Is it safe to travel to Tunisia?
This is a question many people, and for good reason.
Some years ago, Tunisia was one of the most visited countries in Africa.
In fact, this used to be a mass tourism destination, mainly visited by Europeans seeking a budget holiday that included sandy beaches and a lot of sun.
However, in 2015, a series of terrorist attacks perpetrated by ISIS that exclusively targeted tourists put an end to the industry which thousands of Tunisians depended on, as many people in the West began to question – and for good reason – whether Tunisia was a safe destination or not for tourists.
To be fair, I can understand all the skepticism but, as always tends to happen in most Muslim countries, that fear has been powered up by the media, who will always tell you only one side of the story but, once you are on the ground, you realize that the reality of is quite different.
This is a comprehensive analysis of the current safety situation in Tunisia from a traveling perspective, including my personal experience, safety tips and more.
For more travel information about Tunisia, read my guide containing a 2-week itinerary and travel tips
From a safety point of view, my experience in Tunisia was absolutely great.
I backpacked solo around the country for almost 3 weeks, moving by public transportation, and I never felt threatened in any way, nobody ever bothered me and I just found absolute kindness wherever I traveled.
Thanks to their crystal-blue waters, Mediterranean cuisine and a large variety of budget hotels, Tunisia has always been a prime destination in Africa, but most of its visitors were either all-included-resort-like tourists or traveling on an organized tour.
There is nothing wrong with that, by the way, but that meant that most travelers did not really get in touch with the local culture.
And I believe this is one of the reasons why Tunisians are always so nice when they get the chance to meet a foreigner or an independent traveler, always willing to help and enormously curious about the country you come from.
There was this local guy I met in a café in Tunis, who insisted on paying for my meal, driving me back home and then sent me a message every other day asking if I was having a safe journey so far.
He was so worried about me and you meet many like him.
Tunisia is safe, but the people you meet traveling there make you feel even safer.
Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring (2011) that later spread all across the Middle East.
That fruit seller who set himself on fire triggered a multi-country revolution that has literally changed the whole world, and led Tunisia to become the most authentic democracy in the Arab world.
This didn’t come without a cost, however as, since then, the economy has been struggling more than ever – partly because of the laziness from the elected rulers, some claim – plus democracy has brought in some positive human rights changes that weren’t well-received among the most conservative and radical wing in the country.
Tunisia still has a long way to go when it comes to human rights but Tunisians can brag about having more freedom than any other Arab nation, especially women.
Here, women have more rights than in any other Arab country, there is full freedom of speech, elections, alcohol is widely available, the internet isn’t censored and you can practice any religion in the way you want without being judged.
In fact, Tunisia is the Muslim country where I have most often seen both secular and religious people hanging out together, and even seen women with tight clothes in traditional areas such as local markets, and nobody seemed to care much.
Moreover, despite being a predominantly Muslim country, in Tunis sometimes you see more churches than mosques, and there is even a fully functional synagogue, as the country is home to one of the largest communities of Jews in the Arab world.
I think the only other Muslim country where you can see a functional synagogue is Egypt, in Cairo.
Yes, all those beautiful changes seem to be leading Tunisia to the ideal democratic country but unfortunately, some Tunisians didn’t embrace them very positively so, as a consequence, many Salafist groups devoted to spreading terror emerged.
And, as you might be aware, the country witnessed a series of terrorist attacks throughout 2015 that literally killed all tourism in Tunisia:
Looking into these crazy statistics, all of them happening in the same year, even I would think twice before going there, so no wonder the tourism in Tunisia dropped.
According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2015, tourism dropped by 30%, but they claim that in 2018, tourism in Tunisia had already recovered and was even higher than in 2014.
But to be very honest, I don’t really believe those figures.
I mean, I visited Tunisia in 2019 during the month of May, almost the beginning of the high season, and many places were still abandoned and top destinations like Sousse seemed a ghost town. I don’t know, but I do hope what they say is true.
