Rugged Land of Sahelian Sands & Lush Forests – Like an exquisite sandcastle formed in a harsh desert landscape, Mali is blessed by an extraordinary amount of beauty, wonders, talents and knowledge. Yet for now, it’s landscapes, monuments, mosques and music bars are off-limits, sealed from tourists by a conflict that is threatening the culture of this remarkable country.
The beating heart of Mali is Bamako, where Ngoni and Kora musicians play to crowds of dancing Malians from all ethnicities, while in the Dogon country, villages still cling to the cliffs as they did in ancient times. Further west, Fula women strap silver jewellery to their ears and their belongings to donkeys, forming caravans worthy of beauty pageants as they make their way across the hamada (dry, dusty scrubland). And in the northeast, the writings of ancient African civilizations remain locked in the beautiful libraries of Timbuktu.
Official name. Republic of Mali
Capital and largest city. Bamako 12°39′N 8°0′W
Languages. Official French. National languages: Bambara, Bomu, Tieyaxo, Bozo, Toro, So, Dogon, Maasina, Fulfulde, Hassaniya, Arabic, Mamara, Senoufo, Kita, Maninkakan, Soninke, Koyraboro, Senni, Syenara, Senoufo, Tamasheq, Xaasongaxango
Ethnic groups. 50% Mande, 17% Fula, 12% Voltaic (Senufo / Bwa), 10% Tuareg / Moor, 6% Songhai, 4% other
Government. Unitary semi-presidential republic. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
Independence from France. 20 June 1960
Area. Total 1,240,192 km2 (24th). Water (%) 1.6
Population. April 2009 census 14,517,176 (67th). Density 11.7/km2 (215th)
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate Total $30.990 billion. Per capita $1,843
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate Total $11.880 billion. Per capita $707
Tourist Information. www.le-mali.com/omatho/index.htm. As there are few travellers, Lonely Planet provides historical and cultural information rather than reviews and listings in their guide books. LP suggests other sources of information: information for on-the-ground travel in Mali is Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree online travel forum www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree. Other sources of good internet-based information are www.maliactu.net (local news in French) and blogs like Bridges from Bamako (http://bridgesfrombamako.com)
MONEY. West African CFA franc (XOF). Exchange rate (Sept 2016 xe.com) 1US$ = 588 CFA.
ATMs are found at most every bank in Bamako. BDM banks have ATMs for VISA cards. The only ATM for Maestro/MasterCard is Banque Atlantique, across the river on the eastern bridge.
VISAS. Visas are not required for citizens of Algeria, Andorra, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Tunisia.
For all other countries, a visa must be obtained before arrival to enter Mali. An invitation is required (copy of hotel reservations or company letter explaining purpose of trip) to obtain the visa. Short-stay and transit visas may be issued at borders depending on security situation.
It is possible to get a one month visa from the Malian embassy of Conakry: 2 photoS, passport; Come in the morning to fill a form and you will get your visa in the afternoon. The embassy is located 200m away from the locally known Hotel Camayenne.
Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa. Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa, with an area of just over 1,240,000 square kilometres. The population of Mali is 14.5 million. Its capital is Bamako. Mali consists of eight regions and its borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara Desert, while the country’s southern part, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Senegal rivers. The country’s economy centers on agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali’s prominent natural resources include gold, being the third largest producer of gold in the African continent, and salt. About half the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 (U.S.) a day. A majority of the population (55%) are non-denominational Muslims.
Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (for which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. During its golden age, there was a flourishing of mathematics, astronomy, literature, and art. At its peak in 1300, the Mali Empire covered an area about twice the size of modern-day France and stretched to the west coast of Africa. In the late 19th century, during the Scramble for Africa, France seized control of Mali, making it a part of French Sudan. French Sudan (then known as the Sudanese Republic) joined with Senegal in 1959, achieving independence in 1960 as the Mali Federation. Shortly thereafter, following Senegal’s withdrawal from the federation, the Sudanese Republic declared itself the independent Republic of Mali. After a long period of one-party rule, a coup in 1991 led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state.
In January 2012, an armed conflict broke out in northern Mali, which Tuareg rebels took control of by April and declared the secession of a new state, Azawad. The conflict was complicated by a military coup that took place in March and later fighting between Tuareg and Islamist rebels. In response to Islamist territorial gains, the French military launched Opération Serval in January 2013. A month later, Malian and French forces recaptured most of the north.
Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, slaves, and other precious commodities. These Sahelian kingdoms had neither rigid geopolitical boundaries nor rigid ethnic identities. The earliest of these empires was the Ghana Empire, which was dominated by the Soninke, a Mande-speaking people. The empire expanded throughout West Africa from the 8th century until 1078, when it was conquered by the Almoravids.
The Mali Empire later formed on the upper Niger River, and reached the height of power in the 14th century. Under the Mali Empire, the ancient cities of Djenné and Timbuktu were centers of both trade and Islamic learning. The empire later declined as a result of internal intrigue, ultimately being supplanted by the Songhai Empire. The Songhai people originated in current northwestern Nigeria. The Songhai had long been a major power in West Africa subject to the Mali Empire’s rule. In the late 14th century, the Songhai gradually gained independence from the Mali Empire and expanded, ultimately subsuming the entire eastern portion of the Mali Empire. The Songhai Empire’s eventual collapse was largely the result of a Moroccan invasion in 1591 and marked the end of the region’s role as a trading crossroads. Following the establishment of sea routes by the European powers, the trans-Saharan trade routes lost significance.
One of the worst famines in the region’s recorded history occurred in the 18th century – the worst crises were in the 1680s, when famine extended from the Senegambian coast to the Upper Nile and ‘many sold themselves for slaves, only to get a sustenance’, and especially in 1738–56, when West Africa’s greatest recorded subsistence crisis, due to drought and locusts, reportedly killed half the population of Timbuktu.
