Mali travel guide
With a history blighted by political instability, it’s hardly surprising that Mali is missing from most people’s bucket lists. But as peace slowly returns to this dusty land, travellers are trickling back to unearth the country’s cultural treasures – of which there are many.
Though it’s hard to see how one of the most remote nations in the world, located deep within the Sahara Desert, ever became a centre of world learning, Timbuktu is not only a byword for long distances, but also an internationally recognised centre of knowledge: its libraries contain seminal notes on astronomy, mathematics and philosophy dating back to the 16th century.
Closely linked to Timbuktu by the Saharan trade in gold, salt and slaves, Djenné is known the world over for its adobe architecture, in particular the Grand Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest mud-brick building in the world.
Bamako, Mali’s capital, may not have the cultural attractions of Timbuktu or Djenné, but it has a fascinating collection of architectural styles and an elegant location on the banks of the River Niger. What’s more, it is the centre of the country’s traditional music scene and Malians of all ethnicities throng to the nightclubs of Bamako to dance the night away to the sound of the kora, a lute-like instrument.
The most distinct of Mali’s people are the Dogon, whose secluded, cliff-side villages cling to sheer rock faces. Deliberately isolating themselves from the influences of neighbouring tribes they have developed a culture with no similarity in the region.
A land of faraway cities, intriguing civilisations and architecture like nowhere else on Earth, Mali’s position as a cultural juggernaut is well founded and its tentative steps towards stability have opened up an avenue of discovery for intrepid travellers.
1,240,192 sq km (478,841 sq miles).
18,134,835 (UN estimate 2016).
13.7 per sq km.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta since 2013.
Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maïga since 2017.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. Larger towns in Mali have their own locally generated supply. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There have been incidents of armed banditry, car-jacking and kidnap in northern Mali. Bandits and smugglers are present along Mali’s northern borders and pose a risk to travellers, especially after dark.
The Malian authorities have provided the following numbers in case of emergencies:
- 80 00 11 15
- 20 23 95 11
Despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA), the situation in the north remains tense. You should not travel in the north of Mali and parts of the centre of the country.
Landmines are used by groups operating in North and North East Mali.
Travel in Mali can be difficult and conditions are poor for overland travel. You should take all necessary safety precautions, especially outside of main urban areas, have confidence in your security arrangements and maintain a high level of vigilance.
In the case of a vehicle accident, go to the nearest police station to file a report immediately. If you remain on the spot you risk being taken to task, sometimes violently, by the local population. Medical help in the event of an accident is likely to be limited.
British nationals are increasingly being targeted by scams. Treat with considerable caution any requests for funds, a job offer, a business venture or a face to face meeting from someone you have been in correspondence with over the internet who operates in West Africa.
Night-time checkpoints operate in Bamako at various locations. Checkpoints are in place from approximately 9pm until dawn.
Keep vehicle and personal identification documents with you at all times while travelling by road. Approach security checkpoints slowly and comply with instructions given. There have been incidents late at night where people dressed as policemen have demanded money from drivers in Bamako. Ask to see identification. Don’t resist if the person is armed.
Road conditions off the main roads are often poor, especially in the rainy season (June to September). Other road users may drive dangerously. You should take particular care and attention when driving in urban centres.
A number of European and African commercial airlines operate services to and from Bamako Sénou International Airport.
There was a coup in Mali in 2012 following armed conflict in the north. Following a French-led military intervention, democracy was restored in 2013. A peace agreement has been signed by most parties to the earlier conflict and a process of reconciliation is continuing. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta (IBK) took office in September 2013, following national elections.