Djerba Island Holidays
Djerba Island – Tunisia’s island paradise
In a land of myths and legends, Djerba (or Jerba) Island boasts the most exotic of them all. When Ulysses sailed from Troy, so the story goes, he reached a desert island where the locals lived happily on lotus flowers. Real history starts with the Romans, then the Vandals and Byzantines. Its flat sandy beaches made Djerba Island an ideal pirate’s stopover, but throughout all this Djerbans continued their traditional life amongst the olive, orange and palm groves that blanket the island.
Still today, Djerba Island feels cut off from the mainland and its cosmopolitan ways, making it perfect for relaxing holidays where disconnection is high on the agenda. Its eighty miles of beach cradles some of Tunisia’s most exclusive resorts, but in-between fisherman trawl the warm waters using artisan methods. Picturesque Houmt Souk is the island’s sole urban centre, and beyond the Zone Touristique there are simple white-washed mosques and fortified villages to explore. Kids and Star Wars fans will enjoy seeing the locations where much of the film was shot, and there are plenty of tour operators who will take you there!
Like most island destinations, Djerba Island is busiest (and in terms of accommodation, most expensive) in July-August. If you are planning to go peak season, book well ahead as Djerba’s hotels are much in demand. But being situated in the south of the country, Djerba has longer summers, and you’ll find beach weather remains right up until late October and even as early as April. Djerba is a popular family destination, particularly with Germans, and you may also find it difficult getting a hotel during the school holidays. The key is to book as far ahead as possible.
The climate on Djerba is Southern Mediterranean. It generally has hot, dry summers (May-October) and mild to cool winters. From November to March, the weather can be unpredictable so bring some warm-ish clothes. Rain is rare (fresh water on the island is actually a scare commodity, always drink the bottled variety) and the daily average of sunshine is eight hours in winter and eleven in summer. Average daily temperatures range from a hot 32-33 in July-August, to a pleasant 22 degrees in November and April and 16 degrees in January. Night temperatures are about 10 degrees cooler except in the summer when you’ll have balmy nights.
Despite the abundance of hotels on Djerba Island, they are all much in demand – a search on a well-known booking site showed some hotels booked up for dates a year in advance. Unless you are set on an all-inclusive holiday in Djerba, you may find better deals (and a more authentic experience) away from the coast and in one of the villages, where there are a sprinkling of boutique hotels set in old traditional homes.
Fly and hotel package holidays can often work out better value and will include transfers and often meals (although do explore the local eateries, which excel in fresh fish).
Djerba has its own small airport with some basic amenities, though flights from the UK, which are highly seasonal, tend to be expensive (another reason to book a package holiday with flight included) and often include codeshare. Tunisair offer flights from Tunis-Catharge airport to Djerba-Zarzis airport (flight time one hour) or you can get a train as far as Gabes then a louage (shared taxi) and you’ll also find louages to Djerba from Sousse and Sfax.
Djerba Island is connected to the mainland via a causeway or ferry service, though the latter gets very crowded in high season and you may have to wait. Taxis are the best way to get around the island itself.
Long powdery stretches of sand and warm, turquoise water are trademarks of Djerba Island. Most hotels have their own private beach with parasols and sun beds, which you can always pay to use if you are not a guest. The main public beach is Aghir Beach, which is generally thronged by locals. Services at Djerba’s beaches include watersports facilities and camel rides!
Djerba offers miles of unspolit Mediterranean coastline. Most hotels have their own stretches of beach and they are clean and well looked after, with plenty of water sports including water-skiing, wind-surfing and jet-skiing. It’s also possible to take a camel or canter on horseback along the sand.
The island of the Lotus Eaters, where Ulysses’ men were tempted to stay forever, is more associated with peace and tranquillity than roaring nightlife, but most hotels offer entertainment and there is Casino Djerba, where visitors can dine, relax in the Moorish café, enjoy a show or gamble all night long.
Djerba Golf Course features an 18-hole links course, a 9-hole course, a practice green and a golf academy with an air-conditioned video salon to help golfers improve their technique.
The healing properties of Djerba’s water have long been recognised and there are a number of spas and thalassotherapy centres. As well as massages, luxury hot seawater, mud and seaweed treatments, there are fitness suites, saunas, whirlpool baths and pools, and help for a range of ailments ranging from arthritis to cellulitus. Although most visitors go just to relax and be pampered.
Exploring the Island
There’s plenty to see away from the Zone Touristique: traditional architecture, small whitewashed houses, olive groves, lemons, apricots, figs and thousands of palm trees. The island’s capital, Houmt Souk, is the only real town and the markets offer a chance to look for a bargain amongst the excellent filigree silver and pottery, as well as leather goods, baskets and much more. The fort, Borj el-Kebir, was occupied by Berbers, Spanish, Turks and pirates, and affords excellent views over the town and sea. A few miles south the beautiful El Ghriba Synagogue is the oldest in North Africa – there used to be a sizeable Jewish community on the island – and the Torah is said to be the oldest in the world. The tiny town of Guellala is famous for its pottery and has workshops where you can see craftsmen in action, an excellent museum and a Pottery Festival each August.
Djerba for Families
If children don’t find pottery particularly exciting, there’s plenty for them around the resort too, including Midoun’s weekly show, with trick horse riding, and the Djerba Explore Park - home to Nile River crocodiles up to 6 metres in length. Star Wars’ fans may find the island’s scenery familiar. Locations include Ajim, south of Houmt Souk, which became Mos Eisley in the original film.
Mainland Tunisia is just a three-mile causeway or a short ferry ride away and a holiday in Djerba could be combined with a trip into the Sahara taking in the hill villages and Bedouin cave settlements. In addition, air-conditioned busses run from the island to Tunis, Sousse, Gabés and other mainland destinations.