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There are plenty of arts festivals around the world, but few would disagree that the International Festival of the Sahara is up there with the best. Sure, it might not boast a worldwide reputation that some festivals have, but for anyone who has experienced or even just read about it, the general consensus would be that it’s breathtaking to say the least.

International Festival of the Sahara in Tunisia

While many arts festivals are in the major cities, we can throw one statistic at you which can highlight the “type” of event that you might be going to. For every one resident of the area of Douz, where the festival is held, there are twenty five palm trees. In other words, the area is absolutely basking with beauty and considering the fact that there are 12,000 inhabitants there, you can hopefully gain a good idea of this.

Of course, this 12,000 figure increases immensely when it comes to the four days that the festival is there. We will now take a look at some of the reasons it is such a popular event, and one that should most definitely be penned into your diary if you are looking to experience one of the hidden gems of festivals.


When does the festival occur?

This is an important section to note, as anyone who has visited in previous years might be surprised. While it may have once been held between December and January, this posed scheduling problems with Ramadam. As such, it’s been moved forward slightly – although the exact dates vary between years so it’s always worth researching.


How can you get there?

It might be effectively hosted in the middle of nowhere, but from a transport perspective you really needn’t worry. It is completely accessible from Tunis, and for anyone who has visited that particular region you may have seen that buses tend to run a couple of times a day.

However, while Tunis is commutable, it could be said that Kebili is the best city to access the festival from. This is because Kebili is only located around 25km from Douz, and there are frequent connections to Kebili every day.


What is the basis of the festival?

If one was to describe the festival in one sentence, it would be a celebration of arts and traditions of North Africa.

Of course, this is something of an injustice as it incorporates lots of other elements that really make it something special.

Perhaps something that provides this event with so much charm is the area of Douz. As some sources have suggested in the past, this is something of a derelict town. It’s only when you start to advance into the town that you start to see the magic of the festival really flow. There are smoky tents, housing Berber women, donning the streets, while there’s also a grandstand where you can watch all of the proceedings. While they might be a small element of the entire festival, it’s these tents which are usually highly sought-after by anyone who visits this festival.

This is because of the immense heat, which causes festival-goers to frantically search for shade. Of course, the grandstand should offer these opportunities, but the sheer amount of people visiting the festival means that this tends to get crowded very quickly.

Now the scene is set, let’s talk more about the performances. As you may have expected around an arts festival based in this region of the world, being vibrant is key. In other words, from the very first act that you set eyes on you will suddenly see bursts of color. There is plenty of skill involved in the performances as well of course, with one example being a unique belly dancer who managed to balance on a ladder, whilst balancing seven clay jars at the same time. In other words, variety is right at the forefront of these acts.

It’s not just people who are involved in proceedings either. For example, there are horse races, camel fights and even rabbit chases.


The heritage-factor of the festival

It would be fair to say that most festivals are not conducted in the aim of heritage. On the contrary, they tend to be performed for the benefit of the public, and to bring attention to the region in question.

While it’s still true that these benefits exist with The International Festival of The Sahara, there is also a point about heritage to consider. This is something that the organizers of the event are always quick to highlight. The event is performed to celebrate how much effort goes into preserving this area of the Sahara. Nowadays, it’s far too easy for an area of the desert to become destroyed and ultimately commercialized, but the people of Douz have worked hard to prevent this from happening and this is why the festival is such a celebrated event.


What nearby attractions are available?

Something that really does appeal to tourists who visit the festival is the sheer number of nearby attractions which are available.

For example, a stone’s throw away is the Douz Museum. This is something which is open every day except Mondays, and has a really interesting collection which highlights what life as a traditional Saharan is.

For those tourists who want to become more at home in the desert itself, the Ofra Sand Dune is also worth a visit. The fact that this is one of the whole country’s most accessible dunes should count for a lot here, even more so when the majority of hotels in the area happen to be located right next to it.

On the subject of hotels, guests staying in the area tend to be offered a wealth of activities in the area. The likes of balloon rides and sand skiing are all regular attractions, and again give people something extra to do once the excitement of the festival has died down towards the end of the day.

Then, if you are staying in the area for longer, you can even catch a bus for an excursion to Zaafrane. This is a tiny village, but the charm comes through the fact it’s mostly engulfed in sand. It’s a must-visit, if your time allows.²

About Olivia Marsh

Olivia Marsh - Author - Professional chef and Travel enthusiast.
Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate. Chef Marsh has traveled the globe from France, Italy, Germany to China, Thailand, India, Tunisia and more.
Olivia lived in Tunisia for almost 10 years now.
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