Last June I had a post on Revolutionary Travel in Tunisia, in which I linked to an article in HuffPo of the same title, by an American travel writer who had just visited the country and gushed about it. In the post I added some three dozen photos of my own, of the political/”revolutionary” side of things in Tunisia, taken during a trip there last spring. Last week the NYT travel section had a long piece on “Tunisia After the Revolution” by travel writer Seth Sherwood, in which he strongly recommended the country
for travelers, a visit to Tunisia right now offers a chance not only to witness this pivotal moment in the country’s history, but also to get a sense of the struggles and stakes of the Arab Spring in general. As dictators around the region fall or are challenged, Tunisia, while far from untroubled, offers a reassuring example of what might emerge from the wreckage. Elections in October produced results that would have been unimaginable during the Ben Ali years, when Islamist groups and dissent were smothered: a prime minister from a moderate Muslim party and a president with a résumé as a human rights campaigner.
A year after the revolution’s end, I took advantage of Tunisia’s well-developed tourism infrastructure — abundant hotels, clean restaurants and generally effective transportation — and began an eight-day journey by bus and train to see the country’s storied sights and take the pulse of its vital and suffering tourism sector. In cities like Tunis, where public debate now finds an outlet in newspapers, exhibitions and street art, I found friendly people who were more than happy to share their ideas with travelers. Farther afield, in more tourism-dependent places like El Jem, with its gorgeous Roman ruins, locals expressed relief at the old regime’s demise, but also voiced an urgent need to start refilling empty hotels and restaurants. Everywhere, I found Tunisians to be laid-back and grateful to anyone willing to visit their country during this transitional time.
Absolutely. From a touristic standpoint—and particularly for those with some interest in politics and current events—Tunisia recommends itself in every respect. And the place is safe and not expensive. And Tunisia needs tourists and their foreign exchange (as a lot of jobs there depend on it). So I’m going to do my own bit to promote the country. Except for one thing: avoid the big tourist complexes on the coast—Yasmine Hammamet, Nabeul et al—, with their (erstwhile) hordes of European holidaymakers. Those places are not the real Tunisia.