Visiting the island of Djerba

When planning my vacation this year, I intended to visit some more common and some less common destinations. The end of April was the time for a well-known one: the island of Djerba in Tunesia. The island is known for being a tourist magnet in the south of Tunesia and mostly characterized by this: a lot of hotels and resorts (most of the offering all inclusive board), beaches, touristic infrastructure and unfortunately lots of souvenir shops selling cheap junk. I wanted to check-out why lots of tourists come here every year and what Djerba offers to have a great vacation. So I booked a packaged tour including flights, hotel, all inclusive board and transfers, the package most tourists book here.

I started my trip with a flight from Düsseldorf to Djerba on Airberlin. After a smooth 2:40h flight, I arrived in Djerba. The entry formalities were done fast so that I collected my luggage, was greeted by the friendly tour guide and went to the bus that brought me and other vacationists to our hotels. I chose the Vincci Djerba Resort which did a great job, except for that my first room was really loud so that I changed the room on the second day. Nonetheless the hotel offered a neat pool and garden area, modern rooms and good international meals (including local food). But that has already been one of the not so good things about an all-inclusive board: you already paid for the meals so you mostly have them in your hotel, letting less room to enjoy local restaurants and bars treating you with fine food and that is something I normally enjoy during traveling.

On the day of arrival I didn’t do much anymore, only left the hotel for a short walk exploring the not too beautiful surrounding of my hotel and already noticed that trash is a huge problem here: plastic bags and bottles are lining the streets and litter idling premises. That problem is mostly coming from the excessive use of plastic bags on one hand and a bad garbage disposal system which is not comparable with the system in Europe or North America. Nonetheless I enjoyed the walk in the sun which warmed me up after the cool German Winter and brought my first meeting with some camels that are available for paid rides all over the islands. I took some photos and returned to the hotel afterwards. The day already ended after a beer at the hotel bar, I watched the German soccer cup semifinal game between Dortmund and Bayern Munich and went to bed afterwards.

The second day started with some good breakfast after that I sat down at the pool area to enjoy the sun and read a little bit. After a meet up with the tour guide Madlen that I already was in contact with before due to my job, I wanted to do my first little excursion on the island. I took a taxi to Borj-el-Kebir, an ancient fortress that has been used to defend the island for centuries. The fortress is worth the 8 Dinar entry (~3.70 EUR / 4.10 USD); one can roam through the ruins, read some boards about the history of the facility and Djerba and examine the exhibited statues, cannonballs and stones. Another good thing: one has a good view over the city of Houmt Souk and the small fisher’s port from the walls of the fortress.

After this visit it only took me a short walk to reach the central market of Houmt Souk, where a local guided me to. The central market was already about to close, but salesman were offering a lot of stuff such as spices, fruits, vegetables, meat, a lot of fish, pottery and unfortunately a lot of cheap souvenir stuff. I roamed through the market, bought some dates, avoided a lot of salesman literally trying to pull me into their stores and had a mint tea with someone I bought a camel made of olive tree wood from. We talked about the recent problems in tourism occurring in Tunesia after the shooting in the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis; unfortunately for the local businesses this makes a lot of people choose other destinations for their holiday, even if Tunis is a one hour flight or more than 600km away.

After chatting about our jobs and family I left again to get back to the hotel for lunch. While some reading and relaxing afterwards I received the message that the excursion to the mainland the next day would be possible as enough people subscribed. I was really happy as seeing the countryside and getting to know locals is the main reason why I’m traveling. I used the rest of the day to have some drinks and relax and went to bed early as I was collected at 06:30 am the next morning.

The next morning started with great weather, I met Madlen in the hotel lobby and the bus for the trip onto the mainland collected us. Our tour took us across the island to take the ferry from Ajim to El Jorf and boarded another bus which took us all the way to Douz. During the ride that took about three hours, we enjoyed the great desert landscape and beautiful nature in the hills around Matmata, lots of camels (dromedaries actually) along the road, the insight into small villages we transited through and had some talks about anything and everything. Just a few minutes after passing the town of Matmata, we had a short break and had some coffee and tea before we went on to Douz.

In Douz arrived at a point to do tours on camels, quads or small planes right at the edge of the Sahara dessert. A group of camels (dromedaries again) was already awaiting us to take us on the ride into the sand.

We bestrided our camels and the tour started. They took us a short ride through the first tiny dunes of the dessert were we got off the camel backs again and walked through the incredibly fine dessert sand that was covering you instantly on this windy day, took some pictures and made friends with our camels.

