The Amateur Overview
Its one of the big guns of West Africa and once you head out into the country, it’s a easy to see why. Here’s how we undressed Mali in detail.
Population: 15 million.
Economy: GDP (PPP) $15 (127th)- Per capita- $1173 (163rd)
Exchange rate: 1 Euro: 656 CFA
Human Development Index: .371 (178th)
Sporting Trivia: It’s difficult to go past Mali’s best known football Fredric Kanoute when it comes to trivia, currently turning out for Sevilla and has a UEFA cup to his name.
>>> Travel Info
It’s easy to get around Mali and there’s plenty to do. From the Bamako fetish markets, to the traditions of the Dogon people, Mali has a lot to offer and a lot to make you love it. In Bamako, you’ll also find the hub of West African nightlife, in Dogon Country you’ll find traditional African villiages and in Timbuktu, well, you’ll find the middle of nowhere.
At the border for 15000CFA (23 Euro) along with a couple of passport pics you can secure a 5 day visa. You’ll then need to take trip to the immigration office in Bamako to get the full 1 month tourist visa at no extra cost – it should take just 24 hours.
Parlez-Vous Anglais? 40% – The more developed tourist scene here at key points make it easier to get by without much French. There are quite a few guides around the place and we were constantly amazed at the guides who have learnt their 3rd and 4th languages solely from talking with tourists over the years.
The heart of Mali boasts an amazing fetish market, a lively music scene, impressive street side shoe sellers and streets packed with thousands of scooters whizzing by.
How did we get there: It was a long, complicated journey from western Gambia. It begain with a 3 hour sept place (9 seater) journey in possibly the rustiest car on earth struggling through the sand track for 3 hours with 13 people across from Basse Santu Su to Velingara.
We then grabbed a taxi across to the station to Tambacouta which was our introduction to real dust. In Tamba in searing heat, in a rush and over cramped wagon conditions we weren’t thinking straight. We didn’t take the budget option sept place for 5000CFA (7 Euro), instead we coughed up 20,000CFA (30 Euro) each for speed and comfort with a personal taxi driver for the 220km to the border. Once we slid through immigration it was only an hour wait for us for a bus all the way to Bamako 12500CFA (19 euro) for a 14 hour overnight journey (we must add here we got very lucky – other passengers had waited 2 days).
Where Did We Stay: The Sleeping Camel. Easily the best place we’ve stayed so far in Africa. We rocked up at 6am after 3 days solid travel and we immediately knew this was for us. It has drinks, food, cable TV in the common area and free WIFI. The big attraction though are the great staff, a few Brits and an Aussie and the atmosphere around the place. It is refreshing to be at a place where the people were so helpful and up for a chat. It has dorm rooms for only 4000CFA (6 Euro) and a bunch of other accomodation options available. Seriously, make this your stop in Bamako, its new, professional and a great place to settle into Mali.
>>> The Amateur Low Down
Highlight: For sheer shock value the fetish markets are like nothing we’ve seen before. Used in animist culture, it’s a rare opportunity to see unique symbols such as burnt monkey heads amongst a range of other animal bits and pieces. Our advice – be respectful as these items are culturally significant so ask before taking any snaps.
Difficulties: The city is growing at a rapid rate and it gets quite hectic in and around the urban areas. Traffic is a massive problem so if possible avoid commuting at peak times.
Biggest Surprise: Roadworks stood between us and the Malian embassy upon arrival. The biggest surprise was that after being kicked out of the site, we were able to walk past police and workers in the 1km stretch of torn up earth to the embassy.
Learn from us: Make sure you get rid of your Gambian Delasi’s the moment you get into Senegal. We are still with quite a lot of Gambian currency which you can’t change anywhere. The only rates we could get in Bamako were rather disrespectful.
The traveller scene: Quite a few travellers around the place and this is a great way place to talk with others about northern travels and security conditions.
Getting a feed: Mali stands out with some of the best street food so head for the streets. On the southside of the Niger you’ll find meals with delicious beans and onion sauce for lowly 200CFA and you can throw in a side salad for 100CFA (about 15 Euro cents).
Out on the town: Bamako has a pretty lively party scene. Look for Djemba Djemba bar which is karoake with a difference, where instead of singing you can head up the front grab a guitar and join the band for a few beats. At most local bars you can get beers Castel for 500CFA (75 Euro cents).
@ Sevare & Mopti
We’d back Sevare if you had to choose between the two as it has a more relaxed atmosphere and the people are much friendlier. These towns (10km apart) serve as a transport hub if you want to head up to Timbuktu, down towards Dogon country and a gateway to Burkina Faso.
Where did we stay: Sevare- Mac’s Refuse 7000CFA per night in a dorm, with breakfast included. We sweated like crazy in our room with just a fan so not really a comfortable experience, although there is good wireless internet. An added bonus is the nightly street football going on about 50m from the front door, it’s great to have a run and the kids are amazing.
