Mali Basic Facts:Mali is a beautiful but poor country in West Africa with an incredibly rich history. The River Niger runs deep into Mali's Sahara desert. Today boats still ply their trade up and down the Niger, but the flourishing empires of old that were responsible for building legendary cities like Timbuktu, have had their day. Salt caravans still ply their ancient routes, but now the riches lie in the cultural festivals of this region. Mali is also home to the fascinating Dogon region, and one of the world's most vibrant music scenes.
Location: Mali lies in Western Africa, southwest of Algeria and east of Mauritania; see map.
Area: Mali covers 1.24 million sq km, about twice the size of France and just under twice the size of Texas, US.
Capital City: Bamako
Population: Around 12 million people live in Mali.
Language: French (official), Bambara 80%, and numerous other African languages.
Religion: Muslim 90%, indigenous beliefs 9%, Christian 1%.
Climate: Mali's climate is subtropical to arid. It is very hot and dry from February to June; rainy, humid, and mild from June to November; and cool and dry from November to February.
When to Go: The best time to visit Mali is November through February when it is slightly cooler and dry. But if you wish to travel on the Niger River, it's best from August to November.
Currency: The West African CFA Franc is used in Mali, click here for a currency converter.
Mali's Main Attractions:
- Djenne - enjoy an amazing weekly market here in the shadows of the biggest man-made mud structure in the world, the spectacular Grand Mosque of Djenne.
- Bandiagara Cliffs - a beautiful area to hike through, with soaring cliffs and the fascinating culture of the Dogon people who live in this region.
- Timbuktu - a center of trade and learning during medieval times. Some buildings remain from its hey day, and it's still an important stop for salt caravans.
- Bamako - Mali's capital city lies on the banks of the Niger River and is a wonderful place to explore local markets and live music.
- Mopti - a river town with no equal, Mopti is a bustling harbor, market place, and a wonderful spot to take off on a river adventure in a pinasse.
- Music Festivals - two top festivals take place every year in Mali - the Festival au Desert and the Festival sur le Niger.
Travel to MaliGetting to Mali
Most visitors arrive in Bamako, Mali's capital, by air. Air France, Royal Air Moroc, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenya Airways (and other regional airlines) land at the Senou International Airport. A railway line connects Bamako to Dakar (Senegal) as well, but it's slow .
Safety in Mali - There have been skirmishes and kidnappings along the border areas in Mali, please check current travel warnings for up to date information.
Mali's Politics and HistoryThe Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960 as the Mali Federation. When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, what formerly made up the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali. Rule by dictatorship was brought to a close in 1991 by a military coup - led by the current president Amadou Toure - enabling Mali's emergence as one of the strongest democracies on the continent. President Alpha Konare won Mali's first democratic presidential election in 1992 and was reelected in 1997. In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, Konare stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou Toure, who was subsequently elected to a second term in 2007. The elections were widely judged to be free and fair.
Mali's EconomyAmong the 25 poorest countries in the world, Mali is a landlocked country highly dependent on gold mining and agricultural exports for revenue. The country's fiscal status fluctuates with gold and agricultural commodity prices and the harvest. Mali remains dependent on foreign aid. Economic activity is largely confined to the riverine area irrigated by the Niger River and about 65% of its land area is desert or semidesert. About 10% of the population is nomadic and some 80% of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing. Industrial activity is concentrated on processing farm commodities. The government has continued an IMF-recommended structural adjustment program that has helped the economy grow, diversify, and attract foreign investment. Mali is developing its cotton and iron ore extraction industries to diversify its revenue sources because gold production has started to fall. Mali has invested in tourism but security issues are hurting the industry. Mali's adherence to economic reform and the 50% devaluation of the CFA franc in January 1994 have pushed up economic growth to a 5% average in 1996-2010. Worker remittances and external trade routes for the landlocked country have been jeopardized by continued unrest in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire. However, Mali is building a road network that will connect it to all adjacent countries and it has a railway line to Senegal. In 2010, Mali experienced a regional drought that hurt livestock and livelihoods.
(Source for politics/economy -- CIA Factbook)