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MALI TRAVEL GUIDE

Once the vital link on the trans-Saharan salt and gold trade route, Mali came into a lot of riches and the tales say that the streets of Timbuktu, Djenne and Gao were paved with gold. But that was more than 600 years ago. Today, Mali has one of the weakest economies in the world and Nature hasn’t come to her aid either. Famine and drought of epic proportions has taken a severe toll in the 1970s and 1980s. The government has settled down to the mammoth task ahead and the good news is that tourism is on its priority list.

 

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa that offers a rich and diverse cultural heritage, stunning natural wonders and a fascinating history. It's home to some of the oldest and most impressive monuments in Africa, such as the Great Mosque of Djenné, the Tomb of Askia and the Bandiagara Cliffs. Mali is also known for its vibrant music scene, featuring traditional instruments like the kora and ngoni, as well as modern genres like blues and rap. Mali's people are friendly and hospitable, belonging to various ethnic groups such as the Bambara, Dogon, Fula and Tuareg. Mali's landscapes are equally diverse, ranging from the arid Sahara desert in the north to the lush Niger River valley in the south. Mali is a destination for adventurous travelers who want to experience a different side of Africa.

 

Travel to Northern Mali remains extremely dangerous and is therefore strongly discouraged. Violent crime, such as kidnapping and armed robbery, is common in the regions of northern and central Mali.

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⬇️ COUNTRY GUIDE ⬇️

  • Capital: Bamako

  • Currency: CFA franc (XOF)

  • Area: 1.24 million km²

  • Population: 19,08 million (2018)

  • Language: French (official), Bambara 80%, numerous African languages

  • Religion: Muslim 90%, indigenous beliefs 9%, Christian 1%

  • Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (European plug)

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SEASONS AT A GLANCE

Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists. 

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Peak Season

Shoulder Season

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Climate Chart with avergae monthly temperatues and rainfall

BEST TIME TO VISIT MALI

The best time to visit Mali depends on what you want to see and do. Mali has a tropical climate with two main seasons: dry and wet. The dry season lasts from October to May, and the wet season lasts from June to September. The dry season is generally hotter and dustier, especially in the north where the harmattan wind blows from the Sahara. The wet season is cooler and greener, but also more humid and prone to flooding.

 

If you want to enjoy pleasant weather and avoid the dust and rain, the best time to visit Mali is between October and January. This is when the temperatures are moderate, the skies are clear, and the Niger River is navigable by boat. You can also witness some of Mali's cultural festivals during this period, such as the Festival of Masks in Markala or the Festival of Horses in Ségou.

 

However, if you want to see Mali's lush landscape and experience its vibrant music scene, you might prefer to visit during August or September. This is when the rainy season is ending and the countryside is green and fertile. You can also attend one of Mali's most famous events: the Festival on the Niger in Ségou. This festival showcases Mali's rich musical heritage with performances by local and international artists.

 

Whatever time of year you choose to visit Mali, you will find a country full of history, culture, and natural beauty.

 

SAFETY IN MALI

Mali has been plagued by political instability, ethnic violence and terrorist attacks for years. The UK Foreign Office advises against all travel to most regions of Mali and against all but essential travel to the rest of the country, including the capital Bamako. The US State Department also warns that travelers should reconsider travel to Mali due to crime, terrorism and kidnapping. Mali is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for tourists, as there is a high risk of being kidnapped, robbed or attacked by armed groups linked to Al Qaeda or other extremist organizations . The security situation in Mali is unpredictable and volatile, and travelers should be vigilant at all times, avoid crowded places and public gatherings, monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities . Traveling by road can be hazardous due to poor road conditions, banditry and landmines . Traveling by air can also be risky due to inadequate safety standards and frequent flight cancellations. Mali has a very low level of development and health care facilities are limited or nonexistent outside of major cities. Travelers should have comprehensive medical insurance and carry adequate supplies of medication . Mali also faces environmental challenges such as droughts, floods and locust infestations that can affect food security and livelihoods.