After taking another ride through the sand, back to the starting point of our tour, we had some drink at the nearby bar to quench our thirst as the heat and the dry dessert are making you thirsty even after such a short tour. The tour was short actually, but definitely worth it. It was the first time I made it to the Sahara desert and it was really worth the long ride from Djerba. After all fellow travelers arrived back and took of their cloths that one was able to borrow before the ride (not the worst idea to take some, the sand is really getting everywhere!), we were brought to the nearby Sahara Hotel to have lunch. This hotel at the on the verge of the oasis of Douz has been one of the hotels I was enjoying most yet: we arrived in a perfectly quiet surrounding, the lobby and pool areas invited to sit down, enjoy a drink or the sun and it was relaxingly cool even if the sun was burning down onto the desert and the thermometer was reaching 33°C even if it was April.
We enjoyed the lunch buffet, had some water and beer and went back onto the bus after another short break. On our way back, we visited a Berber house. Berber are a local folk that is living in the North African countries and the Sahara area. Their houses are built as caves into the brown rock of the area. Many families are still living in this kind of houses where every room is its own cave that is cool during the summer heat and warm when it gets cold in winter. Most of you might know this type of houses from the Star Wars films, the film sets for the planet of Tatooine are located in Tunesia and it got its name from the Tunesian city of Tataouine, not far from Matmata.

After this interesting visit, we made our way back to Djerba with another short stop to drink something. We crossed the Roman street that is connecting Djerba and the mainland and I was brought back to my hotel where I was having lunch and used the rest of the evening to relax as such a long tour makes you tired.
On my third full day on Djerba, I made a camel ride tour to the market of Midoun. With a small group of French tourists I took the horse buggy through the surrounding residential areas which are connected by tracks that are mostly not paved. When we arrived in the city of Midoun, we had a coffee and went onto the market. I decided to leave the group and explore the market by myself. Compared to the small size of the city, the market is huge. Lots of stalls are built up along the roads of the city, selling everything you need. For sure there are lots of them selling cheap souvenirs, but household supply, groceries, perfumes, clothes and much more are sold as well.

After walking through the market for about one and a half hours, it was time again to return to the café we started at. Actually finding it was not too easy, as many places on the market look similar, but I found my way back without arriving late. For the way back I took the camel, which I rode about 45 minutes before arriving back at their shed. Camel-riding is fun, but believe me, there is a reason why you mostly see people in caravans walking and letting the camel transport goods instead of riding it as it is getting really exhausting to sit on it after some time. Most people are getting sick on it telling me it is shaking so much, that wasn’t actually the point, it is just an unusual seating position as a camels body is wider than the one of a horse for example.

After arriving back at the shed and walking over to my hotel, I took my book, sat down in the sun at the pool and used the afternoon for some relaxation.

In the evening I met up with Madlen again to get away from the hotel food (which was good actually, but if I am on vacation, I don’t want to end up spending all my time in the hotel but to explore the culinary possibilities of where I am). She recommended a beach bar not too far away where we had some good filet steaks, beer and conversations about anything and everything again. I really appreciated that she organized the tour to the desert for me and showed me some good restaurant as without this my trip would’ve missed some really good parts!

As this was my last day in Djerba, the next day was the day of my departure, I was brought to the airport to board a Nouvelair plane that took me back home.

My conclucion: you should only go to Djerba if you want to really lie in the sun on one of the beaches or at your hotels pool, but beside that, the island doesn’t offer much to visit. Yes there are some interesting places that I didn’t visit, such as the synagogues, but you won’t fill a whole week with visiting these sights. I would definitely return to Tunesia as people have appeared to be friendly and open even if they are sometimes a little reserved (except for the tourism markets where they try to sell you everything they offer), but next time I wouldn’t choose Djerba as my destination but would try to tour the country and visit the cities of Tunis and Monastir.

But at least, some general information for you:

How to get to Djerba:

Easiest way to travel to Djerba is by plane: a lot of European and Tunesian Airlines are operating scheduled and charter flights to Djerba. Largest operators here are Tunisair and Nouvelair. If you are not coming in from Europe, flying on Tunisair might be the best option for you. The airline connects Djerba with a lot of international destinations through their hub in Tunis.
If you are in Tunesia already, the best option is to take a rental car to get to Djerba. You can reach the island via a ferry connection or by the Roman street from Zarzis.

Where to stay:

Djerba offers a wide range of different hotels, but most of them are all inclusive holiday resorts with minimum three stars. If you are looking for other possibilities to lodge here, there are B&B’s on the island and the cities of Houmt Souk and Midoun are home to some city hotels that are also ranging in the lower price categories. But overall, hotels in Djerba are not expensive compared with prices in other big touristic areas. You can either book your hotels through one of the many tour operators that are offering trips here, or you can use a meta search engine (such as http://www.trivago.com or http://www.kayak.com) to compare hotel prices.

Thank you for reading, I hope I was able to give you some interesting insight into my trip 🙂

As always, you can contact us by commenting below or just dropping an e-mail to thealterlookout@freenet.de in case you have any questions or suggestions. Also don’t forget to follow our Twitter ( http://www.twitter.com/thealterlookout ) and Instagram ( http://www.instagram.com/thealterlookout ) to be always up to date about our blog posts and to see some pictures even while we are travelling.

Hendrik

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