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 Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga since 2017.
Last updated: 22 April 2018
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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:
- the provinces of Tombouctou, Kidal, Gao and Mopti
- parts of the provinces of Kayes, Koulikoro and Segou, as shown on the map
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of Mali.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Mali, including kidnaps. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should be vigilant, especially in places such as hotels, restaurants and places of worship, keep a low profile and follow the advice of local authorities.
On 18 June 2017, there was a terrorist attack at Le Campement Resort, Kangaba, which resulted in multiple casualties.
On 9 June 2017, the US Embassy in Bamako issued a security message warning of an increased threat of attacks in Bamako.
In November 2015, there was a terrorist attack against the Radisson Hotel in Bamako in which a number of hostages were killed.
There’s a threat of terrorist attacks against large gatherings, including music festivals. The Festival au Désert in Timbuktu was cancelled in January 2017 due to security concerns. Festivals in other parts of the country are vulnerable to attack.
On 21 October 2017 the Malian government extended the state of emergency that has been in existence since November 2015 by a year, until 31 October 2018. You should expect a robust security presence including police patrols and possible police security checks on restaurants and hotels. There are likely to be more vehicle and personal security checks during this time and nobody will be exempt.
You should maintain several days’ stock of food and water in case disturbances take place. You can monitor daily developments in English through the BBC World Service (88.9 FM in Bamako).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The ability of the small British Embassy to deliver consular services is limited, especially outside Bamako.
Safety and security
There have been incidents of armed banditry, car-jacking and kidnap in northern and central 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 centre and 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 Centre, 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.
There has recently been an increase in demonstrations in Bamako. Protests, marches and demonstrations can occur with little prior notice. If you become aware of any nearby protests, marches or demonstrations, you should leave the area immediately, as the atmosphere can change quickly and without warning.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Mali, including in the capital Bamako. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should be especially vigilant in places such as hotels, restaurants and places of worship. Following French/African military intervention in Mali in January 2013, there’s a high threat of retaliatory kidnap or attack against western interests, especially in areas north of Mopti, though the threat exists throughout the country. There have been a number of recent bomb attacks in Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu and In Khalil. Further attacks are likely.
In February 2017, the US Embassy in Bamako issued a warning to its citizens about the threat of terrorist attack against large gatherings, including music festivals. The Festival au Désert in Timbuktu was cancelled in January 2017 due to security concerns. Festivals in other parts of the country, such as the Festival sur le Niger in Segou, are vulnerable to attack.
As seen in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, terrorist groups continue to mount attacks on hotels, cafes and restaurants visited by foreigners. Be especially vigilant in these places.
Methods of attack have included complex attacks by militants, kidnappings, small arms fire and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDS).
Recent attacks include:
- 7 May 2017 - 7 Malian soldiers killed and 7 others reported wounded in an attack on a military position in the village of Almoustrat in the northwest of Mali
- 3 May 2017 - an attack on MINUSMA Camp at Timbuktu airport killed one person and 9 UN peacekeepers were reported injured
- 18 April 2017 - military barracks in Tagharoust located 150 km south of Timbuktu was captured by a terrorist group with an unspecified number of soldiers killed and wounded
- 16 April 2017 - attack on MINUSMA unit near to the city of Kidal
- 25 March 2017 - attack on army checkpoint 150 km from the city of Gao; 3 Malian soldiers reported dead and 4 wounded
- 18 January 2017 - a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated inside a military camp in Gao, northern Mali; over 50 people, including Malian armed forces and UN contractors, were killed
In early 2017 the government of Mali joined Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania (G5 Sahel countries) in announcing an agreement to set up a joint counter-terrorism force to tackle the jihadist threat.
The threat is likely to continue as groups remain intent on demonstrating capability and increasing influence across the region. This threat has been demonstrated by the March 2017 merger of AQ-M Sahel, Ansar al-Dine and al-Murabitun into the new group ‘Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen’. The threat to western interests in the region remains. Read more about the threat from terrorism in the Sahel region.
There’s a high threat of kidnapping by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) and other regional Islamist groups These groups operate in the border areas of northern Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. Although the kidnap threat is most significant in Northern Mali, there is a risk of kidnap in all areas of Mali including the capital Bamako and areas in the south of Mali where the FCO advises against all but essential travel. Westerners have been kidnapped in Mali and the wider Sahel region, including in Kidal, Kayes, Timbuktu, Gao and Hombori.
The kidnap threat isn’t limited to northern Mali as AQ-IM and other terrorist groups have a proven capability of travelling long distances to carry out kidnaps, including in neighboring countries. Western nationals were abducted from the Tambau region in Burkina Faso by armed groups in April 2015 and January 2016.
If you’re working or travelling in Mali, you should be aware of the risk of terrorist kidnapping. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times, including when travelling, in crowded public places, including camps for displaced people, religious gatherings and insecure spaces like places of worship, markets, shopping malls, hotels, bars, restaurants and transport hubs. You should make sure you have carefully considered the threat and have reasonable, proportionate mitigation measures in place.
The terrorist threat in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin
There is a very high threat of kidnapping by terrorist groups operating in the Sahel region. A number of western nationals including tourists, NGO workers and diplomats have been kidnapped in the Sahel over the last ten years, and several are still being held. Some, including several British nationals, have been killed by their captors. Those engaged in humanitarian aid work, journalism or business sectors are viewed as legitimate targets. If you’re kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to serve as a protection or secure your safe release.
There are a number of terrorist groups active in the region. These include Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Murabitoun, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. These groups are capable of carrying out attacks and kidnaps over long distances. Kidnapping for ransom is the primary source of finance for Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). Criminal gangs also carry out kidnapping for terrorist groups in return for financial rewards.
Read more about the threat from terrorism in the Sahel region.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
French is the official language in Mali. It’s widely spoken and understood in the major towns and cities, whereas English is not. Elsewhere in the country, local languages are normally used.
Mali is a Muslim country and the country’s laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 16 May and finish on 15 June.
Don’t photograph military or government installations; ask permission before taking photographs.
Carry some form of identification at all times. This would normally mean your passport or residence permit. If you drive outside the main towns, the likelihood of having to produce some form of identification is high.
Women are expected to dress modestly.
Homosexuality is legal in Mali, but Mali is a very traditional society and public displays of affection are frowned upon. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British citizens need a visa to enter Mali. You can get one from the nearest Malian Embassy or Consulate. There is a Malian Honorary Consulate in London.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are not valid for entry into, or transit through, Mali.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 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 on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Medical facilities in Mali are very limited. Private hospitals include Polyclinique Internationale Bamako (Polyclinic Guindo) (Badalabougou Est rue 18 porte 19; telephone: (+223) 20 22 22 07; firstname.lastname@example.org) and Polyclinique Pasteur (Hamdallaye ACI 2000, Bamako BPE 4794; telephone: +223 20 29 10 10).
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Cholera, malaria and other tropical diseases are common to Mali. Outbreaks of meningitis also occur, usually from the end of February to mid-April. An outbreak of cholera was reported in late May 2013 near the Nigerien border with Gao province.
You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
The rainy season in Mali is from May to October. Torrential rains can cause floods and landslides. You should monitor local weather reports and expect difficulties when travelling to affected areas during this season.
Major banks and hotels accept credit cards and travellers cheques. Access to money from ATMs and banks may be limited if the political situation deteriorates.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.