The East Coast
Sousse Travel Guide
Sousse © Stephen Thomas
*In June 2015, a terrorist attack took place at Port El Kantaoui, near Sousse, in which a number of foreign tourists were killed. Security has been dramatically increased at resorts in this region and tourists are advised to pay close attention to travel warnings and recommendations from official government sources before travel to Tunisia.*
The captivating holiday resort town of Sousse lies on Tunisia's east coast, about two hours drive south of the capital, Tunis. From the 9th century onwards the Phoenicians, Byzantines, Arabs and Romans discovered the delights of this fertile spot, dubbed 'the pearl of the Sahel' in ancient times, and today the mild climate, beautiful Mediterranean shoreline and warm people work their magic on holidaymakers from Europe.
Sousse is also favoured by Tunisians as a get-away destination, and the friendly inhabitants enjoy mingling with visitors on the sandy beaches and busy promenade. The proliferation of modern resort hotels along the beachfront has not detracted from the charms of the inner city, and Sousse is still regarded as having probably the finest (though not the largest) old city, or Medina, in Tunisia. A warren of narrow covered alleyways nestling below the Ribat, or fort, hide hundreds of colourful shops selling a myriad of local goods from carpets and porcelain to leather bags and olive oil.
Outside the Medina there is also a vast modern shopping complex. Sousse is not all just shopping and beach bathing, however. The town's museum, situated in the old castle or kasbah, is renowned for its collection of mosaics, masks, statues and other relics of the Roman occupation. There are also several miles of well-preserved ancient Christian catacombs and marble tombs in the town. Sousse offers its many package-tour visitors all the facilities and surroundings of a relaxing seaside holiday, overlaid with the undeniably foreign and exotic atmosphere of North Africa, all at extremely affordable prices.
There are bargains to be had in the alleyways of the Sousse old city for holidaymakers who practise the time-worn art of haggling successfully. Carpets and leatherware are favourite buys for tourists, but there is also a vast stock of cheap souvenirs on which to fritter away the holiday budget. Some visitors are intimidated and do not enjoy bargaining with the canny souk shopkeepers, who usually begin negotiations with a price inflated up to ten times the value. These visitors would be better advised to do their shopping in the adjacent modern shopping mall, which is crammed with shops offering local goods and wares from all over North Africa, on sale at fixed prices.
Visitors to Sousse are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out, with a variety of options available from pizza and tapas to French cuisine, but most holidaymakers rave in particular about the popular local staple dish, Couscous (steamed semolina grains), which comes in various combinations. Most of the better restaurants are located inside the luxury hotels; others are within walking distance of wherever you are staying.
Nightlife in Sousse has its seamier side with several seedy dives where prostitutes are on offer along with the beer. If in doubt before entering any club or bar question the doorman or take a good look. Nightlife generally for tourists is confined to the apartment resorts and hotels, offering dancing and entertainment. Young Tunisians tend to gather on the beach promenade after dark.
Most of the pleasurable and sporting activities offered to holidaymakers in Sousse are beach-based, including fishing, scuba diving, windsurfing and water-skiing. There are also numerous excursions on offer for those keen on exploring more of the Tunisian coastline. In the town itself, delving into the ancient Roman history at the excellent museum and shopping are interesting diversions.
Many visitors have complained that shopkeepers in the medina are overbearing, and even frightening, in their persistence. There have also been reports of pickpockets being active in the alleyways.