Maybe we will soon be able to navigate the Niger with steam boats, where iron chimneys will bring travellers from the Atlantic coast; then we will smile on thinking that there was a time when arriving in Timbuktu could be regarded as a difficult success. For the moment we are reduced to the painful crossing of the desert, and that will doubtless continue for a long time.
4th European to
make it to Timbuktu, third to get back alive.
There are several general routes possible:
Bamako-Segou-San-Severe-Douenza-Timbuktu (most commonly travelled)
Bamako-Segou-Niono-Niafunke (165km)-Goundam (84km)-Timbuktu (they are working on paving this route)
-Niafunke (165km)-Dire (114km)-Timbuktu
Gossi-Gourma Rharous (147 km)-Timbuktu
If you have your own all-terrain four wheel drive: If you are already living in Mali, one of the neighbouring countries or doing a great overland adventure, you may want to do your travel in your own vehicle. Attention: in the north you need a sturdy vehicle equipped with working four-wheel drive. You should also consider the following improvements or modifications if your vehicle is not already equipped with such: tires should have inner-tubes that can be easily removed and repaired or replaced, as flats are common. Change the standard air-intake for a filter, preferably of the snorkel type that takes air from higher up. Reinforce the battery supports and the shocks. Add a fuel filter and an extra fuel tank. See our page of tips on driving in Mali or the code routiere in Mali.
Renting a car
From Bamako if you want a lot of autonomy you can rent a vehicle, always with a driver. This is an expensive option but does have its benefits of stopping when and where you want to. This also opens up various possibilities of out of the way routes to Timbuktu. It becomes more cost effective with a group to share the costs. There are many agencies in Bamako, but be wary: most Bamako agencies do not know the north well and you may find yourself in trouble if there are break downs on the way. Prices for 4x4 rental in Bamako range from 60.000 to 100.000 a day.
If you want to try this kind of travel you are better off arranging with someone in the north who will come get you and who has connections in out of the way places who can come to your aid. The drivers will be sure to know the way and how to drive in the sand, &c. Besides, that way you are supporting the local economy, instead of just that of Bamako. Prices for renting a 4x4 in Timbuktu are between officially 40,000 in town and 60,000 if you intend to go “en brouse”, of course when demand is high prices can go up and if you require a luxury model prices will be up to 100,000 f cfa per day. Fuel is not included in the price.
Diesel fuel is around 550 fcfa a litre and gasoline slightly more. On sandy ground consumption is around 27 L per 100 km with diesel or 40 L per 100km for a gasoline engine. If you are arranging a complete tour the car rental, gas and any driver fees should be included in the price. If you are not returning to the point of origin you may still have to pay something (at least the cost of fuel) for the car to return.
Taking Public Transport
If you don’t want the expense of renting a car, try taking a bus to Mopti 9000 f CFA. There are numerous bus companies, some more reliable than others. Ghana Transport and Africa Tours Trans (tel: 20 20 97 53, malitel cell:62 54 54 60, orange cell: 71545360 email:email@example.com) are new and seem pretty good. Africa Tours has come buses with A/C and gives a 1000 f meal voucher along with the ticket. Bani, Binke (20 20 33 19),and Bittar (20 20 12 05), are some of the better but older companies; they have several busses a day, regular schedules and fixed prices. The bus stations are organized with a space for each company. Tell a taxi driver what company you want and he will take you right there. It may seem handy to let one of the “employees” of the station or company arrange your ticket for you but this is not necessary and may be a scam. Go up to the window yourself and state the name of your destination. They will tell you the price, for which the companies listed above give you a printed ticket with the price on it. Large bags that do not come in the bus with you may have an extra fee to be negotiated with the bus personnel.
Bus stations often have public toilets-though not always clean. In some cases there is a fee of 25-50 f cfa to use them - this goes to an attendant who is then more motivated to keep it clean.
You can also catch the bus heading to Mopti from several principal towns along the way, notably Segou, San, and Bla.
