Festival In The Desert | Refugee Return

Mali is open for business again. From Here 2 Timbuktu invites you to join us and Mali in a celebration of a return of peace and unity.

With the successful election of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as the new Malian President, and his declared support for the Festival as Mali's premier tourist attraction and an important symbol of celebration and unity for the country, the return to life as normal has been signalled for Malians.  We invite you to join us from November 2013 on a celebration of a return to peace in Mali.

Upcoming programs and trips with From Here 2 Timbuktu:

November - December 2013: Caravan of returning refugees to Timbuktu

Come join me with the Tuareg refugees on their return to Timbuktu in a caravan of  camels and 4x4s, donkeys and carts, men and women and boys and girls hopefully with some of their Sharan blues guitar music accompanying our way. 

The Festival in the Desert is returning to Timbuktu in January 2014.

From Here 2 Timbuktu is delighted to announce our continued support as an Associated Partner of the Festival In The Desert.

We will be leading the way with a variety of itineraries around the Festival. Discover Mali by the River Niger. Trips include: Segou to Timbuktu by traditional pinasse river boat, with stop offs to visit the world heritage town of Djenne and the Dogon country.


7-21 day itineraries from December 26th 2013

View Itinerary and prices 


Download Trip description



Before this the Festival in the Desert is joining other festivals on its journey from exile back to Timbuktu.


15 November 2013  M'Hamid, Morocco, at the Taragalte festival to actively participate in the launching of the Cultural Caravan for Peace in the Sahel-Saharan region organized by Taragalte Festival. 

The Festival in the Desert caravan will then pass through Mauritania (Nouakchott, Kobeni), Burkina Faso (Bobo Dioulasso, Village Opera Ziniaré near Ouagadougou, the camp Djibo) before joining Timbuktu for the 14th edition of the Festival in the Desert on 9 January 2014.

From Here 2 Timbuktu can link you up to any of these dates. Please contact us if you are intersted.

November - Decmeber 2013: Caravan of returning refugees to Timbuktu

However there are some Malians still unable to return to their country. Not because of war, or conflict, or lack of security on the ground - the country is heaving with French and UN troops - but because of politics: politics in Mali, politics within the UN, the politics of aid.

On the ground things are getting there, the people anxious to return to normal.

This year I have been involved with the Tuareg refugee community in Burkina Faso. Together we have sought support for help with the return to Timbuktu of groups of refugees in a caravan of peace and music. 

The support has been strong in principle but weak on engagement and finance and green lights, so we are planning our own caravan, at our own risk, supporting ourselves. We will be looking for media and friends to accompany us and to bear witness to history in the making and we should have security en route. Together we are safe, together we have a voice and together we can be noticed.

The Festival In the Desert is returning to Timbuktu on the 9th of January 2014. The refugees want to be home for their own festival and From Here 2 Timbuktu is trying to help them begin this process. We'd love you to join us either on the return or through January and February on our trips around this wonderful and extraordinary country that is desperate to have you back. 

View photos of the refugees in the camps in Burkina Faso: 

If you are interested in joining the caravan of returning refugees please contact me

Download Press release for the Caravan of returning refugees

Festival in The Desert website


 The From Here 2 Timbuktu family of guides, cooks, and drivers will be offering vehicles and camps and catering throughout the caravan and we will be offering 10-20 day trips around the Festival In The Desert. 


Price guide

We deal with all of our clients on a tailor made basis. Below is a guide to the prices you can expect for either the Sahara Overland, Caravan of Return of Refugees and the Festival in The Desert trips


€1,200 euro | £950 GBP | US  $1,550 per week.


€3250 euro | £2650 GBP | US $4200 for 3 weeks


€3750 euro | £2950 GBP | US $4850 for 4 weeks


 Book Online

You can join the caravan by land across the Sahara on my overland trip departing mid Oct 2013 (See below)

Sahara Overland UK to Morocco and Mauritania and Mali

October 2013


History of the Festival In The Desert


Festival goers at the festival in the desert 2008


Since its inception in 2000 The Festival In The Desert has always stood for the open and tolerant values and traditions of all the people of Mali.


Tuareg men at the festival in the desert

Tuareg men listen to the music, Festival In The Desert 2007


Founded on a Tamashek (Tuareg) tradition of festivals  when nomadic clans meet up in the cooler dry season, to celebrate their culture, their music and their stories from their year’s wanderings, the Festival In The Desert has branched out to represent all the communities and extraordinarily rich musical traditions of the desert, of Mali and of the region as a whole. It is cited as one of the world's top 25 Festivals.


The Festival Au Desert has been, for the past 12 years, Mali’s number one tourist attraction, bringing people from around the world together for three nights of communal celebrations in the beauty and simplicity of the desert outside the fabled city of Timbuktu, a city founded over the centuries on the trade of goods and ideas and Islam between north and south.

The 12 years of the Festival history have coincided with turbulent times for the region, and sadly and needlessly the Festival itself has been the subject of security warnings from western governments. This has reduced tourist numbers and put off companies offering tours to Mali. The festival has begun to be identified with a defiance of the exaggeration about security issues in Africa. Every year there are warnings, every year the festival goes ahead without incident. The Festival in the Desert has become a celebration of difference, and has shown year on year how music is a unifying force between all peoples, and that whatever is going on on the political level of life, underneath we are all the same. In music there are no power struggles, corruption, resources, politics, interests. There is just music, and people.


camels sitting at sunset


The Festival In The Desert has gone ahead every year since 2000 because it has been safe for it to go ahead, not because it has been braving it out.

Likewise, From Here 2 Timbuktu has backed the festival every year since 2007 when other international companies began pulling out, not out of bravado to the dangers, but because we knew very well about the dangers, but we also knew where the danger really was, what its capacity was and consequently that The Festival was not a target and was safe.

The so called "islamist" problem in Mali has been a foreign issue that was allowed to camp up in Mali. It is really more about mafia gangs than anti-western propaganda. Now that ransom money has dried up, the market for taking westerners hostage has been destroyed. Today this issue has been effectively beaten back and dispersed out of Mali towards Libya and with the French and UN trrops present on the ground in Mali it is unlikely that they will be coming back.


Tuareg girl, festival au desert

A Tuareg mother and daughter watch the camel races, Festival In The Desert 2008

An open, tolerant, music loving tradition is common to all the groups of Mali: Tuareg, Peul, Songoi, Dogon, Bambara, Solinke, Mande, Bozo, Tukolor.

The greatest victims in the tragedy of Mali 2012 have been the Tuareg. The refugees from mali are 90% Tuareg. Their long tradition of strong matriarchal communities represented by the female music tradition of Tinde, exemplifies the foreignness of the islamist invasion that occupied their territory. Now they are returning and this year's caravan of peace and the Festival In the Desert will be a celebration of their return and their unity with the other people of Mali.

The Tuareg culture and the people of the north are in a particularly perilous position. It is no exaggeration to be saying that the Tamashek culture’s very existence as a people is at stake. In the Sahara since Phoenician times, with 1000s of years of history behind them, the Tamashek people only really know and seek their own freedom in their desert. 


I promise you adventure, great music and a sense of communal celebration and debate at a time of pivotal change for the region. From Here 2 Timbuktu and the organisers of the Caravan of Peace and The Festival In The Desert are well placed to look after your security and this will be at the forefront of our minds throughout.




off to the festival






 Tuareg woman at the Festival of Camels, Tessalit, 2010

Winner of the beauty contest at The Festival Of Camels, Tessalit 2010 

Click here for the Festival In The Desert Press Release





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