SAGA TOURS - Adventure travel to Dogon country, Timbuktu, and Djenne in Mali, West Africa

Travel to Dogon country, Djenne, Mopti, Segou and Bamako
in Mali — the jewel of West Africa

Traditional dances in Dogon, Bambara and Tuareg villages– traditional dances in Dogon, Bambara and Tuareg villages
riverboat sailing on the Niger River, from Mopti to Timbuktu– sailing excursions on the Niger River by private river boat
hiking and camping in Dogon villages, on the Bandiagara escarpment– hiking and camping in Dogon villages, on the Bandiagara Escarpment

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Welcome to Mali !

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Mali is known as the jewel in the crown of West Africa; it is culturally and historically rich, but economically poor. You will be warmly welcomed, but do not be surprised by the "Third World" infrastructure and conditions in the smaller towns—the capital cities in general have good to excellent facilities.

Visiting Mali and West Africa is best described overall as a soft adventure holiday, with an abundance of unique and exciting visits and all of the essential comforts, but it is not luxury travel (beware of advertised 'luxury tours').


Tuareg camp in the desert

The city of legend truly exists, on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, in Mali. Timbuktu was once a world-renowned center of Islamic culture, as well as an important terminus of the trans-Saharan caravan trade—salt from the north, arriving on the azalaïs, exchanged for gold and slaves from the south; now the city is virtually a time-forgotten relic of its ancient glory. One of Unesco's World Heritage sites, Timbuktu is still worth a visit for its ancient mosques (former universities) or for the austere beauty of the surrounding desert.

Tuareg desert camp Photo: Tuareg camp in the desert

Dogon Country The Dogon village Banani, on the Bandiagara escarpment

Dogon country is home of one of the most fascinating cultures in Africa. The Dogon people have retained much of their original culture and still practice their traditional beliefs. Funerary mask dances are still performed at the end of mourning periods, to encourage the spirit of a loved one to depart the village and join the ancestors. The Dogon people fled their original homeland to escape the spread of Islam, and settled in and around the cliffs of the Bandiagara escarpment. Agriculturalists, they practice subsistence farming on the plateau above the cliffs and on the plain below. The difficult terrain made an insular people isolated even from each other, and over the generations each village formed a cultural island and developed its own dialect, often incomprehensible to its neighbors. Today there are some 50 distinct versions of spoken Dogon.
Dogon cliff villagePhoto: Dogon village on the cliffs
See also: (external links)
Sacred Sites of the Dogon
Dogon Cosmology
Dogon Myths
Dogon Culture (BBC)

TOURS to Dogon country :

9-day Mali / Dogon country trek tour
15-day Mali Adventure tour
Dogon country trekking expeditions
other Tours including Dogon country

The Niger River

Pinnace in Mopti, on the Niger River

The Niger river is one of the great rivers of the world. It marks an approximate boundary between the Sahara desert and the Sahel, and it provides a livelihood to thousands of fishermen. Even though it is a landlocked country, Mali is Africa's third-ranking fish producer. The Bozo people are the predominant cultural group along the Niger, and any river trip will be with them, in a traditional wooden pinnace powered by poling, by sail, or by outboard motor. River trips can be for a few hours, or for up to three to four days. River trips include visits to fishing villages, and overnight trips entail camping on the riverbank. Hippos can almost always be seen during the dry season ('Mali' means 'hippo' in a local language).

Bozo pinnace on the Niger RiverPhoto: Bozo pinnace on the Niger Rivercultural tours, mali travel
See also: (external links)
Niger River (Oxfam)
The Bamana Segou State

TOURS on the Niger River :

11-day Niger Journey to Timbuktu
11-day Mali Explorer tour
12-day Mali Classic tour
15-day Mali Adventure tour
other Tours featuring the Niger River

Mopti and Djenne

The Grande Mosque, in Djenne
Djenne was the sister-city of Timbuktu during its glory days, and it remains largely unchanged—a city of mud-brick houses lining narrow, winding streets. Formerly an important river port and a center of learning and Islamic culture, Djenne is now best-known for its weekly market, which draws thousands of local people to trade their goods, and for its Great Mosque, the largest mud-brick building in the world, originally built in the XVIIIth century and another of Unesco's World Heritage sites. Mopti was and remains a commercial center. It is the melting pot of Mali, where many ethnic groups come to trade: Bambara, Malinke, Fulani, Bobo, Bozo, Dogon, Songhay, Tuareg and Hausa cultures.
Djenne's Grand MosquePhoto: Djenne's Great Mosque
See also: (external links)
Djenne historical notes
Wikepedia entry
Unesco World Heritage - good for the local people?
(NYTimes 2011)

See our Tours featuring Mopti and Djenne

Mali's entry requirements:

  1. a visa is required for nearly everyone (see Travel Tips for exceptions)

  2. Yellow Fever immunization (valid 10 years)
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended; consult your physician.

