INFORMATION FOR TRAVELLERS TO
ROMAN NORTH AFRICA
(Tunisia and Libya)
ROMAN NORTH AFRICA
(Tunisia and Libya)
Welcome to 'B.C. Archaeology', the Australian tour company specialising in travel to ancient world destinations. We currently take tours to Egypt, the Sudan, Turkey, Greece, Sicily and Malta, Spain, Morocco, and Tunisia. This year we are also taking tours to Burma and Cambodia. In the future we intend to expand into ancient meso-America (Mexico, Guatemala and Belize) and also South America (Peru). The following information is provided to assist you in selecting and preparing for your holiday. The details are provided only as a general guide to help you prepare for your tour.
We select our hotels with care and in most cases the hotel has been used by a member of our staff. We look for high standards of comfort and charm, and like a welcoming atmosphere. An important consideration is location - we have a strong preference for small quiet hotels in the historic centre of a city, preferably close to local cafés and restaurants. These are often family run hotels or pensions which have friendly and helpful local staff.
Carlton Hotel in Tunis
Bab el Bahr Hotel in Tripoli
We mainly stay in quality 3-star hotels, although we do sometimes include 4-star accommodation in our programs. The star-ratings are those quoted by the relevant national or regional authority. We expect that each room will be clean and well maintained - most rooms will have air-conditioning or fans, a television and a refrigerator. WE ONLY USE HOTELS WHICH HAVE EN SUITE WESTERN-STYLE BATHROOMS WITH TOILET AND SHOWER OR BATH.
In Libya, where tourism has been limited during the past 20 years, most of the hotels available to us are larger state run establishments. Visitors to Libya should keep in mind that some of the hotels are a little bit tired and run down - most of these older hotels from the 1960's and 70's are being upgraded and new hotels are also being built to cater to the growing tourist trade. The standard of accommodation will quickly improve in the next few years.
Hotel Medina in Sousse
The price of each tour is based on twin-share accommodation although a single supplement can be pre-arranged (see Single Supplement below). Double beds can often be arranged for couples but please be aware that they may not always be available. Accommodation is on a 'Bed and Breakfast' basis with breakfast served in the hotel dining room. The food that is provided will vary from hotel to hotel but the breakfast is usually 'Continental Style' - danish or croissant with coffee or tea (see Food below).
The countries we will visit (Libya and Tunisia) are in North Africa, which means that it is generally very hot and dry in the summer (June-August), warm and sunny in autumn (September-November), mild and sunny in the winter (December-February) and warm and sunny in spring (March-May). In this region most rain falls between October and March but light showers can also occur between April and May. You may therefore wish to pack a light rain proof jacket as a precaution. The following data should give you some idea of the type of weather that is found in these areas:
|Jan temps||April temps||July temps||Sept temps||Annual Rainfall|
The countries we visit are predominantly Muslim, and out of respect for local custom modest clothing should be worn at all times. Women, ideally, should cover the upper part of their arms, and avoid wearing brief shorts. When entering a mosque, women should cover their hair and shoulders with a scarf to be polite - it is therefore worth taking one with you or buying one in the local markets. Men should wear long trousers/jeans when visiting a mosque and avoid brief shorts and singlet tops in general. You will, however, see plenty of tourists wearing a great deal less, particularly in Tunisia which is a major beach resort destination!
Light cotton clothing is best for travelling. Take plenty of T-shirts and light trousers. When packing, remember that you will not normally need winter clothes such as heavy jackets. LAYERS OF CLOTHING ARE USEFUL so that you can adjust to the increasing temperature during the day. Bring a jumper and a light jacket. It will generally be cool in the morning, warm to hot during the day, and cool to cold at night. It can be cool to cold in the west of Tunisia which is high in the mountains. It is best to pack light since you can always buy T-shirts and other clothing if you need to. FLAT, COMFORTABLE WALKING SHOES like sandshoes or trainers are the most appropriate foot wear for visiting the sites but you might like to bring more formal shoes for the evenings.
Coffee in El Kef
Henna Hands in Kairouan
Washing can be done for you in the hotels. This is usually not too expensive but costs can add up as hotels usually charge per item. You may wish to buy local washing powder (or bring your own) to wash small items of clothing. Make sure you bring a 'universal bath plug' - some hotels may not provide sink plugs or they may have gone missing. You might also like to bring a light washing line with you which can be strung up in the bathroom, or on the balcony, and some clothes pegs.
