Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa, bordered by (beginning from the northwest) Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Niger. To the northeast is Algeria. The northern part of the country is in the Sahel, the transition zone between the savannahs of the south and west and the vast Sahara Desert. This location is what gave the country one of its most famous destinations: the legendary city of Timbuktu, which flourished during the Middle Ages as one of three cities controlling the trans-Saharan trade. It was the main starting point for huge camel caravans transporting gold, salt, ivory, and slaves from the interior to Egypt, Arabia, and beyond. Here in this city are fantastic mosques and palaces that were a center of great wealth and repository for vast libraries and Islamic learning. A number of these buildings have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another city that was instrumental in the trans-Saharan trade is Djenné, which boasts a magnificent mosque that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The arid Mali desert provides another of the country’s tourist attractions, the colorful nomadic herdsmen Tuareg people. Today, these people are the ones who operate and guide tourist camel safaris that can be one day tours or vacation packages of several days. The lodging during these trips is in traditional Tuareg camps, and it is also possible to book them by four-wheel-drive vehicle, which is a bit more comfortable than the back of a camel. There are other indigenous people of the country who also comprise a tourist attraction, notably the Dogon, who are known for their intricate mythology, mask dances, wooden sculpture, and the unique architecture of their villages. These trips are almost all hiking, and showcase the people, prehistoric rock paintings, and the fabulous scenery of the central plateau, called the Bandiagara Escarpment (yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site). If you time your visit correctly, you can attend the Festival au Desert in Timbuktu in mid-January, and the Festival on the Niger in mid-February—two of the most important events in the country. Both of these showcase the life and customs of the Tuareg and Dogon people, as well as the music for which the country is famous. While with the Tuareg people, do some shopping for silver and leather crafts, daggers, spears, and swords. Masks and carvings are great buys from the Dogon, and traditional musical instruments can be purchased everywhere.

Mali boasts two navigable rivers, the Niger and the Senegal. The former especially is a major source of transportation for people and goods, and you can book trips on the river lasting for a day or several days. This is possible only from August through November. Most Mali vacations begin and end in the capital city of Bamako, one of the fastest growing cities on the continent. It is considered the music capital of West Africa. There are flights here from Paris, New York City, and Morocco, and you can find a selection of good Mali hotels offering much more luxury than those in the hinterland. Among these is the deluxe Radisson Blue at ACI 2000 Hamdallye, just west of the city center.

Timbuktu City


Timbuktu City sits on the River Niger on the edge of the Sahara Desert in the...

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