Mali in West Africa is one of the best destinations to visit in Africa, yet one of the most underrated countries in Africa’s tourism industry. This country has some of the most beautiful and unique attractions in Africa.
Tourists who visit Mali are mostly interested in the UNESCO world heritage sites in Mali, beautiful natural attractions, and warm people. If you’re about to travel to Mali Africa, this post is a must-read as it’s the ultimate travel guide to Mali. We cover a brief explanation of the recent history of Mali, things to do in Mali, and the best cities to visit in Mali.
Recent History of Mali
Mansa Musa, the Richest Man in History
Mansa Musa, was the tenth Mansa (a military title meaning”emperor”) of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state who lived during the 14th century. He has been described as the wealthiest individual in all human history.
Mansa Musa’s net worth has been valued by modern-day scholars to be around $400 to $415 billion in modern money. He inherited a kingdom that was already wealthy, but his work in expanding trade made Mali the wealthiest kingdom in Africa. His riches came from mining significant salt and gold deposits in the Mali kingdom. Elephant ivory was another major source of wealth.
Mansa Musa, like many other devout Mali rulers before and after, set off for a pilgrimage to Mecca, but when he arrived in Cairo in July of that year en route, he caused an absolute sensation. The king of Mali had given 50,000 gold dinars to the sultan of Egypt merely as a first-meeting gesture. While in Cairo, Mansa Musa met with the Sultan of Egypt, and his caravan spent and gave away so much gold that the overall value of gold decreased in Egypt for the next 12 years. Stories of his fabulous wealth even reached Europe.
Mali fell under French colonial rule in 1892 and was called ‘French Sudan’ until its independence. The colonization time left a lot of influences on Mali until today.
The Mali Federation gained independence from France on 20 June 1960 and could be called Mali again.
People in Mali
The population of Mali is 19.6 million. Most of the Malians live in rural areas (about 68%) while it has a nomad population of about 5%of the population. More than 90% of the Malian population lives in the southern part of the country, especially in Bamako, which has over 2.6 million residents (including the metropolitan area).
Mali has one of the youngest populations in the world with about half of the people being from 1-12 years old.
Ethnic Groups in Mali
The dominant ethnic groups in Mali are Bambara, Fulani, and Sarakole. There’s also a small population of White who is descendants of European invaders who colonized Mali (mostly French).
Most Malians are Muslims while there is a small percentage of Christians and indigenous religions as well.
Languages Spoken in Mali
The sole official language in Mali is French. While most people in Mali can fluently communicate in French, the national language of Mali is Bambara with about 80% of the Malian people being either native Bambara speakers or fluent in it.
Things to do in Mali
Mali has been home to one of the most powerful empires in the world, the Mali Empire that has left a lot of fascinating historical sites including UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mali. From Bamako City and Timbuktu to the Niger River and Dandan Waterfalls, you would never get bored in Mali Africa as there are countless precious things to do in Mali.
One of the best tours you can choose which covers most of the sightseeing places in Mali is done by Continent Tours. The tour is 8 days long and includes accommodation in a hotel as well as an expert guide, meals, transport and more.
Great Mosque Of Djenne
The Great Mosque of Djenne (a large banco or adobe building) is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa, also considered as one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style.
The mosque is located in the city of Djenné, Mali, and has been constructed three times. The first one has been built in the 14th century, the second one between 1834 and 1836, and finally the third one In 1906, by the French administration in the town.
Unlike other historical monuments, the people of Djenne never wanted to modernize the mosque with electricity, the only modern technology being a loudspeaker system that has been incorporated into the structure. Once a year after the rainy season, the entire community comes together to carry out the maintenance of the mosque.
Niger River is the main river in West Africa, passing from Benin, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. The Niger takes one of the most unusual routes of any major river, a boomerang shape that baffled geographers for two centuries.
in Mali, the Niger River gets used as a transport route and, fishing source, and farming. Its waters provide the perfect frontage to many of Mali’s cities and towns and is a beautiful place for a photo op.
Sankoré Madrasah is one of three ancient centers of learning located in Timbuktu, Mali and It is believed to be established by Mansa Musa. As more and more Muslim scholars began to frequent the mosque, it began to accumulate a large collection of books which became an invaluable commodity throughout the city. The three mosques of Sankoré, Djinguereber, and Sidi Yahya compose the University of Timbuktu. ‘Madrasah’ means school/university in Arabic and also in other languages that have been influenced by Islam.
At 1,155 meters, Mount Hombori is the highest point in Mali. The mountain with an inaccessible tableland at the top is a significant archaeological site as it has several caves that were inhabited over 2,000 years ago. Mount Hombori is home to some animal species, namely reptiles and birds, but also some species of mammals including the rock hyrax and olive baboon. If you like to see one of the most beautiful mountains and landscapes in Africa, Mount Hombori is the right place to visit in Mali.
Being listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1989, Bandiagara Escarpment is an escarpment in the Dogon country of Mali. The sandstone cliff rises about 500 meters above the lower sandy flats to the south and has a length of 150 kilometers. The area of the escarpment is inhabited by the Dogon people.
Best Cities and Villages to Visit in Mali
Bamako, the capital of Mali is also the largest city in Mali, as well as one of the largest cities in West Africa. Bamako City is a secret treasure in Africa that can educate you about Africa (Especially Mali itself) as a whole.
You can get more familiar with Mali history by visiting museums such as ‘Musee National de Bamako’, get the advantage of the beautiful nature near Bamako by visiting ‘Parc national du Mali’, or learn about Malians culture by surfing around the ‘Bamako Artisan Market’ or ‘Bamako City Centre Market’. If you like to get a feel of modern Mali, you should visit the ‘Orca shopping mall’. The time in Bamako goes faster than normal since the visitors are always busy experiencing something new.
