Ksar Ghilane is a remote oasis in the Sahara desert in southern Tunisia. For the longest time, it was also one of the few tourist destinations in Tunisia I’d never been to. I finally visited Ksar Ghilane, and it quickly became one of my favorite spots in Tunisia!
The Drive to Ksar Ghilane, Tunisia
Ksar Ghilane is off-the-beaten path, more so than other popular destinations in Tunisia. My colleague Kevin and I had a 5-hour drive from Sfax before us. I thought the drive might feel too long, but I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Between Sfax and Gabes we stopped at a roadside cafe near the Mediterranean for a coffee break. Then we continued to Matmata where we had a delicious home-cooked meal with a Berber family in their underground home. We didn’t make time for it, but the traditional market in Gabes and the Berber village of Tamazret are also worth seeing along the way.
Once we turned onto the road to Ksar Ghilane, the hills of Matmata quickly turned into sandy desert as far as the eye could see. The only signs of life the rest of the way were a few cars, a café in Bir Sultan, and a flock of goats.
The Sand Dunes of Ksar Ghilane, Tunisia
After we arrived and checked into a camp in the oasis, I finally got a glimpse of the sand dunes that make Ksar Ghilane so famous. I’d been to other parts of the desert in Tunisia, but the beautiful orange-red sand dunes that stretched out for miles left me in awe. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t looking at a huge post card as I stood on the edge of the oasis and took pictures of the endless desert.
Later that evening we rode on quads through the dunes to an abandoned Roman fort perched on a look-out point a few kilometers from the oasis.
The Roman fort sits on a high hill with amazing views of the dunes!
The Oasis at Ksar Ghilane, Tunisia
Although the dunes are the highlight of Ksar Ghilane, our stay in the oasis was an experience in itself. Hot springs feed the date palm and tamarisk trees that make up the large oasis. Without the springs, life in Ksar Ghilane wouldn’t be possible. There’s a natural pool near one of the main hot springs that’s great for a dip.
In the evening we took a long walk through the oasis as dusk turned to dark. The noise and busyness of the big city I was used to seemed a world away in the silence of the desert that was only broken by the sound of palm branches swaying in the wind.
A Celebration of the Desert in Ksar Ghilane
Most of the people working in the oasis are involved in tourism. We had some insightful conversations with them learning about Ksar Ghilane and life in the desert. They have grown up in the desert, and their love and appreciation for it was nothing short of contagious.
The other travelers we ran into also seemed to be filled with the same wonder and admiration of the place. There was an unspoken understanding that what we were seeing and experiencing was special both in its remoteness and its beauty.
This was my first visit to Ksar Ghilane, and hopefully the first of many. The beauty of the desert, the quietness of the oasis, and the appreciation for life in the desert are all things I took away from my visit, and make me want to go back again.
Austin learned the power of authentic travel during a year home-stay experience in Brazil. Since then, he’s been passionate about connecting deeply with other cultures and helping fellow travelers do the same. He and his wife have lived in Tunisia for several years. He continues to be surprised by the hidden gems the country has to offer, as well as the hospitality and kindness of the Tunisian people.
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