At nearly twice the size of France the landlocked republic of Mali is one of the largest West African countries but has fewer people per square mile than any other. It's shaped like a bow tie after a long night - twisted to a 45° angle and with the left side smaller than the right. It's hemmed in by Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia on its eastern edge; Guinea and Senegal to the south; Mauritania to the west; and Algeria to the north. The northern region of Mali is nearly all Saharan desert and a whopping chunk of the middle is a belt of arid semi-desert, the Sahel. Mali's major geographical feature is the Niger River, which runs right up to the edge of the Sahara before turning right and heading back to the ocean. In the upper southern region the Niger and Bani rivers join to form a rich inland delta but it is only in the lower southern regions where rainfall is reliable that the dryness gives way to small pockets of natural forest.
Climate and environment are working overtime to bury Mali under a tonne of sand and 65% of the country is now desert or semi-desert. The rapid desertification of Mali is due to on-going droughts, over-grazing, topsoil erosion, harsh desert winds, and the scavenging of trees for firewood. It's hardly surprising, therefore, that Mali is almost totally without lush forests or abundant wildlife. In fact, Baoule National Park, 130km (80mi) northwest of Bamako, is about the only bit of green you'll see in the country, and the few lions, giraffes, buffalo and hippo that are there are all a bit lonely.
13 million (UN, 2003)
1,240,192 sq km
Mande:50.0%, Peul:17.0%, Voltaic:12.0%, Tuareg and Moor:10.0%, Songhai:6.0%, Other5.0%
French (official) , Bambara, Berber, Arabic
Islam:90%, indigenous beliefs:9%, Christian:1%
1 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc = 100 centimes
www.tourism-review.com Mali is not a rich nor an economically strong country, nor is it a mecca for tourists, yet, with its simple and unrefined way of life, it can become a charming experience for visitors.
The capital, Bamako, situated on the River Niger, certainly doesn’t fit the usual picture of capitals. There are no high-rise buildings or huge shopping plazas. It has great character, based on its lively and welcoming people and their traditional way of life, and also on its marvelous markets.
You can find some wide boulevards when walking around, but you are most likely to pass through lots of narrow alleyways.
Other attractions include the Museé National – one of the best ethnographic museums in West Africa - and the zoo and botanical gardens.
Most of Mali is desert, though its sands are strikingly red, and look almost as if they were on fire. Local tribes, whose oral recollections are the best source of authentic information about the country, attract many visitors. To explore Mali, tourists either hike, go on exciting camel rides, or rent a car.
Not far from Bamako is the fabled Timbuktu, once believed to lie near the ends of the earth. There are many architectural attractions here, including exquisitely beautiful mosques and tombs from the medieval era.