The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, 14 nights' accommodations, 30 meals, guided sightseeing tours, and local transportation by bus and plane, from $2,695 per person—plus an estimated $119 in taxes.
When: Dec. 12, 2008; add $200 for Nov. 28, 30, and Dec. 18, 26; $300 for Dec. 14, 21; $500 for Oct. 5, 6, 13, 19, 20, 24, 27, and Nov. 2, 3, 9. There are also departures in 2009.
Gateways: Boston and New York City; add from $200 for Chicago; from $300 for L.A., Miami, Seattle; additional cities available.
The fine print: Hotel taxes, 30 meals, local transportation, airport-hotel transfers, and the services of an English-speaking guide are included. Additional taxes and fees total $119 per person and break down as follows: a transportation tax of $54, an international transportation tax of $31, an agricultural inspection fee of $5, a passenger facility charge of $16, a federal inspection fee of $7, and a custom user fee of $6. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $350. U.S. citizens do not need a visa to travel in Tunisia. Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.
Book by: No deadline; based on availability.
Contact: Overseas Adventure Travel, 800/493-6824, oattravel.com.
Why it's a deal: A recent Kayak search yielded a mid-December round-trip flight between New York City and Tunisia for $929 (Alitalia). With this package, $1,766 more buys you 14 nights' accommodations, tours of each location, ground transportation by private air-conditioned bus, and a one-way flight between cities. Also consider that the price breaks down to about $179 per day, and you won't have to book anything yourself. OAT also guarantees small groups (10 to 16 passengers), so you'll have a more personal experience, and once reserved, the price is locked in—no pesky fuel surcharges will be added later.
Trip details: The Tunisia: From the Mediterranean to the Sahara package starts with an overnight flight to Tunis on Alitalia. Your trip leader will meet you at the airport and take you to the 47-room Tunisia Palace Hotel, your base for three nights. It's just a few steps from a local street market. You'll enjoy an included dinner with your fellow travel companions and get a little rest before your journey really begins.
In the morning, you'll set out on your full-day tour of Tunis. The architecture of the dynasties from the 12th through the 16th centuries remains intact, and you'll see it in the fountains, mosques, and palaces on the tour. You'll make a stop at the Bardo Museum, Tunisia's national museum of archaeology, packed with Roman mosaics and sarcophagi.
Next, you'll hit ancient Carthage, where you can admire scattered ruins and other sights of the once-powerful Phoenician city, a former trading post on the Mediterranean. The afternoon brings a visit to the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial, a 27-acre site where almost 3,000 WWII soldiers are buried. Before returning to your hotel in Tunis for the night, stop at the coastal town Sidi Bou Said, on a hill with views of the Gulf of Tunis. Here you can shop in the galleries or just take in the view. Dinner is on your own in Tunis, as is the entire next day (or you can go on a $80 per person tour of Roman Dougga). You can put your bargaining skills to the test in the large souks, or street markets, throughout the city—be dazzled by gold jewelry, intricate carpets, and other goods and crafts.
Say goodbye to Tunis as you head northeast to the Cap Bon Peninsula. This is part of Tunisia is close to Europe and has similar vineyards and citrus groves and views of the Mediterranean. After lunch, you'll continue onwards to the sandy beaches of nearby Hammamet and then to the port city of Sousse, the capital of Sahel, the country's eastern coastal region. The influence of the early Islamic period (the 7th and 8th centuries) is still noticeable in Sousse, as you'll discover on your walking tour.
Next, you'll check in to the Abou Nawas Boujaafar, where you'll spend two nights. The 234-room hotel is close to the city's ribat, or fortified monastery. It also boasts indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a gym, beauty salon, and a sauna.
The next morning you can opt for a $45 per person visit to the village of El Djem, which houses a grand Roman amphitheater, or simply enjoy the day in Sousse. The town is another excellent one for shopping. Tunisian wooden dolls dressed with traditional costumes, and natural sponges from the nearby Gulf of Gabés are among typical local products.
The following day, you'll journey inland to Kairouan, founded in A.D. 670 by Oqba ibn Nafi (legend says he slipped on a golden cup that came from Mecca—it was hidden in the spot where the town is now located). It's a holy city full of mosques—and you'll get a personal introduction to one of them during an "Introduction to Islam" discussion and tour. Afterwards, you'll tour a carpet factory, as Kairouan is also Tunisia's center of carpet manufacturing. Finish your day trip with a home dinner hosted by locals and an overnight stay at the La Kasbah Hotel in Kairouan.
Your jaunt into the desert will begin the next morning. The first stop is in Sbeïtla to see the ruins of the southernmost Roman town in Tunisia. Then it's on to Kasserine Pass, an important WWII site, and then into Gafsa. This oasis in the Sahara has 250,000 date palms. Finally, end today's journey in Tozeur at the 142-room Ras El Ain Hotel, with an outdoor pool and Internet access. This will be your home for three nights.
You'll have two days free to roam Tozeur, along with an included horse-drawn carriage ride, during which you'll see canals, date palms, flowers, and crops of plums, grapes, pomegranates, and strawberries.
While in Tozeur, you can choose to take advantage of two optional events. There is a $60 per person excursion to Chébika, Tamerza, and Midès—set in beautiful mountain gorges—that includes a lunch. And there's also a desert presentation about the culture of the Berbers, a nomadic group in North Africa, for $50 per person (including dinner).
To begin the last third of your trip, you'll set out for Douz, from which point the Sahara stretches, little traveled, to the south. On your way, you'll spy the Chott el Jerid, an expanse of 20,000 square miles and the largest salt flats in the Sahara. After this 100-mile trip, you'll arrive in Douz and take a tour of the oasis town via camelback. You'll stay in the 131-room Sun Palm Hotel and enjoy an included dinner.
Back on the road the following day, you'll stop at Matmata, a town of underground houses built in sunken craters for protection from the heat, as you head east toward Djerba, an island on the Mediterranean Sea. You'll get there by ferry and take a tour that includes El Ghriba. This neighborhood is home to a Jewish community with a history going back to the 6th century B.C. Your accommodations for the night are in the Maritim Yadis Hotel, where you'll stay for two nights.
You have a choice of exploring Djerba on your own or taking an optional tour of the city of Gabès, a four-mile-long city on the Mediterranean shore. This tour costs $85 per person. Otherwise, explore Djerba's capital, Houmt Souk, which means market quarter. Here you can explore shops, or historic tombs and mosques. This evening is your farewell dinner with the other members of your touring group.
After breakfast, you'll take your included flight from Djerba to Tunis.You have one more night of accommodations provided (back at the Tunisia Palace Hotel), and then it's back home to the U.S. Not ready to go? You can tack on a few more excursions, such as a post-trip extension in southern Tunisia for $795 per person for three nights. There's also a pre-trip extension in Morocco for four nights, also $795.
Tunisia stays warm in the winter months, so expect high temperatures in the 60s in December. The winter (October to April) is also prone to rain. The Sahara gets very hot during the day and cold at night, so packing with layers in mind is a good idea.