French colonial rule. Mali fell under the control of France during the late 19th century. By 1905, most of the area was under firm French control as a part of French Sudan. In early 1959, French Sudan (which changed its name to the Sudanese Republic) and Senegal united to become the Mali Federation. The Mali Federation gained independence from France on 20 June 1960.
Senegal withdrew from the federation in August 1960, which allowed the Sudanese Republic to become the independent Republic of Mali on 22 September 1960. Modibo Keïta was elected the first president. Keïta quickly established a one-party state, adopted an independent African and socialist orientation with close ties to the East, and implemented extensive nationalization of economic resources. In 1960, the population of Mali was reported to be about 4.1 million.
Moussa Traoré. In November 1968, following progressive economic decline, the Keïta regime was overthrown in a bloodless military coup led by Moussa Traoré, a day which is now commemorated as Liberation Day. The subsequent military-led regime, with Traoré as president, attempted to reform the economy. His efforts were frustrated by political turmoil and a devastating drought between 1968 and 1974, in which famine killed thousands of people. The Traoré regime faced student unrest beginning in the late 1970s and three coup attempts. The Traoré regime repressed all dissenters until the late 1980s.
The government continued to attempt economic reforms, and the populace became increasingly dissatisfied. In response to growing demands for multi-party democracy, the Traoré regime allowed some limited political liberalization, but refused to usher in a full-fledged democratic system. In 1990, cohesive opposition movements began to emerge, and was complicated by the turbulent rise of ethnic violence in the north following the return of many Tuaregs to Mali. Anti-government protests in 1991 led to a coup, a transitional government, and a new constitution. Opposition to the corrupt and dictatorial regime of General Moussa Traoré grew during the 1980s. During this time strict programs, imposed to satisfy demands of the International Monetary Fund, brought increased hardship upon the country’s population, while elites close to the government supposedly lived in growing wealth. Peaceful student protests in January 1991 were brutally suppressed, with mass arrests and torture of leaders and participants. Scattered acts of rioting and vandalism of public buildings followed, but most actions by the dissidents remained nonviolent.
March Revolution. From 22 March through 26 March 1991, mass pro-democracy rallies and a nationwide strike was held in both urban and rural communities, which became known as les evenements (“the events”) or the March Revolution. In Bamako, in response to mass demonstrations organized by university students and later joined by trade unionists and others, soldiers opened fire indiscriminately on the nonviolent demonstrators. Riots broke out briefly following the shootings. Barricades as well as roadblocks were erected and Traoré declared a state of emergency and imposed a nightly curfew. Despite an estimated loss of 300 lives over the course of four days, nonviolent protesters continued to return to Bamako each day demanding the resignation of the dictatorial president and the implementation of democratic policies.
26 March 1991 is the day that marks the clash between military soldiers and peaceful demonstrating students which climaxed in the massacre of dozens under the orders of Traoré. He and three associates were later tried and convicted and received the death sentence for their part in the decision-making of that day. Nowadays, the day is a national holiday in order to remember the tragic events and the people that were killed. The coup is remembered as Mali’s March Revolution of 1991.
By 26 March, the growing refusal of soldiers to fire into the largely nonviolent protesting crowds turned into a full-scale tumult, and resulted in thousands of soldiers putting down their arms and joining the pro-democracy movement. That afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Touré announced on the radio that he had arrested the dictatorial president, Moussa Traoré. As a consequence, opposition parties were legalized and a national congress of civil and political groups met to draft a new democratic constitution.
Amadou Toumani Touré presidency. In 1992, Alpha Oumar Konaré won Mali’s first democratic, multi-party presidential election, before being re-elected for a second term in 1997, which was the last allowed under the constitution. In 2002 Amadou Toumani Touré, a retired general who had been the leader of the military aspect of the 1991 democratic uprising, was elected. During this democratic period Mali was regarded as one of the most politically and socially stable countries in Africa.
Slavery persists in Mali today with as many as 200,000 people held in direct servitude to a master. In the Tuareg Rebellion of 2012, ex-slaves were a vulnerable population with reports of some slaves being recaptured by their former masters.
Northern Mali conflict.
In January 2012 a Tuareg rebellion began in Northern Mali, led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. In March, military officer Amadou Sanogo seized power in a coup d’état, citing Touré’s failures in quelling the rebellion, and leading to sanctions and an embargo by the Economic Community of West African States. The MNLA quickly took control of the Tombouctou, Gao and Kidal Regions and the north-eastern portion of Mopti Region, and declared independence as Azawad. However, Islamist groups including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who had helped the MNLA defeat the government, turned on the Tuareg and took control of the North with the goal of implementing sharia in Mali.
On 11 January 2013, the French Armed Forces intervened at the request of the interim government. On 30 January, the coordinated advance of the French and Malian troops claimed to have retaken the last remaining Islamist stronghold of Kidal, which was also the last of three northern provincial capitals. On 2 February, the French President, François Hollande, joined Mali’s interim President, Dioncounda Traoré, in a public appearance in recently recaptured Timbuktu.
The Timbuktu Manuscripts were written in Sudani script (a form of Arabic) from the Mali Empire showing established knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. Today there are close to a million of these manuscripts found in Timbuktu alone. There were moved from Timbuctu and hidden in northern Nigeria.
Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, located southwest of Algeria. It lies between latitudes 10° and 25°N, and longitudes 13°W and 5°E. Mali is bordered by Algeria to the north, Niger to the east, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire to the south, Guinea to the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania to the west.
At 1,242,248 square kilometres, including the disputed region of Azawad, Mali is the world’s 24th-largest country and is comparable in size to South Africa or Angola. Most of the country lies in the southern Sahara Desert, which produces an extremely hot, dust-laden Sudanian savanna zone. Mali is mostly flat, rising to rolling northern plains covered by sand. The Adrar des Ifoghas massif lies in the northeast.
