Located close to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the northern reaches of Tunisia, rests the incomparable Lake Ichkeul National Nature Park. This is Tunisia’s most revered park, and at its epicentre is the exquisite shimmering Lake Ichkeul.
The national park spans 126 square kilometres of varied ecosystems synonymous with the coastal lakes of the southern Mediterranean region. The lake and wetlands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site specifically selected for its biodiversity.
The park’s claim to fame is that it’s a vital stopover point for thousands of western Palaearctic migratory birds during winter. Lake Ichkeul National Nature Park is one of Africa’s top birding destinations and is an absolute sanctuary for avifauna. Avid birders can spot storks, flamingoes, ducks and other wonderful migratory birds.
The margins of the lake are a mix of seasonal rivers and swamps flanked by forested hills. There is an extinct volcano to the west of the park, looming over the landscape. There are landscape vistas of olive groves, evergreen scrub and juniper on the hilly slopes, and scenes of endless reed-beds and water-loving plants closer to the lake.
Lake Ichkeul National Nature Park is very accessible, particularly from the coastal hub of Bizerte, which is only 20 kilometres away.
The park is a wildlife haven for a myriad of avian species. These include migratory birds that frequent the area during winter as well as flamingoes and storks.
Apart from being an excellent spot for birding with knowledgeable guides providing expert information, safari-goers can also explore the area on various walks and hikes.
The national park is a haven for birders and one of the most important wetland areas for Palaearctic waterfowl in the Mediterranean. There are over 300 species of bird in the wetland areas, some of which include white-headed ducks, marbled ducks, pygmy geese, pink flamingoes and storks. The lake and wetlands serve as a vital wintering site for these waterfowl. Lake Ichkeul is the only remaining lake in North Africa that once formed part of a chain of important lakes.
The dry areas enveloping the lake provide the perfect mixed habitat for small creatures such as jackals, wild boars, porcupines, mongooses and foxes. Otters are found in the lake and feast on fish species found in the water, which include eels, sea-bass and barbel.
Tunisia has a sub-tropical climate, which means summer is extremely hot and winters are relatively mild. The national park’s main attraction is the stop-over of migratory birds, which is during the winter from November to February.
For general visitors unfazed by birding, the best time to visit is during spring when the flowers are out in full bloom. Spring is from March to June.
Lake Ichkeul National Nature Park is geared towards recreation and tourism, with its prime focus being birding activities. This birding hotspot should take pride of place on any Twitcher’s birding bucket list! Birding safaris are the main reason for visiting this World Heritage Site. The park is not only admired by birders. It’s also an area with interesting natural scenery and boasts incredible sunset scenes.
Popular activities include hiking and walking. There is a wooden birder’s hut on the birding trails around the lake, ideal for observation purposes. Visitors should consult a local guide with birding knowledge to advise on the best time of year to visit.
There are more strenuous hikes through the dense forests to the mountain top viewpoints, worthy of the trek. It’s here that visitors can enjoy panoramic views of lush green landscapes and the lake's reflective waters.
There is no accommodation inside the park. Visitors normally stay in the buzzing coastal town of Bizerte, located a mere 20 kilometres away from the lake. Coastal accommodation comprises seaside resorts, hotels and guest houses, designed in classic Tunisian style. White-washed luxury villas and hotels provide an enclave of serenity, and normally come complete with private swimming pools. There are even hotels with waterparks and themed areas.
For a more inland experience, visitors could try the town of Mateur where there are Tuscan looking villas for hire.