See our Travel Tips page for Mali Embassy contact information, to apply for your tourism visa.


mali travelOctober through March: dry and relatively cool
culture toursApril, May, June: dry and hot
cultural tourJuly, August, September: rainy

NB: The rainy season (July - September) can be a very pleasant time to visit Mali — when it rains it doesn't last all day, nor does it rain every day; and the countryside is lush and green (dust-free).

If you wish to avoid crowds, avoid December and January.

Average Temperatures and Rainfall (Bamako)
min. temp.
max. temp.
Rainfall (mm)
16.6° C / 62° F
33.3° C / 92° F
19.5° C / 67° F
36.3° C / 97° F
22.5° C / 73° F
38.5° C / 101° F
24.9° C / 77° F
39.5° C / 103° F
25.3° C / 78° F
38.4° C / 101° F
23.4° C / 74° F
35.2° C / 95° F
22.0° C / 72° F
32.1° C / 90° F
21.7° C / 71° F
31.3° C / 88° F
21.5° C / 71° F
32.2° C / 90° F
21.0° C / 70° F
34.7° C / 94° F
17.7° C / 64° F
35.2° C / 95° F
16.3° C / 61° F
33.3° C / 92° F

For a current weather forecast, click the city name below:
(this will take you to an external site)


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Time zone

Mali is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT or UTC)
GMT = Eastern Standard time +5 hrs, Pacific time +8 hrs
GMT = Eastern Daylight Savings time +4 hrs, Pacific time +7 hrs

Distance chart and approximate driving times

Essentially, distances are long, roads are narrow and rough (even though most are paved).
A typical two-week tour covers some 1800 km (over 1100 miles) of driving.

Bamako to Sikasso 375 km 235 miles ±5 hours
Bamako to Segou 235 km 150 miles ±3 hours
Bamako to Djenne 570 km 355 miles ±7½ hours + ferry crossing
Bamako to Mopti 640 km 400 miles ±8 hours
Segou to Djenne 335 km 205 miles ±4½ hours + ferry crossing
Segou to Mopti 405 km 250 miles ±5 hours
Sevare to Mopti 12 km 8 miles ±10 minutes
Mopti to Bandiagara 75 km 50 miles ±45 minutes
Mopti to Sangha 120 km 75 miles ±2 hours(45 km unpaved)
Mopti to Djenne 130 km 80 miles ±1½ hours + ferry crossing

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Communication into and out of Mali can be difficult, as the telephone system is antiquated and cannot keep up with the demands made on it. Daily contact with home is possible, but not guaranteed.

There are many cybercafes in Bamako and other capital cities, and a few in the larger towns; email is quite reliable.

Cell phones are very common in all cities, but the network is undeveloped/absent in rural areas. To learn if your cell phone will work in West Africa, contact your service provider.

Mali's country code is 223; there are no city codes.


Electricity is 220 volts/50 hertz; electrical plugs are the same as used in France, with two round prongs.

See World Electric Guide for more information and photos.

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Mali's holidays

  • January 1 - New Year's Day
  • January 20 - National Army Day
  • March 26 - National Martyrs' Day
  • Easter and Easter Monday
  • May 1 - Labor Day
  • May 25 - Africa Day
  • September 22 - Independence Day
  • December 25 - Christmas Day
Religious holidays, based on the lunar calendar:
  • Maouloud (birth of the prophet Mohamed) - o/a 4 February 2012
  • Ascent of the prophet - o/a 16 June 2012
  • Ramadan - o/a 20 July - 17 August 2012
  • Eïd el-Fitr (end of Ramadan) - 18 August 2012
  • Eïd el-Adha / Eïd el-Kebir (Tabaski) - o/a 26 October 2012
  • Islamic New Year - o/a 15 November 2012

Souvenirs : Mali's arts and handcrafts

Malians are highly creative and you will find a wide variety of beautiful hand-made items:
  • textiles, including mudcloth (bogolan), indigo cloth, cotton or wool blankets, all hand-woven and dyed
  • wooden sculptures, typically masks or statues
  • traditional musical instruments (kora, djembe, balafon)
  • silver or gold jewelry, swords, daggers
  • leatherwork (wallets, purses, shoes, cushions, jewelry boxes)
  • hand-made pottery

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There are no photography permits, but some subjects are considered sensitive and not to be photographed: government buildings, airports, bridges and dams, police, military personnel or equipment.

