"Timbuktu, where the camel meets the canoe" Top 5 Page for this destination Timbuktu by sachara

Timbuktu Travel Guide: 95 reviews and 400 photos

For many people in the world Timbuktu has an air of mystery. Many people think about this legendary city in Mali more as a mythical place than as a city with a real history. Timbuktu is often used as a far away place, a metaphor for a remote and distant place beyond a person's experience.

In reality Timbuktu was an economic and cultural capital in West Africa of historical importance. Timbuktu was founded around 1100 as a Tuareg nomad camp at a strategic place on the southernmost edge of the Sahara desert and about 12 km from the bend of the Niger River, gate to subsaharan Africa.

From the thirteenth century, Timbuktu became a prosperous centre of trade in Africa. The long distance trans-Saharan trade routes brought great wealth to the city. Caravans brought salt from mines in the Sahara desert to exchange for gold and slaves brought along the river from subsaharan Africa in the south. By 1330 Timbuktu was part of the powerful Mali Empire, which controlled the lucrative gold-salt trade routes in the region. The geographical setting of the town made it a natural meeting point for people in West Africa in the south and the Berber and Arab people in the north and so indirectly also for traders in the Middle East and Europe.

The wealth of the city attracted not only merchants but also academic and religious scholars. By the fourteenth century Timbuctu became not only a major center for the trans-Sahara gold and salt trade, but also a intellectual and spiritual centre of Islamic scholarship and culture in West Africa.

Timbuktu had a great historical importance. It was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

The official UNESCO description:
Home of the prestigious Koranic Sankore University and other madrasas, Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall Timbuktu's golden age. Although continuously restored, these monuments are today under threat from desertification.

Nowadays you can find three great mosques in Timbuktu, like the Sankoré mosque, libraries with manuscripts and medresses. Timbuktu looks like a dusty desert town. Only with some imagination and by visiting some of the libraries with old manuscripts you can feel and see a glimpse of the importance of Timbuktu as spiritual capital and centre in the 15th and 16th century.

In 2008 an interesting book is published, called 'The hidden treasures of Timbuktu, Historic City of Islamic Africa'.

For many years I was very tempted to visit Timbuktu some day. First in january 2009 during my third visit to Mali I came to Timbuktu. The main reason was to go to the Festival au Desert in Essakane 70 km northwest of Timbuktu, a tempting mix of desert, camels, Tuareg and African music during three days in the middle of nowhere.

For more pictures and details look at the travelogues below and my page Essakane, Festival au Desert.

  • Last visit to Timbuktu: Jan 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (36)

Comments (14)

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Apr 9, 2015 at 10:36 PM

    Thanks for the interesting tour and photos on Timbuktu! It sounds like a fascinating place to visit!

    • sachara's Profile Photo
      Apr 9, 2015 at 11:40 PM

      Dee, great you enjoyed my Timbuktu page. Thanks for rating. Yes, it is a fascinating place if you look a little behind the sandy surface. Once I hope to go back to the Timbuktu area, when it will be a safe place again. Just last week a Dutch man is freed accidentally by the French troups in Tessalit in the north. Originally he was kidnapped some years ago in Timbuktu.

  • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
    May 30, 2014 at 5:15 AM

    Timbuktu to me symbolizes somewhere far away and totally inaccessible. How nice to know it really exists. Irene

    • sachara's Profile Photo
      May 30, 2014 at 1:03 PM

      Irene, thank you for visiting and rating my Timbuktu page. I enjoyed my visit to Timbuktu in Northern Mali in 2009, but nowadays it was less safe. Recently my Tuareg friends returned to Timbuktu from their refugee camps in Burkina Faso. For travellers there is still a negative travel advise.

    • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
      May 30, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      Oh, that's sad to know. I have never been to Africa at all. I notice you have travelled extensively there. It's about time I branched out to a new continent. All the best, Irene

  • ellsasha's Profile Photo
    Dec 27, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    Very realistic narative in your tips, your photographs are outstanding, but I did not have the nerve to look at the skinned cats! I'm planning to visit Mali in early 2013, so, your pages are most welcome.

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2010 at 7:16 AM

    Hello, Ali! You've made wonderful journeys....A lot of discoveries! Looking forward to meeting you in person in Lviv too!...

  • matcrazy1's Profile Photo
    Sep 26, 2009 at 11:35 AM

    Fascinating page, amazing pictures and very interesting info especially on early explorers and local customs. I'd love to go to see the desert festival.

  • roamer61's Profile Photo
    Sep 16, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    Very interesting Ali. You did a wonderful job sharing your adventures in this mystical city.

  • icunme's Profile Photo
    Aug 24, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    When folks threatened to send me to Timbuktu, we never thought of it as a real place!! Great tour here - liked very much that men are veiled and women are not. Grazie, Carol

  • ranger49's Profile Photo
    Jun 27, 2009 at 4:55 AM

    Fascinating Page. I well remember the words - Oh he's gone to Timbuktu! Enjoyed reading about the explorers and those great libraies and manuscripts.

  • SLLiew's Profile Photo
    Apr 14, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    Wow.... "You have been to Timbaktu!" Your photos are excellent and what an adventure. Cheers, SL :)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Apr 14, 2009 at 7:38 AM

    A wonderful page Ali, reinforcing my impression that Timbuktu is a magical place that I must visit one day :-) I especially liked your descriptions & photos of the Tuareg - drinking tea, culture & lifestyle etc


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