Djerba, Sfax and El Jem
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When I was booking my trip to Tunisia, I had this idea in my head where I was travelling to an extension of Morocco. I was entirely wrong! Tunisia is a country in its own right and quite different from Morocco. (That was very stupid of me! I still haven’t learned this lesson after getting multiple shocks over the years). I planned the trip so I could start with a relaxing day in Djerba then head to El Jem and finish in Tunis 2 days later.
Read my country guide about Tunisia to find answers to all your questions for a comfortable trip.
I took a flight from Paris to Djerba Airport because there were no direct flights from London and I fancied a bit of Paris on the way (Snails, macaroons and duck nom nom!!).
Djerba is an island and the biggest one on the coast of mainland Tunisia. It is famous for its beaches and tourist resorts and the beach looked too enticing not to miss for some November sun.
Arrival and Airport
The airport is quite handy and because it is a small island, it is not far from anywhere. We arrived on time and got done with immigration in 10 minutes and I was in a cab in the next 10 minutes. There were 4 ATM machines to withdraw cash. They do charge you to withdraw cash though so withdraw a good amount because it is not dependent on the amount you withdraw but a flat fee.
I also saw small kiosks from Telecom companies, only Orange was open at that time. I got a sim card for 32 TND which had 25GB data which was sufficient for 5 days.
It was around 9pm. There was a taxi stand outside. I took a taxi and headed to Houmt Souk, where I was staying. The taxis are all metered and throughout my stay, I didn’t encounter a shady taxi driver which was such a positive experience.
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Where to Stay?
There is a touristy resorts area with additional security if that’s your concerns but I stayed in Houmt Souk. I stayed very close to the main area near the bus station which was fun because it was bustling with life at all times and very handy to travel around on the island as well. The area with resorts is a bit farther closer to the beaches though.
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Getting Around on the Island
I saw a couple of busses on the island with numbers but they are very few and far between. The best way is to use a taxi which is very reasonable here. Like the airport, taxis these are metered and the most I paid was 6 TND for a long journey.
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Things to See and Do
There isn’t much to see and do here sadly. The area around Houmt Souk has a small market with beautiful pottery. I bought myself a small souvenir. I wish I could take more with me, they had amazing designs from traditional Tunisian southern to nomadic Berber designs, it was quite a feast for eyes but I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes especially with people expecting you to buy something.
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Port of Djerba
I took a walk after breakfast and headed to the Port of Djerba. It was quite dead with loads of Pirate ships parked on the docks. It was off-season and there wasn’t much activity which was ideal. I sat in the sun enjoying the mild heat with some green tea. They do an amazing tea here which is green and has almonds in it. I was addicted by the time I left Tunisia. Again there wasn’t not much to do there so I took a taxi and headed to the star attraction of this island; Flamingo beach.
This was the best part of my visit and I am still in awe of the beauty of this beach. Flamingo beach is luckily not accessible by car because it is part beach and part wetlands. I arrived at Plage El Hachen and was figuring out how to make the journey which apparently takes a couple of hours each way on foot. The beach was beautiful.
I saw a guy approaching me with a horse and after a bit of haggling, he offered to take me to the beach on horseback for 90 Dinars. The horse was super adorable (despite his name; Playboy) and we started our journey. I had no idea how annoying the mosquitos were until I got nearer the wetlands.
Tip: Mosquitos are a big nuisance here. Come equipped with sunscreen and insect repellent both. Insect repellent first and then sunscreen!
We saw the beach and camels on the way but we went inland through the wetlands and after about 30 minutes we reached near the flamingo beach. We had to take our shoes off and headed on foot nearer the island. It was a fun experience but the flamingos were quite far. (You can check my Insta stories for the live experience, link above).
On the way back I asked the guy to go via the beach. Lo and behold we arrived at the actual flamingo beach with open space and tons of flamingos. I got off the horse and went quite close but not close enough to disturb them. The guy tried to trick me and wasn’t happy I wanted to stop here. (It didn’t make sense to me because this would have been quicker to visit oh well!).
