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Going to Africa? Try Timbuktu in Mali

Updated on February 7, 2017

Timbuktu is also known as Tombouctou

Yup, Timbuktu is a real place in Mali, Africa. It's steeped in rich history and is one of the most unique places you'll find anywhere
Yup, Timbuktu is a real place in Mali, Africa. It's steeped in rich history and is one of the most unique places you'll find anywhere

Timbuktu is a Real Place in Africa

When I was growing up, I thought that Timbuktu was a made up place, that it didn't really exist. As far as I knew, it was just a word grown-ups used to exaggerate a point.You know, interjecting the word into a sentence to indicate a great distance. As in, "...from here to Timbuktu; half way to Timbuktu". That sort of thing.

Well, it turns out that Timbuktu is a real place, a city in Africa. According to Wikipedia, it is mainly a city made of mud.

By all accounts, Timbuktu is an impoverished location. However, it is a World Heritage spot and has a long and rich history that attracts enough tourists that the city now has an international airport.

If you'd like to learn about Timbuktu's interesting background and its roots in education and as a trading centre, I suggest clicking on this Wikipedia link. It makes for an informative read and adds to the flavour of the location's history. The city also has a website that has been donated and developed by UNESCO. This site will give you a brief background in plain English.

Timbuktu, Africa

Timbuktu, Africa:
Timbuktu, Mali

get directions

Timbuktu, Mali is a city of mud in West Africa. It sits on the southern edge of the Sahara desert.

A home in Timbuktu Mali
A home in Timbuktu Mali

Tombouctou or Timbuktu Mali

For the traveller trying to find Timbuktu on a map, you may need to look for it under another name. It is also referred to as Tombouctou. It is located in the most northern part of Mali at the most southwestern point of the Sahara Desert, although it is not far from the Niger River.

While researching this mythically sounding place, I had some trouble finding accommodation and recommending sights that I would feel comfortable sharing. After reading a few blog entries by different people on different sites, it seems that caution is needed to avoid scams from tour guides and for safety, in general. In fact, the Timbuktu site has a link with safety recommendations that gave me pause for thought. The site suggests things like not speaking loudly, being off the street at sundown and trying to blend in rather than looking like a tourist. These are probably practical ideas that a traveller can use regardless of location and maybe I just haven't had problems that way where I've travelled. Please understand that I'm not saying don't go. Just please stay safe if you do. It probably wouldn't hurt to take out some travel insurance before your trip.

On the more optimistic side, I did come across an account that sounded good. I don't know the gentleman's name but he wrote a wonderful story of his visit to the area and took some great photographs that are shown on this page, as well. I highly recommend that you give it a look and read a first-hand experience of Timbuktu, although I don't think he mentioned anything about the city being made of mud. However, there is a link on his page that directs you to a lady in Timbuktu who has opened a new hotel that is made of mud. Have a look at this Hotel Camping Tourareg site to get some idea of the Timbuktu local flavour. ***Editor's Note - the site has been taken down since the writing of this hub and the hotel has received absolutely horrible reviews.

So, would I go to Timbuktu? Maybe, but definitely not alone. I think the history, culture and architecture is fascinating and I like deserts. Being a book nut, I would absolutely love to see the library there, as it is purported to be one of the oldest in the world.

Your thoughts and experiences of Timbuktu are always welcome. Please let us know if you've visited this city made of mud and how you would rate it.

Wonderful Scenic Video of Timbuktu

Did You Know?

Camel caravans pass by the outskirts Timbuktu?

That the animals and insects found in Timbuktu are as follows?

  • Bats
  • Aardvarks
  • Hippos in the nearby Niger river
  • Jackals, whose skin is made into pouches and believed to bring good luck
  • Beetles
  • Ants
  • Flies
  • Praying Mantises
  • Locusts
  • Spiders
  • Likely more

So, if you have an aversion to any on this list, you may want to chose a different location, or keep a watchful eye on where you are in relation to the animal or insect. :) Same as you do at home.

© 2009 Herald Daily


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    • Herald Daily profile imageAUTHOR

      Herald Daily 

      10 years ago from A Beach Online

      Hi, Dohn. I apologize for the delay, I was out of town.

      I think that your theory is correct. Nobody knows where Timbuktu is, they aren't sure it really exists but if it does, it must be really, really far away. I didn't know it was a real place until I was grown up and I didn't know where it was until I wrote this hub.

      It doesn't seem as though there's a lot in Timbuktu/Timbouctou but what's there is very old and interesting, from what I gather. I think it would be a place to see at least once, if you're up for it. I'd really love to get a look at their library.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your idea, Dohn.

    • dohn121 profile image


      10 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      Maybe due to its namesake is Timbuktu popular. I don't know why it is, as everyone's heard of Timbuktu (well, most adults anyhow. I'm curious as to know why this is. Maybe it's because it's the ideal "nowhere" place in the world as in jokes? What are your thoughts?


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