After those crazy attacks, unfortunate events were limited to clashes between the Tunisian army and Islamic radical groups, in the border region with Libya and some areas of the Algerian border, except for 2:
On the one hand, except for those last two incidents – which can happen anywhere – there haven’t been many problems since 2015 and, if we look into any statistics, you are more likely to die in a car accident than by being caught in a terrorist attack, as terrorist attacks happen at one time, at one precise moment.
Still, the threat against Western interests can be a possibility, so always be cautious.
Some Tunisians claim that, because of the post-revolution economic situation, crime has overall increased, especially petty crime, but let me tell you that crime in Tunisia is almost nothing compared to Europe, where you have to constantly take care of your belongings.
To give you an example, in many cafés in Tunis, locals would just leave their bags on the table when going to the toilet, something unthinkable in cities like Barcelona
From a crime perspective, Tunisia is safe.
If you check the FCO advice, you will see that the whole Tunisia is considered unsafe and a big NO-GO, with a special warning on two tiny regions which they classify as a superlative red NO-GO area.
If you have traveled to any sensitive country before, you will know that the FCO will always show the worst and most unlikely scenario, a curious pattern that they only seem to apply in Muslim countries, because when you look at Mexico City – where violent crime is a fact – the whole area is a big GO-GREEN.
But anyways, these are the two regions where you are not recommended to go, as that’s where the occasional clashes between the Tunisian Army and radical Islamists occurred:
Map of the dangerous areas in Tunisia. Source: FCO advice
Tunisia is one of the most secular Arab countries and, as such, it not uncommon to see women wearing tight Western clothes, especially, in Tunis, Sfax or Sousse, meaning that you don’t really need to cover up and most men will totally accept that.
However, many men are still very conservative and because of all the Hollywood movies they watch, many believe that all Western women are easy, and many solo female travelers have reported some sort of harassment, even though it was usually limited to lame Tunisians asking randomly for a kiss and stuff like that.
I am a solo man traveler, so I am afraid I can’t give you the best advice here, but just be cautious and ask for help if you need to. Most people are decent and if you are in trouble, anyone will help you.
Unfortunately, even after the revolution, homosexuality is still illegal in Tunisia and, even recently, Tunisia’s Prime Minister affirmed that homosexuality had nothing to do with human rights, but it was a mental disease contrary to the values and traditions of Tunisia and, sadly, most Tunisians agree with that.
That’s why before I said that, despite being the most democratic state in the Arab world, Tunisia still has a long way to go.
That being said, if you are a homosexual couple visiting Tunisia, just try to avoid any shows of affection in public, as you would do in any conservative country.
Although most public demonstrations tend to be peaceful, unfortunate events are unpredictable, so try to stay away from them.
Obviously, try not to look like a typical wealthy tourist. This is one of the main advantages of being a backpacker or an independent traveler.
French is the second language in the country and, except for some rural areas, pretty much everybody speaks it fluently, so learning some words can prove useful.
Traveling with a local person who speaks the language, knows about the current situation, as well as the places you should go and shouldn’t, will make your trip a safer one.
I recommend you check for tours and guides on GetYourGuide, a website where you can book any tour with just one click.
As I said, pickpockets are minimal compared to Europe, but they can still happen, so getting a money-belt can prove useful. I recommend Active Roots Security Belt, very practical and easy to wear.
I have written a compelling itinerary that contains the best and safest places to visit in the country, including a lot of travel tips, as well as how to go by public transportation to each and every place. You can read it here.
All Arabs have one common denominator which is that they like to drive fast and not follow traffic rules, from Morocco to Oman but, of course, some countries are worse than others and Tunisia is one of the good ones.
If you have driven in other Middle Eastern destinations, then you won’t have any problems but otherwise, just be careful and drive safely.
Is Tunisia safe for tourists?
While I believe that 3 terrorist attacks in one single year were valid reasons for aborting your Tunisian mission, I strongly believe that today, the situation has dramatically improved and with a very little caution, one will likely have an amazing time enjoying their beaches, exploring the Roman sites, holy cities and Berber villages.
Tunisia is safe, really.