Star Wars fans may be more familiar with the planet Tatooine than the country of Tunisia -- but they are one and the same. Five out of the six 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 Wars movies, but they recognize that there's more value in just leaving the props alone, than removing them.
Spend the Night in Luke Skywalker's Home
Remember how 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 (see photo) 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.
If you fancy staying in a similar home to Luke's, or if the Sidi Driss is full, there are several Troglodyte lodging options around Matmata. None of them are very luxurious, and they can be a bit cold and dark in the winter, but priceless for the experience.
I would stay at the Marhala hotel in room 21 if you don't have any mobility issues and enjoy climbing ladders!
Sleep on a Tatooine Moon
For a real "non-tourist" but Star Wars related adventure, you can rent a simple room in Guermessa, an abandoned Berber hill top village. The views are incredible and you'll have the entire place to yourself.
Guermessa is the name of one of the Planet Tatooine's three moons. The other two moons were also named after real places: Chenini (the site of a spectacular mosque in real life), and Ghomrassen. (Thank you Wookieepedia!)
Tatooine - Tatouine (A Real Town)
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. I really enjoyed exploring Ksar Haddada (Mos Espa slave quarters) and Ksar Hallouf.
The Yardangs - Jedi Duels and Mos Espa
Head west towards Algeria, across the salt pan of Chott el Jerid, to the desert town of Tozeur (about 300 km's from Tatouine) to base your next Star Wars outings from. 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. As you pass through the Chott El-Jerid and head south, you'll see the outside of the Lars Homestead.
Near the Yardangs (get a guide) 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. Some set pieces are covered in desert sand, but many are easy to recognize including: the gates of Mos Espa; the Pod-racing arena; the gallery from which Padme, Jar Jar, Shmi and Qui-Gonn watched Anakin during the pod-race; and Mos Espa streets.
The slave quarters of Mos Espa were recreated here, but you can find the real thing back at Ksar Haddada, close to the real town of Tatouine. For an excellent description about this location check out Doug and Brady's blog posts - (they also wrote a book!).
Star Wars Tours and Getting Around
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. To view the Star Wars locations around Tatouine, we got in touch with Isabelle Chine (firstname.lastname@example.org) and stayed at her lovely gite in Gabes to start the journey. For the Yardangs and Star Wars movie sets, head to Tozeur and hire a 4x4 with driver. Check out: Isango Star wars itinerary or Au Coeur du Desert for 4x4 rental.
Other Movies Filmed in Tunisia
Because Tunisia is beautiful, friendly and peaceful, several blockbuster movies have been filmed here including:
More Attractions in Southern Tunisia
Southern Tunisia is a really stunning area filled with Berber culture, wonderful markets and of course the absolutely stunning Saharan dunes. This is the real deal and best explored in a 4x4 with a good guide. Avoid the large bus tours, you want to spend at least 4 days in the area with independent transport. This will allow you to avoid the crowds at the Hotel Sidi Driss, and explore unique Berber hilltop villages and fabulous mosques on your own. Spend a few nights at a desert Oasis, ride a camel into the dunes, and you have yourself a memorable trip. Read more about Southern Tunisia....
More About Tunisia
Besides Star Wars locations, the Sahara, and Berber villages, Tunisia is a wonderful beach destination, it has interesting and lively bazaars, and a fascinating history. The recent revolution and its relatively peaceful outcome reflects the friendly nature of this country. For decades, Tunisia has been a wildly popular destination for Europeans, but Americans have yet to discover it in bulk. Tunis and the lovely blue colored town Sidi Bou Said are usually the first stopping point for international travelers (except for the beach package tours that go direct to the coast). Once you've sampled the lively old medina, museums, hammams and restaurants, you're free to hop on a train and explore the Roman ruins, beaches and sights of Southern Tunisia. More about Travel in Tunisia...
More About Star Wars in Tunisia
Wookieepedia - Tunisia
Star Wars Info -- Tunisia Tourism Board
A Star Wars Tour Blog Great details for anyone wanting to make a trip themselves.
Tunisia Star Wars Locations
Images of all the Tatooine Locations - From "Save the Lars Homestead org"