With its surreal landscapes, beautiful traditional art objects, mosques looking like fortified castles, pink sandstones villages, Mali is one of the most fascinating countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Not forgetting the scenery of the Sahara desert and the enigmatic city of Timbuktu. With a high child mortality, malnutrition, low literacy and short life expectancy, Mali is among the 5 poorest countries in the world.
- Capital City: Bamako
- Language: French (official language), Bambara, Songhai, Touareg and Arabic
- Time difference: GMT/UTC
- Entry Formalities: The visa is required (valid 30 days and costs 28 USD)
- Electricity: Metric system
- Telephone: + 223
- Health: Yellow fever vaccine (immunization record booklet is required)
Generalities: Few banks in Bamako will change your money but they take a lot of commissions. If you are travelling from Burkina Faso, Niger or Senegal, you should change your money there before coming to Mali (commissions are much lower)
Currency: CFA Franc (XOF)
Daily budget food
- Economic budget: < 2 000 Fcfa
- Average budget: 2 000 – 4 000 Fcfa
- High budget: > 4 000 Fcfa
Daily budget accommodation
- Economic budget: < 6 500 Fcfa
- Average budget: 6 500 – 20 000 Fcfa
- High budget: > 20 000 Fcfa
When To Go And Climate
Best time to go: The best period to visit Mali is during November (before March when the hot season starts) and after the rainy season (June-August-September). November is a good month to cruise the Niger River because the river level has risen with the rainy season. From October to February, you can visit the country. But you must avoid the hot season going from March to May
Ceremonies and festivals: The most fascinating event in the Malian calendar would be the transhumance of herds of Fula people, crossing of the Bani River (town of Diarafabé). Every year, following a 160 years old tradition, Diarafabé witnesses the herds of cattle crossing the river to reach the left bank. This is the opportunity to organize ceremonies and festivities where nomadic herders will meet with family and friends after several months in the desert. The elders decide in a democratic way the order of crossing of the herds. The cattle are transported in the other side of the river where the grass is greener. During the Masks Festival which lasts 5 days in April, Dogon people celebrate with ritual dances which are more than 1000 years old. Among their dances, the most famous is the Sigui which happens every 50 years. This periodicity is certainly linked to the Dogon’s agricultural calendar. This Dogon calendar is based on the orbital cycles of Sirius (not visible with naked eye).
Climate: The weather is very hot in the north of the country. During the month of the December, the temperatures become a little bit cooler. The rainy season affects only the south of the country (from June to September). The Harmattan wind blows between December and February.
- Economic budget: < 6 500 Fcfa
- Average budget: 6 500-20 000 Fcfa
- Higher budget: > 20 000 Fcfa
Bamako: Capital of one of the poorest countries in the world, Bamako is nevertheless a very lively city. Crowds of people buy, sell and exchange goods in the oppressive heat. We find anything in the central market: indigo fabrics, gold, dried birds, monkeys’ heads, and porcupine quills used in traditional medicine. You must visit the craftsmen’s house near the mosque, medina market, and the antiques village in N’Golonina market. The national museum is one of the most beautiful ethnographic museums in western Africa. The building is inspired from Djenné’s mud brick architecture. The museum includes an extensive collection of tapestries, masks, funeral objects and weapons.
Along The Niger River: Vital artery of the country, the Niger River forms an elbow bend before flowing towards the ocean. The boats sailing on the river from August to November are an excellent way to discover the interior of the country. Mopti, located in the inner delta, is one of the biggest cities of the country with its port thrilling with life and a colorful market. This city is also the center of the local tourism industry, and you won’t escape from street vendor’s harassment. Before reaching Mopti, the gateway city of San is quieter and has kept a traditional atmosphere. Gao is the last stop before the Niger River bends towards the ocean. It is extremely hot because the city is part of the Sahel desert, but is an important tourist attraction because its colorful market square and the Tomb of Askia (Songhai emperor in the 16th century) converted to a mosque.
Bandiagara Escarpment: Hiking in the Land of the Dogons, is without a doubt the greatest experience of visiting Mali. Renowned for their artistic skills, the Dogon people have their own civilization very fascinating, and mysterious. Climbing on foot the cliffs of Bandiagara will allow you to admire closely the pink sandstone dwellings and thatched clay granaries. In April, you can assist to the spectacular festival of masks (Fête des Masques) which lasts during 5 days. This big Dogon celebration leads to a lot of dancing and millet beer. The sandstone cliff rises about 500 meters above the lower sandy flats to the south. It has a length of approximately 150 kilometres.
Djenne: Located on the Niger delta, this city reaches its entire splendor during the rainy season when it becomes an island. It is the oldest city of western Africa. The city hasn’t changed for many centuries. Its thatched roofs mud homes with wooden shutters, and doors decorated with metal or painted objects give this city an unreal charm. Great Mosque of Djenné photographed more than 1000 times, reinforces the feeling of strangeness of this city. Entirely built with banco, this mosque is considered as the biggest clay building in the world.
Timbuktu: During the Mali Empire, Timbuktu was a major milestone on the trans-Saharan route. The city was then a very prosperous commercial city. The decline of Timbuktu was due to the end of monopoly of this trans-Saharan route. Today, Timbuktu has the reputation of being an outpost lost in the middle of the desert and inaccessible. It is true that Timbuktu is not easy to reach, but not as unreachable as the legend says. Timbuktu is home for the three oldest mosques in the world. The great market place is located in the oldest part of the city. The market itself is neither very big nor abundant. Despite the absence of major historical monuments, Timbuktu still conserves an undefinable mystery and a unique atmosphere.
Sports & Activities
One of the most interesting activities in Mali is trekking along Bandiagara escarpment. This trekking can last from one day up to 8 days. It all depends on the time you have, your budget, and your physical resistance. Using the services of a local guide can be helpful. He will show you the best tracks and will negotiate for you the accommodation prices in the villages where you will spend the night. You must absolutely sail the Niger River. Here again, the length of the excursion is very flexible. An excursion on the desert on camel back from Touareg camps sounds like a cliché. But if you reach Timbuktu by plane or by boat, this excursion will give you an experience of life in the desert.
Kids Will Love…..
- Excursion in the Land of Dogon people along the cliffs of Bandiagara.
- Visit the astonishing Dogon villages and picturesque granaries.
- Visit the fascination city of Djenné, and its beautiful mosque.
- Beautiful bobo villages in the San region.
- The extraordinary collection of masks, statues, fabrics and archaeological objects in the National Museum of Bamako.
- Masks ceremonies in the Dogon villages of Tireli and Sanga.
- Colourful markets of Sikasso, Ngolonina and Ségou.
- Meeting the Touareg and experience with them a night in the desert.
Sailing on the Niger River
- Sail on the Niger River until the beautiful and calm city of Segou. Enjoy a cruise from Mopti to Timbuktu
- Discover the dunes of Sahara on camelback near Tombouctou
- Admire the landscapes between Douentza and Gao
- Watch the waterfalls of Fenou and Gouina which are said to be the most beautiful in West Africa.
- Watch the hippos and the birds in the Lake Debo.
- Observe the chimpanzees in the national reserve of Bafing.
- Admire the elephants of Gourma.
- Go see the sacred crocodiles in Amani, in the Land of Dogon
The famous dish in Mali is “Yassa” chicken made with rice and finely chopped onions and chicken marinated in a deep lemon mustard and olive sauce and grilled. Your children will love the fried plantains & sweet potatoes. They will appreciate the red sorrel juice (“bissap”) which can be drunk cold or hot with sugar.