Mali lies in the torrid zone and is among the hottest countries in the world. The thermal equator, which matches the hottest spots year-round on the planet based on the mean daily annual temperature, crosses the country. Most of Mali receives negligible rainfall and droughts are very frequent. Late June to early December is the rainy season in the southernmost area. During this time, flooding of the Niger River is common, creating the Inner Niger Delta. The vast northern desert part of Mali has a hot desert climate with long, extremely hot summers and scarce rainfall which decreases northwards. The central area has a hot semi-arid climate with very high temperatures year-round, a long, intense dry season and a brief, irregular rainy season. The little southern band possesses a tropical wet and dry climate, very high temperatures year-round with a dry season and a rainy season.
Mali has considerable natural resources, with gold, uranium, phosphates, kaolinite, salt and limestone being most widely exploited. Mali is estimated to have in excess of 17,400 tonnes of uranium (measured + indicated + inferred). In 2012, a further uranium mineralized north zone was identified. Mali faces numerous environmental challenges, including desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, and inadequate supplies of potable water.
Foreign relations. Mali’s foreign policy orientation has become increasingly pragmatic and pro-Western over time. Since the institution of a democratic form of government in 2002, Mali’s relations with the West in general and with the United States in particular have improved significantly. Mali has a longstanding yet ambivalent relationship with France, a former colonial ruler. Mali was active in regional organizations such as the African Union until its suspension over the 2012 Malian coup d’état.
Working to control and resolve regional conflicts, such as in Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, is one of Mali’s major foreign policy goals. Mali feels threatened by the potential for the spillover of conflicts in neighbouring states, and relations with those neighbours are often uneasy. General insecurity along borders in the north, including cross-border banditry and terrorism, remain troubling issues in regional relations.
Military. The military is underpaid, poorly equipped, and in need of rationalization.
The Central Bank of West African States handles the financial affairs of Mali and additional members of the Economic Community of West African States. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. The average worker’s annual salary is approximately US$1,500.
Mali underwent economic reform, beginning in 1988 by signing agreements with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. During 1988 to 1996, Mali’s government largely reformed public enterprises. Since the agreement, sixteen enterprises were privatized, 12 partially privatized, and 20 liquidated. Between 1992 and 1995, Mali implemented an economic adjustment programme that resulted in economic growth and a reduction in financial imbalances. The programme increased social and economic conditions, and led to Mali joining the World Trade Organization on 31 May 1995. The gross domestic product (GDP) has risen since. In 2002, the GDP amounted to US$3.4 billion, and increased to US$5.8 billion in 2005, which amounts to an approximately 17.6 percent annual growth rate.
Mali is a part of “French Zone” (Zone Franc), which means that it uses CFA franc. Mali is connected with the French government by agreement since 1962 (creation of BCEAO). Today all seven countries of BCEAO (including Mali) are connected to French Central Bank.
Agriculture. Mali’s key industry is agriculture. Cotton is the country’s largest crop export and is exported west throughout Senegal and Ivory Coast. During 2002, 620,000 tons of cotton were produced in Mali but cotton prices declined significantly in 2003. In addition to cotton, Mali produces rice, millet, corn, vegetables, tobacco, and tree crops. Gold, livestock and agriculture amount to 80% of Mali’s exports.
Eighty percent of Malian workers are employed in agriculture. 15 percent of Malian workers are employed in the service sector. Seasonal variations lead to regular temporary unemployment of agricultural workers.
Mining. In 1991, with the assistance of the International Development Association, Mali relaxed the enforcement of mining codes which led to renewed foreign interest and investment in the mining industry. Gold is mined in the southern region and Mali has the third highest gold production in Africa (after South Africa and Ghana). The emergence of gold as Mali’s leading export product since 1999 has helped mitigate some of the negative impact of the cotton and Ivory Coast crises. Other natural resources include kaolin, salt, phosphate, and limestone.
Energy. Mali has made efficient use of hydroelectricity, consisting of over half of Mali’s electrical power. In 2002, 700 GWh of hydroelectric power were produced in Mali. Only 55% of the population in cities have access to power.
Transport infrastructure. In Mali, there is a railway that connects to bordering countries. There are also approximately 29 airports of which 8 have paved runways. Urban areas are known for their large quantity of green and white taxicabs. A significant sum of the population is dependent on public transportation.
In 2009, Mali’s population was an estimated 14.5 million. The population is predominantly rural (68 percent in 2002), and 5–10 percent of Malians are nomadic. More than 90 percent of the population lives in the southern part of the country, especially in Bamako, which has over 1 million residents.
In 2007, about 48 percent of Malians were younger than 12 years old, 49 percent were 15–64 years old, and 3 percent were 65 and older. The median age was 15.9 years. The birth rate in 2014 is 45.53 births per 1,000, and the total fertility rate (in 2012) was 6.4 children per woman. The death rate in 2007 was 16.5 deaths per 1,000. Life expectancy at birth was 53.06 years total (51.43 for males and 54.73 for females). Mali has one of the world’s highest rates of infant mortality, with 106 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007.
Mali’s population encompasses a number of sub-Saharan ethnic groups. The Bambara (Bambara: Bamanankaw) are by far the largest single ethnic group, making up 36.5 percent of the population. Collectively, the Bambara, Soninké, Khassonké, and Malinké (also called Mandinka), all part of the broader Mandé group, constitute 50 percent of Mali’s population. Other significant groups are the Fula (17 percent), Voltaic (12 percent), Songhai (6 percent), and Tuareg and Moor (10 percent). The Tuareg are historic, nomadic inhabitants of northern Mali.
In the far north, there is a division between Berber-descendent Tuareg nomad populations and the darker-skinned Bella or Tamasheq people, due to the historical spread of slavery in the region. An estimated 800,000 people in Mali are descended from slaves. Slavery in Mali has persisted for centuries. The Arabic population kept slaves well into the 20th century, until slavery was suppressed by French authorities around the mid-20th century. There still persist certain hereditary servitude relationships, and according to some estimates, even today approximately 200,000 Malians are still enslaved.
