14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Djerba
Djerba is the kind of easygoing resort that sums up island living. Just 5 km off Tunisia's southern coast, this island idyll's gently sloping sandy beaches and perfect Mediterranean climate has made it a popular stop for travellers looking for a winter beach break.
Although there are plentiful resorts to cater for this crowd, Djerba is full of sightseeing attractions with timeless villages and watercolour-worthy scenery for those that care to delve deeper into the culture. It's also a great spot to base yourself if you want to explore some of southern Tunisia's most famed sights on a series of day trips.
1 Houmt Souk Old Town
With its quaint maze of alleyways lined by picturesque whitewashed houses and shops selling colourful ceramics, Houmt Souk's Old Town area was made for strolling. The displays of traditional handicrafts include jewellery, textiles, traditional shoes, brass and silverware, leather goods, and piles upon piles of hand-painted pottery. The town also has a small fishing harbour complete with pastel-coloured boats bobbing on the blue sea.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Djerba
2 Folk Museum (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires)
This interesting little folk museum is housed in the beautiful 18th century Zaouia of Sidi Zitouni with its impressive stalactite-designed ceilings. The former prayer hall is now given over to displays of vibrant traditional costumes. Culture-lovers shouldn't miss a visit here to dig a little deeper under Djerba's resort skin. Exhibits explore and preserve the island's cultural traditions, with delicately beautiful old jewellery, ceramics and traditional wedding chests on display. One small room is devoted to old editions of the Qur'an.
Location: Avenue Abdel Hamid el Khadi, Houmt Souk
3 Bordj el Kabir
A fort has looked out over Houmt Souk's harbour since the 13th century. The original building was strengthened in the 15th century, but later replaced in the 16th century when the notorious corsair Dragut built the massive Bordj el Kabir fortress here to look out over the bay. Extensive restoration work has been carried out on the building since the 1960s to preserve it. If you walk up here there are fine views across Houmt Souk's harbour. Between the fort and the harbour you can see a small obelisk commemorating the pyramid of skulls, which Dragut erected here.
Location: Rue Ulysse, Houmt Souk
A number of well-preserved fondouks (caravanserais) can be seen amid Houmt Souk's alleyways. These merchant inns combined sleeping quarters, animal stabling and warehouse storage for the many travelling merchants who traversed North Africa, bringing spices and silks back to Europe. Their typical structure usually took the shape of a series of rooms, several storeys high, built around an arcaded courtyard. Today many of the fondouks in Houmt Souk now function as boutique hotels or restaurants.
5 La Ghriba Synagogue
La Ghriba is Djerba's most prominent reminder of the island's vibrant Jewish community, which has now disappeared. Although not particularly impressive from the outside and not particularly old either (the synagogue was built in the 1920s), this site has a history that goes back much further.
One local story says that a holy stone (perhaps a meteorite) fell to earth here denoting the site's religious importance. The interior of the synagogue has fine panelling and contains important and valuable old Torah scrolls. Every year, 33 days after Easter, La Ghriba is the scene of the Maghreb's (North Africa's) most important Jewish pilgrimage.
Location: 1 km east of Er Riadh
The village of Guellala is Djerba's main pottery centre, and the main street is lined with ceramic workshops displaying their wares to visitors. It's said there are approximately 450 local potters living here, making it well worth visiting at least one workshop to get a feel for this ancient craft. The traditional Guellala ceramic products are unglazed storage jars, modelled on ancient amphora, but these days there is also a predominance of brightly painted pottery.
The clay used by the potters is excavated from shafts up to 80 m deep, dried out for two or three days and then broken up and mixed with water (fresh water for red pottery, salt water for white). The pottery is left to dry for 60 days before being fired for four days in semi-underground kilns, in which it remains for another ten days to cool gradually. If you're in the mood for some shopping while on Djerba this is the place to go.
