Though a small island, Djerba contains the ingredients of many people’s idea of the ideal holiday vacation: soft, sandy beaches, warm Mediterranean waters, loads of activities, and an array of shops selling a good range of local handicrafts. It also sports a maze of cobblestone streets and a history of ethnic and religious diversity more pronounced than in the rest of the country.
To the classically inclined, the name Djerba conjures images of Homer’s Land of the Lotus-Eaters, an island so seductive that it’s impossible to leave. These days, many visitors voluntarily sequester themselves at the resort hotels along beautiful Plage Sidi Mahrès, but there are plenty of other things to do, including visiting some impressive museums.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Djerba.
Good things often come in small packages, and that is certainly the case at this modestly sized but extremely impressive museum. Occupying a curvaceous purpose-built structure next to the Zaouia of Sidi Zitouni about 200m from the town centre, it houses expertly curated and displayed exhibits on traditional Djerban life and culture. There are sections on costumes, the island's Jewish history, ceremonies, agriculture, the pottery industry, fishing and food. Labels in Arabic, French and English impart loads of fascinating facts and information.
In 2014, 150 artists from 30 countries descended on Erriadh to collaborate on an ambitious street-art project. The result was 250 vividly coloured stencils, paintings and graffiti covering the walls of buildings in the village's traditional whitewashed medina. Though subsequent years have seen many of the works fade, a wander around this open-air museum is still an inspiring and hugely enjoyable experience. The website has a downloadable map that aids exploration.
The most important synagogue on Djerba and the oldest in Tunisia, this 19th-century building is in a white compound 1km south of the medina. Pass through the external security check (bring your passport) and enter the synagogue to see its lovely interior, which features columns painted in blue, multicoloured tiles, stained glass and wooden furniture. The inner sanctuary, with its elevated pulpit, is said to contain one of the oldest Torahs in the world.
Three wildly disparate attractions – a museum of Islamic art, a heritage village and a reptile park – are on offer at this strange tourist attraction next to the Taguermes Lighthouse. The most popular element is 'Crocodile Island', an enclosure where semi-somnolent crocs recline on rocks in a large pool and are fed by keepers in a theatrical thrice-weekly spectacle. Even more impressive is the Lalla Hadria Museum, which showcases a world-class collection of calligraphy, costumes, ceramics, bronze work and carpets from Islamic countries.
The daily auction at the fish market takes place late mornings in the northeast corner of the Marché Central. Auctioneers command attention as they perform their bit of mercantile theatre: sitting on elevated thrones, they tout strings of fish handed to them by helpers. The bidders range from restaurant owners to local women buying for the family. Fishing is Djerba’s second-biggest money earner, and it can all get delightfully frenetic.
This long sweep of golden sand with its gently breaking surf is Djerba's greatest attraction. It begins east of the low-lying Ras Remel Peninsula, which protrudes from the middle of the north coast 10km east of Houmt Souk (the peninsula is known as Flamingo Point because of the large number of flamingos that gather there in winter), and continues almost to the Taguermes Lighthouse. Unfortunately, pretty much all of the beach is for use by resort guests only.
This whitewashed complex sits in a commanding position at the top of a hill 2km east of Guellala on the road to Cedouikech. Inside, a well-intentioned but extremely dated collection of life-size dioramas uses mannequins to illustrate Djerban customs and folklore. The rather kitschy reproductions of ‘scenes from Djerban life’ range from lifelike circumcision scenes to unusual Sufi ceremonies. There's also an impressive exhibit about traditional Tunisian wedding costumes. The outdoor exhibit featuring a tethered camel is unfortunate.
Built in the 13th-century by the Aragonese, this fort was captured by the Ottomans in 1560 and has been allowed to slowly crumble in recent times – be careful when exploring and don't rely on the protective barriers, which aren't well maintained. Interpretative labels are in French and Arabic only.
This 15th-century waterfront mosque found 1.5km south of Guellala is a fine example of Djerban Islamic architecture, and a favourite spot for watching the sunset.