In the Region of Timbuktu
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Once you have made it all the way to Timbuktu you may want to see more than just the town. If you have the time and means you can take camel or car (4x4) to many locations.
Day or two trip: With a 4x4 the locations below can be reached and returned from in a day but if you want to do a loop through several and really appreciate them, you should count at least two days.
Lake Fagabine, once one of the largest natural lakes in West Africa is now little more than a dent in the ground. Formerly millet, wild wheat and corn were grown along its banks as the water level changed with the seasons. It is still very interesting to visit. You can get there by heading North from Goundam or Directly across the sand from Timbuktu. On its banks is the old village of Farach which is all but abandoned, white dunes of the north mix with red dunes of the south. approaching the lake you will come upon the new village of Farach. Tents are scattered and hidden among the dunes and the vegetation on the strip near the lake.
Tomb of the Giants These Neolithic sepultures are the subject of myth and legend amongst the Tuareg who know the occupants only as “the people from before” whose stone tools are found scattered throughout the area. Some say they were giants, ogres even, and many locals fear to approach the tombs after dark.
Essekane, the site of the famous festival. The area has beautiful white sand dunes, and some nearby mountains where if you scrabble around you may find old artifacts in midden mounds. Calculate a good three hours one way for the 70 km trip. It is loose sand all the way.
The three day festival was held annually in early January. It was originally based on the traditional Tuareg gatherings held each year by a different tribe. In deference to the increased international participation and the complexities of organisation a permanent festival site has been developed. The festival has become more "touristy" but also more easily accessible. For those looking to discover a bit of local music, see camels and buy artisanal souvenirs, it is perfect. For those wishing a more authentic nomad experience you may be a bit disappointed. Still, the music is excellent. In the last few years the festival has been moved to the outskirts of Timbuktu. Though it may go back to Essekane again. There is an entry fee that has been 120 euro in past years. The official festival website is www.festival-au-desert.org
Zouara The apprach to this village has a huge open plain where it is possible to observe many birds. The village has it’s market on Tuesdays.
Tin Aïcha. Market day is Monday. Every year on the second day of the end of Ramadan celebration, all the nomads in the region gather here for the fete of the goats. The tradition is to celebrate the arrival of the herds to lake Fagabine. It is also an occasion for the men to show off. They dance their camels to the rhythms of the women drumming on the tinnde, a drum made of a morter covered with leather.
M’bouna has architecture typical of Timbuktu. The village bordered by trees is snuggled amongst massive dunes. It has a beautiful mosque.
Lake Fati The sand is red, the lake bright blue with beautiful beaches. The village of Fati is comprised of Bozo fishers, numerous species being available in the lake.
Goundam is now easily accessible on an improved gravel track. It is about 85km from the place where the road leaves Timbuktu. The track is good enough that a speed of 80-90km/p/h can be easily maintained for most of the track (excepting stoping for livestock crossing). It takes about an hour or hour and a half one way and you will be coated with red dust from the imported gravel. The town is an ancient post of the French Colonials and some of the buildings remain. Also an interesting mosque just behind the main market area is worth a look. Buildings in the town are a mix of mud brick and baked brick giving it a picturesque look. The market is not very interesting, but the town is an important agricultural centre and is situated on one edge of Lake Tele.
Dire About 35 km south of Goundam, this port town is one of the regular stops for the river traffic. It has an excellent weekly market on Fridays.
Tonka is 35km west of Goundam on the same gravel track. The countryside en route is lovely and you can see lake Fati in the distance and several small mountains rise up. The town has a mix of all the ethnicities of the region who gather each Sunday for the weekly market that is worth seeing. Fuel is availbe here for those who have their own car. Look for guys with a tray of glass bottles of gas (for motorbikes) outside their shop; they will also have 20L jugs of deasil fuel and a funel for you vehicle. 600f/L.