Although Mali has enjoyed a reasonably good inter-ethnic relationships based on the long history of coexistence, some hereditary servitude and bondage relationship exist, as well as ethnic tension between settled Songhai and nomadic Tuaregs of the north. Due to a backlash against the northern population after independence, Mali is now in a situation where both groups complain about discrimination on the part of the other group. This conflict also plays a role in the continuing Northern Mali conflict where there is a tension between both Tuaregs and the Malian government, and the Tuaregs and radical Islamists who are trying to establish sharia law.
Languages. Mali’s official language is French and over 40 African languages also are spoken by the various ethnic groups. About 80 percent of Mali’s population can communicate in Bambara, which serves as an important lingua franca.
Mali has 12 national languages beside French and Bambara, namely Bomu, Tieyaxo Bozo, Toro So Dogon, Maasina Fulfulde, Hassaniya Arabic, Mamara Senoufo, Kita Maninkakan, Soninke, Koyraboro Senni, Syenara Senoufo, Tamasheq and Xaasongaxango. Each is spoken as a first language primarily by the ethnic group with which it is associated.
Religion. The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religion, and the government largely respects this right.
Islam 90% – Islam was introduced to West Africa in the 11th century and remains the predominant religion in much of the region (mostly Sunni and Ahmadiyya). Islam as historically practiced in Mali has been moderate, tolerant, and adapted to local conditions; relations between Muslims and practitioners of minority religious faiths have generally been amicable. After the 2012 imposition of sharia rule in northern parts of the country, however, Mali came to be listed high (number 7) in the Christian persecution index published by Open Doors, which described the persecution in the north as severe.
Christianity 5% – about two-thirds Roman Catholic and one-third Protestant
Indigenous 5%. Atheism and agnosticism are believed to be rare among Malians, most of whom practice their religion on a daily basis.
Education. Public education in Mali is in principle provided free of charge and is compulsory for nine years between the ages of seven and sixteen. Mali’s actual primary school enrolment rate is low, in large part because families are unable to cover the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and other fees required to attend. In the 2000–01 school year, the primary school enrolment rate was 61 percent (71 percent of males and 51 percent of females). In the late 1990s, the secondary school enrollment rate was 15 percent (20 percent of males and 10 percent of females). The education system is plagued by a lack of schools in rural areas, as well as shortages of teachers and materials.
Estimates of literacy rates in Mali range from 27–30 to 46.4 percent, with literacy rates significantly lower among women than men. The University of Bamako, which includes four constituent universities, is the largest university in the country and enrols approximately 60,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Health. Mali faces numerous health challenges related to poverty, malnutrition, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation. Mali’s health and development indicators rank among the worst in the world. Life expectancy at birth is estimated to be 53.06 years in 2012. In 2000, 62–65 percent of the population was estimated to have access to safe drinking water and only 69 percent to sanitation services of some kind. In 2001, the general government expenditures on health totalled about US$4 per capita at an average exchange rate.
Efforts have been made to improve nutrition, and reduce associated health problems, by encouraging women to make nutritious versions of local recipes. For example, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Aga Khan Foundation, trained women’s groups to make equinut, a healthy and nutritional version of the traditional recipe di-dèguè (comprising peanut paste, honey and millet or rice flour). The aim was to boost nutrition and livelihoods by producing a product that women could make and sell, and which would be accepted by the local community because of its local heritage.
Medical facilities in Mali are very limited, and medicines are in short supply. Malaria and other arthropod-borne diseases are prevalent in Mali, as are a number of infectious diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. Mali’s population also suffers from a high rate of child malnutrition and a low rate of immunization. An estimated 1.9 percent of the adult and children population was afflicted with HIV/AIDS that year, among the lowest rates in Sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 85–91 percent of Mali’s girls and women have had female genital mutilation (2006 and 2001 data).
The varied everyday culture of Malians reflects the country’s ethnic and geographic diversity. Most Malians wear flowing, colourful robes called boubous that are typical of West Africa. Malians frequently participate in traditional festivals, dances, and ceremonies.
Music. Malian musical traditions are derived from the griots, who are known as “Keepers of Memories”. Malian music is diverse and has several different genres. Some famous Malian influences in music are kora virtuoso musician Toumani Diabaté, the late roots and blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré, the Tuareg band Tinariwen, and several Afro-pop artists such as Salif Keita, the duo Amadou et Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Rokia Traore, and Habib Koité. Dance also plays a large role in Malian culture. Dance parties are common events among friends, and traditional mask dances are performed at ceremonial events.
Literature. Though Mali’s literature is less famous than its music, Mali has always been one of Africa’s liveliest intellectual centers. Mali’s literary tradition is passed mainly by word of mouth, with jalis reciting or singing histories and stories known by heart. Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Mali’s best-known historian, spent much of his life writing these oral traditions down for the world to remember.
The best-known novel by a Malian writer is Yambo Ouologuem’s Le devoir de violence, which won the 1968 Prix Renaudot but whose legacy was marred by accusations of plagiarism. Other well-known Malian writers include Baba Traoré, Modibo Sounkalo Keita, Massa Makan Diabaté, Moussa Konaté, and Fily Dabo Sissoko.
Sport. The most popular sport in Mali is football which became more prominent after Mali hosted the 2002 African Cup of Nations. Most towns and cities have regular games; the most popular teams nationally are Djoliba AC, Stade Malien, and Real Bamako, all based in the capital. Informal games are often played by youths using a bundle of rags as a ball.
Basketball is another major sport; the Mali women’s national basketball team, led by Hamchetou Maiga, competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Traditional wrestling (la lutte) is also somewhat common, though popularity has declined in recent years. The game wari, a mancala variant, is a common pastime.
