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Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, is rich in mystery and majesty, offering some of Africa's most fascinating cultural sites and spectacular surreal scenery. The landlocked Republic is the largest country in West Africa, surrounded by seven other states and traversed, in its central and south-eastern sector, by the great Niger River.

The country's best known city is the fabled Timbuktu, in ancient times the powerful, wealthy centre of Mali's Mandinka Empire, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is in danger of being swallowed up by the desert sands. Mali's importance waned in the 16th century as the trans-Saharan caravan trading routes lost ground to European sea traders. Imperial power in Mali was replaced by French colonialism and ultimately, in 1960, independence, which has failed to bring prosperity. The Niger River is the centre of industry and commerce, vital for the livelihood of a nation whose people are overwhelmingly poor farmers and fishermen.

As Africa opens up to travellers, however, Mali is once again featuring large on the map, with its variety of unusual sights and experiences, from camel treks through stunning desert landscapes to hikes along the Bandiagara Escarpment where the Dogon people live, steeped in their unique mythology and art. In the medieval city of Djenne tourists marvel at the exquisite mosque, largest mud building in the world, and centre of the country's predominant Islamic faith. Even the modern capital, Bamako, offers exotic sights and sounds among its dusty streets, and several worthwhile museums. Many visitors opt for the lively town of Mopti, built on three islands, where the market is just bursting with arts and crafts and from whence river cruisers set out along the Niger.

The name Timbuktu has long been colloquially used in English and other languages to denote the epitome of nowhere. A trip to Mali today, however, is certainly not a dead end but an intriguing journey of discovery.

Information & Facts


French is the principal language of business in Mali. Business is conducted somewhat formally, but due to the heat, lightweight suits are worn for important meetings and more casual attire for regular meetings. One should use the French titles of Monsieur and Madame when meeting and greeting. Women, in particular should dress conservatively. Business hours are usually from 7.30am to 4pm Monday to Thursday; 7.30am to 12.30pm and 2.30pm to 5.30pm on Fridays to allow for mosque.


Mali's climate is hot and dry in the northern Sahara zone, north of the Niger River, and hot and humid in the subtropical south of the country. Rainfall varies throughout the country, varying from a virtual absence of rain in the desert north to a rainy season lasting for about five months from June to October in the south. The middle section of the country experiences rainfall between June and August. The dry season is from November to May, with cooler temperatures between November and February that becomes cold at night in the north. The most uncomfortable time to visit is from April to June, with extreme heat, and in December when the hot, dry Harmattan wind blows. Temperatures average 86°F (30°C).


The international dialling code for Mali is +223. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). City/area codes are not required. There are two mobile telephone operators. Outgoing international calls are made through an international operator. Internet cafes are common in Bamako, and a few are present in other towns.


Mali is a Muslim country and visitors should respect the local culture by dressing modestly (especially women) and asking people before taking their photographs. Religious customs should be respected, particularly during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours should be discreet as it is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Homosexuality is frowned upon.

Duty Free

There is free import of 1, 000 cigarettes or 250 cigars or 2kg of tobacco, 2 bottles of alcohol, and perfume for personal use. Sporting guns are allowed as long as authorisation from the Customs Department in Bamako is acquired within 24 hours of arrival.


Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plug types used are round pin attachment plugs.

Getting Around

Mali's main cities are connected by bus, and towns not connected by bus are serviced by taxi-brousse. During the rainy season passenger boats operate on the Niger River.


All visitors to Mali are required to have a vaccination certificate for yellow fever. It is also recommended that precautions against meningitis (particularly if travelling between February and April), malaria and cholera be taken. Bottled water is available and food should be thoroughly cooked. Medical facilities are limited, especially outside of Bamako, and basic medicines might not be available. Travellers are advised to bring a personal supply of medicines with them. Comprehensive medical insurance is essential; serious medical problems will require air evacuation outside of the country.


French is the official language in Mali, but Bambara is spoken by 80% of the population. Numerous other African languages are also spoken. Outside the bigger towns few people speak French, and hardly anyone speaks English.


The official currency in Mali is the West African CFA Franc (XOF), which is divided into 100 centimes. The CFA franc is tied to the Euro. Foreign currency and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks in Bamako. French francs and euro are the easiest to exchange. Banks are closed on weekends. ATMs are only available in Bamako and only accept Visa cards. Major credit cards, usually Visa, are accepted in some hotels and restaurants in the capital, but credit cards in general are not widely used in Mali.

Passport Visa

Most foreign passengers require a visa to enter Mali. In some cases, holders of a pre-arranged visa approval document can obtain a visa upon arrival. Visitors are encouraged to contact their nearest Malian embassy or consulate to confirm their visa/entry requirements. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Mali. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


All travel in Mali to the regions north, east and west of Timbuktu, as well as travel along the borders with Niger, Algeria and Mauritania should be avoided due to armed banditry and the risk of kidnapping. Increased incidents of armed banditry have been reported in the Sikasso region. The British government reports a high terrorism risk for westerners in the country, especially those attending festivals, and several tourists have been kidnapped. A number of pro-Gaddhafi and anti-western protests have occurred in late 2011, and embassies in Bamako have been forced to close temporarily. Crime levels are generally low, but it is best not to show valuables in public.


Tipping is not required in Mali, but is an expression of respect as well as for rewarding good service. Tour guides usually receive between 3, 000 to 5, 000 CFA per day.

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