The capital of Mali is Bamako. There are approximately 21 million people living here. The official language of Mali is French, with Bambara also spoken by a large percentage of the population as well. The majority of Malians practice Islam. Major exports of Mali include cotton, gold, and livestock.
Mali is rich with culture, history, and architecture! When visiting, don’t miss out on Timbuktu. Historically Timbuktu was a trading outpost for traders in Africa, Middle East, and Europe. Today the city with roads of sand is home to the Grande Marche, a two-story market selling everything from cloth, trinkets, and other goods. If you’re lucky enough to stay for more than one day, be sure to hire a Tuareg guide for a camel sunset tour of the whole city! When in Mali, don’t miss out on the Bamako, arguably the music capital of the whole of West Africa. Aside from the city’s lively nightlife, be sure to also visit the National Museum of Mali which has traditional Malian art and architecture.
Have to admit that I had some fear and trepidation about going to Mali in 2017. Particularly the capital of Bamako, several weeks after a hotel was attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists with several tourists killed. After speaking with the US Defense Attache in Senegal my nervousness increased when he learned that I was traveling there. The Radisson Blu, where I was staying, had been attacked by militants who got through the front gate by posing as diplomats and then killed 20 + tourists while they were having breakfast. Although the hotel is much more secure now, with 10-15 armed guards staged around the perimeter and strands of barbed wire topping the steel walls, I nonetheless slept fitfully.
My guide explained that Bamako was more a village than a city. And after 3 days there I know what he means. All of my fears were quickly allayed because the people in Mali couldn’t have been nicer. When I was noticed, I got smiles. There were no evil plots to do me harm; just hospitable and lovely people everywhere.
I started my day going to the Masion des Artisans in the center of Bamako. After buying a fertility mask, I helped a craftsman who was working on one. [vid] I bought and tried out a West African tooth brush [a stick] [vid] and then had a good chat with the medicine man [vid]. I then went to the city’s recycling region, which is where steel and aluminum all types are repurposed.
I had the opportunity to meet up with one of Mali’s finest djembe players. He’s a grandmaster! After purchasing this djembe that he’s playing, I had a lesson with him. Note: if you purchase a djembe in Mali plan on taking it with you or paying DHL $750 to send it to the U.S.
Then journeyed to Western Mali near the Guinea border and was greeted by most of the village for a celebration, consisting of traditional songs, dancing, and of course men playing the djembe.
Mali was the only country in West Africa that I really bonded with (other than Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire) and I was sad to say goodbye to my driver and guide and my new friends in Mali.