Chott el Djerid – Tozeur, Tunisia - Atlas Obscura
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Tozeur, Tunisia

Chott el Djerid

The largest salt lake in the Sahara is mysteriously alluring. 

Chott el Djerid (also known as Chott El-Jerid, and several other variations of spelling) is a great salt lake located in the Tunisian part of the Sahara desert. It’s known to be the largest salt lake in the Sahara, and depending on your sources, it’s also the largest salt lake on the African continent. With a surface area of more than 2,700 square miles, Chott el Djerid is over 1.5 times larger than the Great Salt Lake of Utah.

The name of this lake consists of two parts: in Northern Africa, chott describes a lake that dries out in summer and usually has at least some water in it in colder seasons; el djerid is an Arabic word meaning “palm leaf” (the nearby el Djerid region in South Western Tunisia holds 15 times more date palm trees than its human population). Chott el Djerid is (mostly) an enormous plain with a harsh desert climate and almost total lack of natural resources—including fresh water. It’s a difficult place to live, but traveling though is a different story. The barrenness could be safely described as mysteriously alluring, even beautiful.

Driving across the main road that runs from the southern rim to point north-west, it’s impossible not to stop and admire the rainbow-colored salt deposits and small lakes that have water even in the driest summer days. Unexpectedly, the salty water varies in color from light green to gentle pink and vibrant orange. At the end of the lake, you will end up at a location holding many date palm oases.

Chott el Djerid is situated near to the city of Douz, dubbed the “gateway to the Sahara.” A naturally spectacular back-drop, the salt lake has been used (alongside with the surrounding canyons and dunes) as a filming location for a range of movies. The Lars Family Homestead from the Star Wars series is located on the northwestern tip of the lake, right next to the town of Nafta, and Mos Espa from the same movie saga is less than 10 miles north from there.

Very much pre-dating modern film-lore, Chott el Djerid is considered to be the most viable candidate for the ancient lake Tritonis mentioned in Greek mythology. Tritonis is the birthplace of the goddess named Athena, and somewhat ironically, the name Tritonis was given after another Greek god, Triton, known as the Greek god of the sea.

Know Before You Go

As Chott el Djerid is an enormous salt lake in the middle of an extremely unforgiving desert, navigating through it should be approached with some care. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, and bring more than enough drinking water with you. Going off-road here is dangerous at any time of the year, as even the hardiest four-wheel-drive vehicles may get stuck. Best to stick to the P16 road going between Douz and Tozeur, or C103 if you’re headed to or from Gafsa. Even better, look into a local guide who knows the place well.

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