Mali is a landlocked country located in the Sahel, sharing its borders with Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania. Mali is a developing African country, and is one of the poorest countries in the world. That being said, it still has some incredible sights to offer to its visitors, like the historic city of Timbuktu and a couple of UNESCO World Heritage sites. As for the main sights in Mali, it is sad that both most visited sights are mostly destroyed or forbidden for tourists.
The famous shrines of Timbuktu and the Muhave have been destroyed for the most part by an Islamist group during their occupation in June/July 2012. There have been talks of these sights being rebuilt, but for now they are still just ruins. Then there’s the Great Mosque, known for being completely made out of mud, counting five stories and three towers. But, however impressive it is, you will not be able to see it if you’re not a Muslim, as entrance to non-Muslims is not allowed. This came as a consequence of a photo shooting that took place here ten years ago and was viewed as “pornographic”.
Warnings & Dangers in Mali
OVERALL RISK : HIGH
Overall, Mali isn't a safe country to visit. With political turmoil and threats of kidnappings and terrorism, you should definitely think twice before deciding to come to Mali-
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : HIGH
Transport isn't safe in Mali. Malian roads as well as vehicles are unsafe and unreliable, and drivers can be reckless, ignoring traffic signs and there are accompanying factors that make driving difficult like roaming cattle on the roads. The best way to move around Mali is to hire a driver.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : HIGH
As in most African countries, you should be careful with displaying your wealth or your belongings at all, as petty crime is spread in Mali and poverty is crushing. Keep your valuables in your accommodation.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
As for natural disasters that hit Mali regularly, they include desert sandstorms in the north, with the harmattan wind blowing during dry seasons, bringing a dust haze which may cause damage to aircrafts and respiratory diseases to people. Droughts are also common.
MUGGING RISK : HIGH
Violent crimes are also common in Mali. People have been attacked in broad daylight, and kidnappings also occur commonly. Avoid walking unaccompanied in Mali altogether, be it during day or night.
TERRORISM RISK : HIGH
Terrorists are very likely to try and carry out attacks in Mali. The risk of terrorist attacks is extremely high in Northern Mali that under the control of Islamist rebels that are cooperating with Al Quaeda. There have been numerous attacks performed in Mali and you should be very careful.
SCAMS RISK : HIGH
There are plenty of scams and frauds performed in Mali with a goal to steal from tourists. Be wary of anyone trying to distract you, or anyone offering help. Check your change twice and negotiate your rides before stepping into a vehicle.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : HIGH
Mali is not safe for solo female travelers. Anyone is strongly advised against walking unaccompanied in Mali, but this applies more to women as they may be perceived as easier targets by muggers and other criminals. Stay away from poorly lit and deserted areas.
So... How Safe Is Mali Really?
Mali is not a safe country to visit. You should know that Northern Mali was under the control of Islamist rebels, who practice the extremely strict Sharia law which they use to justify the destruction of shrines, landmarks and historic buildings. The Sharia law also calls for women to wear veils, for adulterers to be stoned publicly and for thieves to have their hands cut as a punishment. This law caused about 500,000 people to flee to other parts of the country or to Niger.
The worst part is that these terrorist groups are in cahoots with an Al Qaeda branch which has operated for many years in the Sahara desert and kidnapped several foreigners from Mali. Tourists are strongly advised against traveling to Northern Mali or anywhere near the border with Mauritania, and if you do plan on travelling to Mali, you need to monitor events in this country extremely closely and follow the advice of your embassy.
Be wary when on the train commuting between Bamako and Kayes, since it is notorious for theft: if you’re planning on taking the train, you should remain vigilant all the while and keep your valuables tightly by your side.
- Visas - Most countries do need a visa in order to enter Mali, and travelers will need passports valid for at least six months and one blank page in their passport. You must obtain a visa in advance as they cannot be acquired upon arrival. If you are not sure about your visa status, visit www.doyouneedvisa.com which will let you know whether or not you need visa based on your nationality and the country you want to visit.
- Currency - West African CFA franc is the official currency in Mali. ATMs aren't exactly plentiful but there are some in Bamako and travelers are advised to bring everything in cash.
- Weather - Mali has several climates, as they vary from tropical in the south to arid in the north, with Sahel in between. There isn't much precipitation in Mali - rain isn't common and droughts are one of the recurring natural disasters in Mali.
- Airports - Bamako's Modibo Keita International Airport, formerly known as Bamako–Sénou International Airport is Mali's main and busiest airport located about 15 km south of downtown Bamako, the capital of Mali.
- Travel Insurance - Just like anywhere else, we recommend getting travel insurance when traveling to Mali, since it covers not only the costs of medical problems, but also theft and loss of valuables.