Niafunke is situated on the banks of the Niger river another 35km west of Tonka. The road continuing to Niafunke is built mostly on a dike due to annual flooding. The gravel track also deteriorates noticably after leaving Tonka and erosion gouges deep runnels in the dike that must be carfully avoided. When the water receeds some there are tracks leaving the main gravel route that are smoother. There is a ferry boat to cross the river here. you can find fuel and a pharmacy in town. There are two options for lodging. The Hotel Campement Niafunke which was formerly state owned and then sold to private management. The Hotel Ali Farka Toure which was formerly the guest house where this famous musician lodged his visitors. His family has turned it into a hotel. The courtyard opens directly onto the river. In 2008 they offered the first edition of the festival Ali Farka Toure. 6-8 November. There are some nice white sand beaches on the Timbuktu side of the town. The area south and west floods in the rainy season.
A trip to one of the nearer camps is easily done but should be attempted only with a knowledgeable local guide, preferably an adult and real Tuareg. It is very rude to go blundering into someone's camp without proper protocol. There are also a few actual villages.
Agouni is 35 km north along the route to Arouane and Taoudeni. It is picturesque and flanked by enormous dunes. Count at least an hour to get there.
Asidi is a friendly village whose two metal water towers attest to some contact with the outside world. The school teacher is open does his best from the one classroom in useable condition of his three room school.
Araouane 225 km north of Timbuktu on the route of the salt caravans. (this will require at least three days to vist in 4x4) Much older than Timbuktu it was once a major oasis containing many wells most all of which are now lost in the sands of the encroaching dunes. One of the few buildings to resist burial is the mosque built around 1593, which also houses the mosoleum of the saint Cheikh Sid'Ahmed Agadda (1570-1640). Alphahou also known as Araouane II is now almost completely burried but its ruins can be seen peeking out of the sand 7km from Araouane.
Araouane is historically and culturally very important to the people of the region but is at risk of disapeaing and taking its history (including thousands of manuscipts) with it. An association of expatriates and sympathisers called CADI (Association du Collectif d'Araouane pour le Developpement Integre) has been esstablished to save the site. Their objectivees are the promotion of socio-cultural values, restauration of historic sites, preservation of manuscripts, slowing the encroachment of the dunes, and reduction of poverty by creating jobs for the residents with integrated development porjects. For more information about this society and its activities or to contribute to the cause contact: email: email@example.com. tel: (+223) 20 21 20 51 fax: (+223) 20 21 08 35.
To the East
Ber, one of the stops on the direct route to Gao, is a small banco village in the midst of dunes with little to recommend it, save a chance to discover the flavour of the desert. It does however host a bustling camel market on Tuesdays
Gourma-Rharous Caravans heading south must pass through this town. It is also a place to cross the river and rejoin the pavement near Gosi or Hombouri. The territory between Gourma-Rahous, Bambara Moudie and Hombouri is called the Gourma and is part of a reserve for the elephants. After the sandy bit leaving Timbuktu the road is relatively hard along the Niger flood-plain and driving is faster.
Gao It takes a full day’s driving to reach Gao. Visit Gao's Bureau of Tourism website at www.visitgaomali.com
the South and SouthEast
driving. There are now several
small camps settling themselves permanently along its
length which is a boon to travellers who may find
themselves in need of assistance, or a place to rest.
There are also some signs along the way pointing
(pump) a short
distance off the road. This is a place that you can find
water if you are in a real fix; you may also find a
person there watering animals whom you can ask for help
if you need it.
