Mali is a poor yet beautiful country in West Africa with an incredibly rich history. The River Niger runs deep into Mali's Sahara Desert, and boats still ply their trade upon its waters today. However, the flourishing empires of old that were responsible for building legendary cities like Timbuktu have faded. Salt caravans still ply their ancient routes, but now the country's riches lie in its unique adobe architecture and plentiful cultural festivals. Mali's Dogon region is also the proud home of one of the world's most vibrant and prolific music scenes.
NB: The current political situation in Mali is considered exceptionally unstable, with a high risk of terrorist attack. At the moment, the U.S. and UK governments advise against non-essential travel to the country. When planning future trips, please check travel warnings carefully for up-to-date information.
Mali is a land-locked country in West Africa, bordered by Algeria to the north and Niger to the east. In the south, it shares borders with Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Guinea, while Senegal and Mauritania make up its western neighbors.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Mali's population was estimated at almost 17.5 million in July 2016. The most populous ethnic group are the Bambara people, who account for 34.1% of the population, while 47.27% of the population falls within the 0 - 14 age bracket.
The official language of Mali is French, however, Bambara serves as the country's lingua franca. There are 14 national languages, and more than 40 indigenous languages and dialects.
Islam is the predominant religion of Mali, with over 94% of the country's population identifying as Muslim. The remaining minority hold Christian or Animist beliefs.
Mali's currency is the West African CFA Franc. For up-to-date exchange rates, use this accurate currency converter.
Mali is divided into two major climactic regions - the Sudanese region in the south, and the Sahelian region in the north. The former sees considerably more precipitation than the latter during the annual rainy season, which lasts from June to October. The months of November to February are generally cool and dry, while temperatures skyrocket between March and May.
When to Go
The cool, dry season (November to February) is usually considered the best time to visit Mali, as temperatures are pleasant and rains are virtually non-existent. However, this time also constitutes peak tourist season, and rates may be higher as a result.
Located in central Mali, the historic town of Djenné was once renowned as a trade center and a stronghold of Islamic scholarship. Today, one can shop for souvenirs at the town's colorful market, or stand in wonder before the Grand Mosque, which holds the distinction of being the world's largest man-made mud structure.
The sandstone cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment rise some 1,640 feet/ 500 meters from the valley floor and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region's breathtaking geology makes it an exceptional area to explore on foot, while the traditional Dogon villages built into the cliffs themselves are an unmissable example of historic Malian culture.
Used as a synonym for everything remote and exotic, fabled Timbuktu was once one of the world's most important centers of Islamic learning. Today, much of its former glory has faded, but several magnificent adobe mosques and a mysterious collection of ancient manuscripts remain to ensure that it is still a place of considerable interest.
Mali's capital lies on the banks of the Niger River and has all of the color and bustle you would expect from a teeming West African city. For the adventurous, it's the perfect place to barter for knick-knacks in the vibrant street markets, to try local cuisine and explore the country's culture, and to immerse oneself in Mali's famous music scene.
Formerly known as Bamako-Sénou International Airport, Modibo Keita International Airport is Mali's main gateway. It is located approximately 9 miles/ 15 kilometers from downtown Bamako and is served by several carriers including Air France, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenya Airways. Almost all international visitors (except for those with West African passports) require a visa to enter Mali. These must be obtained in advance from your nearest Malian embassy.
All visitors to Mali must provide proof of Yellow Fever vaccination. Zika Virus is also endemic, and pregnant women (or those planning to become pregnant) should consult their doctor before making plans to visit Mali. Otherwise, recommended vaccines include Typhoid and Hepatitis A, while the anti-malaria medication is also advised. For further information, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald.