Most people know about the mysterious name Timbuktu, but far fewer know that this legendary place actually exists in reality - in Mali! Timbuktu is only one of many reasons why you should travel to this African country! Mali is a country with a fascinating history, colorful culture and its own distinct identity.
Mali is located south of Sahara, completely isolated from the sea, and bordering Mauritania, Algeria, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Senegal. 70% of the country consists of deserts with little to no rainfall throughout the year. The average temperature is between 24 and 32 degrees. The capital Bamako is located in southwest Mali, and houses more than 10 percent of the country's 12.2 million inhabitants. Mali is one of the world's poorest countries.
Traveling to Mali is like going back in time
In Djenné you will immediately let your mind wander back in time. It seems as if nothing has changed in hundreds of years! People travel from the different parts of Mali to participate in the market that takes place at the footsteps of the Great Leir Mosque (which, incidentally, looks like a giant sandcastle).
Watching the Peul-women and their giant earrings of gold is an impressive sight. The mosque in Djenné is part of UNESCO World Heritage. Unfortunately it is not possible to go inside, but if you walk around the mosque you are guaranteed to encounter some locals who will gladly invite you up on the roof of their house so you can watch the mosque from there.
Renting a bicycle is a good idea in this medieval town, and you can easily ride to other nearby villages. We also recomment going on a horse and carriage trip by sunset!
Highlights in Mali
Hiking in the Dogon Valley will probably be the biggest highlight of your trip in Mali. The Dogon region is one of the most special places in Mali. In the 1000s the Dogon-people chased away the pygmies so that they could settle down in the area. When they arrived at this rocky plateau they barely found any fertile soil, so they brought big baskets of good soil with them so they could start farming.
Together with a local guide, you can stroll between these photogenic villages built in clay, get close to the locals and learn more about their daily life and exciting spirit belief system. Almost none of the villages have electricity or running water; something you notice when night time arrives. But even after sundown you quickly forget the disadvantages of such a simple standard of living as soon as you see the beautiful and clear starry sky that opens above your head!
Travel to and around Mali
From the village of Mopti you can travel by 'pina', an authentic Malian boat, on the Niger river to get to Timbuktu. Along the way you can stop in the small, picturesque fishing villages where you can get delicious seafood. As soon as you arrive in Timbuktu you will spot the old mosques and universities. Walk through the sandy streets, visit markets and the old mosque Djinguereber or the houses of the explorers Gordon Laing and René Caille.
Led by a local you can also go on a camel ride or explore the area in a jeep. A must-do is to spend a night in a bedouin tent. Although Timbuktu is often referred to as the 'end of the world', there is a lot to explore! Travel even further into deserts and savannahs to the impressive rock formation ÿHand of Fatimaÿ, before disappearing into the empty landscape.
Festivals in Mali
Most people don't know it, but Mali is actually home to a lot of festivals throughout the year! We have collected the best for you here:
Dogon festival in Bandiagara lasts a full week with fun events every afternoon, including special performances of music and dance. The people of Dogon, Peul and other ethnic groups take part in these festivities that take place in December. Then there is the music festival in the desert in Essakane, ÿFestival au deserty, which takes place in January. This festival is a few hours drive from Timbuktu in an area consisting of beautiful dunes. Here international artists attend as well as African artists. "Festival sur le Niger" in Segou is a big party where many talented West African artists perform their music on a huge platform floating on the river Niger. This festival is also held in January.
When to travel to Mali
Even though there's not a lot of rain, Mali still has a rainy season. The best time of year to travel to Mali is between November and February when the rainy season is over and temperatures are relatively low. The nights can be chilly.
With the exception of a large bird population there is no particular wildlife in Mali. A journey around the country can be done by boat on the Niger or with local buses (roads are kept a decent standard). In addition, you can explore the country by jeep - perhaps more suitable for real adventurers!