Timbuktu the mysterious – Deep inside the Malian desert

Visit Timbuktu

Timbuktu the Mysterious - Deep inside the Malian desert
Timbuktu the Mysterious – Deep inside the Malian desert

Timbuktu is located deep inside the Malian desert.

During many centuries, Timbuktu was off-limits for foreigners and non-Muslims. Its geographic location and complicated political, religion and ethnic conflicts make Timbuktu a very hard place to get in or come out from still today.

If you visit Timbuktu, you can add this to your list of personal travel life achievements.

Visit Timbuktu – City Guide

Man with umbrella going inside a mosque in Timbuktu
Man with umbrella going inside a mosque – visit Timbuktu

Timbuktu – “The meeting-place of all who travel by camel or canoe”

in old Sudanese 16th century chronicles

Timbuktu is one of Africa’s ultimate travel destinations and a dream come true for hardcore/off the beaten path travelers.

Timbuktu, also spelled Timbuctoo, Timbuktoo or Tombouctou was founded back in the year 1100. It started as a Tuareg nomad seasonal camp, but during a couple of centuries it came up to be one of the most important commercial and religious outposts in all West Africa.

Timbuktu is also famous for its ancient manuscripts and the three mosques and mausoleums of Djingareyber, Sankore, and Sidi Yahia.

Tombouctou la mystérieuse
“Timbuctoo the Mysterious”

by Felix Dubois 1862–1945

On this page, I gather some information about Timbuktu – a place of mystery and spirituality. I hope you enjoy.

NOTE: Back in July 2012, Timbuktu fell into the hands of Islamist rebels who captured the city from a rebel group. French troops came to liberate the city and reaching Timbuktu is once again possible. But travelers have to be extremely cautious. Even before the crisis, the desert areas of Timbuktu were known to have al Qaeda groups from the Islamic Maghreb and Tuareg rebels. Kidnappings and foreigner abductions have been routine for almost 2 decades.

Timbuktu in northern Mali

Welcome to Timbuktu city sign
Welcome to Timbuktu city sign

Timbuktu is a sister city to the following cities: Chemnitz (Germany), Hay-on-Wye (United Kingdom), Kairouan (Tunisia), Marrakesh (Morocco), Saintes (France) and Tempe AZ (United States).

Beautiful wooden door in Timbuktu
Beautiful wooden door in Timbuktu

Timbuktu’s houses are ornamented with beautiful wooden doors with metal decoration. This unusual aspect gives the city great charm and positive old vibes.

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

The Sankore religious compound (university, mosque, and madrassa) is the oldest of the three teaching schools in Timbuktu. It was an important religious and educational center from the 14th until the 18th century.

Woman shopping inside Timbuktu central market
Woman shopping inside Timbuktu central market
Traditional hand made mud bricks drying in the sun
Mud bricks

Traditional hand made bricks drying in the sun. The majority of the buildings in Timbuktu are built with these mud bricks.

Timbuktu street scene
Timbuktu street scene

Timbuktu is a very peaceful and relaxed desert city.

Donkeys parked in the outskirts of Timbuktu
Donkeys parked in the outskirts of Timbuktu
American Trans-Saharan Expedition
American Trans-Saharan Expedition sign

D.W. Berky memorial sign from the 1st American Trans-Saharan Expedition from Biskra to Timbuktu, 1912-1913.

Amazing old door and traditional Timbuktu architecture
Amazing old door and traditional Timbuktu architecture
Grands Moulins du Mali sign - GMM a wheat flour and rice milling company
Grands Moulins du Mali sign

(GMM) Grands Moulins du Mali sign, a wheat flour and rice milling company.

Djingareyber Mosque side entrance
Djingareyber Mosque side entrance
Traditional wooden door in Timbuktu
Traditional wooden door in Timbuktu
Boy playing football near sacred mosque
Boy playing football near sacred mosque
Tombouctou written in wall
Tombouctou written in wall
Tea house and bakery panel in Timbuktu
Tea house and bakery panel in Timbuktu
Timbuktu street market
Timbuktu street market

The Timbuktu street market is one of the most lively places in the city. Many women have little stalls where they sell dried fish, spices, fruits such as mangoes and bananas, vegetables, second-hand clothes, etc.