Sunburn is a problem for travellers and can be avoided by wearing a hat with a broad brim and by applying plenty of sun cream. Wear long sleeved shirts in preference to short sleeved ones if you have sensitive skin. It is advised that you ALWAYS WEAR A PAIR OF SUNGLASSES when we visit archaeological sites - the sun can be very bright and there is a great deal of reflected light from the desert surface.
Tunisia has a well developed tourist industry and it is easy to acquire postcards and stamps from kiosks, shops and news stands. You can also acquire postcards and stamps at museums and tourist sites. It is best to post letters at major hotels.
The telephone service is generally good - there are numerous communications businesses which offer international calls and most of the hotels we stay in also offer this service. You can often use the phones in the hotel but be aware that they will include a surcharge. If your mobile phone has global roaming you can use it throughout Tunisia.
The internet is becoming more widespread in Tunisia, and many hotels and businesses now have e-mail facilities. There are internet cafés in most tourist centres. Experience has shown the Tunisian internet service to be cheap but it is often very slow and at times erratic - large attachments can take a long time to download. The computer keyboards are usually arranged in French style and thus some of the letters are located in different places!
Tourism in Libya is still in its infancy. Most large hotels sell postcards and stamps, and these are also available at site museums although quality is variable.
International telephone calls can be made from the larger hotels or at government telephone offices attached to post offices. International calls in Libya are relatively expensive. There is very limited mobile coverage throughout Libya and you should not expect global roaming to function.
Cyber cafés with internet access are beginning to appear in Libya but are not widespread - most of our hotels will be near an internet café or will provide an internet service. The facility is generally slow and the connection may drop out frequently.
The electricity in Tunisia and Libya is 220 volts. In Tunisia the plugs are of the two-pronged European type with round section. In Libya the type of plugs varies from hotel to hotel. Most hotels use the two pronged European type, but a few have the English style three pin (one vertical bar and two horizontal ones) - sometimes both types can be found in the same hotel room! One way around this is to take a universal adapter for your electrical appliances.
FILM AND CAMERAS
Film is widely available in the tourist areas and is generally reasonably priced, but you will probably get your film cheaper at home and it is thus worthwhile taking enough to last the whole trip. It may be difficult to find slide film everywhere. It is possible to get your photographs printed relatively cheaply but it may be better to wait until you get home if you have doubts about the quality.
Digital photography is relatively new in Tunisia and Libya and it can be difficult to find places where digital photographs can be burnt onto CD's. Therefore it is highly recommended that you take a number of flashcards (memory sticks) which can be downloaded when you get home, or you can take an MP3 or similar storage device like a laptop onto which you can download your photos.
In Tunisia and Libya there are very few restrictions about photographs in museums and at the archaeological sites - you can take photos in the museums and they don't even seem to mind if you use a flash. As in many Middle Eastern countries it is forbidden to photograph military and government instillations which are always clearly identified with signs. You should always ask permission before taking photographs of people.
Participants should have general fitness as most tours include some walking each day - the amount of walking varies from tour to tour. The 'B. C. Archaeology' programs are designed to be 'Study Tours' and as a result we tend to spend a lot longer than the usual tour program walking around the historical sites. We sit down frequently, however, to discuss their significance.
Isis Temple at Sabratha
Our buses are not always able to arrive directly at the archaeological site we are visiting. Access to some sites involves climbing stairs, or walking across desert surfaces or some rough ground - those with mobility problems need to consider carefully whether they are capable of such activity.
The tours operate on a 'Bed and Breakfast' basis i.e. they generally only include breakfast at the hotel, usually 'continental style' with croissants/danishes/bread rolls and coffee/tea. Some hotels will provide a more elaborate buffet style breakfast which may include eggs, pancakes/crepes, yoghurt and cereals.
We select hotels which are close to a range of inexpensive restaurants and eating places where we can sample a range of traditional local meals - normally western cuisine is also available. Where possible we stop during the day for a light lunch or snack in a local café (Tunisia has great coffee!). Some days may include picnic lunches due to their relative isolation which may require participants to buy some food the night before.
