Celebrating desert life: International Festival of the Sahara

A young rider gets ready for a horse race at the International Festival of the Sahara, Douz, Tunisia. (Image: McKay Savage)

A young rider gets ready for a horse race at the International Festival of the Sahara, Douz, Tunisia. (Image: McKay Savage)

What began as a camel festival in 1910 has now become a celebration of unique Bedouin traditions. For four days in December the Tunisian city of Douz hosts a spectacular festival of dance, fantasia and public marriages.

(Image: Magharebia)

(Image: Magharebia)

The Festival of the Sahara is a party in one of the harshest environments in the world. The desert begins just outside the walls of the town of 12 000 people. Bedouin musicians in silk tunics beat drums as horsemen in white turbans rise from their saddles as they race across desert dunes.


Berber women with henna art across hands and palms perform the traditional hair dance while kneeling in the sand. Tossing long dark hair against the rhythm of the wind. Belly dancers, camel racers, jugglers and yong men trying to win the attention of young women draw the attention of visitors.

(Image: McKay Savage)

(Image: McKay Savage)

The rhythms of the desert define the lives of the people of this region on the edge of the Sahara and they celebrate the life to be found where others only see sand. Unless you are Steven Spielberg. The famous Star Wars director was so impressed by the landscape he used the town of Matmata as the set for the original Star Wars.

Matmata, a short camel ride from Douz is home to the cave homes of the Berber tribe.