Festival of the Sahara in Douz: Tunisia’s Legendary Event
By Anabelle Martelli
The Festival was a breathtaking and exhilarating event which lasted four days — just right to see you through the New Year. It’s not very well known outside North Africa, particularly from the cultural point of view, even though the location (an important hub for desert travel) is quite well-known by jeep and motor bike holidaymakers.
I’m almost a little reticent to publicize the Festival as I feel it’s important to maintain its cultural, historical, and ethnic characteristics. Participation means getting a real insight into desert way of life, as well as mingling with the thousands of people who gather from far and wide to see it.
From dancing to dog racing: festival events
Events vary from poetry-reading (the oral tradition is still strong) to exciting dances by Tunisian, Palestinian, and Algerian companies in the evening; while during the day in the town horse and camel riders in traditional dress parade through the streets.
In the afternoon the Festival moves down to the dunes where there are spectacular performances of camel marathons, greyhounds catching rabbits, acrobats, and jugglers as well as a Berber wedding. The people were incredibly friendly and it seemed as if I had known them for years.
Douz has more to offer than the festival
Every Thursday there’s a big general market in the square and a livestock market nearby. The surrounding environment envelops the visitor in kilometres of palm groves. In December you can still see families collecting dates, which provide staple food for camels and tortoises alike in Douz’s zoo!
Another really interesting place to see is the museum. It’s small but very well-organized around the theme of desert life. The small Douz Museum has an interesting collection portraying traditional Saharan life. Entrance TD 1.100. Open 9:30-4:30 Closed Mondays.
Getting to Douz
Obviously getting there needs some organization. Personally I took a coach from Tunis to Douz which took nine hours but is a reliable service. Otherwise there’s an airport in Tozeur or Jerba and you can take a group taxi to Douz. It’s easy to find small hotels to sleep in but one must book early at Festival time.
Getting There and Away
There are direct buses to and from Tunis twice daily. Frequent buses and louages run between Douz and Kebili (25 km.). There are connections to all major cities from Kebili, but These can be difficult to secure during the festival when demand is high. Trains run twice daily from Tunis to Gafsa. From Gafsa it is possible to visit the famous oasis town of Tozeur and then continue by bus or louage to Kebili and Douz .
Lodgings in Douz
Accommodation may be particularly tight since the festival follows on the heels of one of Tunisia ‘s biggest secular holidays which celebrates the accession to power of President Ben Ali. Book in advance, if possible.
Hotel 20 Mars
(216 -5) 470269
Centrally located near the louage station and market. Modest hotel built around 2 courtyards. Very clean and friendly. Rooms from $US 15 double. Recommended by the author.
Fax: (216-5) 470313
Zone Touristique. Kasbah décor within lush oasis. Rooms from US $70 double.
Fax: (216-5) 471589
3-star luxury hotel situated at the end of the Zone Touristique near the Ofra Sand Dune. Nightclub, 2 pools, hot springs. Rooms from US $80.
Hotel El Medina
Rue el Hanine
Tel + fax 75 470 010
(slightly more expensive)
Hotel Restaurant BelhabibHoumt Souk
Tel 75 471 115
Fax 75 470 309
(Double room plus shower and breakfast 10 TD)
Anabelle Martelli writes from Italy.
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