Air. The airport twenty minutes drive from the centre of Bamako. There are fixed rates for taxis to different parts of town. Can bargain, especially during the day. Use only official taxi. There is even well-hidden restaurant: follow the exit road past the barrier, and it is on the right, surrounded by trees, about 50m from the terminal building. They’re very friendly and serve basic but filling and tasty snacks. Avoid unauthorised taxis and changing money with unauthorized people.
For getting back to the airport from Bamako, try negotiating hard and you may get a rate significantly cheaper than the other way.
Air France – daily non-stop from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Bamako (and return). Both Air France and RAM unfortunately arrive and depart in the middle of the night – so even if you are planning a budget trip it may be worth splurging for a nice hotel the first night where you can make real reservations and maybe even get picked up at the airport.
Royal Air Maroc (RAM) is a little cheaper than Air France and has daily flights from Europe and New York via Casablanca in Morocco. Beware that Casablanca Airport is notorious for opening checked-in bags and removing valuables. Also luggage can arrive late.
Point Afrique – fly cheaply to & from Mali in the busy tourist season.
African and pan-African airlines that fly into Mali: Air Mauritania, Tunisair, and others. Some of these airlines also have feature connections to Mopti.
Train. The only rail line, between Bamako and Dakar, has not operated since the summer of 2009. For more info, see this page.
From Europe: Cross the straits of Gibraltar, Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania. There are no longer any problems crossing Western Sahara along the coastal road. Car and passport information ready at various checkpoints. There are now tarmaced roads all the way from Europe to Bamako and on to Gao (apart from 3 km at the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania).
From Senegal: (especially since the Dakar-Bamako trains stopped) and Burkina Faso. The road from Gao to Niamey is paved and a bridge built in Gao so the entire journey from Niamey to Bamako can be completed on paved (if not remote) roads.
From Mauritania (recently paved) & Guinea.
From Cote d’Ivoire: cross into a region of northern Cote d’Ivoire controlled by rebels and, while fairly safe, will lead you through countless roadblocks and “officials” demanding bribes; if travelling to southern Cote d’Ivoire, you’re better off travelling through Burkina Faso & Ghana.
From Algeria: There is a remote desert crossing near Tessalit, but it is dangerous (prone to banditry and used for smuggling) and remote. It may be closed to tourists; even if not, the Algerian side is dangerous (banditry and al Qaeda extremists!) and requires a military escort.
Bus. It is possible to reach Mali by bus directly from: Dakar, Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Niamey, & Accra. There is public transport almost all the way from Europe to Mali be it buses or bush-taxis. The only exception is from Dakhla, Western Sahara, to Noudhibou, Mauritania where you can easily get a ride with a Mauritanian trader.
Boat. Mali has two large rivers that are navigatable at least part of the year, both of which cross into neighbouring countries. The Niger (only one with many pirogues) crosses into, appropriately enough, Niger. Large boats are only active August-November and do not continue far past the border, but small pirogues regularly ply between Gao and Niamey with many stops along the way. The Senegal River crosses into Mali from Guinea in the south and follows a northwest course into Senegal.
Bus. The main cities along the paved road into the north are connected via bus (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao). A separate paved loop runs through the south (Bamako, Bougouni, Sikasso, Koutiala, Segou) There are many different companies with different schedules but they all have more or less the same prices. To Mopti (600km, half the way up) – nine hours; to Gao at least 12. It is usually possible to make a reservation several days before, recommended during the tourist season, though one rarely has a problem just showing up 30-60 minutes before the bus leaves. More reliable companies include Bittar, Bani and Banimonotie (Sikasso region) among others.
Taxi Brousse, the bush taxis. They are the main connection between towns which aren’t connected via bus. They are very slow and they sometimes break down or stop to help other broken down taxis. So sometimes the ride takes longer than expected. Unlike the buses, these rarely run on a set schedule, so you generally just need to show up at the station (in a larger town) or sit by the roadside (in smaller villages) and wait for the next to come along – locals may be able to give you some idea what to expect.
Taxi. In any larger city, taxis will be plentiful and are usually an easy way for the tourist to get where they are going without trying to figure out the local public transport system (if one even exists). Be prepared to bargain, as they will generally try to overcharge you – in Bamako XOF1000 should get you anywhere in the city during the day (or up to XOF1500 at night), while crossing the river will be XOF1500-2000. Also, tell the driver clearly if you do not know the location of the place you want to go, as they are rarely forthcoming about admitting that they don’t know it and will often expect you to give directions, especially if it is not a popular or common destination.
Car. A good option for a larger group or travellers who value comfort over economy is to rent a private car. A 4×4 is strongly recommended if you will be leaving the main highways (this includes the trip to Timbuktu). There are very few asphalt roads, and they are all single-carriageway outside towns, though most are in good condition. One leads into the North of the country (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao), another branches off after Segou to cross the Niger at the Markala dam and goes as far as Niono, while another goes from Bamako to Sikasso and on into Ivory Coast. There are private people who rent out their 4×4 cars for a ride (in which case make sure you’ve got insurance and a carnet de passage, and plenty of petrol), but generally renting a car means renting a car and driver. This is strongly recommended as Malian roads and drivers can be unpredictable and the vehicles unreliable (better to have the driver figure out what that loud rattle is or why the engine started smoking!).
Bamako. Travel within Bamako can be difficult for the business traveller and leisure tourist alike. One of the best options is to rent a car with a chauffeur. This can be done on a by-day basis and is an enormous help for someone that is new to the city. When trying to visit numerous places in one day, it becomes difficult to rely on the local taxi system. The chauffeur is a local resident and will know most of the names of the places that you need to go. There is no hassle in finding a parking spot as the chauffeur can wait for you while you attend to the business at hand.
