There is more to Mali than the sand of the Sahara desert. Malian towns, such as Timbuktu and Djenné, have been important centres on the trans-Saharan trading routes for centuries, and the markets still flourish.
Mali’s lifeline is the Niger and most cities and villages are located close to the water. There is a boat that connects the settlements along the river, but the Niger only carries enough water for boats to pass for half of the year
The Festival of the Desert takes place 60km outside Timbuktu every year in January, and attracts world musicians. The Festival of the Niger in Ségou celebrates the culture along the river with some top musical acts playing every year.
Dogon Country offers travellers excellent trekking opportunities along the Bandiagara escarpment and insight into one of Mali’s indigenous cultures, while Africa’s northernmost elephant herd can be seen in the Réserve de Douentza.
If you're planning to visit the Festival of the Desert in Essakane, note that tickets should be bought well in advance; travellers can choose between full board and bringing their own camping equipment. It does get very cold in the desert, so warm clothes are recommended.
Mali’s rainy season runs from June to September, while the hottest months are April to June. The best months to visit are between September and January, temperatures are moderate and the water level of the Niger still allows travel by boat. From January to June, the harmattan wind swirls up the dust and reduces visibility.
Bamako-Senou International airport (BKO) is just south of the capital
Domestic flights operate twice weekly between Bamako and Timbuktu, some of which also stop at either Mopti or Kayes. Passenger boats operate on the Niger between Koulikoro and Gao, and take at least six days, calling at Mopti and Korioume.
Buses run between main towns, and taxis can be hired for short routes. Another option is to hire a car with driver.
Accommodation ranges from backpackers and church missions to hotels, although many cheap places are not the cleanest. Another option is to stay at campements (basic hotels, not necessarily camp sites). Many places also allow travellers to sleep on the roof, which is usually cheaper than staying in room.
Mali is not known for its cuisine. Rice is a very common base for the meals, which usually contain meat as well as tigadege, a peanut sauce. Capitaine (Nile perch) is often served along the river. Fruits and vegetables are available in the south of the country, but rare in the north.
Because Mali is a Muslim country, alcohol is hard to come by and the drink of choice is sweet tea.
Consult your GP or travel health clinic to check the appropriate vaccinations. Malaria is a risk, especially along the river. A yellow fever certificate is also required. Water is safe to drink in Bamako, but should be sterilised or bottled elsewhere in the country.
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