It’s time to clear something up: Timbuktu is not an airy-fairy, make-believe place. No, it’s actually a real – and not to mention historically significant – city in the Republic of Mali. Known as the ‘Crown of West Africa’, Timbuktu was not only a long-time trading centre for gold, salt, slaves and ivory, but was also the academic hub of the Muslim world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Today, this stunning metropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most exotic and exciting cities that I’ve ever visited. |
So, now that you know that Timbuktu truly exists, why not embrace your inner explorer (and your single trip travel insurance!) and opt for an adventurous trip? Let me tell you about the best spots in and around the city, whose beauty will leave you breathless.
The Ethnological Museum
No trip to Timbuktu is complete without a visit to the Ethnological Museum, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the city’s extensive history. Most importantly the exhibit contains the Well of Bouctou, which marks the spot where Timbuktu was first established in the twelfth century. A colourful array of jewellery, traditional attire, musical instruments and local games is also on display, and will give you a great sense of the city’s local culture and its evolution throughout the ages. To top it all off, you definitely don’t want to miss the section devoted to Tin-Techoun’s ancient rock carvings. Unfortunately most of the real rocks were stolen over the years, so you’ll have to make do with photographs.
Sidi Yahya Mosque
After strolling through the museum, make your way over to Timbuktu’s second mosque: the Sidi Yaha. This imposing edifice dates all the way back to 1400, and was dedicated to an influential imam -- Sherif Sidi Yada -- a few years later. Today, Sidi Yada is one of Timbuktu’s most revered saints. Unfortunately you cannot enter this mosque – or any of the others – unless you are Muslim, but the building’s exterior is still an awe-inspiring sight to behold.
Out of the city’s three mosques, the Djinguereber Mosque is arguably the most famous (and definitely the oldest). If the building’s exterior looks... well, muddy, pat yourself on the back: it is indeed constructed entirely of mud blocks! The esteemed poet and architect El Saheli not only built the mosque in 1327, but also came up with the idea that using mud bricks would be more orderly and durable than simply slapping grass and mud on a wooden skeleton – which was a commonplace building technique before his genius graced the city.
Thanks to the mastermind El Saheli the mosque still stands today, and can accommodate a whooping 2,000 worshippers with its three large enclosures and two towers. Have a wander around the outside and see what stories its many nooks and crannies have in store for you.
Last but certainly not least, let’s not forget about Timbuktu’s youngest mosque: the sixteenth-century Sankore. As an integral part of the University of Timbuktu, this building served as a significant centre for academic pursuits, and is well-known among tourists for its eccentric – but very charming – exterior. Make sure to pop by this unique structure during your visit!
Heinrich Barth’s House
Here’s a little crash course on Heinrich Barth: he was a famous German adventurer who focused on discovering Africa in the nineteenth century. Of course, Barth couldn’t resist visiting Timbuktu, but tried to blend in by dressing up as a Tuareg. Although he was almost killed during his yearlong stay, he was able to flee and tell his countrymen all about his exotic excursion. Today, his spectacular writing and art are on display in his old home, which is close to Sidi Yahiya (to the east). Don’t be fooled by its size: this mini museum is well worth your time.
Historical? Check. Off the beaten path? Check. Unusual? Check. If taking an adventurous trip to an underexplored destination sounds like your cup of tea, a holiday in Timbuktu ticks all the boxes. To prepare for your getaway, make sure that you pack lightly, check that you have received all necessary vaccinations and create a well-researched itinerary.
But what’s the most important preparatory measure that you have to take? I’m glad you asked: it’s ensuring that you have the correct travel insurance policy. For a carefree and safe quest to Timbuktu, InsureMore’s single trip travel insurance is the way to go. We have your back for any and all destinations – no matter how remote and unusual your chosen holiday spot is.
Patrick Chong is the Managing Director of InsureMore, an award-winning team of specialists in global, annual and single trip travel insurance policies. Besides offering great deals on travel insurance, Patrick also collects and shares the best free travel competitions to help his clients get the most out of their holidays.
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