Mali Travel Guide

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Republic of Mali (French: République du Mali), is a landlocked country in West Africa, bordered by Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 square kilometres (480,000 sq mi) with a population of 14.5 million. With the country’s capital at Bamako, Mali consists of eight regions and its borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara, while the country’s southern part, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Sénégal rivers. The country’s economic structure centers around agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali’s prominent natural resources include gold, uranium, and salt.

Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. During its golden age, there was a flourishing of mathematics, astronomy, literature, and art.Mali was once the site of one of the richest and largest empires in the world. Mali was also one of the earliest nations to make a declaration of human rights. 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 1991 coup led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state.

People & Culture
Mali’s population comprises a number of different peoples, including the Bambara (who are the largest single segment), the Songhai, Mandinka, Senoufo, Fula, and Dogon. The last of these groups, the Dogon, are world-renowned for their artwork, and a visit to their traditional cliffside villages is a fascinating experience.

There are foreign farmers residing in Mali.

There are always vibrant festivals, events full of traditional drumming, energetic dancing as well as customary wrestling matches among the people in traditional villages

The official language is English. The most widely spoken local languages are Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Manjago, Serahule, Serer and Wolof.

The majority of Mali’s people are Muslim, and the official language is French. Bambara, however, is the country’s true lingua franca.

Cities & Towns
Bamako, Koutiala, Mopti, Ségou, Sikasso, Kalabancoro, Koulikoro, Koutiala, Kayes, Kati, Niono, Gao, San, Koro, Bla, Bougouni, Mandé, Kolondiéba, Pelengana and Tombouctou.

Best time to visit
As you’d expect, temperatures can get quite high in this Saharan outpost. April to June is a very hot time, as is September and October. Those planning to reach Timbuktu by public boat service should keep in mind that water is usually only navigable between late July and late November.

Getting there
British citizens require a visa to enter Mali, obtainable from a Malian Embassy or Consulate. There are Malian Embassies in some neighbouring countries, which issue visas. However we are currently advising against all travel to Mali.

Yellow Fever vaccination certificate
Yellow Fever vaccination is required for travellers arriving from all countries.

Passport Validity
You must hold a valid passport to enter Mali. Your passport must be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required. However, it is always sensible to have a short period of extra validity on your passport in case of any unforeseen delays to your departure. You do not have to wait until your old passport expires to apply to renew it. Any time left on your old passport when you apply will be added to your new passport, up to a maximum of nine months. For passport applications in the UK, you should apply to the Identity and Passport Service.

Travelling with children
For information on exactly what will be required at immigration please contact the Mali Embassy in Brussels.

Contact your GP around eight weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and useful information about healthcare abroad, including a country-by-country guide of reciprocal health care agreements with the UK, is available from NHS Choices.

Medical facilities in Mali are very limited. The Pasteur Clinic in Bamako can treat emergency cases and provide diagnostic facilities (Tel 00223 2291010 or Email Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

Cholera, malaria and other tropical diseases are common to Mali. Outbreaks of meningitis also occur, usually from the end of February to mid-April.

You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks. If you suffer from diarrhoea during a visit to Mali you should seek immediate medical attention.

If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 223 222 50 02 or 223 222 27 12. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatments.

Rainy Season
The rainy season in Mali is from May to November. Torrential rains can cause floods and landslides. You should monitor local weather reports and expect difficulties when travelling to affected areas during this season.

Flying to Mali
Mali is served by Bamako International Airport and there are regular flights from Nigeria by Arik Air. Also, there are daily flights from Dakar provided by Air Senegal and Slok Air. Most of the airlines that serve the airport are from neighboring African countries, but a few European airlines and charter companies fly into the airport as well.

Air France flies daily non-stop from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Bamako (and return). Royal Air Maroc is a little cheaper than Air France and has daily flights from Europe and New York via Casablanca in Morocco. There are also smaller companies, such as Point Afrique [2], who fly cheaply to & from Mali in the busy tourist season. 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.

Many African and pan-African airlines fly into Mali, for example: Air Mauritania, Tunisair [3] Air Afriqiyah [4] and numerous others. Some of these airlines also have feature connections to Mopti.

Flight times
Flight from London to Bamako is usually 5 hours.

Travel by rail
The only rail line, between Bamako and Dakar, has not operated since the summer of 2009.

Driving to Mali
There are several ways to get to Mali by car.

The most popular routes are from Senegal (especially since the Dakar-Bamako trains stopped) and Burkina Faso. The road from Gao to Niamey has recently been paved and a bridge is being built in Gao so the entire journey from Niamey to Bamako can be completed on paved (if not remote) roads.

There are also decent land crossings from Mauritania (recently paved) & Guinea. The Ivoirian crossing leads 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.

There is a remote desert crossing with Algeria 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.

Getting to Gambia by boat
Mali has two large rivers that are navigatable at least part of the year, both of which cross into neighboring countries, although only the Niger has much in the way of pirogues.

The Senegal River crosses into Mali from Guinea in the south and follows a northwest course into Senegal.

The Niger 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.

Where to go
Abuko Nature Reserve
A storied land of rivers and deserts, sitting astride one of the world’s most historic trading routes, this is a place of unique material and cultural riches, watered by one of the world’s truly great rivers, the Niger.

Great mud mosque at Djénné to the teeming
Port town of Mopti

Timbuktu town and the historic Koranic Sankore University
This West African city—long synonymous with the uttermost end of the Earth—was added to the World Heritage List in 1988, many centuries after its apex.

Timbuktu was a center of Islamic scholarship under several African empires, home to a 25,000-student university and other madrasahs that served as wellsprings for the spread of Islam throughout Africa from the 13th to 16th centuries. Sacred Muslim texts, in bound editions, were carried great distances to Timbuktu for the use of eminent scholars from Cairo, Baghdad, Persia, and elsewhere who were in residence at the city. The great teachings of Islam, from astronomy and mathematics to medicine and law, were collected and produced here in several hundred thousand manuscripts. Many of them remain, though in precarious condition, to form a priceless written record of African history.

Mali is a place whose history defies imagining. Peopled for tens of thousands of years, back to a time when the Sahara was a shimmering jade savanna, it’s home to more kinds of wildlife than can be numbered.

After wandering the streets of Timbuktu, consider a desert tour for a taste of the vast, empty lands that made Timbuktu synonymous with the world’s most exotic and isolated destinations.

Birdwatching is also popular for visitors to Mali. Take a boat River Niger and Mali Wetlands to spot some of the country’s many resident and migrant species.

Where to stay
The Radisson Blu Hotel, Bamako
The Radisson Blu Hotel, Bamako is one of the best accommodation available in the bustling capital city of Mali. The hotel is located in the newly developed ACI 2000 district, west of Bamako city centre. With 73 beautifully appointed guest rooms and suites, gourmet dining options, an inviting swimming pool and a world-class fitness centre, this Bamako hotel brings an unequal level of accommodation to one of Africa’s fastest growing cities… Read more

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