When I went in October 2000, I had to make most of the arrangements myself. My travel agent was able to book me a flight out, but not in. Instead, I took a ferry over from Trapani, Sicily (also booked by myself - the morning of - 1 hour before it left the dock).
The only other prearrangement I made was for a rental car. One of the guidebooks advised that it was less expensive and less hassle to make an online reservation from home. Even with my reservation, I still had an issue getting the car: my credit card wouldn't go through (I think the limit was reached). Fortunately I had a second that I hadn't yet used on the trip.
As for hotels, I just turned up and was never turned down. I suspect that October isn't the busiest tourist month in Tunisia.
When I make a return trip, I'll probably avoid travel agents all together and use orbitz, travelocity, or another online system instead to book my flight in and out. I'm not terribly interested in wasting a day on a ferry again.
My trip in June 1999 was almost identical. The only reservations we had were for the rental car.
We took the ferry from Naples to Tunis but didn't even know the schedule and lucked out by getting to the docks and jumping on just as it was pulling away. The next ferry wasn't leaving for 4 more days. From Tunis we took a bus to Tozeur where we rented our car.
We had the same experience with the hotels. We just showed up and there was always room.
We hired a guide at the Tozeur Tourism office to help us find the locations nearby but there is enough information out there now that you should be able to find them yourselves if you feel comfortable with that. All of the other locations like Matmata and Ajim we did by ourselves.
On the way out of Tunisia we took the ferry again but only went to Sicily this time which is a lot closer and the ferry's run more frequently.
I know it's nice to know that you have everything arranged beforehand but if you decide to stay a little longer at one of your stops or decide to check out something new that you hear about once you're there it can be really difficult to reschedule everything. It can be exciting to leave your options open and let your journey lead you.
Im from the UK and the only arrangement I made was the flight, everything else I left to my own planning. It was a lone trip which I had planned to do for awhile.
I landed in Monastir and rented a car from Avis (don't expect it to be sparkling new!).
I had printed out exactly what locations I wanted to go to and had got a road map of Tunisia, this really is essential. I went in March (great time to go) and had no problems with hotels etc, etc.
My only tip is if you go to the Lars Homestead external, get a guide. I stayed at the El Salem hotel in Tozeur and the hotel manager there organises trips. Security at the border can be very fussy apparently as this location is near the Algeria Border.
Good Luck, it was the best trip and personal experience i've ever done :)
PS : Try to go soon as the Lars External Dome is falling apart badly !
How is the driving between locations - fairly straightforward? Did everyone get 4W drive rentals? How long is the longest distance between locations time-wise..?
I am dragging my partner along on this trip and want to make sure he is not totally bummed out by long day trips resulting in little to see. We are both into travel, so I imagine even if he is not the biggest STAR WARS fan, there will be plenty to see. Have any of you stayed in Djerba on the beach for a few days? (Is it worth it?)
I guess it depends on where you are driving from ?
I drove from Monastir to Tozeur in about 6.5 - 7hrs, and i didn't get lost once...but you "do" need a road map. You can get around without one (maybe) as the sign posting isn't that bad.
There is a good M/Way from Monastir to Gasfa, but there are some tricky roads in-between. Whatever you do, don't drive about 1-2hrs after sunset as there are "no" street lights and even though i can look after myself, even i wouldn't do it. So get a early start :)
I just had a ford fiesta and it was fine to be honest, didn't need a 4x4 unless you are going to The mos espa set in Nefja, but i'd suggest you get a guide to there and the lars homestead external :)
As for the partner, depends if it's male or female ? you've got to drive alot if you want to see all the sights. I drove from Monastir-Tozeur-Matmatta-Mediadinne(sp)-Djerba-Monastir...and that's some 1200 miles.....still, the scenery is excellent ! ... also if your partner is female she will get alot of stares, but that's it. If your partner is male and your male...well you know it's a muslim country right ? (im just saying) :)