 

In conclusion, Mali is not a safe destination for travelers at the moment and should only be visited with extreme caution and preparation.

BEST TIME FOR:

Hiking may not immediately come to mind when you think of Mali, but in Dogon Country it’s one of the best ways to get to know the people and the landscape. Walking along sandstone cliffs and weaving through local villages to see ancient dwellings and meet the people of the Dogon tribe is one of Mali’s most memorable experiences. October, November, December and January are the best times to enjoy outdoor activities in Mali.

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MALI TRAVEL COSTS

Flights

The cost of flying to Mali depends on your departure point, the season and the availability of flights. The main international airport in Mali is Bamako-Sénou International Airport (BKO), which is located about 15 km south of the capital city Bamako. There are direct flights to Bamako from several African and European cities, such as Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Casablanca and Dakar. You can also find connecting flights via other hubs like Addis Ababa or Nairobi.

 

Accommodation

The cost of accommodation in Mali also depends on your location, preference and comfort level. You can find a range of options from budget hostels and guesthouses to mid-range hotels and luxury resorts. However, you should be aware that some areas may have limited or no accommodation options due to security reasons or lack of infrastructure. According to Budget Your Trip, the average price for one person for accommodation in Mali is CFA 7,323 ($12) per night. For two people sharing a typical double-occupancy hotel room, the average price is CFA 14,645 ($24) per night.

 

Transportation

The cost of transportation in Mali varies depending on the distance, mode and quality of service. You can choose from public buses, shared taxis, private taxis or rental cars. However, you should be careful when traveling by road in Mali as some routes may be dangerous or inaccessible due to banditry or military checkpoints. According to Budget Your Trip, past travelers have spent an average of CFA 1,815 ($3) per person per day on local transportation in Mali.

 

Food

The cost of food in Mali depends on your taste buds and appetite. You can find a variety of dishes from different ethnic groups and regions such as tiga diga na (a peanut sauce with rice), maafe (a meat stew with peanut butter), foutou (a mashed plantain dish) or cheb u jen (a fish dish with rice). You can also enjoy street food snacks like beignets (fried dough balls), aloko (fried plantains) or brochettes (grilled meat skewers). However, you should be careful about hygiene and sanitation when eating out. According to Budget Your Trip, past travelers have spent an average of CFA 4,409 ($7) per person per day on food in Mali.

 

Activities

The cost of activities in Mali depends on your interests and itinerary. You can explore the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty of Mali by visiting places like Djenné (a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a mud-brick mosque), Dogon Country (a region with ancient cliff dwellings and animist traditions), Bandiagara Escarpment (a scenic rock formation with hiking trails), Ségou (a historical city with colonial architecture), Mopti (a port city with a lively market) or Timbuktu (a legendary city with mosques and libraries). However, you should check the current security situation before visiting any area as some places may be off-limits due to violence or instability. According to Against The Compass, you can expect to pay around CFA 10-20k ($16-33) per day for guided tours or excursions in Mali.

 

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TRAVEL TIPS FOR MALI

If you decide to travel to Mali despite the risks involved, you should take some precautions to protect yourself and your belongings. Here are some general tips:

  • Check the latest travel advice from your government before booking your trip and monitor local media for updates on security incidents.
  • Register with your embassy or consulate in Bamako and inform them of your itinerary and contact details.
  • Avoid traveling at night or alone and use only reputable transportation providers.
  • Stay away from crowds, demonstrations, political gatherings, military installations, government buildings, places of worship, and other potential targets for attacks.
  • Be vigilant at all times and report any suspicious activity or objects to the authorities.
  • Carry copies of your passport and visa with you at all times and keep your original documents in a safe place.
  • Do not accept any food or drink from strangers or leave your belongings unattended.
  • Do not display any signs of wealth or valuables such as jewelry, cameras, or laptops.
  • Do not take photos or videos of sensitive sites such as airports, bridges, or military checkpoints.
  • Respect local customs and dress conservatively, especially in rural areas and religious sites.
  • Be aware of the risk of malaria, yellow fever, and other diseases and get vaccinated before traveling.

