The large landlocked Mali was once a center of Islamic prosperity, but is sadly now one of the world’s poorest countries in the world. Nevertheless, a sense of national pride reins here among singing and dancing that will have you mesmerized with Mali’s cultural and historical heritage. Beautiful mosques pay tribute to the country’s Islamic roots, while the historic towns of Djenné and Old Djenné, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the market town of Mopti and Timbuktu, a hidden city that opens to the Sahara will make your visit worthwhile.
When to Go
There are three main seasons: a rainy season from June to October, a cool season from November to February, and a hot, dry season from March to June. Dress in lightweight fabrics, but wear thicker layers during the cool season and waterproof clothing during the rainy season.
Getting There & Away
Bamako Airport is located 15kms from the capital, and a bus service provides regular trips to the city center. There are also domestic flights to major cities as well as chartered light aircraft from the Société des Transports Aériens (STA). Travelling by air is a wise choice considering kidnappings and carjackings are not uncommon. Boats are a popular form of transport, with weekly services along the Niger River Bamako and Gao via Timbuktu from July to December. There is a rail service serving two train line, a Malian line and a Senagalese line. The Senegalese service is more comfortable as it’s air conditioned and has more seating. Bus services are available, but the roads leave a lot to be desired and are badly lit at night. Travel is especially difficult during the rainy season.
Health & Safety
There is high risk of malaria, cholera, typhoid and other tropical diseases, while tap water and freshwater are generally considered unsafe to drink. Drink only sterilized or bottled water, and do not swim or paddle in freshwater. Medical and emergency services are very limited, and it’s best to bring your own first-aid supplies and medication. Crime rates are low, but Northern Mali is known for occasional kidnappings, carjackings and armed banditry. It is best to travel with a guide or a trusted local at all times if you want to avoid being taken hostage.
Food & Hospitality
Meat is seldom fully cooked in Mali cuisine, so you could be looking at diarrhea, worms or worse if you do not insist on your meat being anything but the color red. You may even come across actual teeth and bone in your dish, so a quick scan of what you are shoveling into your mouth is wise. Stick to international cuisine if you have a delicate stomach.
Accommodation is generally expensive and limited, so you’ll have to book in advance. There are hotels throughout the main cities, but only those in Bamako meet international standards. Mid-range hotels provide adequate facilities and service, although not all have air conditioning.
Three days in Bamako
Two days in Djenné and Old Djenné
Three days in Mopti
Two days in Timbuktu
Bamako: is the country’s capital and educational center, home to several zoos, museums and gardens. Some of the popular sites are the Musée National, Maison des Artisans and the Botanical Gardens.
Djenné and Old Djenné: are fondly called the ‘Jewel of the Niger‘. Djenné is one of the oldest trading towns in the region, with its main attraction being the Grande Mosquée, a stunning historic mosque. Old Djenné, founded around 250 BC and located about three miles from Djenné, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mopti: this city is considered the center of Mali tourism. It sits between three separate islands joined by dykes, and features another beautiful mosque and a bustling open market.
Timbuktu: has come to stand for unknown places, but the real Timbuktu was a former gold trading site and center for Islamic education. Today, Timbuktu is home to several historic sites including mosques and tombs dating as far back as the 14th century.
Trekking: on guided trips is available at the Bandiagara escarpment, starting at Bandiagara, Bankass or Mopti. Be sure to check your guide has official ID before joining a group.
Shopping: visit the Marché des Souvenirs in Mopti for beautiful handcrafted souvenirs, linen and wooden African sculptures.
Boating: along the Niger River is great for relaxation and a picnic. Try to go in the late afternoon so you can catch the sunset.
Walking tours: are offered in major cities. As long as the weather’s good, they’re a fun form of exercise as well as a great way to get to know the country.