Transportation - Get In
Air France flies daily non-stop from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bamako (and return). Royal Air Maroc is a little cheaper than Air France and has daily flights from Europe and New York via Casablanca in Morocco. There are also smaller companies, such as Point Afrique, who fly cheaply to & from Mali in the busy tourist season. Both Air France and RAM unfortunately arrive and depart in the middle of the night - so even if you are planning a budget trip it may be worth splurging for a nice hotel the first night where you can make real reservations and maybe even get picked up at the airport. More recently, also TAP Portugal flies daily from Lisbon.
Many African and pan-African airlines fly into Mali, for example: Ethiopian Airlines, Air Mauritania, Tunisair, Air Afriqiya and numerous others. Some of these airlines also have feature connections to Mopti.
The airport is about twenty minutes drive from the centre of Bamako. There are fixed rates for taxis to different parts of town: to find them, cross the roadway in front of the airport and go the right-hand end of the block of kiosks. You will see a group of taxi drivers and a board with prices. As at Aug 2007, the price was XOF7,500 (c. USD15).
However, if you know the local language enough, you might be able to bargain the official price down to XOF4,000 or even XOF3,000, especially if you arrive during the day. Make sure you board an official taxi though (see the Stay Safe section below). There is even well-hidden restaurant: follow the exit road past the barrier, and it is on the right, surrounded by trees, about 50 m from the terminal building. They're very friendly and serve basic but filling and tasty snacks. For getting back to the airport from Bamako, try negotiating hard and you may get a rate significantly cheaper than the set rates for the airport to Bamako.
If you fly Royal Air Maroc, beware that Casablanca Airport is notorious for opening checked-in bags and removing valuables. Also luggage can arrive late.
As is common with many other airports, there will be people trying to push you into unauthorised taxis and to change money, and some are even allowed into the airport terminal itself. Avoid them.
The only rail line, between Bamako and Dakar, has not operated since the summer of 2009. For more info.
From Europe one has to cross the straits of Gibraltar, Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania. There are no longer any problems crossing Western Sahara along the coastal road. You will need to have your car and passport information ready to hand over at the various checkpoint however. There is now tarmacked roads all the way from Europe to Bamako and on to Gao (apart from 3 km at the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania).
There are several ways to get to Mali by car.
The most popular routes are from Senegal (especially since the Dakar-Bamako trains stopped) and Burkina Faso. The road from Gao to Niamey has recently been paved and a bridge is being built in Gao so the entire journey from Niamey to Bamako can be completed on paved (if not remote) roads.
There are also decent land crossings from Mauritania (recently paved) & Guinea. The Ivoirian crossing leads into a region of northern Cote d'Ivoire controlled by rebels and, while fairly safe, will lead you through countless roadblocks and "officials" demanding bribes; if travelling to southern Cote d'Ivoire, you're better off travelling through Burkina Faso & Ghana.
There is a remote desert crossing with Algeria near Tessalit, but it is dangerous (prone to banditry and used for smuggling) and remote. It may be closed to tourists; even if not, the Algerian side is dangerous (banditry and al Qaeda extremists!) and requires a military escort.
It is possible to reach Mali by bus directly from a variety of African cities. These include, but are not limited to, Dakar, Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Niamey, & Accra.
There is public transport almost all the way from Europe to Mali be it buses or bush-taxis. The only exception is from Dakhla, Western Sahara, to Noudhibou, Mauritania where you can easily get a ride with a Mauritanian trader.
Mali has two large rivers that are navigable at least part of the year, both of which cross into neighbouring countries, although only the Niger has much in the way of pirogues.
- The Senegal River crosses into Mali from Guinea in the south and follows a northwest course into Senegal.
- The Niger crosses into, appropriately enough, Niger. Large boats are only active August-November and do not continue far past the border, but small piroguesregularly ply between Gao and Niamey with many stops along the way.
Transportation - Get Around
The main cities along the paved road into the north are connected via bus (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao). A separate paved loop runs through the south (Bamako, Bougouni, Sikasso, Koutiala, Segou) There are many different companies with different schedules but they all have more or less the same prices. Normally a ride to Mopti (600km, half the way up), endures approximately nine hours; a ride to Gao at least 12. All times are very rough, however, and few bus companies will even give you an estimated arrival time as different drivers drive different speeds and it is not improbable that the bus breaks down and needs a repair or stops to help another bus. It is usually possible to make a reservation several days before, recommended during the tourist season, though one rarely has a problem just showing up 30-60 minutes before the bus leaves. More reliable companies include Bittar, Bani and Banimonotie (Sikasso region) among others.
