Bamako Travel Guide
Introduction to Bamako
Bamako has had a history of human habitation that stretches well back into pre-historic times. However, colonial times elevated this humble settlement’s importance considerably, as the French made Bamako the capital of French Sudan in the 19th century.
Independence has led to slow and halting progress in Mali since its inception in the mid-20th century, as authoritarian rule, corruption, and terrorism have all done their part to keep the country poor.
However, Bamako contains most of the conveniences which make it a good base, so plan to spend a couple days here on either side of your trip.
Cultural Attractions in Bamako
Soon after your arrival, check out the Musee National de Bamako. Containing archaeological and anthropological artifacts that tell the story of this nation, this institution is a must for those looking to gain an initial understanding of what Mali is all about.
Throughout its hallways, you’ll find examples of traditional dress, ritualistic items, musical instruments, and other pieces that people have used to live life through previous generations.
Outside, there are scale models of some of this country’s most famous mosques, such as the Grand Mosque of Djenné and the Djingareiber Mosque in Timbuktu, so if you are unable to travel to these parts of Mali, you’ll get an idea of their brilliance by checking out these sculptures.
Mali is a country that is 98% Muslim, but in Bamako, you’ll find the Sacred Heart Cathedral, the most significant Christian structure in this country. While it is a modest church compared to other Christian buildings found elsewhere in the world, the experience of attending mass here is well worth your time, as it is conducted with a rich African flavour.
As mentioned previously, Mali is a majority Muslim country. Within the capital, the Grand Mosque of Bamako is the finest example of an Islamic house of worship. Unlike the mud brick mosques found elsewhere, which follow a Sahelian style of architecture, this mosque was funded and built by the Saudi Arabian government in the 1970s.
As such, it compares more favourably to buildings found in the Middle East versus those seen throughout Bamako and Mali.
Other Attractions in Bamako
Like many other cities in West Africa, Bamako is long on urban chaos and light on green space. The construction of the Parc National du Mali was done to help change this trend, as its completion in 2010 gave residents a place with grass and trees to compliment the concrete plazas, sprawling buildings and clogged streets that did nothing to induce relaxation.
Occupying 17 hectares of land in the middle of Bamako opposite the National Museum, it is home to an arboretum, gardens, public exercise equipment, playgrounds, and trails which do their best to help you forget that you are in the midst of a busy West African city.
Those wanting to get a look at everyday life in Mali’s capital will want to make a trip out to Bamako Market. Busy from sunrise to sunset with activity ranging from food to hardware shopping, there is also the opportunity for visitors to pick up handicrafts during their time here. While there are many things to choose from here, be aware that vendors will try to quote an outrageous price at first, so keep this in mind when haggling.
Further, keep your wits about you while moving through the market, as there are skilled pickpockets that work the crowds on a regular basis – they know a mark when they see one, so stay alert and you’ll be fine.
Before leaving Bamako for the Malian hinterland, head up Point G Hill to get a great view of the city and the surrounding area. You’ll be privy to a view that will reveal a surprisingly green dot of urbanity amid an arid landscape that defines much of Mali. If you are an avid photographer, you cannot afford to miss this vantage point while you are in Bamako.