Covered by a fine white mantle reminiscent of a snow-covered landscape, the Douz region offers one of the gentlest ways to approach the desert. Cordons of dunes and graceful bouquets of palm trees fringe the roads the sand slowly reclaims. The golden vastness of the desert is here, at hand, while the palm groves offer delectable shady places to stop in the forests of date palms. In the heart of the region, a vast salty expanse with shimmering reflections: the Chott El-Jerid.
What to see ?
Dunes and oases
The desert sands start a stone’s throw from the hotels of Douz. A guided tour, on foot or on camelback, to watch the sun set behind the dunes will transport you for a few minutes to an enchanted universe. On the other side, the Chott El-Jerid extends far out of sight, with its salt crystals and its shimmering surface where strange mirages form: this former internal sea, mostly dried out, is crossed by a paved road. Between these two great deserts – desert of sand and desert of salt – lie the sandy villages of Sabria, Nouil, El Faouar, and their small oases. Further south, Ksar Ghilane marks the boundary between the sandy desert and stony desert; an ideal stop for hikers with its palm grove, its thermal springs and paths shaded by tamarind trees swarming with birds. Next, a wide track leads to the oil city of El Borma between the majestic, rose-tinted dunes of the Great Eastern Sand Sea.
What to do ?
Trekking or 4x4
To really experience the emotions of the desert, take a short camel ride with local guides, eat a meal in a tent and spend a night camping in the splendour of the dunes, under a sky illuminated with stars. To live out a true Saharan adventure, set out on a motorised desert raid, or hiking on foot in the majestic landscape. The great Saharan open spaces are also well suited to extreme sports. The sandy areas make a tantalising challenge for quad bikes, 4x4 or motorbikes. The vast expanses such as the Chott El-Jerid allow for land sailing and speed sailing. Dune skiing offers heady sensations, and ultralight flying is one of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of the Tunisian Sahara. Lovers of fauna and flora, observe the thousands of pink flamingos on the Chott El-Jerid in winter, or visit Jebil National Park to catch a glimpse of gazelles and addax antelope. History buffs can see the ruins of a Roman fort close to Ksar Ghilane.
What to eat ?
Couscous and desert bread
Taste the everyday food of the Berber nomads: marfoussa date paste, tchiche the barley soup. Watch how the famous desert bread is prepared, cooked in hot sand under a bed of ashes and embers. Drink the red tea with tiny sips, very strong and very sweet. And for special occasions, couscous with mutton.
Where to sleep ?
Hotel or encampment
Douz offers a wide range of accommodation and beautiful hotels with views of the sand dunes. Saharan encampments are numerous, from the simplest to the most comfortable: Ksar Ghilane, Zaafrane, Bir Soltane… A luxury encampment can be found at the foot of Tembaine mountain, isolated in a grandiose setting deep in the sandy desert.
Nomads and meharis
Douz is inhabited by the Mrazig, a nomadic herding people, who, even in the present day, periodically leave their homes to return to their tent dwelling way of life. The regions close to the desert have always taken advantage of how nomadic and sedentary lifestyles complement each other. The oases produce dates, fruits, cereals and vegetables; the nomads raise sheep, goats and camels. These beasts were once essential to trans-Saharan commerce; the meharis, light and fast camels, were mounts for warriors. A rallying point for the camel-riding nomads, Douz has remained a major market for the camel raisers of the South and a focal point for Saharan traditions. Marriage rites, sloughi dog races, games and fantasias, caravan departures… the ancestral ceremonies are still anchored in the hearts of the inhabitants. For the great Festival of the Sahara in Douz, they gladly perform them for the enjoyment of visitors.
The Great Eastern Sand Sea
The desert as you’ve always dreamed about it, experience the fullness and the vastness, the silence and the softness… Tunisia is home to 40 000 square kilometres of sandy desert, part of the Great Eastern Sand Sea, which offers the most splendid panoramas of dunes sculpted by the wind. Sometimes gently rolling, sometimes standing proud in tall waves, they are tinged with yellow and pink at dawn - a rare spectacle that rewards those who spend a night in bivouac. The ever-changing landscape sometimes conceals surprises: wells buried by sand, mountains overlooking the dunes, basins sheltering some shrubs and bushes, or even a lake where ducks and egrets frolic. Guides and camel raisers in the region put all their passion and experience at the disposal of those who wish to discover the emotional experience of a Saharan voyage. They will teach you tricks and tips of the nomadic life and will guide you towards the fields of sand roses, the sand-covered mountains, herds of animals gathered around watering holes or the hot water lakes shimmering in the heart of the sands.
Good to know
Kebili Tourist Board
Tel. : 75 492 530 / 75 492 531
Festival of the Sahara in Douz : nomadic traditions (late December)
Tuesday: Kébili. Thursday: Douz.
Douz is accessible by road, 125 km from Tozeur international airport and 260 km from Djerba international airport. Ksar Ghilane is accessible by road, 260 km from Tozeur international airport and 210 km from Djerba international airport. A traffic permit is necessary for raids (non-competitive rallies) in the extreme South.
Buy the deglet nour dates, tender and translucent: those from Kebili are famous. As a souvenir of your excursions into the desert, bring home a cheche (long cotton scarf to protect one’s face) and leather sandals.