Dinner in Tunis
Picnic in Libya
Tunisian food is well known for its seafood and Tagines (casserole dishes) which are often served with couscous. The cuisine is heavily influenced by French cooking and sometimes the menu will be in Arabic and French only which may require you to hark back to your school French. A local speciality is harrisa paste made from chilli which is used as a dip or accompaniment. A wide range of delicious local cooked dishes and snacks are available. In Tunisia most restaurants serve beer or local and imported wine. Tunisian wine is very good but can be a bit expensive when compared with Australian wine. Customs allows you to import 2 litres of wine and one litre of spirits per person
In Libya the local cuisine is slightly more bland and usually consists of rice/fries with meat and/or vegetables. It is also possible to get macaroni based dishes. Libyan restaurants are not used to catering for vegetarian requirements so do not expect a wide choice. Libya is a totally dry country. At the moment IT IS ILLEGAL TO IMPORT OR POSSESS ALCOHOL IN LIBYA. Your luggage may be scanned and alcohol may be confiscated (so make sure you drink all your alcohol before you arrive!).
Travellers often avoid salads while travelling but this is not really necessary, particularly as the tomatoes and cucumbers are so much better than in Australia (they actually have flavour!). It is recommended, however, that you avoid leafy salad vegetables like lettuces since these may not be washed thoroughly. Vegetables and fruit that can be peeled and washed or cooked are generally safe to eat. Food that has recently been prepared or cooked is least likely to make you ill; avoid eating food which has been kept warm for long periods.
You might like to bring some snacks with you, such as muesli bars, if you require a regular sugar fix at 11am. For lunch we normally stop at a small café and have soup or salad with bread and dips such as hummus. This should cost about $10-15. The evening meal is usually more substantial and we normally visit a restaurant, or eat at the hotel. Tunisia offers a wide range of restaurants from inexpensive cafes to five star silver service in luxurious surroundings. Most meals will cost about $15-20 per person. In Libya, outside of Tripoli, the choice of restaurants is limited and dinner will normally be taken at our hotel. This may cost $12-20 each.
All tours include some free time; this varies depending on the tour program. Generally we try to see as much as possible during our stay and we will often be away from the hotel between 8am and 5pm including travel time. The itinerary usually includes a free morning or afternoon every couple of days which can be used to rest or explore the local area. We also try to include one free day in the middle of the program as a total break. Evenings are usually free to relax, wander in the markets or socialise with other members of the group. In Libya the group is encouraged to stay together when going out in the evening and may even be accompanied by a tour representative.
Most frequently used medicines, such as Paracetamol and antibiotics are widely available over the counter in Tunisia and Libya, without a prescription. Chemist shops are common but it would be advisable to bring some medicines for daily use such as pain killers, throat lozenges and plasters. If you have a special medical condition, it is recommended that you take enough of your medication to last you the length of the trip rather than trying to get the medication locally. Please advise the tour leader about any medical conditions which may affect your ability to travel (such as diabetes). Women may wish to bring their preferred feminine hygiene products as these may not be commonly available.
An upset stomach is a common complaint amongst tourists and normally passes in a day or two - it is mainly caused by the change in food and water and exposure to different bacteria and dehydration. It is useful to have basic mediation like Lomotil which can treat such problems. It is common to get a cold while travelling due to exposure to new viruses - cold and flu medication is worth taking with you as a precaution. Please remember that antibiotics are not useful for treating a cold and can actually make you feel worse by eradicating your good internal bacteria.
CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR FOR FURTHER ADVICE about vaccinations and additional medications that you might need while travelling. Your tour leader will try to provide whatever assistance he/she can in the event of illness, but keep in mind that they are not medically trained.
The tour price does not include the cost of travel/health insurance. The participant must purchase this separately - no one will be permitted to travel without proof of purchase of insurance. Neither B.C. Archaeology nor Dr Michael Birrell is responsible for your health or possessions.
The local currency in Tunisia is the Tunisian Dinar which is divided into 1000 millimes. ATM's are widespread in Tunis and Sousse but not elsewhere in Tunisia. It is usually possible to access your savings and cheque accounts using your ATM cards. Most ATM's accept western cards - particularly those displaying Mastercard Cirrus, Maestro or Visa Plus. Instructions are always available in English. Previous experience has shown that those with St George Bank cards may have trouble accessing their accounts. Prior to departure please check with your bank whether you have a card which complies with overseas machines. EFTPOS transactions are not available in Tunisia.
Major credit cards are accepted widely in shops and restaurants in the larger costal cities and more popular areas. You can usually make a cash advance on a credit card. A fee normally applies.