Ségou Koro is a village, located about ten kilometers from Ségou, on the road to Bamako. During the 17th century, the Bambara people settled in this village, and Ségou Koro was officially founded by the Bambara dynasty. This village became the center of the ‘Bamana Empire’ and the kings developed it generation after generation.
Today the town in some ways conserves the tradition and architecture of the ancient city. The tomb of the founder of the dynasty Biton Mamary Coulibaly is located here. Three ancient mosques still stand tall in Segou Koro with the one on the riverbank more popular with visitors.
Sikasso is the second-largest city in Mali after the capital, Bamako. Home to more than 400,000 people, the population of Sikasso is growing faster than normal, mostly because of those who take refuge in this city from the violence in the neighboring country, Ivory Coast.
Because of its suitable soil and ideal weather, the main business in Sikasso is agriculture. Sikasso is known for its fruits (especially Mango), vegetables, mangoes, and also for a vibrant outdoor market, ‘Le Grand Marché de Sikasso’.
Wassoulou a cultural area renowned for the Wassoulou genre of music, is also located in the southwest corner of the Sikasso region.
Timbuktu, a major city in Mali is located on the southern edge of the Sahara, about 8 miles (13 km) north of the Niger River. The whole city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988 because it became an important part of the Mali Empire by the 14th century, where they traded gold, ivory, slaves, and salt.
Three of the oldest mosques in West Africa are found in Timbuktu as well as ancient manuscripts and books that are stored at the ‘Centre de Recherches Historiques’, ‘Ahmed Baba’, and several other libraries.
Located beside the Bandiagar escarpment are the ancient dwellings of the Dogon people who have been residing in the area since the 14th century.
Thirty Dogon villages are part of the escarpment with their strange shapes and structures, making this area even more mysterious. The homes are made from mud and sticks and are carved into the walls of the cliffs, some blending so well into the landscape that they can hardly be detected. Visitors can stay in the UNESCO World Heritage villages and experience the uniqueness of their culture.
Built at the confluence of the Niger River and the Bani (a tributary of the Niger), Mopti gets surrounded by water, especially after the rainy season (end of the summer). This geographical specificity has earned Mopti the nickname of “Venice of Mali”. The best way to explore the city and its surroundings is by taking a little cruise on the Niger River. Boarding and traveling in a pinnace (flat bottomed boat) is an attraction not to be missed. There is also a huge and passionate fishing port, the Komoguel mosque (said to be the little sister of the Djenné mosque), the crafts market, and the old city.
According to travelers, Mopti is the perfect base camp for exploring Mali. The city offers an International Airport (Mopti-Sévaré, a few miles away) but, most importantly, its location is close to many attractions: Dogon Country, Djenné, and the Gourma region.
Having an active river port, a mosque, and being across the Niger river with small fishing villages all along, Mopti is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mali.
For the Malians, Mopti is a true economical powerhouse. The business is extremely dense and the city’s great port hosts incessant comings and goings of huge pinnacles coming from the North and the South. Indeed, the city markets are particularly lively. Salt plates from Timbuktu, Niger fish (don’t miss the delightful Captain), crafts, home appliances, and so on… There’s a long list of surprises that await you in Mopti.
Where to Stay in Mali
Mali has a variety of choices when it comes to accommodation and booking hotels in Mali, especially in Bamako, the capital. Whether you’re looking for the best hotel for your Mali business travel or a budget-friendly backpacker residence, Mali would suit your need.
Budget style Hotel
Auberge Djamilla is the best option among the budget hotels in Bamako, Mali. Providing an ideal mix of value, comfort, and convenience, it offers a romantic setting with an array of amenities designed for travelers like yourself.
Sheraton Bamako Hotel is the most luxurious hotel in Bamako, Mali. Since its establishment, most of the high-class business meetings in Mali are being held there, because it meets the standards of other Sheraton hotels around the globe. Strategically located close to Bamako’s Modibo Keïta International Airport in one of the city’s most sought-after neighborhoods, ACI 2000, the hotel provides easy access to the city center, major embassies, corporate offices, and government buildings.
Best Restaurants in Mali
Mali has no shortage of amazing restaurants, especially in the capital, Bamako. From countless French to Italian and African restaurants, there’s always a new restaurant to discover in Mali.
Malian cuisine is one of the most delicious cuisines in Africa, yet underrated. If you can’t travel to Mali for the time being, you can get original Malian cooking ingredients shipped to your home in any country by A Taste of Mali, and access the recipes videos online to experience a glimpse of Malian cuisine.
Soukhothai, a Thai restaurant, is the best and highest-rated restaurant in Bamako, Mali. This restaurant has a beautifully decorated interior and has a fresh delicious food. Most people who had been there claimed that Soukhothai is the best restaurant in Mali.
If you like to have a selection of French and African dishes, plus pizza and Ice-cold beer and don’t want to pay premium prices, Chez Thierry is a good option to choose. The ambiance of the restaurant is relaxing and puts the guests at ease immediately.
Bistro Restaurant Bafing is a very affordable authentic African restaurant in Bamako that would offer fresh local food in a local atmosphere. If you would want to experience an original Malian cuisine with a local vibe, this restaurant is the right choice.
Croc Pizza is a great local Pizza restaurant that is fresh, affordable, and truly fast (unlike most other restaurants in Mali). This restaurant is a must-try if you’re in Bamako.
Dessert & Ice Cream
N’ice Cream is a great place if you’re an ice cream lover. It offers a good variety of flavors at a reasonable price. You can also buy pastries, sandwiches, and drinks from this cute ice cream shop.