Some museums prohibit photographs of their exhibits, so be sure to ask when you enter.

And like anywhere else, sometimes people just don't want to be photographed, especially in Muslim countries such as Mali, because the Koran prohibits making human likenesses.
Always ask before you snap.

Money and Credit cards

The local currency is called 'CFA' and is utilized in several other West African countries, namely: Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

Foreign exchange: Euros and USDollars are readily exchangeable in Bamako. Travelers checks are also exchangeable (with a variable commission of 5-20%), but not as readily as cash. In the interior of Mali, cash may also be exchanged (not quite as easily as in Bamako), but travelers checks probably not.

NB: Large cash denominations ($100, 100€, 200€, 500€) are preferred and provide a better exchange rate than smaller bills.

Travelers checks: there is a variable 5-20% commission on all travelers checks.

**Be prepared for lengthy procedures to exchange travellers checks, and be sure to have your purchase receipt — some banks and exchange bureaus will not exchange travellers checks without the purchase receipt.

Credit cards: Please note that credit cards are very little used in the cash economies of Mali and other West African countries — only at a few banks, large hotels and restaurants in Bamako and other capital cities. Visa card is usually the only card accepted, and sometimes, MasterCard or American Express; despite American Express' publicity, it is not widely utilized in West Africa.

Beyond the capital cities, do not count on using credit cards at all. It is nevertheless a good idea to bring a Visa credit card for possible emergency use in the capitals.

There are a few ATMs in Bamako and other country capitals. These generally accept only Visa card, and provide a maximum cash advance of 200,000 CFA (approximate value $450 USD, at current exchange rate).

There are also Western Union and/or Moneygram outlets in Bamako, Sikasso, Kayes, Segou, Mopti, and Timbuktu, as well as in most towns in our neighbor countries, where cash can be transferred and accessed the same day. Check the WU or Moneygram websites for locations.

Click here to access a currency converter now.

MALI Facts and Statistics

Capital: Bamako

Area: 1,240,192 km2 (roughly three times the size of California)

Population: 12,000,000 (est. 2007); annual growth rate 2.7%
(49.5% male, 50.5% female; 48% under 15 years of age)

Life expectancy at birth: 49.5 years total (47.6 for males; 51.5 for females) [CIA Factbook 2008)]

Birth rate in 2007: 49.6 births per 1,000; total fertility rate 7.4 children per woman [CIA Factbook 2008]

Infant mortality: 106 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007.[CIA Factbook, 2008]

Population density: 11 persons per km2

Religions: Islam 90%, Christianity 5%, Traditional beliefs 5%

Bambara is Mali's main languageFrench is the official language
Most commonly spoken languages are:
Bambara 38%, Fulani 14%, Songhay 6%, Dogon 5%

Ethnic Groups:
Bambara 33%, Fulani 10%, Senoufo 9%, Songhay 7%
Malinke 6%, Tuareg 5%, Dogon 4%

Life Expectancy: 47 years (men), 48 years (women) (UN)

Literacy Rate: 40%

Urbanization: 28%

Yearly per capita income: $531 USD (IMF 2008)

Principal exports: cotton, gold, livestock, leather and animal skins, fruit and vegetables, sheep, cattle, grain

Principal imports: petroleum products, agricultural inputs, pharmaceuticals, vehicles

Your safety in Mali / Travel advisory

You will be warmly welcomed to Mali, which has a strong hospitality tradition. The crime rate is very low and safety is the norm, but the northern regions are currently under rebel threat.

All travel to the north of Mali (the Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu regions) should be deferred.

All travel plans should be made with local agencies, who can advise on the areas to avoid.

Please remember that New York, London, Toulouse, Moscow, Madrid, Oslo, Mumbai, Bali, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya have all been victims of horrible terrorist incidents—that is not a reason to avoid these places, and there is no reason to avoid Mali.

With your personal precautions, you will be as safe in Mali as anywhere else in the world—perhaps safer, because there is very little crime—but opportunistic crimes can occur, you must stay out of high-risk and rebel-controlled areas.

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