A louage is the exact kind of transportation your mother begs you not to take while traveling. It consists of you entering a parking lot with men shouting city names at you. You either hear your city, or as usually was the case for me, you tell a man where you want to go, he takes you by the arm and pushes you into a van. Maybe there’s other people in it, maybe not. You then trust that he will deliver you to the promised destination. But if you are not fluent in Arabic or French, as I am not, that requires placing your trust in strange men with vans – the nightmare of parents everywhere.
That being said, louages are the easiest and cheapest way of getting around Tunisia; and I used them for all of my intercity travel. Why?
They are fast: they go from city to city. So often there are no stops in between. Tunis to Sousse? Bizerte? Hammamet? Direct transport.
They are cheap: I’m talking 5-10 dinar depending on the distance. My trip from Sousse to Tunis was 9 Dinar (roughly US$3) and El Jem to Sousse was closer to 5 Dinar.
They are often: They go when full. That means you may get lucky and be the eighth person and leave immediately, or the first and have to wait. Luckily even when I was first – as I was to go to Dougga and Sousse, it filled up within 30 minutes.
They are comfortable: Relatively. They are cruising at 100 kilometers per hour so the wind is some natural air conditioning, you are in a fan so it’s at least as comfortable as a bus, and if you get the front seat you get a seat belt!
They are authentic: I was, almost always, the only non Tunisian in the louages. I loved that. I got to practice my terrible French. The other passengers often tried to chat with me, give me advice, add me on Facebook (shout out Yessine!).
I’ve been many places with many modes of transportation. And for all the things one can says about the Tunisian louage system – they are damn efficient! And above all, an adventure!
Payment: You often pay the driver directly. But in Sousse Louage Station, you buy a ticket and gave that to the driver.
Stations: Most cities have one Louage Station that is relatively central. Tunis has at least two. One to go south (Moncef Bey) towards Sousse, Hammamet, Tatouine, etc. And one to go north/west (Gare Routière Nord) toward Bizerte, El Kef, Dougga (via Taboursouk).
Safety: Look. You’re in a van in Tunisia. The front seats usually have seatbelts, I took those if available, otherwise just relax. I would estimate a million Tunisians travel this way regularly and no one seemed bothered.
Bonne chance mes amis!