The most reasonable way to visit Timbuktu is by plane. You can get in and out in a day or so and not spend a week just getting there and back. I believe that the only feasible air service originates in Bamako. Check ahead for flight availability and schedules.
We were able to charter a plane, so we went from Bamako, to Timbuktu to Mopti and it conformed to our schedule and needs. Obviously, solo travelors are going to be left adjusting their schedules to that of the airlines.
I have heard some people rave about the boat journey from Mopti to Timbuktu. I agee that it sounds like fun, slowly motoring up the grand Niger River passing by villages. But it is a couple days journey and the accomodations in the boat (pinasse) are likely to be spartan and perhaps crowded. Certainly, a boat provides for a more "authentic" experience. The question is whether the time commitment and conditions of such a boat trip make this authentic experience worthwhile.
Timbuktu by car
Arriving at Timbuktu is an adventure, because there aren't roads to Timbuktu (only hard tracks). You´ll need a land-rover.
There're public land-rovers to/from Timbuktu.
When I was in Timbuktu It was possible to arrive at Mopti from Timbuktu in the same day (dry season) because the track had been recently repaired.
In September-2004 the price was 15.000 CFAS each, but you'll have to haggle over very hard.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Timbuktu by boat
Another good option is going to/from Timbuktu by tourist pinasse. It's more expensive than ordinary pinasses but more comfortable. You'll need about three days.
Despite if you travel alone it can be difficult and too expensive to get a pinasse. Then the best option is joining a group.
We chartered a pinasse to carry 4 persons from Mopti to Timbuktu and we paid 250.000 CFAS (food not included) for a 3-days trip.
The trip is relaxing and interesting. Birdwatching is possible across the Niger river and if you're lucky you can see hippopotamus in some stretches of the river.
You can read or play cards as well during the trip.
- Budget Travel
A good and fascinating way to go to this town in the desert is - no joke! - by boat. If there is enough water in the Niger river, you can leave Mopti with a pinasse and reach the port of Timbuktu within 2 or 3 days.