Traveller's cheques in American Dollars, English pounds or Euros can be changed at a limited number of banks and designated exchanges (they seem to be going out of fashion these days as most tourists use the ATM machine to access their own accounts). YOU MUST PRESENT THE PURCHAASE RECEIPT for your traveller's cheques before the bank will change the cheques - it is better to keep this receipt somewhere else in the event that you lose the traveller's cheques. Avoid taking Australian dollar traveller's cheques as they are not widely used and may be rejected.
Changing money in rural Tunisia is time consuming and not always possible. It is therefore best to change sufficient money in Tunis to last until one arrives in Sousse since El Kef and Sbeitla are not major tourist destinations.
Cash, particularly Euros, American dollars and English Pounds, can be changed readily at banks and exchanges. Do not expect to be able to change Australian Dollars in cash.
For your sanity, DO NOT DEPEND ON ONLY ONE SOURCE OF MONEY, such as a just one credit card! Getting stuck without money, even for a short time, can be very stressful.
The local currency in Libya is the Libyan Dinar which is divided into 100 piastres. Tourists visiting Libya should TAKE WITH THEM ALL THEIR REQUIRED SPENDING MONEY IN THE FORM OF CASH; preferably in American Dollars and in large denominations such as $100.00 bills. To change money at a bank in Libya you must present your passport. Some larger hotels include exchange facilities where cash can be changed. A generous allowance of about $100 US dollars per day in Libya is suggested from which you will probably bring home some change (see shopping!).
AT PRESENT NEITHER TRAVELLERS CHEQUES NOR CREDIT CARDS ARE BEING ACCEPTED AT LIBYAN BANKS. ATM machines are gradually being introduced to the major centres in Libya, but they are often out of order, or have limited success in gaining access to your accounts. As tourism increases, these basic facilities are gradually being introduced but they should not currently be relied upon.
PASSPORTS AND VISAS
Make sure that your passport is current and that it does not expire in the six months after you are due to arrive in the Middle East - if it does, please arrange to have a new one issued before travelling. Please ensure that you do not have an Israeli visa or west bank border stamp if you are visiting Libya -you will not be permitted to enter the country. Those with US passports may also experience difficulty entering Libya.
The tour company will organise for entry visas for Egypt to be issued before the program departs. Visas for Tunisia and Libya will be stamped into your passport upon arrival in each country - the cost of the visas is already covered by the program. New diplomatic missions in Australia by both Tunisia and Libya will soon make it possible to have the visas issued locally.
Tunisia and Libya are very safe countries. The government in each country is very concerned for your safety since they do not want anything to happen to the tourist industry. You may see security guards at major tourist sites, and most museums may have metal detectors and bag checks.
Tunisian people are very friendly, generous and welcoming - it is not uncommon for locals to want to talk to you. In Libya tourism is new and people are still wary of talking to foreigners. It is extremely rare that a foreigner is assaulted or robbed. If you feel uncomfortable, it is better to walk in a group.
It is always a good idea to be security conscious. It is safer to take a money-belt rather than a wallet, particularly when walking in crowded places such as markets. Try not to display large amounts of money when making purchases - take only as much money as you think you will need. Do not accept an offer on the street to change money - this has been known as a way to get your wallet out so that it can then be snatched.
Keep precious possessions, such as passports, secure in your luggage or carry them in your money belt. Make sure you have two keys for the luggage locks and keep them in separate places in the event that one set gets lost. It is worth making photocopies of your passport cover sheet, airline tickets, and credit cards - keep one copy with you in a separate place from the originals and leave another copy with someone back home in Australia.
It is advisable in Tunisia to use a credit card if you are going to buy more expensive items (but remember, credit cards are not currently accepted in Libya!). Keep precious possessions, such as passports, digital cameras and jewellery, secure in your luggage. You must have travel insurance against loss or damage of possessions.
If you are travelling on your own you can opt to share with another group member of the same gender or pay an additional fee for a room on your own. A 'single supplement' normally costs $900 extra per person. No person travelling on their own, however, will be required to pay a single supplement in the event of their being no fellow traveller to share with. B.C. Archaeology reserves the right to co-ordinate the room arrangements if there is no prior agreement to share with another person before the program.
It is understood that fellow travellers may snore. In the event that two travellers are not compatible in a twin-share arrangement, a single supplement may be required from the participant who does not wish to remain in a share situation.
