Saga Tours - Travel to Mali and West Africa Bamako, MALI
West Africa
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Travel Tips

Practical facts and advice for more enjoyable travel
in Mali and West Africa

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Please see About Mali for more useful information.

Entry Requirements

  1. An visa is required for everyone except citizens of:

    • ECOWAS member countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo
    • Algeria
    • Andorra
    • Monaco
    • Chad
    • the Gambia
    • Hong Kong
    • Morocco
    • Mauritania
    • Tunisia

  2. Yellow Fever immunization
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended; consult your physician.

MALI Visas

A visa is required to enter and visit Mali. The website of the Malian Embassy in Washington DC has all of the pertinent information to apply for a tourist visa.

If you cannot obtain a visa before you travel, entry stamps are given upon arrival at Bamako airport, which allow you to enter Mali. You must then go to the Immigration Office to apply for a visa; it will be available the next day (24-36 hours after arrival in Bamako), Monday-Friday.

NB: We recommend obtaining a visa prior to your trip, whenever possible—airline security procedures at airports are such that flight boarding may be refused by the airline to any traveller without a visa.

Before traveling, you should also make sure that your passport is valid for at least six more months, and that it has sufficient blank pages for entry and exit stamps in each country that you will visit.

Contact the Mali Embassy or Consulate:

1900 L Street NW
Washington DC 20036 USA
Telephone (+1) 202 332 2249
89, Rue du Cherche-Midi
Paris 75006 FRANCE
Telephone +33 1 45 48 58 43
Fax +33 1 45 48 55 34
Mali Consulate
111 E. 69th Street
New York NY 10021 USA
Telephone (+1) 212 737 4150 / 794 1311
Mali Embassy ('Botschaft Mali')
Kurfürstendamm 72
10709 Berlin GERMANY
Telephone: (+49) 3031 99883
Via Antonio Bosio 2
00161 Rome, ITALY
Telephone 0039 06 4425 4068
Fax (+439) 06 4425 4029
487, Avenue Moliere
1050 Brussels BELGIUM
Telephone +322 340 8130/8132; +322 345 7432
Fax +322 344 5700
14, Rue du Rhone
Telephone (+412) 2 819 1795
Fax (+412) 2 819 1996
Mali Consulate (honorary)
Spalengerg 25, BP 1204
Telephone (+41) 61 295 38 88
Fax (+41) 61 295 38 89
Mali Consulate
64 Rue Pelleport
75020 Paris FRANCE
Telephone +33 1 48 07 85 85
Fax +33 1 48 07 07 39
Mali Consulate (honorary)
47 Rue de la Paix
13001 Marseille FRANCE
Telephone +33 04 91 33 76 30
Fax +33 04 54 19 91
Mali Consulate (honorary)
29 Allées des Chartes
33000 Bordeaux FRANCE
Telephone +33 05 56 00 82 82
Fax +33 05 56 81 51 76
Mali Consulate (honorary)
8 Rue du Professeur Grignard
69007 Lyon FRANCE
Telephone +33 04 78 72 96 99
50 Avenue Goulburn
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 8C8 CANADA
Tel. (+1) 613 232 1501 or 1502 or 3264
Fax (+1) 613 232 7429
Consulate of the Republic of Mali
Suite 6 / 29 Ord street
West Perth 6005 AUSTRALIA
Tel/Fax: +61 9 9486 7016
Mob: 0417326447
Tokyo, JAPAN
Telephone +81 3 3705 3437 / +81 3 3705 3433
Fax +81 3 3705 3489
11 Novokuzvetskaya
Moscow, RUSSIA
Telephone (+709) 5 231 0655 / 230 2985
Fax (+709) 5 230 2889

Visas for Burkina Faso, Niger, Ghana, Togo and Benin

Please be advised that visas at border crossings are becoming increasingly difficult, expensive, or even impossible to obtain at the border.

As of June 2012 visas at the border are NOT available for Benin, Ghana, Niger.

We now recommend obtaining all visas prior to travel, to avoid hassles, delays, and possibly being turned back at a border crossing. Official entry policies can change without warning, and the tendency is toward tighter security.

Here are some embassy contacts; others can be found through internet searches:

Burkina Faso: Embassy in US / Embassy in Canada / Listing of BF embassies worldwide
Ghana: Embassy in US / Embassy in UK / Listing of Ghana embassies worldwide
Togo: Embassy in US / Listing of Togo embassies worldwide
Benin: Embassy in US / Benin Consulate in UK / Listing of Benin embassies worldwide
Niger: Embassy in US / Listing of Niger embassies worldwide

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Health and medical issues

You will need a Yellow Fever vaccine to enter Mali. See your physician, public health office, or travelers' clinic; you can also visit the Centers for Disease Control website for more information. It would also be a good idea to make sure other vaccinations are up-to-date, such as tetanus, rabies, etc.; best to get a physician's advice.

Also, don't forget to ask your doctor about malaria prevention - this is usually mefloquine (Lariam), doxycycline, or Malarone in tablet form, taken for the length of your trip plus a short period before your departure and after your return. In the U.S., malaria prevention tablets are sold by prescription only; they are not available in Mali. Another important and complementary preventive measure is to cover your arms and legs, especially in the evening, and to utilize mosquito repellant.

