What You Need To Know
Sousse is the third largest city in the Republic of Tunisia. Situated in the geographical middle of the Sahel zone it is at once the economic and cultural centre of this region and, since it is so close to the international airport Monastir, is easily reached from anywhere in the world.
Sousse, a city with antique roots, was formerly known as “Hadrumete”. Here the old city, or “Medina”, nowadays still surrounded by splendid walls and housing a remarkable museum, had its origins.
In recent years economic success has changed the appearance of the city. Estates of modern town houses and villas have sprung up, hedged in by seemingly endless olive groves. Olives are the country’s most important natural resource. The production and sale of olive oil is centred on Sousse.
Sousse’s old city is also famous as a harbour and popular seaside resort. Mediterranean tourists can bathe in the sea almost all year round.
Population: 674,971 (2014)
Area: 45 km²
- The Tunisian dinar is the official currency in Tunisia, subdivided into 1,000 milim or millimes.
The dinar was set out as the new currency in Tunisia in 1958, although it did not start to be used until 1960. Until that moment, the official currency had been the franc and the equivalence to the new currency was of 1,000 francs to 1 dinar.
You cannot export Tunisian currency, and for that reason your bank cannot order any for you to take with you.
Most tourists arrive with no currency – it’s easy enough to obtain it.
The exchange rate is fixed by the Government, and you will be offered that rate at the airport and at your hotel.
You may find it better to exchange some currency at these locations rather than use ATMs.
Nearly all banks and credit cards place huge surcharges on overseas transactions.
Again, note that it is illegal to take ANY Tunisian currency out of the country.
You must change back ALL currency**, including coins, when you leave.
You can still make purchases at the airside shops and cafes, since they take a range of non-Tunisian currencies, notably Euro, GBP and USD.
The Tunisian authorities have the right to search your baggage and spot-searches are common.
They really do mean it – NO currency is to be exported.
Before leaving the country you should contact your bank and let them know where you’re going to and for how long, otherwise you could have your card(s) blocked due to irregular spending patterns.
However, a lot of banks just ignore this, so make sure you’ve got your bank’s telephone number written down – you may need it!
Sousse is in Africa and is saved from the hot desert winds by its location on the coast. Summers are warm and temperatures can rise quite high, while the winters are mild with a bit of rain. Sousse is near the resorts of Skanes and Monastir. Peak season is from April to October, and it can get crowded during this period. During the off-peak season, the weather is still good and one can take advantage of having less people milling around as well as the off-peak rates in the hotels.
It is also one of the most popular holiday destinations with its mild Mediterranean climate and fantastic shoreline. The climate in Sousse is typically Mediterranean meaning warm summers with plenty of sunshine and mild winters. There are rarely extremes in temperature. The climate is regulated by the surrounding sea. In Sousse, the tourist-packed summers can reach highs in the mid-twenties, while the rainy autumn months average in the high teens. If you enjoy mild weather for your holiday, head to Sousse in winter or spring when you can avoid summer crowds and autumn rain. The best time to visit Sousse, though, is between the months of May and October. That being said, in the height of summer, the heat can be unbearable.
Arabic is the official language, and most natives speak a dialect of Tunisian Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is taught in schools. The cultural Arabization of the country was largely completed by the end of the 12th century, and currently only a tiny fraction of the population—most of them in the south—still speak one of the Berber languages. French, introduced during the protectorate (1881–1956), came into wider use only after independence, because of the spread of education. It continues to play an important role in the press, education, and government. To a lesser extent, English and Italian also serve as lingua francas.
Health and security
- Though Tunisia is a thriving, forward-looking society, its health-care system does not yet match that of most western countries. Also, expats from western countries should take note that the vast majority of staff in most public hospitals will not speak fluent English, and so communicating in French or Arabic will be the only option. Public hospitals are often overcrowded and have low quality equipment.
As you have to pay for treatment in hospitals, it is strongly advised that anybody living in Tunisia takes out some solid private health insurance. At private clinics, it is much easier to find English speaking physicians and the quality of specialized facilities will be much higher.
If you are staying outside of Tunisia’s resorts and tourist hotspots, it is advisable to be cautious. For foreigners that live in Tunisia, the main risks are theft-related — i.e. pick pocketing and mugging. Female expats should be careful with their handbags and purses, while men should be careful with where they flash their wallets.
- Unfortunately, street harassment of females is a problem in Tunisia. Though there are no religious restrictions on how women dress, clothing that shows a lot of skin can attract negative attention. Another problem is kidnapping, a crime that targets both natives and expats. The best advice is to stick to the busy areas, where there is generally a noticeably high police presence.
- Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin General shops. Large department stores and some supermarkets sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality.
- Be aware that the export of Tunisian currency is forbidden and searches of wallets and purses can, and do, occur at airports.
- Overlooked by the mighty Ribat and Kasbah, Sousse’s Medina just begs to be explored. This lovely old town district is a shopping paradise with a tempting selection of ceramics, leather-work and metalwork on display. Away from the souk streets, quiet and rambling back alleys are a charming place to dive in and sample local life away from the bustle.
- Northwest of Sousse’s Great Mosque, the tower of the Ribat is the city’s major landmark. This was one of a chain of around 800 fortifications built by the Aghlabid dynasty along the Tunisian coast. Today only a few of these buildings survive. Religious warriors (who in times of peace devoted themselves to religious duties) occupied the ribats. But in times of danger these religious forces were the first line of defence against enemy attack.
The solid walls of the ribats offered the population protection from invasion and served as bases for offensive and defensive action. Several scholars have suggested that these Muslim warrior holy men provided a model for the later Christian knightly orders. Sousse Ribat now ranks with the Ribat of Monastir as one of the best preserved in Tunisia.