By taxi brousse
To get around one can take the "Taxi - Brousse", the bush taxis. They are the main connection between towns which aren't connected via bus. They are very slow and they sometimes break down or stop to help other broken down taxis. So sometimes the ride takes longer than expected. Unlike the buses, these rarely run on a set schedule, so you generally just need to show up at the station (in a larger town) or sit by the roadside (in smaller villages) and wait for the next to come along - locals may be able to give you some idea what to expect.
In any larger city, taxis will be plentiful and are usually an easy way for the tourist to get where they are going without trying to figure out the local public transport system (if one even exists). Be prepared to bargain, as they will generally try to overcharge you - in Bamako XOF1,000 should get you anywhere in the city during the day (or up to XOF1,500 at night), while crossing the river will be XOF1,500-2,000. Also, tell the driver clearly if you do not know the location of the place you want to go, as they are rarely forthcoming about admitting that they don't know it and will often expect you to give directions, especially if it is not a popular or common destination.
By private car
A good option for a larger group or travellers who value comfort over economy is to rent a private car. A 4x4 is strongly recommended if you will be leaving the main highways (this includes the trip to Timbuktu). There are very few asphalt roads, and they are all single-carriageway outside towns, though most are in good condition. One leads into the North of the country (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao), another branches off after Segou to cross the Niger at the Markala dam and goes as far as Niono, while another goes from Bamako to Sikasso and on into Ivory Coast. There are private people who rent out their 4x4 cars for a ride (in which case make sure you've got insurance and a carnet de passage, and plenty of petrol), but generally renting a car means renting a car and driver. This is strongly recommended as Malian roads and drivers can be unpredictable and the vehicles unreliable (better to have the driver figure out what that loud rattle is or why the engine started smoking!).
Travel within Bamako can be difficult for the business traveller and leisure tourist alike. One of the best options is to rent a car with a chauffeur. This can be done on a by-day basis and is an enormous help for someone that is new to the city. When trying to visit numerous places in one day, it becomes difficult to rely on the local taxi system. The chauffeur is a local resident and will know most of the names of the places that you need to go. There is no hassle in finding a parking spot as the chauffeur can wait for you while you attend to the business at hand.
For the tourist, this option can be your solution to seeing the city of Bamako in a care-free manner. Trips out of the city are available as well, although the fare can be somewhat higher than intra-city rates. Gas is an additional cost to the renter. A distinguished man by the name of Aldiouma (pronounced al-Jew-ma) Togo runs a classy operation is open to negotiation for rates. Usually around XOF25,000-30,000 per day for intra-city use. Slightly less than double that fee for extra-city travel. His info: Aldiouma Togo: Cell: +223 642-6500 Home: +223 222-1624 [email protected]
It is possible to travel across Mali by plane, as numerous companies have sprung up in recent years. It is possible to fly (usually from Bamako) to cities such as: Mopti, Timbuktu, Kayes, Yelimané, Gao, Kidal, Sadiola, and others.
The planes, typically, are Czech turboprops (LET-410s) and small Russian jetliners (Yakovlev YAK-40s). Air travel in Mali is fast but, compared to a bus ride, expensive. It is not, however, foolproof - often you are at the mercy of the carrier, who may choose not to fly on a certain day if too few passengers show up! You can generally get tickets at the airport before flights, however the best bet is to book a ticket in advance.
Société Transport Aerienne (STA) and Société Avion Express (SAE) are the two most popular, and most reliable, carriers.
It is possible to travel around Mali by boat, however this is very seasonal. The most common option, only really possible in the wet season, is a barge to/from Timbuktu. There are also very small boats, "pirogues" in French, which are available to be hired almost anywhere - they are essentially large canoes. When the big boats are not running you can still charter a pinasse (like a big, motorised pirogue). Or use one of the public pinasses. These will run for another 3 months or so before the water levels being too low for them as well. You can navigate the river all the way from near Bamako to Gao, though the level drops more rapidly in the portion between Bamako and Mopti.