Tip: the availability of medications in West Africa is limited, and the brands available will probably not be familiar ones, so bring along all medications that you're likely to need as you travel. And be sure to pack them in your carry-on bag, not your checked luggage.

Tip: food and water precautions - drink only boiled or bottled liquids, and make sure the intact bottle cap is removed in your presence; don't eat anything raw that you haven't peeled yourself.

Tip: to avoid dehydration, do make an effort to drink more water than you normally do, even if you don't feel thirsty. If the local temperatures feel hot to you, then you must drink, drink, drink.

Tip: sports bars, dried fruit, trail mix or other snack foods can be very handy on long days, or if local food does not satisfy your palate (chocolate is not a good choice, as it melts). This is especially noteworthy for vegetarians, who should consider bringing along protein supplements and other items to complement the limited local variety.

Tip: Wash your hands every chance you get; this will help prevent many bacterial and viral infections.

Here is a list of suggested items for a travel medical kit; this list is only a guideline, and you should carefully include or exclude items according to your particular needs. [printable version]
  • your personal prescriptions, including refills; pack in your carry-on bag
  • malaria tablets (by prescription)
  • anti-diarrheal (e.g. imodium)
  • aspirin or tylenol/paracetamol
  • betadine or other topical antiseptic
  • bandaids and an antibiotic creme
  • rehydration powder or sports drink (e.g. gatorade)
  • nasal decongestant, antihistamine or allergy medication
  • antacid
  • eye drops
  • insect repellant
  • hand-sanitizer (keep it handy)
  • sun screen
  • lip balm
  • moisturizing skin lotion
  • calamine lotion
  • motion sickness pills, if you are prone to motion sickness

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(See Terms & Conditions ) Insurance is not required, but is always a good idea. Check your other policies (health, homeowners, student, etc.) to see what coverage you may already have. Otherwise check into one of the specialist travel insurance companies such as Access America (800 284 8300; or International SOS Assistance (215 245 4707; Saga Tours does not offer travel insurance.

Money and Credit cards

Foreign exchange: Euros and USDollars are readily exchangeable in Bamako and other capital cities.

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

Travelers checks are also exchangeable, but not as readily as cash—you should expect to pay a commission of 5-20% on travellers 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.

In the interior of Mali and other countries, cash may also be exchanged (not quite as easily as in the capital cities), but travelers checks likely not.

Credit cards: Please note that credit cards are very little used in our local cash economies — only at a few banks, large hotels and restaurants in large cities. Visa card is usually the only card accepted, and occasionally, MasterCard or American Express. In the interior of any country, do not count on using credit cards at all. It is nevertheless a good idea to bring a Visa card for emergency use in the capital cities.

There are a few ATMs in Bamako (including at Bamako airport) 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 all medium to large cities in our neighbor countries, where cash can be transferred and accessed the same day. Check the WU and MoneyGram websites for locations.

Local currency, exchange rates

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.

Approximate exchange rates as of July 2010 are:
450 CFA = $1 US
650 CFA = €1
1 Euro = $1.40 US

When checking the exchange rate with a Currency Converter, remember that these sites typically list the interbank rate, whereas the retail rate is what you will get locally. Click here to access a currency converter now.

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Food and meals

Restaurant meals are not cheap; in the smaller towns, expect to pay (per person) approximately € 6-10 euros for lunch, € 10-12 euros for dinner; in the larger cities, approximately € 8-12 euros for lunch, and € 12-25 euros for dinner (in the major hotels of capital cities, up to € 20 euros for lunch, up to € 35 euros for dinner).

Local street-corner food is cheap but not recommended for the uninitiated; it is a prime source of infection leading to diarrheal disease.

Bottled mineral water is widely available; prices are approximately € 1 euro in stores (1.5-liter bottle), and € 2-4 euros in hotels or restaurants.


Tipping is discretionary, not required. A small tip is a traditional way of expressing one's respect, as well as appreciation for good services.

Here are some guidelines and local norms:

- tour guide/escort: approx. € 6-8/day (~4000 to 5000 CFA/day)
- tour driver: approx. € 3-5/day (~2000 to 3000 CFA/day)
- local guide: approx. € 1-2 (~1000 CFA)
- boat crew (for 3-day sail to Timbuktu): approx. € 45 (~30 000 CFA total, to be shared among the crew)
- restaurant staff: €1/person/meal (~200-500 CFA/person/meal)
- bag porters: €1/bag (200-500 CFA/bag at hotels; 500 CFA/bag at the airport)

The above amounts are appropriate for up to four travellers (not per traveller).
For groups larger than four persons, a proportional upward adjustment will be appreciated, but is not required.
Tips should be offered in CFA local currency.

Suggestion: Always save your small bills (1000 cfa, 2000 cfa) and coins (500 cfa) for tipping, and always use larger bills (5000 CFA or 10,000 CFA) in hotels or restaurants. Many vendors do not have any change, and it can be quite frustrating to not be able to do or buy something, for lack of the correct change.

