Mali is a landlocked country in northwest Africa, bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania. Mali is a developing nation, and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it has some incredible sights, including four UNESCO World-Heritage sites, and the historic city of Timbuktu. With its giant mud-built mosques, villages carved into cliff-sides and massive camel caravans traversing the desert, Mali makes for a stunningly surreal destination.
Rapidly developing, particularly in the main cities, tourists can find high standards of accommodation and cuisine on offer. Intriguing and colourful markets, vast desert landscapes and ancient tombs and relics are all waiting to be discovered. Does make one wonder why Mali is still one of the world’s poorest countries.
Mali's capital is a modern town and the educational and cultural centre of Mali. The main places of interest are the markets, the Botanical Gardens, the Musée National, the zoo and the craft centre at the Maison des Artisans. The Musée National is an archaeological and anthropological museum, presenting permanent and temporary exhibits on the prehistory of Mali, as well as the musical instruments, dress, and ritual objects associated with Mali's various ethnic groups.
The Bamako Grand Mosque is located in the city centre of Bamako, situated north of the Niger River near the central Market (Grand Marche) and the colonial era Bamako Cathedral. It is one of the tallest structures in Bamako. Built on the site of a pre-colonial mud-brick mosque, the current mosque was built through funding from the Saudi Arabian government at the end of the 1970s. With its tall cement minarets built around a square central structure, the building is stylistically closer to Saudi religious structures than West African. The mosque is visible from much of the city and occasionally is opened to tourists.
Also of note is the Muso Kunda Museum, the Bamako Regional Museum, the National Conference Center Tower (NCC), the Souvenir Pyramid, the Independence Monument, Al Quoods Monument, the triangular Monument de la Paix, the Hamdallaye obelisk, the Modibo Keita Memorial and many other monuments, the Palais de la Culture Amadou Hampaté Ba and the Point G hill, containing caves with rock paintings.
At the end of each January, Bamako hosts the finish line to the gruelling trans-Sahara rally, the Budapest-Bamako. Hundreds of rally cars and motorcycles arrive in the city on the last Sunday of January.
Known as the 'Jewel of the Niger', Djenné was founded in 1250. It has a beautiful mosque, the Grande Mosquée, and it is one of the oldest trading towns along the trans-Saharan caravan routes. Old Djenné is located about 5 km (3 miles) from Djenné and was founded around 250 BC. The town quickly developed into a market centre and important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it became one of the spiritual centres for the dissemination of Islam. Nearly 2,000 of its traditional houses, built on hillocks (toguere) and adapted to the seasonal floods, have survived. Old Djenné is today listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The centre of Mali’s tourist industry, Mopti is located at the confluence of the Bani and the Niger and is built on three islands joined by dykes. There is another fine mosque here. The market in the town centre, Marché des Souvenirs, and the area surrounding the port are also worth visiting.
Southeast of Mopti is the Bandiagara country, peopled by the Dogons, whose ancient beliefs have remained largely untouched by Islam. Visitors should treat villagers with respect. The Cliffs of Bandiagara have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Dogon people are believed to have been the original inhabitants of the Niger river valley and, for thousands of years, inhabited villages cut into the cliffs of the 200 km- (80 mile-) long Bandiagara escarpment. Although most of the Dogons have now relocated to the plains, the ancient villages on the cliffs are still standing.
Timbuktu is a name that has passed into English vernacular as a byword for inaccessibility and remoteness. It is, however, neither of these things owing to the magnificent camel caravans which arrive every year from the Taoudenni salt mines to distribute their produce throughout the Sahel. By the 15th century, Timbuktu was the centre of a lucrative trade in salt and gold, straddling the trans-Saharan caravan routes, as well as being a great centre of Islamic learning. Much of this ancient city is in decay, but it is the site of many beautiful mosques and tombs, some dating back to the 14th century.
Another ancient city which had its heyday in the 15th century is Gao. Gao houses the mosque of Kankan Moussa and the tombs of the Askia Dynasty. There are also two excellent markets. The city has recently undergone much urban development. San and Ségou are both interesting towns. The National Park of La Boucle de Baoule contains an array of southern Sahelian species of wildlife, including giraffe, leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and hippo.