REGIONS & HIGHLIGHTS OF MALI

Mali has a rich and diverse cultural heritage. It has been home to some of the most powerful empires in African history, such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. It also boasts some of the most stunning natural and architectural wonders on the continent, such as the Niger River, the Bandiagara Escarpment, and the ancient city of Timbuktu. Mali is divided into ten regions, each with its own attractions and charms. Here are some of the main regions worth visiting and what they have to offer.

 

  • Bamako: This is the capital and largest city of Mali, located on the banks of the Niger River. It is a bustling metropolis with a vibrant nightlife, cultural scene, and markets. You can visit the National Museum of Mali, which showcases the country's art and history; the Grand Mosque of Bamako, which is one of the largest mosques in West Africa; and the Point G Hill, which offers panoramic views of the city.
  • Kayes: This is the westernmost region of Mali, bordering Senegal and Mauritania. It is known for its natural beauty and diversity, with mountains, forests, waterfalls, and lakes. You can explore the Bafing National Park, which is home to chimpanzees, elephants, lions, and other wildlife; or hike to Mount Hombori Tondo (Hombori), which is the highest peak in Mali at 1 155 meters.
  • Koulikoro: This is one of central regions of Mali along Niger River valley. It has a rich agricultural production especially cottons as well as historical sites related to ancient empires such as Ghana Empire (Wagadou) or Sosso Empire (Soso). You can visit Kangaba village where Sundiata Keita was born who founded Mali Empire; or Segou town where you can see traditional mud houses called tata-soba.
  • Sikasso: This is one southernmost region bordering Ivory Coast Burkina Faso Guinea . It has lush green landscapes fertile soils tropical climate . It also has strong cultural traditions such as mask dances festivals music . You can visit Sikasso town where you can see Mamelon hill which was fortified by King Tieba Traore who resisted French colonization ; or Koutiala town where you can see cotton museum which explains how cotton industry developed in region .
  • Segou: This is another central region along Niger River valley . It has historical significance as former capital Songhai Empire which dominated West Africa 15th 16th centuries . You can visit Segou-Koro old town where you can see remains palace mosque tombs kings queens ; or Djenne town which UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its mud-brick architecture especially Great Mosque Djenne largest mud building world .
  • Mopti: This is central-eastern region also along Niger River valley . It has diverse ethnic groups such as Fulani Dogon Tuareg Bozo who live harmony despite differences . You can visit Mopti town which major port trading center known Venice Sahara ; or Bandiagara Escarpment which another UNESCO World Heritage Site spectacular cliff formations where Dogon people live their unique culture .
  • Tombouctou: This northernmost region bordering Algeria Mauritania . It has legendary reputation as center learning trade culture during medieval times when it was part Mali Empire later Songhai Empire . You can visit Timbuktu old town where you can see mosques madrasas libraries manuscripts that testify its glorious past ; or Taoudenni salt mines where caravans still transport salt across desert .
  • Gao: This easternmost region bordering Niger Burkina Faso . It has strategic location along Niger River Trans-Saharan trade routes . You can visit Gao town where you can see Askia Tomb monument built by Askia Muhammad ruler Songhai Empire 15th century ; or La Dune Rose pink sand dune that changes color depending on sun position .
  • Kidal: This northeastern region mostly covered by Sahara Desert . It has nomadic lifestyle adapted harsh environment . You can visit Kidal town where you can see Agadez Mosque oldest mosque Mali built 14th century ; or Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range that shelters rock art caves oases wildlife .
  • Menaka: This newest region created 2016 from part Gao Region . It has arid climate sparse population

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN MALI

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa that offers a rich cultural and natural diversity. From ancient mosques and cliff dwellings to vibrant markets and desert festivals, Mali has something for every traveler. Here are some of the best things to see and do when visiting Mali.

