Mali is a fantastic tourist destination (perhaps one of the best in the world). But in recent years, it has gone through a complicated ongoing conflict that has closed off some of the country’s most incredible destinations. Despite this, Mali is still there, and the locals live their everyday lives. So, if you plan carefully, you can visit the country and discover its wonders. That’s why we’ve created The Ultimate Mali Travel Guide, so you can plan your trip and visit some of the man-made wonders this country offers.
Mali has been in a challenging situation for several years. The French army has now withdrawn, and the rest of the European armies will probably do the same. That leaves Putin’s army and Putin’s war criminals of the so-called ‘Wagner group.’ In the north of the country, the Tuareg are fighting for independence. Everywhere, Islamist attacks are possible.
The security situation in Mali changes all the time. It is, therefore vital that if you are interested in traveling to the country, you should check first-hand. There are places like Dogon County that have been inaccessible for years. At the same time, there are others, such as Djenne, whose situation varies daily.
Unless you are a citizen of a West African country, you will need to obtain a visa in advance. Depending on your nationality, this will cost between $50 and $150.
Mali is definitely an expensive country for the traveler. If you want to visit destinations like Djenne, you will need at least 1000 USD for a 2-night, 3-day tour. If you want to visit Timbuktu via airplane, it will cost you about 3000 USD for a 2-day/1-night tour. And that’s in basic conditions. If you don’t want to take any risks and want to visit the capital, here are some typical prices:
A hotel room (single, AC, hot water, free wifi, breakfast included) is about 30,000 CFA.
A meal (meat/fish) is 4000 to 6000 CFA
A local beer (0.3 l) is 1000 to 2000 CFA
A soft drink (0.5 l) is 500 to 1000 CFA
Taxi in Bamako 1000 to 1500 CFA
Bottle of Water 500 CFA
Best Time To Visit
Mali is close to the equator, so it tends to be hot all year round. Therefore, there are no seasons in the country, but you should be aware of whether it is the rainy season or not. After the rainy season, from October to January, is the best time to plan a trip to Mali.
The money used in Mali is the CFA-West (CFA Ouest); Euros and Dollars can easily be changed.
1 € = 655 CFA
1 USD = 610 CFA
Rates of February 2023
Mali was a French territory, so French is still the country’s official language. However, only about 20% of the country speaks French, and this is concentrated in the main cities. Bambara is the most widely spoken language in the country, with around 80% of the population speaking it. It is worth noting that almost everyone in the country speaks at least two languages. If you’re only fluent in English, you’re likely to have problems, as it’s probably only spoken by young people in the cities or chain hotels.
In Mali, it is tough to find pork as the country is mostly Islamic. What you will find is fish, chicken, beef, sheep, goat, frog legs, etc. There are also lots of vegetables, fruit, and bread (remember that the French dominated the country for a long time).
If you want to find typical Malian food, you must visit the street stalls, of course! You will have to ask for street food recommendations as you won’t find them on Tripadvisor.
The staple food in Mali is tiga diga na or tigadèguèna. It’s basically rice with peanut sauce. It’s the most popular and cheapest food on the street. You can get a plate for less than 50 cents, and if you want to add meat stew, you only have to pay a dollar more. The locals love the meat! Most can’t afford it, though.
Here are some of the most popular dishes in the country:
Perhaps the most popular dish in Mali consists of chicken marinated in lemon, accompanied by various carbohydrates, usually rice.
It is a very popular dish throughout West Africa. It is basically long-grain rice with onion, tomato, spices, and chicken or fish.
It is one of the most delicious dishes in all of Africa. It is a tomato-based stew with many different spices, tender meat, and meatballs. It is a traditional dish from Timbuktu, so it isn’t easy to find.
If you like breakfast, the most typical dish is an egg sandwich or meat stew.
If you like to drink alcohol, you won’t have a problem in Mali, although it is a Muslim country. Well, in the south and center of Mali. But if you travel to more conservative areas such as Djenne, it will be harder to find spirits such as beer. And if you travel further north, don’t get your hopes up.
Although over 90% of the population is Muslim, no special clothing is required except in mosques. However, for safety reasons, I recommend that you try to dress as locally as possible to avoid being noticed.
You should know that clothes are usually made to measure. So if you want to dress like a local, you can buy the fabric and have it made locally. For example, a shirt can cost between €7 and €12 (fabric + labor).
When traveling to a new country, it is essential to be aware of the culture when it comes to photography. Many tourists take pictures of everything, including people, without thinking about whether it is customary or not. As long as you ask, photography is not a problem, especially in Mali. Regarding public buildings, soldiers, policemen, etc., follow the general rules of a military dictatorship and do not take photographs.
Mali is a fantastic country, full of tourist attractions. However, some are restricted due to security concerns. So I think it is crucial that you check if the destination you have in mind is viable. However, I will list what I consider to be the best destinations in the country:
It is Mali’s most famous destination and surely one of Africa’s most iconic and mystic cities. It was completely closed to travelers for about ten years after the Tuareg rebellion. But since some time ago it can be visited for a short period if you arrive by plane or by boat (a two-day trip on the Niger river). It should be noted, however, that the area around it is still absolutely not safe!
Djenne is the largest mud temple in the world. And it is currently one of the most exotic destinations in the world. Although I cannot say that it is a safe destination, I know first-hand that many travelers visit it every day, taking the appropriate precautions.
One of the most exciting aspects of traveling to remote destinations is being able to see local life uninterrupted by globalization. Such is the case of the Niger, a 4,180-kilometre-long river that runs through West Africa and whose geographical importance has been key to the development of historic cities such as Timbuktu and Djenné. Today, locals use the river for everything from washing clothes to collecting sand for buildings.
In Mali, it is lousy. So the best thing to do is to look for 4G connectivity, which is extraordinary. So I recommend buying a SIM card and loading it up with data. The good thing is that getting a SIM card is easy and cheap! There are many Orange Mobile offices where you can get enough data for a 2-week trip for less than €10.
Mali is a destination I personally recommend traveling to with a guide. At least outside the capital Bamako. Three travel agencies have experience and offer excellent tours to different parts of the country.
- Lupine Travel is an expert in extreme destinations and is the only agency in Mali that offers tours to Timbuktu.
- Young Pioneer Travel is another excellent option, offering reasonably priced trips (although nothing is cheap in Mali).
- Papillon Reizen is a local agency and perhaps the one with the most local contacts to ensure the safest trip possible.
Mali is a genuinely great country, and it would be ideal if all its attractions could be visited. Despite this, and the difficulty that the security issue brings, there are ways to stay relatively safe. Getting to the country is not difficult – there are several flights from Europe with AirFrance and Turkish Airlines. You can even enter via the land borders from Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire (there are other borders, but these are the safest). If you plan ahead and take the necessary precautions, it can be an amazing destination to add to your bucket list!
I’m a total Africa enthusiast! I’ve been exploring this amazing continent for years and I can’t get enough of its diverse cultures, stunning landscapes, and incredible wildlife. From hiking through the savannahs to sampling local cuisine, I’m all about immersing myself in everything Africa has to offer. I’m constantly on the lookout for new and exciting experiences, and I love sharing my passion and knowledge with fellow travel lovers. If you’re looking for an adventure like no other, Africa is the place to be, and I’m here to help you make the most of it!