Timbuctu (Tombouctou)

Just Outside Timbuctu


Timbuctu (Tombouctou) is still the name that springs to mind when people think “remote”. It still is. Travel to and from Timbuctu is difficult and expensive but it is worth the visit.

Timbuctu is a small city of about 40,000 people on the edge of the Sahara desert in the northern part of Mali. It is a city of myth and legend but nowadays much of legend has faded into the desert itself with the people visiting Timbuctu likely to be tourists anxious to prove that they could get there…No mean feat, even now.

You will typically see many Taureg walking around the street and, unfortunately, many of them will want to sell you something. These are a kind and gentle people who live in the desert who come to visit the “big city”.

What to See

There are a few things to see in Timbuctu so it is recommended you get a guide (just walking the street should get you three or four offers of guides every few minutes) to, at the very least, show you around this rather spread-out city. You can also arrange camel rides into the desert for as long as you want – from 2 hours to 2 days.

Djinguereber Mosque (Grand Mosque of Timbuctu)

Interesting to note that the Djinguereber Mosque is the only mosque in Mali a non-Muslim can enter (for 2,500 CFA). There is not much to see inside but you may be interested in paying it a visit nonetheless with great views of the surrounding houses from the roof.

Camel Trip

Getting There...And Back Again

There are a number of choices of how to get to Timbuctu and back again:

  • Plane - There are (evidently) weekly flights from Mopti to/from Timbuctu
  • Boat - You can catch a boat from Mopti (or other places upstream) along the Niger to Timbuctu ranging from tourist pinasses and ferries to cargo boats (which are not really recommended for anyone on any sort of a schedule). The tourist ferries only run when the river is high enough (typically August to December) though pinasses will run basically all year around.
  • 4×4 - If you can afford it. There is no real “road” access to Timbuctu with a 4×4 vehicle really a necessity. 4x4s can be booked from Mopti or Douentza for Timbuctu.

It is HIGHLY recommended that you arrange return transport prior to arriving in Timbuctu as arranging transport from Timbuctu can be expensive (and unreliable).

Place de l'Independance


There are now a few more options than (evidently) there were in the past. If you want to stay in the centre of town (and can afford it) then the Campement is definitely recommended if, however, you are willing to walk a bit, the Sahara Passion is highly recommended which is about a half kilometre walk from the centre of town just on the edge of the desert itself. It is highly recommended that if you do not want to pay for a room with air-conditioning you consider sleeping on the roof since a room inside with a fan can be VERY warm.

Courtyard of the Sahara Passion


There is electricity, water, telephone (even telephone booths on the street!), postal and (now) Internet services available in Timbuctu.

Further Information

For further information, please see: