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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
Mali is one of the most peaceful nations on the African continent. The country has a great culture, friendly people, and breathtaking landscapes. This West African gem typically entices the more adventurous traveler with its wonderful outdoor excursions.
Mali is home to a great many legendary characters: the Tuareg desert nomads, recognizable by their deep blue garments, the ancient and mystical society of the cliff-dwelling Dogon, and the internationally renowned musicians Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré. It is a nation that exists in harmony with its shining past and celebrates it by preserving musical, religious, cultural, and culinary traditions.
Mali held its first democratic elections in 1992, in which Alpha Oumar Konaré was peacefully installed as president of the republic. In 2002, Amadou Toumani Touré succeeded Konaré in elections deemed democratic and fair and was reelected in 20
07. Touré will continue to lead the Malians until 2012.
The Top 10: What to Do in Mali
Mali’s capital is a colorful, throbbing metropolis that’s home to several museums displaying Mali’s rich history and culture, such as the Musée National
. Shop in Bamako’s many markets, wander the tree-lined boulevards, and sample both traditional Malian cuisine and international fare. The nightlife and the music scene in Bamako are legendary. This city makes the perfect first stop on your Mali adventure.
2. Mali’s Rivers:
Mali’s largest and longest river is the Niger. The third-longest river in Africa, the Niger plays an important role in Mali’s economy and its population’s mobility. Taking a boat to get from one city to another is not only a great way to explore Mali but also a fine way to get around. It is also possible to hire pirogues or catch a ferry on the Bani and Sénégal rivers.
Visit the oldest known city in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most important centers of Islamic education in Mali. It’s home to the largest mud-built structure in the world, the Great Mosque. It is easy to find a guide to show you around the Old Town; in fact, one will probably approach you as soon as you arrive. However, we recommend hiring a guide with Mali’s tourism bureau in advance. Arrange to visit the mud-dyed tapestry workshops of Djenné, where these beautiful traditional works of art can be purchased.
4. Dogon Country:
The Dogon people have lived along the 250-kilometer Bandiagara Escarpment for thousands of years, once in houses carved out of the rocks. Today they live mostly in small villages on the plateau beneath the cliffs. There are no cars in the Dogon, and the only way to get around is by hiking or hitching a ride on a donkey-drawn cart. Learn about the Dogon through their mask dances and wooden sculptures, and fall asleep on the tops of adobe houses under a dark sky spattered with stars.
5. Fatima’s Hand:
Located in the Hombori Mountains is Fatima’s Hand, a natural rock formation perfect for rock climbing. For those who like to climb outdoors, this is one of the best and most beautiful places in Mali to visit.
6. Boucle de Baoule National Park:
Given that much of Mali’s wildlife has disappeared under the hands of poachers, an animal safari will be hard to come by. But if you want to experience wildlife, the Boucle de Baoule National Park is your destination. The park covers 800,000 hectares of protected land where visitors can observe a myriad of birds and, if they’re lucky, even some lions. Also of interest in the park are ancient Malinke tombs and rock art.
The second-largest city in Mali and capital of the former Bambara kingdom, Segou sits on the Niger River, in the agricultural heart of the country. Among its highlights are the town’s famous pottery, the Niono mosque, and the colonial architecture of the city’s administrative buildings. We also recommend taking short pirogue rides on the Niger to neighboring villages.
This city is often referred to as the Venice of Africa because of its busy river port, built hundreds of years ago. Originally a small fishing village, Mopti is now a major trade center. The Moroccan-Sudanese architecture of some of Mopti’s neighborhoods, as well as the main mosque, is worth checking out. Enjoy the bustle of port life, and visit the Marché des Souvenirs for trinket shopping.
9. Sahara Desert Excursion:
Have you always dreamed of riding a camel through the Sahara desert and camping in the dunes under cold, starry skies? The Sahara stretches over much of northern Mali, and desert excursions with experienced guides can be arranged from Timbuktu or Kidal. These excursions have lately been discouraged due to activity by Islamic extremist groups, but do your research thoroughly beforehand.
Founded in the 12th century, Timbuktu is a city in the north of Mali. In 1988 it became a World Heritage Site, but Timbuktu has always been considered a special place. Also known as “the mysterious city,” Timbuktu has long enticed foreign travelers. Visit the Djinguereber mosque, and admire the mix of Berber, Andalusian, and Egyptian architecture of this city.
When to Go
Though Mali is, by Western standards, hot all year round, it does have three seasons. February through June is dry and hot, especially in March through May. The rainy season lasts from June through November, with more humid and milder weather. November through February is cool and dry; we recommend that period for travelers who struggle with high temperatures.