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Tunisia: Bicycle Tour Travel Guide

 

 


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by David Mozer

[An introduction and overview to travel in Africa is available by clicking here.  If you are look for a bicycle tour to this country, this link might help you.]

The information below may have been extracted from a more comprehensive "Country Supplement" to the book "Bicycling In Africa".  For information on these publications click on the links.

North Africa, the "Maghreb", invites a spirit of adventure. On the crossroads of early Western civilization, its citizens date their arrival back to the lost tribes of Israel and the Phoenician and Roman conquests. On an early morning stroll through one of the many ancient ruins, you almost see a chariot coming over the horizon. The region has the warm, bright and healthy climate common to the Mediterranean. The north is a tapestry of pristine whitewashed towns, beautiful beaches, the deep green Atlas mountains, extraordinary historical sites and rich agricultural valleys of sunflowers and olives. Rolling plains are dotted with Berber shepherds and herds of sheep, goats and camels. In the south the landscape is more subtle and the culture more traditional. The roads pass fingers of golden dunes that stretch up from the Sahara and miles of date palms. In age­old villages you can watch weavers working on ornate rugs. In the south you can stop at oasis's with sweet artesian wells and cool, covered markets. The hospitality of the people makes you feel at home.

In the end your impression of this region will depend upon what route you take. It is like the African story of five people describing an elephant, one described the tail, one described the foot, one described the trunk, one described the ears and one described the ridge of the its back. People passing along the main highways on the coasts usually have a low opinion of the countries. If you get on the back-roads or head to select parts of the interior you will probably think the place is pretty exciting and has some first rate cycle touring.

Beyond the every increasing sprawl of the big cities (Tunis, Sousse, Sfax and Gabes) and the coastal highway, the main roads are generally very good for cycling and the variety of routes almost infinite. There are thousands of miles of paved roads and traffic volumes are low, but few have paved shoulders. If it works into your plans it is worth taking the train or louage (taxi) in and out of the big cities and along the coast. Do be prepared for hills, especially if you are going to explore the northern third of the country or search out some of the more interesting places in the south. It is not until you get beyond Gabes in the south that you really have to worry to much about having an off-road bike. Most of Tunisia is excellent for road tour bikes. Road signs can be a challenge because many are only in Arabic, but if you can master that you will find them to be excellent throughout the country. Even if you can't learn Arabic, enough of the signs for major cities are bilingual that you can probably find your way. If your destination is a village you will need to know Arabic or have a good map and map reading skills. Bicycling itineraries can be easily enhanced by combining them with the country's enjoyable railroads. Bicycles are willingly taken as baggage for a reasonable charge.

The one dark side of cycling in Tunisia is a rock throwing problem. It is difficult to totally characterize. Tunisians throw small rocks at their sheep, adults throw rocks at children, children through rocks at each other and rocks are thrown at non-Tunisian bicyclists -- but you can return five minutes later and walk through an area and everybody will ignore you. Generally the rocks are thrown to intimidate rather that to injure, but still one rock seems to stay with you ten times longer, than 100 smiles and waves. The problem tends to be non-existent in the south and most pronounced in the northern mountain areas (Amjoun, Teboursouk, el Krib, Siliana, Maktar, Haffouz). The main perpetrators are young male students, so every roadside school becomes suspect. But it also seems to be sanctioned by local adults, because they are often onlookers and very rarely intervene to stop an attack.

A rare, but more insidious problem is thugs on isolated mountain roads. You will need to talk to the local police to learn about current conditions.

If you plan to head into the desert south of Tataouine, you need permission, which requires a petition in French to the governor.  Even with this don’t expect to be granted permission – it is a military zone.

Links of Interest:

 

Regional Resources:

Algeria
Egypt
Morocco

 
 

 

For current news on Africa and more web sites with country-by-country information go to the link section and click on "Africa: News, Background, Travel."

Africa Guide Home   IBF's Bibliography: Africa   IBF's Travel Page   IBF's Africa index 

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