For the tourist, this option can be your solution to seeing the city of Bamako in a care-free manner. Trips out of the city are available. Gas is an additional cost to the renter. A distinguished man, Aldiouma Togo: Cell: +223 642-6500 Home: +223 222-1624 firstname.lastname@example.org is recommended.
Air. It is possible to travel across Mali (usually from Bamako) to Mopti, Timbuktu, Kayes, Yelimané, Gao, Kidal, Sadiola, and others by plane, as numerous companies have sprung up in recent years. The planes, typically, are Czech turboprops (LET-410s) and small Russian jetliners (Yakovlev YAK-40s). Air travel in Mali is fast but, compared to a bus ride, expensive. It is not, however, foolproof – often you are at the mercy of the carrier, who may choose not to fly on a certain day if too few passengers show up! You can generally get tickets at the airport before flights, however the best bet is to book a ticket in advance. Société Transport Aerienne (STA) and Société Avion Express (SAE) are the two most popular, and most reliable, carriers.
Boat. It is possible to travel around Mali by boat, however this is very seasonal. The most common option, only really possible in the wet season, is a barge to/from Timbuktu. There are also very small boats, “pirogues” in French, which are available to be hired almost anywhere – they are essentially large canoes. When the big boats are not running you can still charter a pinasse (like a big, motorised pirogue). Or use one of the public pinasses. These will run for another 3 months or so before the water levels being too low for them as well. You can navigate the river all the way from near Bamako to Gao, though the level drops more rapidly in the portion between Bamako and Mopti.
Travel Warning: Northern Mali was under the control of Islamist rebels, who declared the region’s independence as “Azawad”. The group imposed strict, religious Sharia law which they used to justify the destruction of shrines and other historic buildings in Timbuktu & Gao, and which led to mandatory veils for women, the stoning of adulterers and ‘punitive’ amputations of the hands and arms of thieves. An estimated 500,000 residents of the region fled to other parts of Mali or to Niger. The rebels have close ties to an Al Qaeda branch which has operated for years in the lawless desert areas of the Sahara and which is responsible for several kidnappings of foreigners from Mali.
Due to extremist activity in the north, unstable government and famine, travel to Northern Mali and along the border with Mauritania is highly discouraged and anyone planning travel to Mali in the next year or so needs to monitor events closely and consult the advice of their embassy.(8 November 2014)
Mali is a landlocked country in the Sahel, bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania. Mali is a developing nation, and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it has some incredible sights, including four UNESCO World-Heritage sites, and the historic city of Timbuktu.
The Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France on 22 September 1960 as the Mali Federation. Senegal withdrew after only a few months, and the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali. The country was then governed by dictatorship until 1991. In 1992 the country’s first democratic presidential elections were held.
Just under half the population is less than 15 years old. The great majority of Malians are Muslim, some also practice indigenous beliefs, and a tiny number are Christian. Around 10% of the population is nomadic. Most Malians work in agriculture and fishing.
Festival in the Desert takes place in January on the sand northwest of Timbuktu. Three days of amazing music, under the stars and the moon, tiny tents, camel races, and more music and dancing.
Climate. The country’s climate ranges from tropical savannah (trees and grass, with tree density increasing as one travels south) in the south to arid desert in the north, with Sahel in between. Much of the country receives negligible rainfall; droughts are frequent. Late May or early June (depending on how north one is) to mid or late October or early November is the rainy season. During this time, flooding of the Niger River is common, creating the Inner Niger Delta. After the rainy season is a cooler period when many plants are still green; this is from early November to around early February. From mid February until the rains start in May or June is the hot, dry, period, with daytime temperatures reaching maximum in March and April. This time of year is hot and extremely parched.
Koulikoro – By far Mali’s most populous province, owing to the fact that it houses the capital, Bamako
Mopti – Most of Mali’s travel riches are concentrated in this region: unique rock formations at Hombori, the architecture of Djenné, and the unbelievable escarpment villages of Dogon Country
Gao – Bordering Niger, this region has ethnic Songhai, Tuareg, Tadaksahak, and Zarma. Arid, but not as arid as places farther north.
Kidal – Mali’s most remote Saharan region, with a small population of Tuareg nomads, and the incredibly remote annual Saharan Nights festival in Essouk
Timbuktu (Tombouctou) – The name isn’t the only reason to visit; the town itself is a unique Tuareg desert trading center, and nearby is the magical Festival of the Desert in Essakane
Bamako — 1 297 281, the booming capital and largest city by far, fastest growing city in Africa, with a good claim to be the music capital of West Africa. Enjpu spicy grilled fish, live music, sprawling markets and motorbikes purring along the banks of the Niger river.
Gao — 87 000, small city on the Niger in the far east of the country, one time capital of the Songhai Empire, and home to the Tomb of Askia
Kayes — 78 406, Mali’s westernmost big city, by the border with Senegal, and best known for being the hottest continuously inhabited location in Africa
Kidal — a remote Tuareg city, with notoriety as a centre of the Tuareg rebel movement and for Al Qaeda activity
Mopti — 108 456, a city across three islands in the middle of the Niger; gateway to Dogon Country
Ségou — 92 552, Mali’s third largest city and one-time capital of the Bamana Empire
Sikasso — 144 786, Mali’s second largest city and one-time capital of the Kénédougou Empire
Timbuktu — the legendary Saharan city of gold, trans-Saharan trade, and Islamic scholarship is nowadays a (fairly commercialized) centre of Tuareg culture. Few places in the world hold a pursuit of knowledge so dear, with its ancient libraries, monuments and never-digitized texts on philosophy and astronomy.