@ Mopti - Hotel Ya Pas Du Problemme, chosen as it was known to have wireless, it’s a nice enough place, with a bar and a pool. The wireless let us down – it didn’t work and costs 2000CFA for the password. The dorm rooms are comfortable and do the trick for a night or two for 5000CFA (7 Euro).
How did we get there: Check out our stories from Dogon Country and Timbuktu for the highlights. Getting to Sevare from Bamako cost 8000CFA (12 Euro) for a pretty hassle free 8 hour journey. We arrived in Sevare and had our return trip included in our costs for the trip to Dogon Country.
Difficulties: Mopti didn’t strike us as a particularly appealing city, other than a vibrant port and scene along the river.
Biggest Surprise: In the middle of summer with the temperates in the high 30’s overnight – sleeping on a mud hut roof in Dogon Country we were awoken by what the locals described as ’survival rains’.
Learn from us: If we had our time again we’d probably do things in the following order – Bamako – Djenne – Mopti – Timbuktu – Sevare – Bandiagara – Dogon Country. This makes a bit more sense then what we did by heading down to Dogon as Bandiagara is on the way to Burkina Faso, in the direction we were departing the country.
The traveller scene: This depends on the time of year, if like us you go in the middle of summer you won’t find too many tourists around, particularly now, given the security warnings of the North. We were assured by tour guides that it’s very busy in peak season, however with the travel warnings the region is seeing tough times currently.
Getting a feed: A great street feed of mutton on the streets of Sevare. You’ll find mutton grills around town which offer as much as want with spices and you can choose the cut. Usually 500CFA worth will provide a good snack. You can normally get a sample first as well to test it and make sure you try the local seasonings they throw in.
Out on the town: This didn’t really happen for us here at all, it’s a small place with not a great deal happening on weeknights.
We’ve been to Timbuktu and back – We’re not going to lie, being able to say that as a World traveller is a pretty special feeling. A precarious security situation, its still not easy to make it there and the thought of reaching the city that is the personificaiton of nowhere, it’s a must in West Africa. Listen to local advice about the situation, get a group together and head up for an incredible experience on this Saharan trade route.
How did we get there: That’s a good one. You can check it all out in the near future as soon as we can put together the video. It cost us 16000CFA each way on a 4WD where dust, sand and the elements test you. It’s a surreal experience and sure to give you some stories you’ll never forget.
Where did we stay: Camping La Paix. We stayed in a massive room on a mattress for 3000CFA a night, simple but did the trick for us.
>>> The Amateur Low Down
Highlight: The long road to get there – that tale will be told as soon as we can decide how best to describe it.
Difficulties: Getting there is a battle. The length of time, the cramped conditions, the dust, the heat all add up to make it a challenge making it up there. Our driver definitely had his moments, at times the local passengers demanded he pull over as we survived a couple of near misses due to his driving and at the fact we also missed the last ferry.
Biggest Surprise: Without doubt the cats of Timbuktu. You won’t see many walking the streets. Why? Because you’ll find them slung up in the skies over powerlines. If a cat enters the domain on the local children – it’ll lose 9 lives in a heartbeat. We were assured they can prepare a mean dish with a feline flavour.
Learn from us: Every guide and tout in town knew who we were before we even arrived. So with the security situation as it is, its probably pretty difficult to arrive ‘unannounced’ but the best bet is probably to tee up one guide and stick with it. For us it was Ali Nialy, everyone in town knows who he is and he’ll look after you. He’s a young bloke who runs camels but for us he wasn’t so much as a guide, in terms of being with us all day, but he sorted a few things out for us, and pointed us in the right direction to the local haunts you want to be but couldn’t find on your own.
The traveller scene: Still a handful of travellers around the place. Our 4WD up to Timbuktu was shared with a bunch of other westerners, it was well and truly a ‘Toabab voiture’. Currently, Timbuktu is struggling on the tourist front due to all the travel warnings. Our advice is do your research and head up with a few people, take a camel ride if you’ve got some cash and soak it up and smile – you’re in Timbuktu.
Getting a feed: The highlight had to be the sausages we found at Al Moloub Rotisserie. We scoffed down 2000CFA (3 Euro) worth which was probably more than required for the average human. A plate of beef sausages with chunks of beef and onion after a month in Africa is definitely a treat and we’ll go out on a limb and say – they are the best sausages in West Africa.
Out on the town: We caught a couple of beers in Timbuktu, mainly again just to be able to say we had a few drinks in Timbuktu. Any guide you might utilise will take you to a local place for some beers if you want.
What else can we tell you?
One thing you can do to break down a barrier: When in Bamako check the guys at the African Workshop. It’s a locally run drop in centre where some of the poorest kids in West Africa are given the opportunity to learn traditional Malian culture for free. It’s a great project and you can get hands on in working with local youth.
We’ll also tell you to see the Malian marvels first hand in our gallery!