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I took a few photos and videos and then back on the horseback for the return journey which was more fun.
Tip: Flamingos stop here during their migration and are around till January only, nothing to see here from February to late October.
There were some ruined houses with beautiful graffiti near the beach. I had my lunch at Snack Restaurant La Rose. The fish was fresh and delicious and now it was time for some beach and sun.
After 2 very wet weeks in London, this was absolute heaven. The water was cold though and there was a lot of seaweed in shallow water. After a couple of hours, I made my way to the main road to catch a taxi to the synagogue.
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Synagogue de la Ghriba
This is the oldest synagogue in Africa and something to see apparently. Unfortunately I arrived at 16:40 and the synagogue closed at 16:30. I returned sadly to my Airbnb and after some rest headed to the Medina or the shopping area which was boring. I had dinner and headed to bed because I had to get up early to travel the next morning at 7 am.
Tip: The timings for anything for Tunisia is not reliable on google and there are different timings for summer and winter. Most places don’t even have telephones including restaurants; it is a bit of luck and chance.
You can learn how to manage your budget during travelling in this guide.
Djerba to Sfax
When I arrived in Djerba, I tried to see if I could get a car with a driver to take me to El Jem and then drop me off at Tunis. The whole journey would take around 10 hours but the prices I was quoted were so ridiculous I tried my luck with public transport. (900 TND for a day is ridiculous, it is roughly 300 euros).
I arrived at the bus station in Houmt Souk which is quite central, got my ticket and waited for the lounge to fill. These minivans run when all the seats are occupied rather than a timetable. I didn’t have to wait long and we headed to Sfax as there’s no direct connection to El Jem from Djerba.
The journey was comfortable but slow and I spent most of it sleeping. I was told it would take 3 and a half hours but it actually took about 5 hours to get to Sfax. The bus station was just outside the city centre of Medina.
Medina Gate and Walls
I took a taxi and headed to Medina. My plan was to eat and then headed to Dar Jellouli Museum inside Medina and then head back to the bus station to take the Louage to El Jem. It didn’t go as planned (obviously).
I picked a restaurant which there weren’t many. The food was mediocre at best and then headed to Dar Jellouli. I arrived to a closed place with no information and heaps of construction material at its door; it was closed!
The medina of Sfax is not developed and is very rough which meant there wasn’t anything to see their either. I got myself small almond bread and headed back outside to the city gate. This was my time spent in the city of Sfax and then I was on the way to El Jem.
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El Jem is a small city which is home to the second biggest standing colosseum in the world after the one in Rome. I had seen it somewhere on a travel channel once and seeing it was high on my list even at the cost of delay or spending a night here. The city itself is very small and you can cover it in an hour but the colosseum is another thing altogether.
Sfax to El Jem
The Louage took about an hour to get from Sfax to El Jem. You can see the colosseum walls from the beginning of the city. I took my bag and headed to the colosseum which was a 9 minutes’ walk. It was around 4pm now and the sun was going down soon.
The Colosseum of El Jem
Tip: The timings for winter on google are wrong; it closes at 5:30pm.
I bought the ticket for 12 Dinars and headed inside. The first impression was of awe. The layers of walls and enclosures before you get to the centre are insane. Romans were amazing engineers. The building is built in an oval shape and underneath the main area is another layer of enclosures and mechanisms to bring the competitors to the arena on platforms pulled with ropes and pulleys. I went around seeing this gorgeous building which was in relatively better condition than I’d expected. It is rumoured that it was actually never completed fully. It was also used by Ottomans for construction material.
I saw an amazing sunset here with colours getting intense by the minute. There was almost no one around by this time and I stood there in the awe of this mammoth of a building along with the sun setting at my back, admiring its beauty and appreciating my luck…
After the sunset, I left and headed to the train station to take the train to Tunis…
Have you been to these places? Have I missed something? I’d love to hear your thought and comments.
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