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A landlocked country in the Sahel, Mali is bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. Mali remains one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has wonderful musicians and some incredible sights, including four UNESCO World-Heritage sites, and the historic city of Timbuktu.
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Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, slaves, and other precious commodities. These Sahelian kingdoms had neither rigid geopolitical boundaries nor rigid ethnic identities. The earliest of these empires was the Ghana Empire which expanded throughout West Africa from the 8th century until 1078.
The Mali Empire later formed on the upper Niger, and reached the height of power in the fourteenth century. Under the Mali Empire, the ancient cities of Djenné and Timbuktu were centres of both trade and Islamic learning. Mansa Musa, who ruled in the early 14th century, is regarded as the wealthiest person in history (est.$400 billion adjusted for inflation!) owing to the Malian Empire's production of gold & salt. He used this wealth to build some of the impressive mosques still to be found around the country. The empire later declined, ultimately being supplanted by the Songhai Empire. The Songhai people originated in current northwestern Nigeria. In the late 14th century, the Songhai gradually gained independence from the Mali Empire and expanded until eventual collapse largely due to a Moroccan invasion in 1591. The fall of the Songhai Empire marked the end of the region's role as a trading crossroads. Following the establishment of sea routes by European powers, the trans-Saharan trade routes lost significance.
In the colonial era, Mali fell under the control of the French beginning in the late 19th century. By 1905, most of the area was under firm French control as a part of French Sudan. In early 1959, Mali (then the Sudanese Republic) and Senegal united to become the Mali Federation and gained independence from France on June 20, 1960. Senegal withdrew from the federation in August 1960, which allowed the Sudanese Republic to form the independent nation of Mali on September 22, 1960.
The country's climate ranges from tropical savannah (trees and grass, with tree density increasing as one travels south) in the south to arid desert in the north, with sahel in between. Much of the country receives negligible rainfall; droughts are frequent. Late May or early June (depending on how north one is) to mid or late October or early November is the rainy season. During this time, flooding of the Niger River is common, creating the Inner Niger Delta. After the rainy season is a cooler period when many plants are still green; this is from early November to around early February. From mid February until the rains start in May or June is the hot, dry, period, with daytime temperatures reaching maximum in March and April. This time of year is hot and extremely parched.
The most universal Malian dish is rice with sauce (often peanut "tiga diga na," tomato/onion/oil, or leaf/okra based - usually with some fish or meat if purchased or prepared for guests). "To," a gelatinous corn or millet food served with sauce, is another Malian classic, though more a village food than something most tourists would encounter. In the north, couscous is also quite common.
In the largest cities, decent "western" restaurants can be found, charging near western prices. Bamako even has good Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Lebanese and more. In smaller places, the standard Malian restaurant serves chicken or beef with fries and/or salad - usually edible and affordable, but boring and not particularly Malian. The better places in the more touristy areas may also have some local specialities. "Street food" is a lot more fun (and super cheap) - breakfast will be omelet sandwiches, lunch is usually rice with a couple sauces to choose from, and dinner presents many options including beans, spaghetti cooked in oil and a little tomato, potatoes, fried rice, chicken, meatballs, beef kebabs, fish, and salad. You can find little table along the road sides and near transport centers.
Snacks you may find for sale include little cakes (especially in bus stations), various fried doughs (either sweet or with hot sauce), peanuts, roasted corn if in season, sesame sticks, and frozen juices in little plastic sacks. Fresh fruit is widely available and always delicious. Some of the best are mangoes, papaya, watermelon, guavas, bananas and oranges - the particular selection depends on the season.
Of course, as in any tropical, underdeveloped country, food borne disease is a major concern for the traveller. The main culprits for diarrhoea are untreated water (especially in rural areas) and fruits and vegetables which have not been peeled or soaked in bleach water - salads (even in fancy restaurants!) are likely to cause problems. You should also be sure any food (especially meat) is thoroughly cooked - generally more of a problem with Western food in restaurants than with Malian foods (which are usually cooked for hours). Drink bottled water, and talk to your doctor about bringing an antibiotic like cipro to treat diarrhoea that is severe or does not improve over a couple days.
Treat tap water with suspicion. It is often so heavily chlorinated that one suspects few bugs could possibly survive in it. But short-term visitors will be safer with bottled water. There are several cheap local brands, but be warned that they are only drunk by foreigners and wealthy Malians: don't rely on finding bottled water in shops patronised by "ordinary" Malians. Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola or Fanta are more widely available and safe. But remember that Coke will make you want to go to the toilet, and so may leave you more dehydrated than before you drank it - a serious problem in this stunningly hot country. Street vendors sell water and home-made ginger and berry drinks in little plastic bags. They are often iced which makes them very refreshing in the heat. Generally, you shouldn't drink these without treating them first.
However, one which is called "bissap" in French and "dabileni" ("red hybiscus") in Bambara, is made from hibiscus flowers that are boiled during preparation, and so generally is safe to drink. It is a particularly delicious non-alcoholic drink you shouldn't miss. In Bamako, it is possible to purchase at most corner stores treated water in small plastic bags for XOF50; these are much cheaper, and of course more environmentally friendly, than bottles. The bags are marked with a brand name; be careful not to mistake them for the tap water that is sold in unmarked plastic bags by street vendors. Also widely sold in this way is sweet milk and yoghurt, which are normally clean because the bags are industrially filled. Fresh milk can also be bought from buckets at the roadside in some villages, although it should always be thoroughly boiled before drinking as it can carry tuberculosis bacteria (often Malians do this before selling, but it is safer to do it yourself or at least ask).
The West African CFA franc (XOF) is used by Mali. It is also used by Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Senegal and Togo. While, strictly speaking, a separate currency from the Central African CFA franc (XAF), the two currencies are used interchangeably at par throughout all CFA franc (XAF & XOF) using countries.
Both CFA francs are guaranteed by the French treasury and are pegged to the euro at €1 = XOF655.957
There are plenty of great crafts in Mali. Various ethnic groups have their own, trademark masks. There are some great musical instruments; blankets; bogolas (a type of blanket); silver jewelry, and leather goods. The Touareg people, in particular, craft great silver and leather goods, including jewellery, daggers, spears, swords, and boxes. Buying some local music makes also a good souvenir — some of the world's best musicians are from Mali.
ATMs are difficult to find in Bamako. BDM banks have ATMs for VISA cards. The only ATM for Maestro/MasterCard is Banque Atlantique, across the river, on the eastern bridge.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Mali on Wikivoyage.
Cities in Mali
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Bamako is the capital of Mali, located on the Niger river. With a population of around 1.7 million, it's the largest city in the country and one of the largest in West Africa.
- Bamako Grand Mosque
- National Museum of Mali
- Stade 26 mars
- Palais de la culture Amadou Hampate Ba
Points of Interest in Mali
The Great Mosque The Great Mosque is made completely of mud, was made in 1906, and it has five stories and three towers. Every spring the people replaster the Mosque. Regrettably, entrance to non-Muslims is not allowed. Apparently this prohibition is a consequence of a fashion photo-shoot more than 10 years ago, which was regarded by the locals as "pornographic".