Travel to Mali?
This central Africa
country has stunning desert landscapes, lovely mud buildings from
mosques to granaries decorated in a uniquely raw but exquisitely
artistic style, colourful, relaxed, pleasant people, extraordinary
hikes along the magnificent Bandiagara Escarpment and camel treks
from the ghost town of Timbuktu.
If you can be there in December for the cattle crossing festivities
or April for the mask dancing festival, all the better.
- Independent travellers without a guide will be hassled endlessly
in many places.
- Low/mid range facilities all over Mali are a disaster.
- Cold beers are rare out of town. Warm millet beer after a long,
hot hike anyone?
- Poverty and malnutrition is in abundance.
- French is useful.
- n.b. This is not a widlife watching destination.
Nov, Dec (but busy)
OK: Oct - Feb
Worst: March-June (excessive ) heat
More than half the country is desert so you can expect Mali to be
hot, or extremely hot, and dusty, so dress accordingly.
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights : 7 days if you've got
a fat wallet (Bamako - Ségou - Bandiagara).
Recommended: 2 weeks - 6 weeks
***Bandiagara Escarpment. This is Dogon country - one of
Africa's great cultures, with fine, primitive woodcarving, superb
mud architecture in a bizarre setting, curious farming methods and
some truly strange customs.
***Mopti is a busy tourist town with
a good port for Niger River cruises, short or long, though long trips
will be possible only August - November. This is a convenient stepping stone to Bandiagara, Timbuktu and
other northern towns.
**Djenné - a UNESCO's World Heritage site. Difficult to get to
but the town has terrific mud architecture and a sensational mud
mosque, though you can't go inside; it has a great Monday market.
The less-than-fascinating archeological site of Jenné-Jeno
is three kilometres away.
**Ségou. A greener, faded colonial
version of Djenné, including the terrific mud mosque and
the Monday market. And the especially good news is - it's a lot
closer to Bamako, a mere 200km.
*Timbuktu. Not much there except the
name and lots of sand, but interesting in a defunct sort of way.
Camel trips to Tuareg 'Blue Men' camps are popular around here.
It's possible to get there by boat if the river is high enough,
though pick your transport with care.
*Bamako. Mali's capital is a dusty,
noisy, unattractive mess, but has plenty of exotic sights, particularly
local people and markets, and a terrific National Museum loaded
with tribal carvings.
go independently to the far north (of Timbuktu) or east of Mali
unless you fancy a close encounter with heavily armed bandits that
captured tourists in 2004.
Forget hire cars or trains. Just about everyone moves by bus,
boat or appalling 'bush' taxis. And don't expect air-conditioning
Trekking: the Bandiagara Escarpment is one of the world's best hikes - both beautiful and fascinating,
but be very careful when choosing a guide and expect facilities
en route to be primitive. e.g. Sleeping on a mud roof may be part
of the action and dining will be extremely primitive.
Walking the Dogon:
You really need a reliable guide for Dogon area walking (e.g.
Bandiagara), but 80% of self proclaimed 'guides' will simply be
ignorant opportunists who may become aggressive when exposed, so
take the time to check out candidates thoroughly. Best of all would
be to get recommendations from other travellers.
Boating: a river trip down the Niger
will be a memorable experience, but only possible at limited times
of the year. Try to get a few other people together and hire a pinasse
for a 3 day trip from Gao to Timbuktu, watching hippos, riverside
hamlets, eating fresh fish and sleeping on riverside dunes.
Camel riding: out from Timbuktu with
a Tuareg guide should satisfy your lust for sand.
Wildlife: birds in Dogon country/beside
the Niger river and frequent hippos, rare desert elephants.
Festivals and Events:
Check guide books for precise dates.
Through December: Crossing of the cattle at Diafarabé. An
ancient tradition celebrating, you've guessed it, desert herds crossing
the river and families and friends meeting up after months away.
Lively, colourful and fascinating.
early January, Essakane (near Timbuktu), Festival in the Desert,
a fantastic music gathering.
January, Essouk, 3 day Toureg festival with music, camel racing
early February, Segou music festival, similar to Essakane, above.
April: The Mask Festival, also known as Fetes des Masques, is a
five day event in Dogon country where locals don ancient, weird
masks and perform ritual dances. Actually they'll dress up and dance
for just about anybody at any time for a couple of euros, though
it's hardly authentic.
These will be required by all except French citizens. British citizens
may have to get theirs in Brussels.
Some knowledge of French would be very useful, though not essential.
Don't go to Mali if you need interesting, tasty food on a regular
basis, though the situation is improving in major tourist areas.
Generally offerings involve basic chicken, rice or couscous, and
vegetables in tomato sauce, though if you're near the river then
baked muddy fish could be on the menu.
Mali is cheap; take Euros, quite a lot in cash, it'll save you much
time and hassle.
Credit cards are occasionally acceptable and there are a few ATMs.
220v, 2 round pin.
Protection against Malaria and immunisation against Hepatitis A and Typhoid may be advisable.
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