Mali Travel Guide
Home to some of the Sahel’s most spell-binding culture, it is easy to see why Mali attracts so much attention from travellers who are passionate about Africa. From the mystical city of Timbuktu to the amazing lines of the Great Mosque of Djenné, culture hounds will find plenty to love here.
However, it is a challenging time in Mali’s history, as it is currently grappling with Islamic extremists in its northern regions. Thus, it is important to consult the advice of your home government, government officials in Mali, and that of locals on the ground in order to determine which places are the safest to visit during your trip here.
Currency: CFA Francs
Languages: French, Bambara, various indigenous languages
What To Do
Learn more about Mali by checking out the exhibits at the Musee National de Bamako. Within, you’ll find musical instruments, everyday and ritual dress, and ceremonial objects that have been used throughout the years in this country.
In addition to the many national treasures one can find inside, the grounds of this museum contains scale models of two of the most famous landmarks in Mali – the Great Mosque of Djenné and the Djingareiber Mosque in Timbuktu.
Considering the touch and go security situation in the north, these representations might be the closest you’ll get to seeing either of these attractions.
Timbuktu is by far the most famous destination in Mali, as it has been recognized by UNESCO for being one of the most high-profile Islamic cities in all of Africa. As famous as this destination is, though, recent events have made accessing this place a risk.
While the occupation by extremist rebels has been ended, the security situation remains fluid, so enquire about what things are like in the North when you arrive in Bamako. If it is safe to visit, you’ll visit a place that has a distinctively Arabic flavour, which stands in contrast to the streetscapes in other cities throughout Mali.
From its uniquely sculpted city walls to its exquisite mosques, it is a place you can’t afford to miss if you are able to travel there safely. However, note that some of its treasures were damaged or destroyed by the fundamentalists that controlled Timbuktu a few years ago, so adjust your expectations before going.
If you can’t make it to Timbuktu, then the Great Mosque of Djenné will take this town’s place as one of the top attractions you’ll see in Mali. One of the most stylish mosques you’ll see on the continent of Africa, this structure is generally considered by building expert to be one of the finest examples of Sudano-Sahelian architecture in the world.
Within its adobe brick walls was one of the finest learning centres in the entire Islamic world, starting in the Middle Ages. Its unique design and its place in history have garnered it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, so make sure you don’t miss this place while you are in Mali.
At the moment, it is not possible to travel to Gao, as it is still controlled by Islamist rebels. Should the situation change in the future, though, check out the Tomb of Askia. It was here where Askia Mohammad I, one of the Songhai Empire’s most celebrated emperors, was buried more than half a millennia ago.
Aside from being the final resting place of this revered ruler, this place is another great example of Sahelian mud building construction, which has earned this country yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. With any luck, this monument will survive the current occupation in repairable shape.
Finally, spend some time exploring the Bandiagara Escarpment. A line of sandstone cliffs that rise over 500 metres above the lowlands beneath it, they are famous for the views they provide, as well as the towns and villages that lie along its base.
Not only can you visit and see the mud houses and the natural scenery along these massive cliffs, but you can also stay in hostels and homestays, giving you a chance to see what life is like in this part of the world.
What to Eat
At breakfast, be sure to try and have some Bouille. A traditional porridge made from millet that is enjoyed by many locals in this country, this sweet dish bears some resemblance to rice pudding.
When the time comes for lunch, look for street stalls that specialize in an awesome treat known as an Omelette Sandwich. Made by cooking up eggs, onions, and consomme powder, and then stuffing it in a French baguette, it will be the boost you need in the middle of a busy day wandering this country.
When dinner comes around, seek out some Jollof Rice. A one pot meal that consists of rice, tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, and oil. Cooked over many hours, it is a filling meal that will give you the energy you’ll need after a long day of exploring Mali.