What’s Available and What to Bring
Despite being the “end of the
world” or the “middle of nowhere” you can find in Timbuktu
most of what you NEED. There may not be as much brand name
variety and the prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere
in Mali, (though rarely higher than western prices for the
same item), but you can usually find it. Heck, I know one
girl who even got a camera when hers broke. This page
should give you an idea of items you don’t have to pack in
with you, or will be able to replace if lost or used up.
Things available in Timbuktu:
There are a number of shops selling “beauty products” wherein you can find a plethora of creams and lotions*, hair pomades and shampoos, perfumed soaps, perfumes, and some cosmetics including nail lacquer and remover, lip-sticks, eye-shadows etc.
Many of the regular shops of staples also sell some standard bath soaps and lotions, as well as toothpaste, toothbrushes and facial tissues.
There are a few stores that specialize in “luxury” items or more western stuff. In these you can find toilet paper, diapers and sanitary napkins.
* Check the ingredients; many commercial imported lotions in this part of the world have nasty, dangerous skin-lightening chemicals in them.
In pharmacies you can find multivitamins, and vitamin C, they also carry milk formula and fortified porridge mixes for infants.
Condoms are in pharmacies and some shops.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications are abundant and easily obtained in pharmacies, if your prescription runs out or you become ill while travelling. First Aid materials such as antiseptics, gauze pads, and bandage tape (plaster) are also in pharmacies. See the health page for the location of pharmacies in Timbuktu
Some of the fancier shops offer Vache Qui Rie (Laughing Cow cheese spread), Nesquick instant chocolate, Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread, and even some chocolate bars.
Real Coffee, Earl Grey tea and some herbal teas like mint and camomile are availiable in at least one shop (next to the Restaurant du Nord) along with hygenically pagakged yogurt and swiss cheese.
The beverage depot near the Patisserie Asco has beer and wine. The beer is standard Castel brand. The wine is not great but good quality wine and liquour can be purchased in Bamako. Bars and clubs in Timbuktu also sell hard liquor and mixed drinks. If you have a need to have your special favourite gin or other with on on your trip you may want to pack that from home.
You can also find pasteurized long-life milk, a large variety of cookies, lots of tinned goods,* potted chicken and corned beef, tinned pineapple and fruit coctail, tinned peas, corn and mixed veggies, cornflakes, oatmeal, safe bottled fruit juices in many flavours.
In the market you can get dates, peanuts, and whatever fruits and vegetables** are in season. Including bananas, guavas, lemons, mangoes, oranges, watermelon, beets, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, squash and tomatoes.
*Check the expiration date on the can; sometimes things are left to expire here. Do not buy a can that is rusted or the ends are bulging.
** All fresh fruits and vegetables should be carefully peeled or scrubbed well with soap and then rinsed and soaked for 30 minutes in water containing 10 drops of chlorine per litre. Chlorine bleach is available in shops; ask for eau de Javel.
Note pads in a variety of styles and sizes, pens and envelopes, also in a variety of styles and sizes are all readily available in the several stationary stores.
There are numerous shops and stalls in the markets selling clothes and shoes of local make and imports of western design as well as used clothing at cheap prices.
Things you are better off bringing with you:
Any prescription medications that you routinely take (eg. birth control, blood pressure control, &c.) or are already taking before arrival (eg. antibiotic treatment for an infection). You can replace them here in a pinch but you do not want to be caught without and it is not wise to switch brands in the middle of treatment if you can help it.
Tampons Pads are available here but I have yet to see tampons, so if this is your preferred method bring them along (If you are worried about baggage space or weight o.b. is the most compact brand). However, for people on long trips you don’t need to pack six months supply as you can stock up throughout your travels in capital cities that have stores dedicated to foreign imports.
Dental Floss Merchants have paste and brushes and tooth picks but I have yet to see floss. Locals tend to use any random string broken off a fraying garment or whatever.
Sunblock Local population being mostly dark skinned, and thus having a lot more natural protection from the sun, this has yet to catch on.
Insect Repellant While this may be available in some pharmacies I wouldn’t count on it. Mosquitoes are few in Timbuktu, but they do exist, and nobody wants to end a trip with malaria. Besides, they are abundant in Mopti and Bamako, where you have to pass to get here.
Film is available here, but the only speed is 100 ASA and there is a good chance it has been damaged by sitting around in the heat, so do pack plenty of your own. You only want to buy local if you really have to. Disposable cameras are also availiable in a pinch. Also a note about film: try to store it with as much protection from heat as you can. Try bundling it up in clothes in the centre of your pack.