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Getting Around in Mali

By Air

From Bamako, one can fly to cities such as Mopti, Timbuktu, Kayes, Yelimané, Gao, Kidal, Sadiola and others. Air travel in Mali is fast but, compared to a bus ride, expensive. You can generally get tickets at the airport before flights, however the best bet is to book a ticket in advance.

Société Transport Aerienne (STA) and Société Avion Express (SAE) are the two most popular, and most reliable, carriers.

By Water

Between July and December, there are services between Bamako and Gao via Timbuktu along the River Niger. However, because of drought in the Sahel desert, services are sometimes suspended. The journey is approximately 1,300 km (800 miles) and takes five or six days. Between December and March, travel is only possible between Mopti and Gao. Food is available on the boats and first-class cabins can be booked in advance.

Motorised and non-motorised pirogues and pinasses (types of river boat) are available for hire between Timbuktu and Mopti.

By Rail

The train operator is Transrail. A Damar-Bamako train runs erratically due to ongoing engineering works needed urgently on the tracks. Dakar station can advise travellers of the next departure a few days beforehand. The journey takes at least two days and nights. The trains have first- and second-class seats plus first-class couchettes with four-bunk compartments. They also have a bar-restaurant car selling drinks, snacks and inexpensive meals.

By Road

Traffic drives on the right in Mali. Roads in Mali range from moderate to very bad. Particular care should be taken if driving in Bamako. The main road runs from Sikasso in the south to Bamako, and to Mopti and Gao. Between Mopti and Gao, travel can be difficult during the rainy season (mid June to mid September) when the Niger, at its confluence with the Bani, splits into a network of channels, and floods its banks to form the marshlands of the Macina. Stops at customs and police checkpoints are frequent on major roads and driving is particularly hazardous after dark.


The main cities along the paved road into the north are connected via bus (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao). A separate paved loop runs through the south (Bamako, Bougouni, Sikasso, Koutiala, Segou) There are many different companies with different schedules but they all have more or less the same prices. Normally a ride to Mopti (600 km), endures approximately nine hours; a ride to Gao at least 12. All times are very rough, however, and few bus companies will even give you an estimated arrival time as different drivers drive different speeds and it is not improbable that the bus breaks down and needs a repair or stops to help another bus. It is usually possible to make a reservation several days before (recommended during the tourist season), though one rarely has a problem just showing up 30-60 minutes before the bus leaves. More reliable companies include Bittar, Bani and Banimonotie (Sikasso region) among others.

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