Currently the companies doing this run are GDF. Their garage is northeast of the grand marche take the narrow ally between them to the left of the restaurant du nord and turn left when you come out in an open space. Just a little farther south of the mason d’artisans is the stop for Sangue. There seams to be a third company CTMT that stops north of the maison des artisan across from the old cemetery.
Another company runs Bamako - Timbuktu via Goundam, Niafunke and Segou this takes a good three days and still costs 15,000 cfa. It is a rough but cheep option for seeing a bit more of the countryside.
From Mopti: The most straight forward way to arrive from here is by 4x4. The ‘garage’ is near the entrance to Mopti on the right side of the road just before the BNDA Bank. Prices are fixed: 15,000 for the front-facing seats, 12,500 for the side facing-seats in the rear. They tend to leave in the later morning or early afternoon. It is better to arrive in the morning to be assured of a spot.
From Severe: You can go to the intersection and see what traffic is heading towards Douenza, Gao and Timbuktu. This is easier for those with adequate French and is better left to the adventurous and those with some spare time, as you never know. You may catch the Mopti 4x4 that is trying to fill up or some other passing vehicle that is heading to one of these places. Unless it is a private vehicle and the people are really kind you will be asked to pay. The price can be anything from cheaper, since it is not at the garage and the driver gets to pocket it, to exorbitant, as the driver is not at a garage so no one is there to give the correct price. Also, if it is a private vehicle, they can charge whatever they please. If the car you catch is only going to Douenza or Gao you will have to get off in Douenza and see below.
From Douenza: You can also take the Bamako-Gao (Binke or Bani) bus to Douenza and try to find a 4x4 there. If coming from a near location like Mopti, Dogon country, or Hombouri you may end up taking a “car” to Douenza, a mini-van fitted with benches into which thirty or more people may be crammed. They stop for every person who flags them down and let people off anywhere along the way. It is by far the slowest and also the cheapest option for short interval travel along this paved road.
Where most vehicles stop on the pavement in front of a restaurant is a good place to try and catch onward transport, as all other vehicles stop in this area too. The bus station is also here, a little to the north of the big restaurant. If you ask someone to show you, go with him and interact with the ticket seller yourself otherwise the helpful person will likely increase the price to get a cut. The 4x4 garage is a bit further north again facing the gas stations just where the dirt track heading to Timbuktu meets the pavement. For the 4x4’s, prices to Timbuktu are 12,500 for the front and 10,000 for the back.
From Gao: you have two possibilities: take one of the Gao - Bamako busses to Douenza and catch a 4x4 from there to Timbuktu, or find out when the merchant/transporters are heading straight overland to Timbuktu, a rough route over difficult ground that takes about 14 hours, Typically, drivers leave at 4 or 5 a.m. to get there at 6 p.m. or so, or else they leave around 6 p.m. to get there late the next morning. You may have a few hours sleep at the side of the track or in a village. Try asking at hotels in Gao or the customs offices; they should know who is leaving.
Prices are not fixed and you will inevitably pay more than a local. Don’t even hope for less than 10.000 and that is hard to get, but anything up to 30.000 is within average range for tourists on a public pinnace. Price also varies with the size of the boat. The boats will make many stops to load or let off passengers and goods but otherwise keep going through the night. Expect to spend two nights on board. During the dry season hang ups on sand bars and other adventures may streach the trip into a week. Some boats may only be going as far as the Dire market and you will be asked to change boats here to take another which is returning from the dire market to Timbuktu.
Prices for renting private pinnaces are much higher (250,000 - 400,000 to rent the whole thing) but again you get more control over your itinerary and if you are a group the price can be divided up and worth the convenience. In any case, take plenty of water and things to snack on, bigger boats provide lunch and dinner for passengers but rice with some fish or meat is all you can expect. With a private pinnace you can negotiate for meals to be included but unless it is organized with a very posh tour company, and even then, don’t expect anything fancy.
From Gao: you can also take the COMANAV upstream to Timbuktu, or smaller pinnaces, as you can in Mopti. Here the water level is lower and the season for bigger boats (depends, of course, on the rains of a given year) is typically from August through November or December .
