Mali is among the most ancient states in sub-Saharan Africa and is the home of the fabled Timbuktu (Tombouctou), an Islamic center of learning and culture. The country's other attractions include surreal landscapes, medieval mosques made entirely of mud and pink sandstone villages. Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to trekking areas in Dogon country and canoe excursions along the Niger River.
Mali weather: The best time to visit Mali is December-March. The rainy season is June-September and the excessively hot, dry season, when temperatures can reach 40 C (104 F) and the Harmattan winds blow off the desert, is mid February-June.
Some of Mali's ethnic groups include the Bambara -the largest, the Fulani or Peul, the Dogon, Senoufou and the Tuareg (who are known for their nomadic lifestyle and indigo blue robes and turbans). Mali's official language is French, and Bambara is the second most widely spoken language. Arabic, Tuareg and Dogon are spoken in various areas. Ninety percent of all Maliens are Muslim, 9 percent practice traditional African religions and 1 percent are Christian.
Credit cards are only accepted at major hotels, at a few travel agencies and in select restaurants. VISA credit card cash advances can be obtained at banks in Bamako. Traveler's checks are accepted at most banks, the airport and hotels. Proof of purchase is normally required.
An international direct dialing system is available in Bamako, but international calls are very expensive. Phone centers in Bamako sell calling cards and provide public card phones. A GSM 900 network allows for coverage to major towns. Internet service is available in Bamako.
Bamako Senou International airport services African and European airlines, and Mali's national carrier, Air Mali, links Bamako to Timbuktu, Gao, Goundam and Mopti.
Driving outside of Bamako is not recommended, especially along the Mauritanian border and to destinations in the north and east. This is due to the risk of carjacking and robbery. Taxi service and car rental are available. Buses are often overcrowded and foreigners are frequently overcharged. Train and ferry services are good.
Lodging is slightly less expensive then in the West. Inexpensive restaurants can be found all over Bamako.
Civil unrest normally occurs during election periods. Travelers should travel to destinations in the north and east by plane, train, ferry or military convoy. Female travelers are often harassed in public places; some of this groping behavior may serve as a distraction by pickpockets working as a team.