Malian Women selling in Timbuktu street market
Malian Women selling in Timbuktu street market
Dried fish for sale in Timbuktu market
Dried fish for sale in Timbuktu market
Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library street sign
Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library street sign
Boy reading the Koran  near the Peace Monument
Boy reading the Koran near the Peace Monument
Charcoal oven advertisement in Timbuktu
Charcoal oven advertisement in Timbuktu
Modern Malitel billboard
Modern Malitel billboard
People waiting to go inside the bus
People waiting to go inside the bus
Panoramic view of Timbuktu
Panoramic view of Timbuktu
Gao to Kidal? next destination?
Gao to Kidal? Next destination?
City center Timbuktu
City center Timbuktu
Timbuktu Museum entrance
Timbuktu Museum entrance

The Municipal Museum of Timbuktu exhibits artifacts and maps to better understand the history and culture of this mythical city.

Cultural Museum Timbuktu Mali
Cultural Museum Timbuktu Mali
Traditional mud bricks
Traditional mud bricks
Door in Timbuktu
Door in Timbuktu
El Mokhtar Hamalla Square sign in Timbuktu
El Mokhtar Hamalla Square sign in Timbuktu
Architecture of Timbuktu
Architecture of Timbuktu
Sidi Yahya mosque and madrassa
Sidi Yahya mosque and madrassa

The Sidi Yahya mosque and madrassa were built back in 1440.

Sidi Yahya tombstone dating from 1463 in Timbuktu
Sidi Yahya tombstone

Sidi Yahya tombstone dating from 1463. Sidi Yahya Tadelsi was the first imam and head professor of the Sidi Yahya religious complex in Timbuktu.

Festival Au Desert poster -  traditional Tuareg festivities in Kidal
Festival Au Desert poster – traditional Tuareg festivities in Kidal
Malian house courtyard
Malian house courtyard
Peace Monument in Timbuktu
Peace Monument in Timbuktu

The Flame of Peace or “Flamme de la Paix” is a monument located in the northwest part of Timbuktu facing the desert.

This white construction with several used guns is the actual place where more than 3000 weapons were burnt at the end of the Tuareg rebellion back in the 1990’s.

Old weapons used to make the Peace Monument of Timbuktu
Old weapons used to make the Peace Monument of Timbuktu
Pharmacy sign in the center of Timbuktu
Pharmacy sign in the center of Timbuktu
Traditional wooden door and metal decoration in Timbuktu center
Traditional wooden door

Traditional wooden door and metal decoration in Timbuktu

Spices in Timbuktu market
Spices in Timbuktu market
Empty-Market-Mali
Empty market in Timbuktu
Timbuktu central market corridor
Timbuktu central market corridor
The Timbuktu Andalusian Library street sign
The Timbuktu Andalusian Library street sign
Top view from Timbuktu central market
Top view from Timbuktu central market
Panoramic view of Timbuktu
Panoramic view of Timbuktu
Restaurant wall painted with Tuareg motifs in Timbuktu
Restaurant wall painted with Tuareg motifs in Timbuktu
Boy sleeping on the terrace of the Timbuktu market
Boy sleeping on the terrace of the Timbuktu market
Wooden decorated window
Wooden decorated window
Djinguereber Mosque tower
Djinguereber Mosque tower
How to get to Timbuktu - my transportation from Gao - 22 hours
How to get to Timbuktu

My transportation from Gao to Timbuktu – 22 hours!

Transportation out of Timbuktu
Transportation out of Timbuktu

After my 22 hour trip from Gao to Timbuktu on top of a Mauritanian smuggler pickup truck along with other 18 people, I wasn’t expecting that my way out of Timbuktu would be difficult. Well, it wasn’t easy and the reputation of Timbuktu being hard to reach and tough to get out proved to be true. My 4X4 taxi broke down near Hombori, adding 5 hours to my travel time to reach Mopti.

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Timbuktu, Mali – How to get there the hard way