Other cities: Koutiala-99 353, Ndi-97 464, Morkala-53 738, Kolokani-48 774
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 1. Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons) Geographically isolated intriguing civilization that resisted both Christianity and Islam, preserving the traditions and customs of its animist ancestors, who came here 700 years ago perhaps from Libya. Best Time Nov-March 2. Old Towns of Djenne – Timbuktu’s sister city of trade, 220 miles SW. Affluent, powerful, centre of Islamic learning (children sent from all over W Africa to be educated here). One of world’s most beautiful mud-brick towns. Superb Great Mosque is largest and most elaborate mud structure in the world (touched up each after the heavy rains). 3. Timbuktu – Settled by Tauregs in 12th century; 16th century ancient trans-Sahara caravan route; salt and gold near. 3 mosques on Unesco list 4. Tomb of Askia
Adrar des Ifoghas — a sandstone plateau in the Sahara home to rock paintings, salt mines operated for centuries, and a surprising array of wildlife.
Dogon Country — a trek through this landscape of scattered cliff-side, rose-coloured villages, big blue skies, sacred crocodiles and sandstone cliffsis not to be missed by any Mali visitor. The famous Bandiagara Escarpment is a World Heritage Site.
Djenne — once a religious and commercial center to rival Timbuktu, this stunning mud-brick town with a fairy-tale mosque overlooks a clamorous Monday market. The multi-storey mud buildings are quite a sight. It was declared World Heritage by UNESCO. Seeing Djenee from a rooftop offers an intriguing and unusual landscape, with its soft texture, rounded lines and melancholic colouring. It also features the largest mosque in the world made completely in mud, which is restored every year by the community after the rainy season. The Great Mosque was made in 1906, and it has five stories and three towers. Every spring after the rainy season, the community replasters the Mosque. Regretfully, entrance to non-Muslims is not allowed. Apparently this prohibition is a consequence of a fashion photo-shoot more than 10 years ago, which was regarded by the locals as “pornographic”.
Segou – Acacia trees, shea butter, pottery and waterside griots.
Niger River Africa’s third-longest river, bending and twisting on its way to the ancient Sahelian trading kingdoms.
Niger Inland Delta where the Niger splits into many rivers across a broad floodplain, which forms a giant lake on the edge of the desert during the rainy season.
Hike in Dogon Country – 10 hour drive from Bamako with stopovers in Segpi, Djenne or Mopti. Bankiagara, Songo, walk from Sanga to Douro over 2 days.
Tragically, the famous shrines of Timbuktu and the Muhave largely been destroyed by a radical Islamist group during their occupation of Timbuktu in June/July 2012. There is talk of rebuilding these sites after the rebels have been driven out, but for now what is—arguably—Mali’s greatest attraction lies in ruins. The tomb of Askia in Gao has also reportedly been destroyed. Information found on Wikitravel, as well as most guides and other publications, may not have been updated since these events took place.
Talk. French is the official language, but Bambara (or Bamanakan in the language itself), along with numerous other African languages (Peulh/Fula, Dogon, and Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg people), are spoken by 80% of the population. Few people speak French outside bigger towns, and even Bambara gets rare in some regions. Very few people speak English.
Rice and millet are the staples of Malian cuisine, which is heavily based on cereal grains. Grains are generally prepared with sauces made from edible leaves, such as spinach or baobab, with tomato peanut sauce, and may be accompanied by pieces of grilled meat (typically chicken, mutton, beef, or goat). A gelatinous corn or millet food served with sauce, is another Malian classic. Malian cuisine varies regionally. Other popular dishes include fufu, jollof rice, and maafe. In the north, couscous is also quite common.
In the largest cities, decent “western” restaurants can be found, charging near western prices. Bamako even has good Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Lebanese and more. In smaller places, the standard Malian restaurant serves chicken or beef with fries and/or salad – usually edible and affordable, but boring and not particularly Malian. The better places in the more touristy areas may also have some local specialities. “Street food” is a lot more fun (and super cheap) – breakfast will be omelet sandwiches, lunch is usually rice with a couple sauces to choose from, and dinner presents many options including beans, spaghetti cooked in oil and a little tomato, potatoes, fried rice, chicken, meatballs, beef kebabs, fish, and salad. You can find little tables along the road sides and near transport centres.
Snacks. Little cakes (especially in bus stations), various fried doughs (either sweet or with hot sauce), peanuts, roasted corn if in season, sesame sticks, and frozen juices in little plastic sacks. Fresh fruit is widely available and always delicious. Some of the best are mangoes, papaya, watermelon, guavas, bananas and oranges – the particular selection depends on the season.
As in any tropical, underdeveloped country, food borne disease is a major concern for the traveller. The main culprits for diarrhoea are untreated water (especially in rural areas) and fruits and vegetables which have not been peeled or soaked in bleach water – salads (even in fancy restaurants!) are likely to cause problems. You should also be sure any food (especially meat) is thoroughly cooked – generally more of a problem with Western food in restaurants than with Malian foods (which are usually cooked for hours). Drink bottled water, and talk to your doctor about bringing an antibiotic like cipro to treat diarrhea that is severe or does not improve over a couple days.
Drink. Because Mali is a predominately Muslim nation, many locals discourage anyone from drinking alcohol. There have been reports of locals and tourists alike being arrested and beaten for drinking alcohol.
Treat tap water with suspicion. It is often so heavily chlorinated that one suspects few bugs could possibly survive in it. But short-term visitors will be safer with bottled water. Don’t rely on finding bottled water in shops patronised by “ordinary” Malians. Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola or Fanta are more widely available and safe. Dehydration isa serious problem in this stunningly hot country. Street vendors sell water and home-made ginger and berry drinks in little plastic bags. They are often iced which makes them very refreshing in the heat. Generally, you shouldn’t drink these without treating them first. However, one which is called “bissap” in French and “dabileni” (“red hybiscus”) in Bambara, is made from hibiscus flowers that are boiled during preparation, and so generally is safe. It is a particularly delicious non-alcoholic drink you shouldn’t miss. In Bamako, purchase treated water in small plastic bags – cheaper and more environmentally friendly, than bottles. The bags are marked with a brand name; be careful not to mistake them for the tap water that is sold in unmarked plastic bags by street vendors. Sweet milk and yoghurt, which are normally clean because the bags are industrially filled. Fresh milk can also be bought from buckets at the roadside in some villages, although it should always be thoroughly boiled before drinking as it can carry tuberculosis bacteria.
