Situated between Algeria and Libya, a scant 80 miles south of Sicily, the Republic of Tunisia offers a contrasting diversity of landscape. It features towering mountains and below sea level salt plains, lush pastures and parched desert. And there are over 750 miles of Mediterranean coastline and golden beaches. Tunisia's ancient archeological sites and museums chronicle more than 3,000 years of history that includes the Phoenicians and the Romans. More recently, it has included the Turks, Spanish and the French. Old world charm abounds in the ancient souks, and hospitality is the norm. Tunisia remains among the most liberal of the Islamic nations, with alcohol being freely available.
Northern Tunisia has classic Mediterranean climate and weather with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures range from an average of 91 F (33 C) in August to 58 F (14 C) in January. Inland to the south, rainfall diminishes and the temperatures climb, though desert nights can be quite cool.
Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956 and has a parliamentary democracy. The executive branch is headed by the president, and the prime minister serves as head of the government. Arabic is the official language, though French and Italian are widely spoken in the major cities, and English and German are common in the tourist resorts. Islam is the predominant religion, with much smaller Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish minorities.
The primary international airport is in Tunis. Airlines providing service include Tunis Air, Air France, Royal Jordanian Airlines, British Airways, and Alitalia.
Taxis, including shared taxis called "Louages," are available in the cities and major towns. Tunis also has a modern light rail system. For getting around the country, a rail system connects all major cities. The national bus company operates air-conditioned buses, and ferries connect the mainland with the islands. Rental cars are also available, but driving is recommended only for the brave of heart. This is especially true after dark outside of Tunis or major resort areas. Drive on the right.
Traveler's checks and credit cards are readily accepted in major cities and most tourist areas. Tunisia does not permit the exporting of native currency, but allows travelers to re-convert 30 percent of what they exchanged -- up to a maximum of USD 100 or equivalent; keep receipts of your currency exchanges into Tunisian dinars.
Telecommunications systems in Tunisia are adequate. Phone calls can be made from coin-operated pay phones or by purchasing a phone card. Another option is to make calls from the international telephone office in Tunis, or the Post, Telegraph and Telephone (PTT) [spell out the abbreviation] office in other cities. Calls from hotels can carry a surcharge as high as 300 percent. Cellular service is provided by a GSM 900 network; coverage is limited to major cities and the surrounding areas. Major hotels usually offer fax service.
Overall, Tunisia has a low violent crime rate. Urban areas have a moderate petty crime rate with most incidents centering pickpocketing, purse snatching and the theft of unattended property. Women may experience harassment and should dress conservatively and always travel with a companion or group. While there is currently no specific terrorist threat in Tunisia, travelers are urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and a low profile.