Star Wars fans may be more familiar with Tatooine than Tunisia -- but they are one and the same. Four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in southern Tunisia and the joyous thing is that many of the sets are still nicely preserved. You can stay in Luke Skywalker's home (now a hotel) and wander around the desert bumping into robots and other Star Wars paraphernalia around Mos Espa. This is not your typical Disney World or MGM studio tour. Most Tunisians haven't even seen the Star War's movies, but they recognize that there's more value in just leaving the props alone, than removing them.
Remember Luke's home was a series of underground caves on the planet Tatooine? Well, George Lucas used an existing troglodyte home in Matmata to film those scenes. The cave dwelling is now a hotel (Hotel Sidi Driss) and you can stay there for just $12 a night. Props from the movie can be found throughout the hotel and you'll no doubt meet Star Wars fans from all over the world in the bar. Nearby is the Dune Sea where R2-D2 and C-3PO crashed in Episode IV.
The Yardangs in Chott El-Gharsa are unique sandstone features peaking out of the desert sands. The Yardangs are a tourist draw in their own right but even more exciting for Star Wars fans. This is where the Jedi duel between Qui-Gonn and Darth Maul in Episode I was filmed.
Near the Yardangs you'll find the almost complete set of Mos Espa. Get there early in the morning and you could have the place to yourself, although undoubtedly there will be some Japanese tourists who will make it there ahead of you. You can see the pod race arena as well as a pod, streets, shops and more. In all there are about 15 perfectly preserved set buildings still standing.
There is a real Tunisian town called Tatouine (which inspired George Lucas to name the planet Tatooine) and it has several well-preserved ancient villages surrounding a granary vault that featured prominently in several of Star Wars movies. These villages look like fortified castles and are called Ksars. Several of the best preserved Ksars in this area were used to represent the slave quarters in the Phantom Menace and they still have pieces of scenery attached to walls.
The Tourism Office in Tunisia can arrange Star Wars tours to all the major sights, or you can get around by hiring a four wheel drive vehicle. For more details check out Star Wars Tours in Tunisia. Besides Star Wars locations, Tunisia is a wonderful beach destination, it has interesting and lively bazaars, fascinating history, as well as gorgeous desert tours. Find out more from my Tunisia Travel Guide.
Hotel Sidi Driss and Mos Espa, Tunisia © Tore Kjeilen