There are plenty of great crafts in Mali. Various ethnic groups have their own, trademark masks. There are some great musical instruments; blankets; bogolas (a type of blanket); silver jewellery and leather goods. The Touareg people, in particular, craft great silver and leather goods, including jewellery, daggers, spears, swords and boxes. Buying some local music makes also a good souvenir — some of the world’s best musicians are from Mali.
Because of the dramatic decline in the number of tourists/visitors due to the conflict in the north, many hotels have closed across the country…even high-end ones. This includes some of the hotels in Mali listed on Wikitravel pages. Since this is likely a temporary closure until tourist numbers bounce back, closed hotels haven’t been deleted from lists of hotels in Mali. When travelling to Mali, travellers should keep in mind that the hotel where they plan to stay may be closed and plan appropriately. (July 2012)
There are various types of accommodation options of various prices and qualities. You will pay USD60-100 per night (and up) for a what would be a decent to nice hotel by western standards. At the other end of the spectrum you can pay about USD5-10 per night for a bed or mattress (usually with mosquito net and sheets) in a room or on the roof. Such places will usually have toilets and showers in a shared facility (think campsite camping with less gear). All tourist areas have hotels or auberges and many places will also have homestays. Sleeping on the roof terrace, if available, is not only the cheapest option but also usually the coolest and gives you the pleasure of sleeping under the stars (which are incredibly bright outside of Bamako because there is so little light pollution) – just use your mosquito net and be prepared to wake to prayer call at 05:00.
LEARN. Mali has numerous musical instruments you can learn. In particular it is a popular place to learn how to play various drums (bongo, djembe,…)
WORK. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. the average worker’s annual salary is approximately USD1,500 However, seasonal variations lead to regular temporary unemployment of agricultural workers.
Mali is politically unstable and jihadism and lawlessness is wide spread. Since June 2012, Mali has been hit by a political crisis and a civil war, which has split the country into two parts: the north having proclaimed independence as “Azawad” in April 2012, yet the secular ethnic Tuareg movements which had control of the North were betrayed by their Islamist allies, who now have control of the Region. whilst the south experiences a military junta. Travelling in Timbuktu and Gao provinces are particularly extremely dangerous, and as of July 2012, the Islamist and jihadist rebel groups have ordered all shrines which are considered to involve idolatry to be destroyed. As of February 2015, government travel advice varies depending on the country: Some (such as Ireland) advise against travel to all of Mali, while others (such as Canada, and the USA) currently do not. However, northern Mali remains dangerous, and hence all governments advise against all travel to northern Mali and the areas bordering Mauritania.
The train between Bamako and Kayes is notorious for theft: if taking the train, you should exercise extreme caution, carry a pocket torch, and keep your belongings with you and valuables directly on your person at all times.
You also have a good chance of encountering the police. They are generally mostly concerned with directing traffic and fining people for improper papers, so you have little to fear from them, but always at least carry a copy of your passport and visa (and preferably the original, keep it secure!).
Carrying only a driving license is not sufficient and might lead to a ride to the police office unless you bribe your way out. Notice that the police in Bamako often stop taxis, although this can be somewhat avoided by never putting more than four passengers in the car and by taking only “official” cabs (the ones with the red plates only: in Bamako, a car with white plates is not an official taxi even if it has a taxi sign on top, regardless of what the driver may tell you).
The northeast half of Mali (everything north and east of Mopti Province) is simply not safe for travel, as the murky alliance of Al Qaeda and Tuareg rebel groups have been targeting foreigners for kidnappings. Unfortunately, in late 2011, these kidnappings have occurred in other parts of the country as well (including the capital), and tourist-kidnapping by terrorists is a real concern.
Vaccinations. Although it is rarely enforced, you are technically required to have an international vaccination card showing immunization against yellow fever. It is also recommended to get Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, typhoid, and meningitis vaccinations. You may also consider getting a polio vaccination due to the recent outbreak of polio in Northern Nigeria that has spread around the region.
Malaria. Mali is highly endemic for malaria, including S. falciparum malaria, the most acute variety. All travelLers should plan to take a malaria prophylaxis throughout their time in Mali (mephloquine and Malarone are the most common). The other main precautions are to use insect repellent in the evenings and to sleep under a mosquito net in all but the fancy, sealed, air-conditioned hotels. This will significantly lower your exposure to malaria as the mosquitoes that carry the parasite are only active at night, but you would want to take these precautions even without the risk of malaria simply to avoid being covered in itchy mosquito bites! You will almost never see or be bothered by mosquitoes during the day.
Food and water. Stay away from dirty food and water. The rule “cook it peel it or forget it” should be followed. Also water should only be drunk out of sealed bottles or after it is sterilized through boiling or chemical utensils. The food is another issue. It’s sometimes difficult to know if it’s cooked long enough. Also the, to Westerners, unusual spices are sometimes the cause for sickness, especially diarrhoea. Also expect little stones or bits of grit in the meal, especially the local couscous (this doesn’t mean it’s unsafe though, as it has been cooked long and thoroughly). For the traveller the main danger is diarrhoea.
Greeting people is very important. You should get familiar with the greetings in French or, better, in Bambara. Vendors should be treated in a proper way, even when you buy just fruit or bread. It is very important to show a general interest in the other person, so ask about family, work, kids, and so on. The answer is simple: “Ça va” (It’s all right). The interlocutor should not answer in a negative way! Example: “Bonjour. ça va?” (Good morning. Are you all right?), “Et votre famille?” (And your family?), “Et vos enfants?” (And your kids?), “Et votre travail?” (And your job?).