 

Witness the amazing Mali architecture for yourself

Mali is home to some of the most impressive examples of mud-brick architecture in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Djenné and Timbuktu are famous for their grand mosques that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The mosques are built with mud, straw, wood, and palm leaves, and are regularly maintained by the local communities. The mosques feature intricate decorations, minarets, domes, arches, and courtyards that reflect the Islamic influence on Mali's history. Another architectural wonder is the Bandiagara Cliffs (Dogon Country), where you can see how the Dogon people have adapted their houses, granaries, altars, and shrines to the steep cliffs for centuries. The Dogon culture is one of the most fascinating in Africa, with its unique cosmology, rituals, masks, dances, and art.

 

Get to know more about life along the Niger River

The Niger River is the lifeline of Mali, providing water, food, transportation, trade, and recreation for millions of people. You can explore the river by taking a boat trip from Mopti or Gao to see how different ethnic groups live along its banks. You can also visit some of the islands on the river that host villages, farms, fishing camps, and wildlife reserves. One of the most popular destinations on the Niger River is Ségou Koro (Old Ségou), where you can learn about the history of Mali's former Bambara empire that ruled from here in the 18th century. You can also admire some of its colonial buildings that have been preserved as museums or hotels.

 

Visit Timbuktu

Timbuktu is one of those places that evoke mystery and adventure in many travelers' minds. Once a flourishing center of trade and learning in medieval times, Timbuktu still retains some of its charm and heritage today. You can visit its three great mosques - Sankoré Mosque (the oldest university in Africa), Djinguereber Mosque (the largest mosque in Timbuktu), and Sidi Yahiya Mosque (named after one of Timbuktu's saints) - as well as its libraries that contain thousands of ancient manuscripts on various subjects.

 

You can also explore its markets where you can find salt from Taoudenni (a remote salt mine in northern Mali), leather goods from Tuareg nomads, jewelry from Songhai craftsmen, and souvenirs from local artisans. You can also take a camel ride or a 4x4 tour to see some of Timbuktu's surroundings, such as La Dune Rose (a pink sand dune), the Tomb of Askia (the burial place of a 15th-century emperor),

and Heinrich Barth's House (where a German explorer stayed during his five-year journey across Africa).

 

Explore the desert

Mali has some of the most spectacular desert landscapesin West Africa, ranging from rocky plateaus to sandy dunes to oases to salt flats. You can experience the beauty and harshness of these environments by joining an organized tour or hiring a local guide. Some of the best places

to visit in the desert are the Adrar des Ifoghas (a mountain range that hosts ancient rock art, caves, and waterfalls), the Gourma region (where you can see elephants, giraffes, and other wildlife), and Taoudenni (a remote salt mine that produces tons of salt blocks every year).

 

Get in touch with nature

If you are looking for some greenery and fresh air, Mali has some options for you too. You can visit Parc National du Mali (Bamako National Park), a large urban park that offers trails, gardens, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a museum.

WHAT TO EAT IN MALI

The cuisine of Mali is influenced by its geography, climate, history and ethnic groups. If you are planning to visit Mali, here are some of the dishes that you should not miss.

  • Tiguadege Na: Tiguadege Na is the national dish of Mali and it means "meat in peanut butter sauce". It is a hearty stew made with lamb or chicken cooked in a thick and creamy sauce of peanut butter, tomatoes, onions and spices. It is usually served with rice or couscous and can be found in most restaurants and street stalls.
  • Labadja: Labadja is a festive dish that is traditionally eaten on Eid or other special occasions. It consists of minced meat (usually beef or lamb) mixed with boiled rice and butter. The mixture is then shaped into balls or patties and fried until golden brown. Labadja can be eaten as a snack or as a main course with salad and bread.
  • Poulet Yassa: Poulet Yassa is a popular dish that originated from Senegal but has become widely adopted in Mali. It is made with chicken marinated in lemon juice, vinegar, onions, garlic, mustard and chili peppers. The chicken is then grilled or fried until tender and served with caramelized onion sauce and rice. Poulet Yassa has a tangy, spicy and sweet flavor that will make your mouth water.
  • La Capitaine Sangha: La Capitaine Sangha is a dish that showcases the fresh fish from the Niger River that flows through Mali. It is prepared with Nile perch, which is a large fish with white flesh and mild flavor. The fish is seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice and then deep-fried until crispy. It is accompanied by fried plantains, rice and hot chili sauce for dipping.
  • Jollof Rice: Jollof Rice is one of the most common dishes in West Africa and each country has its own version of it. In Mali, Jollof Rice is made with rice cooked in tomato paste, stock, onions, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, nutmeg and other spices. It can be cooked with meat (such as chicken or beef), vegetables (such as carrots or peas) or beans (such as black-eyed peas). Jollof Rice is a filling and flavorful dish that can be eaten on its own or with salad.

