My wife and I completed a 14-day tour of Tunisia in early October, 2013. Our tour was similar to the one described on Experience It! Tours website under the rubric “Authentic Tunisia Tour, 14 days/13 nights.” However, we worked with Jack Wilson (who is in charge of the tour company’s Tunisia Tours office) and his staff in planning the trip, and we made a few changes to accommodate our needs and wishes. Jack was extremely helpful to us in the planning process, suggesting various possibilities and providing candid advice to assist us. Jack helped us arrange a tour that met our every wish, and the experience was absolutely outstanding.
I should mention that three years ago we took a tour of Morocco and used the services of Experience It! Tours for that trip. That trip was also superb, and when we decided to visit Tunisia we turned immediately to this company for assistance. As mentioned on the website of Experience It! Tours, this is a family-run company and, as such, it provides personalized services to all its clients. Jeff Wilson (Jack’s brother) is the Director of the North Africa office and he lives in Morocco. He assisted us in planning the Morocco tour and we could not have asked for more personalized attention in the planning and implementation of the tour. For example, the airline lost our luggage while we were going to Morocco and Jeff and his staff went out of their way to help us locate and retrieve it. Even though we were on the opposite side of Morocco from the airport at which the luggage was eventually delivered, Jeff arranged for a driver to go to the airport and bring it to us. One of his assistants even let me borrow a pair of his jeans until our luggage was located. This kind of attention, alone, convinced us of the individual care that Experience It! Tours devotes to its clients. We found this same level of service to be replicated in Tunisia (although, fortunately, the airline did not lose our luggage this time!).
Although on the Morocco tour we arranged for a single driver/guide, on the trip to Tunisia we had a guide and a driver. Both were excellent! The guide, Rafik, is in his early-thirties and has been a guide for nine years. In addition to his native Arabic and French, he speaks fluent English (as well as several other languages). He has a college degree from Tunisia and has also studied at the Sorbonne. He is a walking encyclopedia of Tunisian history, culture, archeology, and cuisine. He obviously loves his country and is enthusiastic about his work; he is not jaded as we have found some guides to be over our years of travel. Rafik was quite personable and, because of his warm personality, we quickly established a rapport with him. He proved to be an excellent teacher, sharing his knowledge with us in ways that we could understand and patiently repeating information when we forgot it or needed to hear it again for historical and/or geographic context. He also spoke freely with us about his personal experiences and this helped us have a better understanding of the lives, hopes and aspirations of the people of his country. His descriptions of the 2011 revolution in Tunisia (where the Arab Spring movement began) were especially enlightening. These discussions enabled us to have a better grasp of what has happened in the politics and government of Tunisia and that country’s continuing efforts to develop a stable system of government.
Rafik made special efforts to meet our needs and wishes and to provide a “Tunisian experience.” Knowing our desire to experience the local foods, he introduced us to excellent restaurants that featured special dishes, such as camel meat; wild boar; Tunisian seafood including dorado, squid and sardines; grilled lamb; Tunisian-style vegetables; and specialty pastries. (The food we had throughout our visit to Tunisia was consistently delicious.) Rafik also prepared picnics for us on two occasions at remote, scenic locations (including one on a hilltop at Mides Gorge, overlooking a beautiful oasis in the geographic area where scenes from The English Patient were filmed). As further evidence of our guide’s attending to our needs, when our electrical converter burned out he went to great effort to find one to replace it. During our time together we felt that we developed close relationship with Rafik, and hope that we will be able to stay in contact with him.
Our driver, Tabith, was also excellent. He is in his late fifties and has been a driver for many years. He knew his way throughout all of Tunisia without the need for maps. Although the driving culture in Tunisia would be challenging for someone from the U.S., Tabith was not only a master at it, but he also made us feel comfortable throughout our many days of travel (almost 2,000 miles). He could not speak English but we were able to communicate to some extent through my (very poor) efforts to speak French. Of course, Rafik translated for us. Tabith was very polite, kind, and always pleasant. His constant smile, ready laugh, and personal charm helped make the trip a delight.
I won’t describe the places we visited, since these are discussed on the Experience It! Tours website and elsewhere. Suffice it to say that we were overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the country, ranging from coast to mountains to desert. (Spending a night in the desert oasis was special. This experience was not exactly “roughing it,” however, given that the tents were equipped with all the comforts of home!) We were surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the splendor of the archeological sites in Tunisia. They are not only ubiquitous, but many are quite ancient, including Phoenician and Roman ruins dating to BC. The ruins have been masterfully restored, especially those at Dougga and El Jem. The magnificent mosaics in Tunisia, particularly those at El Jem and at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, are more impressive than any I have seen in any other country. Over the years many tourists have visited Tunisia to enjoy the waterfront resorts–which are outstanding. However, those tourists that do not explore the rest of this fabulous country beyond the beaches are shortchanging themselves. Tunisia has much, much more to offer the visitor than is commonly understood.
The accommodations throughout our trip were superb. We did not stay at the waterfront resort in Djerba most often used by Experience It! Tours (no doubt it was excellent) because we wanted the experience of staying in a guest house on the island. Jack arranged this for us and we were not disappointed. Although not at all like the ryads we had stayed in while visiting Morocco, this guest house provided the ambience of an antique hotel. It was located in a quiet residential neighborhood in the old Jewish quarter, and the architecture and decor were of classic design. The restaurant in the guest house was absolutely outstanding; we ate there both nights of our visit in Djerba.
Finally, the people of Tunisia are kind, gentle and gracious. Everywhere we went we were made to feel welcome and valued. We certainly never felt any fear or anxiety, although in recent years many people have voiced their concerns over visiting Tunisia. Regrettably, since the revolution in 2011 there has been a significant decline in tourism in Tunisia. This is truly a shame, given that tourism is one of the country’s main industries. In addition to being a loss to the people of Tunisia, the decline in tourism is a loss to those who are afraid to visit this magnificent country. Based on the experiences my wife and I had in Tunisia, we would strongly recommend it as a place to visit. Furthermore, for anyone who does wish to visit Tunisia, we would recommend the superb services of Experience It! Tours to arrange a tour of this wonderful but underappreciated country.
Frank – 2013