Ticket prices to Timbuktu are about 60.000 f cfa from Mopti and 115.000 from Bamako each way. You can mix and match your tickets to make the combination that is right for your schedule.
There are two companies that fly to Timbuktu:
MAE (Mali Air Express) 20 23 14 65, 66 79 49 79 in Bamako; 20 53 14 75, 66 72 93 96 in Timbuktu
Tues. and Sat. they fly Bamako-Mopti-Timbuktu
Wed. and Sun. they fly Timbuktu-Mopti-Bamako
This Company has suspended its flights until further notice
Air Mali (formerly known as CAM, compagnie aerien du Mali)
Wed. and Sat. they fly Bamako-Mopti-Timbuktu
Wed., Fri and Sun. they fly Timbuktu-Mopti-Bamako
in Bamako: www.camaero.com; tel: 20 22 24 24, 20 22 26 26; fax: 20 22 71 11; firstname.lastname@example.org
in Mopti: 21 43 12 61, 66 78 61 37, 76 31 74 01; fax: 21 43 14 97; email@example.com; located at the Campement Hotel renove de Mopti.
in Timbuktu: 21 92 13 45, 21 92 23 68, 76 42 10 41; firstname.lastname@example.org; located on the pavement south of town in the second block past the BDM banque.
CAM also has some international flights:
in Cote d'Ivoire: Abidjan-Bamako on Tues. Bamako-Abidjan on Sundays. tel: 00 (225) 20 33 88 87, 00 (225) 07 61 27 87; fax: 00 (225) 20 33 88 86; email: email@example.com
in Guinee Conakrey: Bamako-Conakry-Bamako on Fri. and Sun. Represented by Douno Travel Agency, 00 (224) 30 43 48 27; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
in Togo: Bamako-Lome-Bamako on Tues. and Sat. Represented by Satguru Travel & Tours Services, Tel: 00(228) 220 64 87, 00 (228) 220 64 88; fax: (228) 972 71 18, (228) 931 05 92, (228) 992 39 29
in Burkina Faso: Ouagadougou-Bamako-Ouagadougou on Weds. Bamako-Ouagadougo-Bamako on Thurs. Represented by Satguru Travel and Tours Services, Ouagadougou, Tel: (226) 50 30 16 52; fax: (226) 50 30 18 86; email: email@example.com
in Benin: Bamako-Cotounou-Bamako on Tues. and Sat. Represented by Satguru Travels &Tours Services, Cotonou, tel: (229) 21 31 35 43, (229) 95 95 85 64
in Senegal: Daily flights from Bamako-Dakar-Bamako. Represented by Senegalair; tel: 00 (221)821 34 25; fax: 00 (221) 825 32 56; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
in France : Two flights weekly between Bamako and Paris (Orly Sud airport) Paris-Bamako on Thurs. and Fri., Bamako-Paris on Tues and Turs. tel: 0825 816 818; email: email@example.com
Point Afrique charter flights to or from France, Bénin, Burkina Faso, and Niger may land in Gao and Mopti or Bamako and you can continue to Timbuktu from those locations. It is a charter company and its rates are sometimes cheaper but its schedule is not regular. Check out their website for more information http://www.point-afrique.com. or: in France: 2, rue de la Roquette Cours de Mars 75011 - Paris tél (33 1) 55 28 39 99 / 55 28 39 99 fax : (33 1) 55 28 39 98Le Village 07 700 - Bidon tél : (33 4) 75 97 20 40 fax : (33 4) 75 04 16 56 in Niger: Hôtel du Sahel - Niamey tél : (227) 73 40 26 fax : (227) 73 20 98 Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
in Burkina Faso: le Pavillon vert, Av. de la liberté, Quartier Dapoya 01 BP 4715 - Ouagadougou tél : (226) 33 16 20 fax : (226) 30 00 42 Email : email@example.com
ARRIVING IN TOWN
If you come by 4x4 some drivers will drop each person off at his or her destination as a matter of course, others will drop you off at the gare routière near the grand marché in down town or someplace convenient along the way. To go somewhere out of the way you can negotiate a fee to be taken where you want, with him or another driver in the garage.
