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Tunisia was the recent choice for my latest Holiday destination so here I begin with a general review of the Country itself. Attempting to write a review on a whole Country is obviously a daunting idea but I thought that it would be useful to include lots of general information about Tunisia on the whole for anyone who may be considering choosing this place for a future Holiday. I will in due course post a few reviews of specific locations but for the moment the information within this review will be of a more general nature.
Prior to my visit between 2nd and 9th July 2006 Tunisia was a place that I knew very little about and since the Holiday booking was a last minute one based on Price and dates of Travel there was no prior research done. To find out if the gamble on my choice of location paid off then I am afraid you will have to read some of my other reviews to follow, but first I will begin with a few general facts.
LOCATION AND GEOGRAPHY
Tunisia lies in North Africa sandwiched between Algeria to the West and Libya to the South. Covering an area of 63,170 square miles it is actually the smallest Country in North Africa, but the growth in Tourism over the last few years has ensured that it is now the most prosperous of all of the Countries in that region.
The Population of the Country is just over 9.5 million with the major populations being centred around its three major Cities: Tunis, the capital (approx 1 million), Sousse (450,000) and Sfax. (350,000).
To the North of the Country Tunisia's boundary lies on the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea with miles of Sandy Beach. It is along this Coastline that the main Holiday Resorts are to be found. To the West of these resorts and close to Tunis are the Atlas Mountains. To the South the Country is semi-arid turning gradually into the Sahara Desert which covers almost 50% of the total area of the Country.
The Climate in the North is Hot and Dry during the Summer with Mild Rainy Winters. To the South the Climatic Conditions are those typical of a Desert.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
The official languages of Tunisia are Arabic and French. Almost all Tunisians are bilingual in both languages although where French is the general Language of Business and Commerce it is Arabic that tends to predominate in the Home.
The Principal Religion is Islam and these people are Muslims, but these people are fiercely patriotic of their identity as Arabs. There are also large communities of Christians (mostly Roman Catholic) and Jewish Communities, especially in Tunis. There are also smaller numbers of Protestants and Greek Orthodox.
Tunisia is often described as the most liberated of all of the Arab Nations and in Tunis all three major Religious Denominations exist side by side. They are a member of the Arab League of Nations and were the first member State to give Voting Rights and equal work opportunity rights to Women in the early 1960's.
A BRIEF HISTORY
During the 10th Century BC Tunisia was occupied by the Phoenicians who had driven out the native Berber Tribes. The Phoenicians exploited the rich, fertile Soil of the North and within a hundred years of their arrival Sousse had been established as the most important trading Port on the North African mainland providing a regular trading route to Italy and Southern Europe.
The Phoenicians dominated the area that now comprises modern day Tunisia for the next 500 years, but then the Carthaginians rose to power and became the ruling people of this area, founding the magnificent City of Carthage, close to Tunis, which became the Principal City in the whole of the Mediterranean Region.
Legend has it that Queen Dido founded the ancient City of Carthage which quickly became the envy of the Romans, leading to a series of fierce Battles between the two. It is said that the Carthaginians had very nearly crushed the entire Roman Empire by the 2nd Century BC but a twist of fate finally saw the City of Carthage fall to the Romans who immeditaitely established the City as the most important City within the Southern Mediterranean range of their Empire.
Following the demise of the Roman Empire the region fell into the control of Arab Muslims who ruled the region with successive Muslim Dynasties until the early 1800's.
In the mid 1800's France made several attempts to gain control of the Region but it was a secret deal between the British and French that finally decided the fate of the Country. Providing that Britain could keep control of Cyprus then France could take control of Tunisia and a deal was struck. France invaded in 1880 and took overall control on May 12th 1881.
In 1956 Tunisia gained peaceful Independence from France, led by Habib Bourgiba, who became the first leader of the Independent Tunisia in 1957. Habib Bourgiba led the Country until 1987 when he was declared insane by his successor Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who has presided over the Country ever since.
THE ECONOMIC STRUCTURE
Tunisia has a diverse Economy of Mining, Agriculture and Tourism. In recent years Government control of many aspects of the Industries have been lessened and several Mining Companies have now been placed into the hands of Private Companies. At this same time Tourism in the Coastal areas has been heavily promoted.
In 1998 a deal was struck with the European Union to gradually remove barriers to trade over the next ten years and this has led to a rapid increase in exportation of Products like Fruit and Olives. In 2008 Tunisia will become a fully integrated member of the European Economic Community (EEC).
The Currency of Tunisia is the Tunisian Dinar. This is a restricted Currency not openly traded on the World Currency Markets with a fixed rate of exchange fixed by the Government.
The current exchange rate as of July 2006 is that £1 = 2.439 Dinar (or I Dinar = 41 pence).