Location: 11 km south of Er Riadh
7 Plage Sidi Maharès
Djerba's most popular beach is Plage Sidi Maharès - the perfect place to relax and catch some sun after all that souk strolling and ceramic shopping. It's the oldest resort beach on the island and hence the most developed, with restaurants and cafés running along its length and lots of deck chairs, sun loungers and umbrella shades for rent. The sandy shore extends for approximately 13 km up to Ras Tourgueness where there is a quaintly old-fashioned lighthouse.
Location: 9 km east of Houmt Souk
Surrounded by fruit orchards and date-palm groves, Midoun is Djerba's largest market town. If they're on the island at this time, all visitors should try to catch the buzzing Friday market. The old Medina area is full of gorgeous buildings, skinny alleyways and high walls with crumbling whitewash detail. The population of the village includes many descendants of slaves, who were originally brought here from Sudan. If you're here during the summer months there is a weekly cultural show complete with folk dancing and camel parades.
9 Plage de la Séguia
This 5 km stretch of white sand beach is located between Aghir and Ras Lalla Hadria. It's a lovely place to spend the day, with a less developed shoreline than Plage Sidi Maharès but still with all the services you'd need. Umbrellas, deckchairs and sun loungers can all be hired, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafés for when you're feeling peckish.
10 Chott el Djerid
One of the most surreal scenery attractions in Tunisia, the Chott el Djerid is an easy day trip from Djerba. This mammoth salt-pan stretches for kilometres, its surface an unearthly shimmering bluish-white crust of salt. In some places, the salt has crystallized into bizarrely shaped pinnacles or into clusters of multi-coloured deposits. Springtime visitors should be able to spot the flamingos that breed here, building their nests and raising their young before flying off again by July.
Sitting on the Akkara Peninsula, with a shoreline of pretty white beaches, Zarzis is southern Tunisia's second major tourist centre (after Djerba). The coastal oasis town is surrounded by olive and date palm groves as well as lush market gardens. If you don't have time to visit the gorgeous and tranquil oasis of Tozeur, then Zarzis is a good compromise. Many people come here simply for the beaches, but the town itself has an old fashioned air despite the many tourist resorts. It is a wonderful place to lap up some Tunisian provincial culture.
Location: 20 km southeast of Djerba
For many people a trip to Tunisia wouldn't be complete without at least a quick jaunt to the sands of the mighty Sahara. If you're staying on Djerba the easiest place to go for your desert experience is Nefta. This oasis town is a major centre for date growing and has a wonderfully preserved old Medina where a warren of lanes reveals houses decorated with brick facades, the domes and minarets of mosques in between.
Outside of town is where most tourists are heading though. About 15 km west of Nefta is a large dune area (an offshoot of the Sahara's famed Grand Erg Oriental dune region) where you can get a taste of desert life. The stunning canyon scenery of the Selja Gorge is also easily accessed from here.
Star Wars geeks: pinch yourself now. Medenine's Ksour (adobe fortified storehouses) are straight out of the movies ("Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace", to be precise). Originally Medenine was an important staging point on the caravan routes into the interior of Africa, and these organic looking granaries were used as vital warehouses for semi-nomadic families to store their possessions while they were away. Barrel-vaulted cells were built side-by-side, one over the other, in honeycomb-like blocks up to six storeys high. Most were pulled down in the 1960s to make way for the expansion of the modern town, but one particularly picturesque example - Ksar Medenine - has survived. Its movie star status brings flocks of visitors here just to see it.
This Roman town was originally founded during the 6th century BC by the Phoenicians, but flourished fully under Roman rule after AD 48. The remains that survive today date mainly from the 2nd century AD and include a Roman bath complex, the forum, the temple of Apollo, Concord and Hercules and the temple of Dionysus. Although it isn't a particularly impressive site - having been fully destroyed by the Vandals - the town will interest anyone with an eye for Tunisia's classical history. On a day trip from Djerba to Medenine, it makes a good stop to break up the journey. Finds unearthed here can be seen at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
Location: 27 km north of Medenine