If you arrive by boat you will need to find transport into town. There are public transports that go often between the port town of Koriomé and Timbuktu. You have to wait for them to fill and will be dropped off only along their route or at the gare routière. Prices are apx 500 a person, more if you have lots of stuff. You can rent a car outright for substantially more usually around 15,000 f cfa, but they will take you straight to your destination. Try grouping up with other travellers to share the cost.
If you arrive at the airport you will find a number of vehicles hoping to provide transport into town. Standard price for a ride is about 10,000 f cfa. Again you maybe able to reduce this by sharing the vehicle with others.
Your guide or Hotel personel may be able to assist you in arranging onward tranportation from Timbuktu. Please note that some people may tack on a fee (not nesecarily disclosed) to the price of transport when they arrange it for you. This is not universal, the people at Sahara Passion, for example help with transport arrangements as a courtesy. Also it may be worth a little extra to avoid the hassle of dealing with it yourself. For each traveller to decide alone.
The Air Mali office is on the paved road into town a block and a half south of the BDM bank. Their hours of opperation are mon-fri 9am to 4:30 pm. if you have not already purchased your ticket you may do so here. It is also wise to see or call them prior to your departure and have them confirm your ticket and that your name is on their list.
The MAE office is in the papetrie on the road from the place d’independance to the grand marche. Be sure to confirm your ticket.
There is basically no taxi service in Timbuktu and the airport is several kilometers outside of town. Your hotel may offer transfer services or your tour agent may have included it in a package. If not, you will have to make arrangements for transport to the airport. Departures are usually early morning therefore it is risky to rely on flagging down a vehicle or finding one of the bush taxis that services the ports to be full and ready to go when you need to leave. Also these vehicles would only drop you at the turn off to the airport on the main road. If you do not have much baggage you may be able to negociate with a motorbike owner to take you for a smaller fee. More likely you will have to hire a full car from town. The standard fee for an airport run is 10.000 f cfa (~15 Euro), you may be able to bargan down to 7,500 f cfa.
If leaving Timbuktu by 4x4 you can go to the Gare Routiere and ask for Bourema, the chief of the transport syndicate who is a very correct man and will charge only the normal fee. He may also be willing to pick you up at your hotel. There is always a vehicle leaving early morning (3:30-4:30 am) These leave on time. The object is to get the first ferry across the river at 6am and usually reach the pavement at Douenza no between 10 and 11 am. Not all vehicles continue to Mopti. If you wish to got to Mopti and the 4x4 is not continuing there you may still pay the fee for Mopti (15,000 cfa front/ 12,500 rear) and the driver will see that you get on the next available vehicle for Mopti at no extra charge to yourself or you can pay only the fee to Douenza (12,500 cfa front/ 10,000 rear) and find your own onward transport once there.
Onward overland transport on the north side of the river either east or west is not so regular. You can go to the gare routiere and see when anyone may be going, ask the douanes (customs officers), if heading west go to the road out of town and wait to see if you can flag down a car. Most vehicles on these roads are merchant not passenger transport so your best bet is to try the day before or moring of a major market in the town of your destination or one along the way. Only try these routes if you have plenty of time.
By bus you can see the people at GDF transport station in “takaboundou” just east of the Grand Marche or Sangue Transport whose office is just north of the school on the Blvd. Mohamed Askia. The sign is very obvious. Both buses leave Timbuktu on Thursdays and Saturdays. You will have to get yourself and baggage to the point of departure at the time specified. Departures are usually early morning.
It is possible to arrange pinasse trips leaving Timbuktu either towards Gao or towards Mopti. Just how far these go depends on the water level. Your guide or hotel may be able to help you arrange such a trip on either public or private (tourist) pinasses. Of your can go to the port of Koriome and talk to the chef de port, Harber, or other pinasse owners directly.
Durning the season when it runs you may also take the COMANAV ferry. Their office is in the port town of Kabara. You may go there to discuss your ticket or call them at 21 92 12 06.