Clothing : What to wear

In West Africa as everywhere, clothing is adapted to the climate, which is generally warm-to-hot; so you will see local people wearing loose and light items, and it is a good idea to follow this lead.

Men and women can wear bermuda shorts, but it is best to cover the thighs, down to the knees. Women need not cover their hair, shoulders or arms, but they should cover their legs down to the knees, and avoid any tight-fitting clothing.

Cotton and other natural fabrics are more comfortable in this climate than man-made fibers. You should pack a light jacket or sweater for the months of December or January, especially for Timbuktu or for any camping nights. And a rain jacket or umbrella might be handy during the rainy months of August and September; during the high season of November-February, it is unlikely that you will see a drop of rain.

For protection against malaria and/or other mosquito-borne disease, we recommend wearing long trousers and a long-sleeve shirt in the evening hours.

Tip: In Mali as in other Muslim countries, better to err on the side of modesty.
Tip: Except on the playing field, shorts are considered children's' wear.

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Soft luggage is preferred over trunks or hard-sided suitcases. Luggage allowance on flights to/from the US and Europe is normally two bags of up to 70 pounds (32 kgs) each, for each ticket holder. But on domestic flights in Mali the baggage allowance is 15 kilograms (33 pounds) per person, plus one small carry-on item; you will need to pay excess baggage fees for anything over that amount.

Tip: Always use locks on your luggage.

Tip: Do not place medications in your checked luggage, which can be lost or delayed; always keep medications in your carry-on bag.

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Packing : What to Bring

Tip: Make photocopies of your passport (the ID page and the Mali visa page) and your airline tickets; obviously you should carry these separately from the real items.

Tip: If you require a hair dryer or travel iron, you'll need to bring your own, as they are not available in the hotels.

Tip: Disposable razors are more convenient than electric ones (lack of plugs in bathrooms).

Suggested packing list: [printable version]
  • clothing should consist of cotton summer items, plus a sweater or windbreaker for cool evenings, especially in Timbuktu; don't forget a swimsuit, as some hotels have swimming pools
  • it's highly unlikely that you'll see a drop of rain from November through March
  • white clothes (e.g. t-shirts) get pretty dirty, pretty fast; you'll feel cleaner, longer, with light colored clothing
  • a bandana or large scarf to cover your head, mouth and nose; for windy days
  • a hat to provide good sun protection
  • sunglasses are practically indispensable—store them in a hard case
  • a flashlight (torch), for when the power fails; headlamps are particularly useful for campers
  • you may do quite a bit of walking, so good walking shoes are a must; these need not be hiking boots
  • sandals are good for relaxing or when driving
  • rubber flip flops are ideal for campers, when utilizing outdoor showers; they can be purchased locally for about $1 (1€ or less)
  • if you require a good pillow for a good night's sleep, you should bring your own travel pillow; the hotels do provide pillows but they are sometimes hard and small
  • toilet paper is not always available and it is worth the space it takes up in your luggage
  • campers should definitely bring a towel
  • do bring your own shampoo as there won't be any samples in the hotels
  • hand-sanitizer (keep it handy)
  • contact lenses can be problematic in this dusty climate; glasses are more practical; keep them stored in a hard case
  • a money belt
  • a small back pack
  • padlocks for luggage
  • safety pins, needle and thread
  • bring a sufficient supply of film, cassettes and appropriate batteries for your photography and filming needs, as you may not find these items locally
  • a small travel alarm clock, with fresh batteries
  • a pocket dictionary of French phrases may be handy
  • a medical kit (see the health section above)
  • sports bars, dried fruit, trail mix, etc., if you like to snack; do not bring chocolate, it will melt
  • you should bring all toiletries (including soap, shampoo, and feminine hygiene products) that you will likely need

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Domestic flight excess baggage

(Jan. 2008) On domestic flights, the baggage allowance is 20 kg/passenger, plus one piece of hand-luggage maximum 5 kg. Excess baggage charges are approx. 2.00 Euros/kg of excess weight (price subject to change; 1 kg = 2.2 pounds).

Airport tax

There is no airport departure tax in Bamako; this fee is included in the price of air tickets.

International airlines servicing Mali from the US and/or Europe

• Air France (various –> Bamako, MALI)
US: 800 237 2747
Canada: 800 667 2747
France: 802 802 802
UK: 020 8 742 6600

• Royal Air Maroc (various –> Bamako, MALI)
(flight may include an overnight layover in Casablanca)
US: 800 344 6726 or 212 750 5115
Canada: 514 285 1435
France: 01 44 94 13 10
UK: 020 7 439 4361

• TAP Airways (Lisbon –> Bamako, MALI)

• Brussels Airlines (Brussels –> Bamako, MALI)

Connecting flights may also be found on:

Aigle Azur
Air Algérie
Air Burkina
Air Guinée
Air Ivoire
Air Mali
Air Mauritanie
Ethiopian Airlines
Kenya Airways
Senegal Airlines
Trans Air Benin
Tunis Air

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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.

We hope these travel tips are useful, and we welcome any additional suggestions to make your West Africa travel experience a better one.

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