by the salt pan Chott el Djerid, which stretches for about 5-7 thousand km². During summer, when there is no rain and the temperature rises to +50 °C, you can see mirages here. Today an asphalt road runs through the lake, which makes it really easy to enjoy its picturesque view. Many tourists go to Chott el Djerid just for the sunrise, since it is especially beautiful there.

One of the most exciting experiences Tunisia has to offer is a camel ride through the Sahara desert. Depending on how game you are, it can last from an hour to a few days with overnight stops in the desert. You can also travel through the Sahara by quadracycle and on horseback. Some say that the desert experience is incomplete without mirages, but it is a moot point, since even without them this mesmerizing mass of sand can take your breath away.

Meet the troglodytes

In the vicinity of Matmata you can still find troglodytes – denizens who prefer to live in caves. For a bit of money they will even let you in and show you around their home. Many tourists take great interest in the life of these unusual people, which is why many excursions come here regularly. We should mention that troglodytes of today do not shun the comforts of the modern civilization – many caves have electricity.






 

In search of oases

A mention of deserts invariably conjures up pictures of oases, and you definitely should see them in person. In western Tunisia you will find the natural mountain oasis Chebika (also called the Palace of the Sun), which is guaranteed to leave you speechless with admiration. It rests in the very heart of the mountains, fringed with palm trees, and houses the true jewel of this place – an emerald-blue lake with potable water and waterfalls. After a pleasant stroll you can stop by a café and drink some fresh juice.

The city of Tozeur is famous for its oases with thousands of palm trees. Here you can familiarize yourself with the process of collecting dates, learn about the local crops and find out how to tell a male palm tree from a female one. There is a museum of dates nearby, which sheds light on the history of the fruit and on how it is used. For instance, date twigs are used to make furniture and the fruit itself can be used to make various sweets, even chocolate.











Celebrations in Tunisia

Two big festivals take place in Tunisia at the end of December: the Oasis Festival in Tozeur and the International Festival of the Sahara in Douz. The guests of these events are in for a bright and colorful show that will bring them closer to the genuine culture of the local population.

The programme of the International Festival of the Sahara in Douz features performances by dancers and musicians, spectacular horse herding accompanied by riders’ stunts, camel fights, and hounds chasing down rabbits.

A show that is no less exciting is in store for the visitors of the Oasis Festival in Tozeur – famous performers, national dances, a fire show, and acrobatic stunts.














 

Oasis Festival

Tatooine, a desert planet from George Lucas’s saga ‘Star Wars’, exists in real life. You do not need to travel 43 thousand light years in order to visit the home planet of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, all you have to do is go to Tunisia. Here, on the outskirts of Nefta and Tozeur, in the desert sands lies the scenery of the fantastical planet.

Tourists can freely explore the deserted town and see all the buildings up-close. The decorations, despite looking sturdy on the outside, are actually quite fragile and are made of sand, clay, metal framework and wood. The desert threatens to sooner or later swallow Tatooine, so if you want to catch a glimpse of George Lucas’s fantastic universe, you should make haste. The road to the decorations is an adventure in its own right – travelers will take part in a jeep safari across the desert full of steep sand dunes.

Some experiences are hard to put into words or convey through a photo: they need to be lived to be truly appreciated.










In the footsteps of ‘Star Wars’











What do experts say?

According to the majority of travel companies servicing the destination, the latest summer season exceeded the last year’s results.

However, experts deem it to be only a quantitative indicator for the market as opposed to a qualitative one.

“The growth of Tunisia’s inbound tourist flow to has to do with two objective factors. First, due to the worsening of the political situation in Egypt a number of tourists switched to Tunisia. It is worth noting that the Egyptian tourist is different in that he prefers cheaper tours, and Tunisia is far from being cheap (the flight alone costs about $420), so it is very unlikely to be their destination of choice next season. Second, many tour operators increased their passenger volumes for the destination by way of lowering tour prices in order to fill the seats. This makes the rise in the tourist flow a quantitative indicator for the market as opposed to a qualitative one,” says Head of ICS Group’s Tunisian Department Natalya Margolina.

Seaside holidays have been the main generators of demand for the destination so far, but the country, with its rich capabilities for excursions and recreational activities, allows for different tourism products. Natalya Margolina believes that in order to popularize the destination it is necessary to lower the travel costs and expand the advertising campaign on the Russian market.

Marina Zaikina, head of the Tunisia and Exotica Department of ‘Russian Express’, told TRN that her company has attempted to sell excursion tours to the country.

“In collaboration with a few tour operators we organized 5-day and 7-day excursion programs to Tunisia, and they enjoyed adequate demand, with groups of 4 to 6 people. But such tours are hindered by the high price and the shortage of Russian-speaking guides in the country. Also, local travel firms are a bit on the passive side when it comes to developing new itineraries, opting instead for the tried and true packages ‘Sahara+Carthage’,” she says.

The expert also said that the company has made a foray into event tourism in Tunisia.

“Along with other two tour operators we sold tickets for the famous local celebrations – the Oasis Festival in Tozeur and the International Festival of the Sahara in Douz. We organized media advertising campaigns with no outside support. There was some demand, but it was not high enough, so we had to pull the plug on the whole idea,” said Marina Zaikina.

She is positive that active advertising of Tunisia’s holiday capabilities can make such programs more popular and unveil the true potential for the year-round tourism in the country.

During wintertime few tourists come to Tunisia, but those who do go there for thalassotherapy. As of today, the country houses more than 45 professional specialized centers which offer high service quality, experience and democratic prices. The most frequent visitors of the centers are French, then come Russians, followed by Germans, Czechs and Hungarians. Marina Zaikina added that the number of thalassotherapy centers in the country was growing by the year.

Страны, регионы и города: Russia, Tunisia
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