It is illegal to take the Currency into the Country or out of the Country and anyone found doing so can face a fine of up to £2000. It is recommended to take either Sterling or US Dollar Traveller Cheques and change these at the Airport, Banks or major Hotels. Euro Traveller Cheques are not widely accepted and usually incur high commission charges. When leaving the Country Tunisian Dinars can be converted back into Sterling at the Airport but the commission charges are as high as 20-25% so it is advisable to spend as much of your converted Traveller Cheques as possible. When changing Dinars back to other Currencies the Banks offer a slightly better rate of exchange than the Hotels.
One Tunisian Dinar is made up of 1000 Millimes and amounts are generally referred to in thousands i.e. 3 Dinars and 400 Millimes would be normally displayed as 3,400.
Coins are 50, 100, 200 Millimes, Half Dinar, 1, and 5 Dinar. Notes are 10, 20 and 30 Dinar.
All major Credit Cards are widely accepted at Shops, Hotels and Restaurants.
There are no compulsory inoculations recommended for Travellers from the UK although if you are travelling to remoter Regions of the Country you may wish to consider Typhoid and Cholera.
The Tap Water is of poor quality and Bottled Water should be drunk at all times. To avoid Stomach upsets it is recommended to avoid eating Salads. fresh Fruit and taking Ice in Drinks. Bottled Mineral water is widely available and very cheap at a cost of around 20p for a 1.5 litre Bottle.
Tunisia has no State funded Health Care system so it is essential that you have Travel Insurance to cover the cost of any treatments that may be required.
WHAT DOES TUNISIA HAVE TO OFFER?
With a flying time of just over 3 hours from the UK Tunisia offers a blend of the Mediterranean mixed with the more exotic taste of Africa.
There is no doubt that the Beaches in Tunisia are of the finest quality with pale Golden coloured Sand that is so fine it almost has the consistency of Talcum Powder. The Climate is generally hotter that the Southern Mediterranean due to its closer proximity to the Equator and even during the cooler wetter Winter Months temperatures of 28 Degrees Centigrade are not unusual.
For those who prefer to explore rather than laze around on the Beaches there is plenty to see with ancient walled Medinas, which house the Grand Mosques and towering Minarets. Many of these ancient Medinas date from the 3rd and 4th Centurries AD and beyond their Walls the Streets are narrow. These narrow Streets are where the Bazaars are to be found where one has to haggle for the best prices.
Most goods in Tunisia do not have fixed prices and as a genral rule you should expect to pay around one third of the original asking price. Therefore if an item is 90 Dinar you should expect to pay 30 Dinar and begin your bid around a third of this at 10 Dinar.
In stark contrast to these bustling Streets there are the Atlas Mountains and the Desert Landscapes of the South.
Popular excursions include Sahara Desert Safari's, the Carthaginian Ruins, Tunis, Carthage, and many of the local Ceramic and Textile Factories.
The time difference between the UK and Tunisia during the Summer Months is that Tunisia is one hour ahead.
Shops are usually open between 8am and 12.30pm and again from 2.30pm to 6pm. Many Shops close on a Friday and during Ramadan opening hours are usually much shorter.
Public Transport is inexpensive but generally very unreliable so Taxi's are usually the safest bet. All official Taxi's are Yellow and fares should be metered. However many drivers will try and negotiate a fare in advance but this is usually higher than the metered rate. Between 9pm and 5am there is a 50% surcharge on all fares.
Tunisia is a Muslim Country and therefore all Foreign Travellers are asked to respect the local Customs and Traditions of the Country. Homosexuality is illegal and only Married Couples can share the same Room at many Hotels, although increasingly in recent years this is now being overlooked in many of the Resorts.
Women are asked to dress appropriately and non-Muslims are not allowed to visit many of the Mosques within the Country. Photographing Mosques and other modern Religious Buildings is also considered to be sensitive.
As a non-EEC Country UK Visitors are limited in the amount of Duty Free Goods that they can bring out of the Country. The General allowances per person are as below:
200 Cigarettes; or 100 Cigarillos; or 50 Cigars; or 250 Grams of Tobacco 2 litres of still Table Wine 1 litre of Spirits or strong Liqueurs over 22% volume; or 2 litres of Fortified Wine, Sparkling Wine or other Liqueurs 60cc/ml of Perfume 250cc/ml of Toilet Water £145 worth of all other goods including gifts and souvenirs
Note that Children under 18 years of age do not have an allowance for Tobacco or Alcoholic products but they do have an allowance for Gifts and Souvenirs.
So to conclude Tunisia offers an affordable alternative to other destinations in Southern European. Once there the cost of living is very cheap but be warned you will be pestered by the local Shopkeepers and expect to haggle for prices.