These are just some of the delicious dishes that you can enjoy when visiting Mali. Of course, there are many more to discover depending on where you go and what you like. So don't be afraid to try new things and explore the culinary diversity of this amazing country.

LGBTQ IN MALI

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WHERE TO STAY IN MALI

For a first-time visit to Mali, it's recommended to base yourself in Bamako, the capital city, as it offers convenient access to major attractions, cultural experiences, and accommodations. Here's why:


Where To Stay In Bamako:

Bamako is the largest city in Mali and serves as its economic, cultural, and political hub, making it an ideal starting point for exploring the country.

Explore attractions like the National Museum of Mali, Bamako Grand Mosque, and the bustling markets of Medina Coura.

  • Budget: Hotel Mirabeau offers affordable accommodations with simple rooms and basic amenities, located in the city center near markets and restaurants.

  • Mid-range: Azalai Hotel Salam provides comfortable rooms and modern facilities, including a swimming pool and fitness center, with a central location overlooking the Niger River.

  • Luxury: Radisson Blu Hotel Bamako offers luxurious accommodations with upscale amenities, including spacious suites, a rooftop pool, and multiple dining options, in a convenient location near government offices and embassies.

Tip: Visit Bamako during the dry season (November to April) for the best weather and outdoor activities and consider booking accommodations directly through hotel websites for potential discounts or special offers.


Additionally, for those interested in exploring Mali's cultural heritage and historic sites, consider visiting the following region:


Where To Stay In Timbuktu:

Timbuktu, located in northern Mali, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its rich history, ancient mosques, and traditional mud-brick architecture.

  • Budget: There are limited accommodation options in Timbuktu, but guesthouses like Maison Boctar offer basic rooms with shared facilities, providing an authentic experience in the heart of the city.

  • Mid-range: La Maison des Sables provides comfortable accommodations in a traditional desert-style setting, with air-conditioned rooms and a restaurant serving local cuisine, located near the iconic Djinguereber Mosque.

  • Luxury: Azalai Desert Lodge offers luxurious tented accommodations with modern amenities, including en-suite bathrooms and private terraces, situated amidst the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, providing a unique and unforgettable experience.

Tip: Due to security concerns in certain areas of northern Mali, it's essential to check travel advisories and consult with local authorities or tour operators before planning a visit to Timbuktu. Additionally, consider booking accommodations with reputable tour operators or agencies that offer guided tours and ensure safety and security throughout your stay.

For hassle-free bookings, use platforms like Booking.com for competitive rates or Holiday Swap for unique homes worldwide. Ensure to book in advance, especially during peak seasons, and align your preferences with nearby activities such as surfing, snorkeling, or cultural exploration.

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Booking.com is our number one resource for researching and booking accommodation. In addition to Booking.com, we have found Agoda.com to consistently returns the cheapest rates in Southeast Asia. For longer stays, find unique homes worldwide on Holiday Swap, the most affordable travel platform that allows you to book homes anytime, anywhere in only a few clicks.

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DiscoverCars.com is a leader in online car rental bookings; we compare car rental deals from many companies so that you can choose which is best for your trip. 12Go connects the world door-to-door, from transfers to flights, under the same user-friendly ticket.

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