Taoudenni trip – practical information

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Important note
In 2022 the UK Government was advising against all travel to Mopti, Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu and northern Mali, among other regions, because of the high risk of kidnapping and other terrorism.
For detailed up-to-date information and travel warnings click here.

Distance from Timbuktu

450 miles (720 kilometres)

Best time to go

November to February, though in February the Harmattan may bring sandstorms.
The coolest time is usually January.

Recommended organisers

Hamada Diakité speaks fluent English, has all the necessary contacts, and is reliable, friendly, honest and calm. He was John’s principal organiser in Timbuktu. Email hamada_diakite@yahoo.fr, or leave a message for him at Hôtel Bouctou on +223 292 1012, or write c/o Hôtel Bouctou. B.P. 49, Timbuktu, Mali. Adei Ould Ashehr provided John’s camels and 4x4 pickup, and also drove the pickup. U Batna Ould Ashehr acted as camelman and guide. Hamada translated during the pickup journey, but John’s payment (see below) was made to Adei. Negotiations were amicable, delivery was faultless and John had no quibbles whatsoever. The usual practice is to pay half the price in advance and the balance on completion.


John paid 1,000,000 CFA (£1,050 or €1,300) for three camels, a guide and a 4x4 pickup and driver, together with fuel, carrying and cooking equipment and camel tack for his three-week trip. Provisions were extra (see below) and cost 80,000 CFA (£85 or €105).


Here’s a rough guide to the quantities you’ll need per person, including your guide, per day. All food and tobacco supplies are available in Timbuktu.

Rice 200g
Pasta 200g
Sugar 200g
Ground millet 200g
Mutton or goat-meat 200g
Peanuts 100g
Dates 100g
Chinese green tea 50g
Salt 10g
Cooking oil 25ml
Half a small tin of tomato purée
Half a stock cube

For your guide you might add:
Tobacco 50g

You’ll also need:
A blanket
A sleeping bag
A camping mat or groundsheet
A plate and spoon
A jacket
A woollen hat
A bou-bou (Arab robe) and houli (turban)
Good walking shoes (not boots or sandals)
A headtorch and spare batteries
A gas stove using C206 butane cartridges, available throughout Mali
A small bar of soap
Multivitamin tablets if you think necessary
Possibly some small gifts for the miners and camel-drivers (paracetamol tablets are ideal)


Your guide should arrange at least six litres of water per person per day. Much of this will come from wells so you should take some means of purification.
John used liquid iodine which worked fine. Inner tubes from lorry tyres are widely available for carrying the water – make sure your guide brings at least two half-tubes.

Alternative ways to make the trip

You might consider making the entire return journey by camel and on foot. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but each year one or two determined travellers complete it successfully.

An excellent account by Alistair Bestow is included in Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide (see below).

The journey should take five to six weeks, and will cost perhaps 800,000 CFA (£850 or €1,050) for one person plus 200,000 CFA (£200 or €250) for each additional person.

There’s also the possibility of returning with one of the salt lorries. This uncomfortable and probably expensive option (you’d have to negotiate a price directly with the driver in Taoudenni) would by no means guarantee a quick return to Timbuktu; but despite breakdowns you’d get there in the end. It should perhaps be reserved for emergencies.

Other organisers

Toguna Adventure Tours, an excellent and experienced Bamako-based operator, which uses the English-speaking Tuareg guide Sankoum Sissoko who accompanied Bob Geldof’s Geldof in Africa team. Email togunaadventure@afribonemali.net, or ring +223 229 5366, or write to Toguna Adventure Tours, ACI 2000 Hamdallaye, B.P. E5096, Bamako, Mali.

Abderhamane Alpha Maïga, an English-speaking operator who occasionally works with Adei Ould Ashehr and U Batna Ould Ashehr. Email alpha@timbuktu-touristguide.com or info@tomboctou.com, or ring +223 292 1681 or +223 602 3406, or write c/o Hôtel Hendrina Khan, B.P. 137, Timbuktu, Mali.

Mohamed Al Hassane (‘Halis’), another Timbuktu-based English-speaking guide. Email elmoctar@yahoo.com, ring +223 292 1699 or +223 602 3647, or write to B.P. 144, Timbuktu, Mali. You can also speak to Halis on his satellite phone (!) by ringing +882 16 6788 2353.

Further reading

‘Salt Caravan from Timbuktu’, by Alistair Bestow, in Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide, by Chris Scott (Trailblazer Publications, 2004), pp. 269–278. The most detailed practical account currently in print. Part 4 of this book also gives some good general advice for aspiring camel caravanners.

‘The Caravan of White Gold’, in Hold the Enlightenment, by Tim Cahill (Transworld/Black Swan, 2003), pp. 51–77. Entertaining but chilling!

Men of Salt, by Michael Benanav (Globe Pequot/Lyons Press, 2006). A moving and well-illustrated story – read this one if nothing else.

Mali, by Ross Velton (Bradt Travel Guides, 2009). The only English-language guidebook dedicated to Mali. Up-to-date, detailed and accurate.

Africa North & West: National Map 741 (Michelin Travel Publications, 2012 – updated in 2018). Not really necessary, but an interesting reminder of Taoudenni’s place in the wider African world. Larger-scale maps are available from the Institut Géographique du Mali (‘IGM’) at B.P. 240, Bamako, Mali (tel. +223 220 2840 or +223 220 3314).


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