In the Middle East wages are very low in comparison with Western wages - most people, including the hotel staff you meet, earn a limited salary. Tipping is not a requirement although it is becoming more common. Always tip if someone goes out of their way to help you - you may wish to leave some change in a café or restaurant, many leave out a saucer for this purpose. Do not give money to beggars or children as this only encourages begging (which can be irritating and/or confronting) and is frowned upon by those who work.
The company will cover the cost of tipping hotel porters but it would be appreciated if the Tunisian and Libyan guides who accompany us be given a tip at the end of the program. It is recommended that this be about $20-50 per person. More can of course be given if the guide has gone out of their way to assist you on the tour.
In Libya and Tunisia public toilets are practically unheard of. Most archaeological sites and museums have public washrooms however they can vary in standard, particularly in Libya. Café and restaurants also provide toilet facilities. It is suggested that you might carry a small packet of tissues for occasional use; antiseptic wet wipes (wet ones) or antibiotic gels can also be handy for cleaning your hands before eating.
For the international flights we prefer to fly economy class on Singapore Airlines. Business Class seats can be arranged upon payment of additional charges. Within Egypt and North Africa we use local carriers such as Egypt Air, Tunisian Airways and Libyan Arab Airlines. These local carriers generally have very good and new planes.
Our bus at Kairouan
Our Libyan bus
Daytrips to archaeological sites are by air-conditioned 'Coaster Bus' which normally sit a maximum of 27 passengers.
BOTTLED DRINKING WATER IS WIDELY AVAILABLE, INEXPENSIVE AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. The tap water in major cities is safe to drink, but it is heavily chlorinated and more likely than the bottled water to contain bacteria that may cause an upset stomach or viruses which might give you a cold. It is safe to brush your teeth in tap water, but to be on the safe side you may prefer to use bottled water.
It is very easy to get dehydrated, particularly as we will be walking around archaeological sites. ALWAYS DRINK PLENTY OF WATER. Bring a small water bottle with you into which you can decant some mineral water. It is useful, but not essential, to bring re-hydration salts in the event of sunstroke.
WHAT TO BUY - AND HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD I TAKE?
There are very few real antiques for sale and you need an export licence for the real thing. Tunisia is famous for a number of products such as painted ceramics, reproduction roman mosaics, textiles, jewellery, minerals such as geodes and fossils and small souvenirs. In Libya there is a small developing souvenir industry but it is recommended you make most of your purchases in Tunisia. In both Tunisia and Libya a range of guidebooks are available at the archaeological sites or in local bookshops. Remember to leave some space in your luggage for souvenirs.
The cost of the tour covers all accommodation and breakfast, transport to and entry to all archaeological sites and museums. Meals should cost about A$25-40 per day per person and miscellaneous expenses such as water, fruit, chocolates, coffee will be additional. Depending on what you want to buy, a good estimate for total expenses is an additional A$1000 per person.
WHAT TO TAKE - SOME SUGGESTIONS
A light small day-pack that you can carry every day to sites
Camera and spare batteries for your camera
Additional flash cards for a digital camera
Film - it is better to bring your own and is likely to be cheaper
A hat, sunscreen and sunglasses
A small bottle for drinking water
Sensible walking shoes with flat soles
Small torch and batteries for exploring the sites
A converter for electrical appliances - 'European style' with two round prongs (or a universal adaptor)
Moisturiser cream and your familiar toiletries
Pharmaceuticals such as Panadol, throat lozenges and Lomotil
Universal plug for the sink/bath (not always provided)
A small towel to use as bath mat (not always provided)
A towel (just as a back-up - towels are provided by the hotels)
Washing line and pegs
Shampoo and soap, bandaids, 'Wet-ones' or tissues
A mobile phone if you think this is necessary - you will need 'global roaming' but remember that Libya has poor mobile coverage
Penknife, if desired, for cutting fruit etc. Always pack it in your main luggage, not your hand luggage, when flying - otherwise it may be confiscated at the airport security.
A few small padlocks to secure your suitcases. Keep the keys in two different places in case one set gets lost.
The success of your holiday depends to a large extent on your individual approach. It is important to remember that you are a guest in another country. Middle Eastern culture is different to ours, so please respect the local customs. When entering a mosque please take off your shoes or wear the covers provided and it is polite to cover your hair if you are female.
Remember, fellow travellers on the tour are drawn from many walks of life and a tolerant attitude can increase your enjoyment of the holiday. I'm sure you will have a rewarding and enjoyable time.