The 200 km “Route d’Espoire” from Timbuktu to Douenza where the pavement leads to Gao or Mopti is very rough. You can learn more of it on the pages on transport
Marmar is a tiny “village” encampment only about 10km from the ferry crossing for timbuktu on the south side of the river. It has a concrete mosque, a Monday weekly market and a small shop of staples if you need a break on the route
Tiboraghen This is a small village 32km from the ferry crossing for Timbuktu. It has a camp called Ténéré started by the original owner of the Amanar restaurant in Timbuktu. The village is small but has a shop of basic staples. Ténéré is nice with lots of open space and greenery. It has running water via cisterns that the sun heats to quite warm temperatures and solar electricity. There are fully plumbed bathrooms and some rooms or you can pitch you tent or just have a bed under the open sky. It is a good option for people who, almost to Timbuktu think they will not make the ferry in the evening and do not wish to sleep on the river bank, or conversely got an early eveing start out of Timbuktu but do not want to continue of the rough road in the dark of night.
Dar Salam is 45-50km from the the river along the road to Douenza where a dune is trying to overrun the road. Like many of the small settlements along this road it is established by nomads that have started to fix themselves around water points as permanent settlements become the forced choice for access to services and recognition. It has a mosque and a couple of small shops selling the staple goods of the region: tea and sugar, biscuits (cookies), powdered or tinned milk, sardines, plastic flip-flops, flashlights (torches) and batteries.
Bambara Moudi Until recently the only village on the tortuous “road of hope” between Douenza and Timbuktu. It is the halfway point between the two cites. There is a weekly market on Sundays. They do have garage services, tire repare and fuel for sale. There are now a number of shops right along the main road that sell food and sometimes have cool beverages. There is a restaurant and a place offering lodging. This is also a place where you can head east to pass several watering holes on the migration route of the elephants. They are typically in this region during the dry months.
Benzema. The first watering hole around which the elephants often gather in the winter months.
In Adiatafene A second watering hole, again a possible sighting place for elephants.
Hombori is known for its mountains which are great for rock climbing, the best known being the Hand of Fatima. The mountains have lots of cultural and religious significance as well, so aspiring rock climbers should present themselves at the chief's house (the chief closest to where your are going to climb) and make sure the route you want to take is not infringing on this. The climbing is vertical; you will need equipment, though some can be rented locally.
It is also possible just to do some hiking in the area. Count at least 5000 per person per day for guide, food and porter services.
The villages in these mountains are mostly Songai and date back to their flight from the invading Moroccains in the 16th century at the end of the Askia empire. They built their villages high on the outcrops which made them more defensible. the natural spings coming out of the mountains further aided the resistance, providing drinking water and irrigation. The defensiveness of their situation permitted them to resist the French colonials up to 1924.
Tin Tadeini a
On the river
Koriome is the port that serves Timbuktu today. The two towns are connected by a paved strip. From here you can observe the activity of the port. The quay can be stacked with sacks of rice, oranges, and other goods just unloaded or bars of salt waiting to go. There is a small market and places you can get a something to eat. the chief of the port transport syndicate, Harber can help get you transport on the river. This is also the location of the ferry that crosses the river, though in the dry season it will be a little further down stream. There will be stalls with food and beverages at the other side of the ferry crossing too.
Kabara is the former port for Timbuktu. When the water is high the COMANAV ferry still comes here instead of Koriome. From Timbuktu head straight south on the pavement it will turn to hardpacked track and carry you right to the port. the Market faces the quay. you can often get good deals on fruit and other imports that have been off-loaded here before they get carted to Timbuktu.
Toya you can rent a pinasse and take a short trip to the Bozo village Toya whose beautiful dunes come right down to the waters edge. Historically Toya was the site of the 1736 battle between the Tuareg and the Arma for control of Timbuktu’s port. During high water it is virtually an island It takes about 2hrs by motor pirogue.
Houndou Bomo Koyna A songai village 12 kmfrom Korimome has a very active market on Saturdays. Some time the hippopotami are seen in this area. Count the greater part of a day to go visit and come back.
Bourem Inali is the location where you are sure to see hippos. It is 22 km from Koriome, and along the way you can observe Bozo and Sognai villages. Monday is the weekly market which is quite lively. A mix of herders, fishers, cultivators and artisans all display their wares.