Bamako, the capital of Mali, is devoid of high-rises and hip-hop shopping plazas. Traditional it is, and famed for its ethnic, lively people and markets - the main attractions of Bamako tourism. You can expect to be told the tale behind the mask you've bought and you might find that the friendly shopkeeper is also the carver! The tall man standing beside you in indigo robes with his warrior-like demeanor is from the Tuareg tribe - he's been a sentinel of the desert for centuries. The possibility of the true African experience increases with the proximity of 'Timbuktu' - it really does exist and there are 'pirogues' (canoes) that will take you there, apart from the usual air or rail route.
Bamako lies in the southwestern part of the country, along the Niger River and at the foot of the Manding Plateau. Though it is quite densely populated unlike the rest of Mali, it isn't like the capital cities of other African countries. To begin with, it has no high-rise buildings and looks amazingly flat roofed. Certain sections of the city have broad boulevards but narrow alleyways are common. A thin film of dust brought in by the Harmattan winds from the Sahara coats every visible part of the city.
Bamako tourism can boast luxury hotels complete with restaurants that serve international cuisine. Local food such as beef brochettes and fried plantains are available almost around every street corner in the city. To stay healthy, eat hot food and avoid fruit that has been cut or peeled. There are many popular nightclubs in Bamako featuring recorded music and, rarely, live-bands. Some stay open late for drinks and dancing.
The year-round climate is hot and arid with average temperatures of 27 C - 41 C. The hottest months are March to May. Best time to visit is November to mid - February. The rains peak in the months from July to September.
Most of the country is desert, but Bamako tourism benefits from this peculiarity, since it is no ordinary mousy brown desert - the sands are almost orange under the fiery glare of the sun. Picture the Tuaregs, resplendent in their indigo robes, the sentinels of this desert for centuries.
Once the vital link on the Trans Saharan salt and gold trade route, Mali came into a lot of riches and the tales say that the streets of Timbuktu, Djenne and Gao were paved with gold. But that was more than 600 years ago. Today, Mali has one of the weakest economies in the world and Nature hasn't come to her aid either. A famine and drought of epic proportions has taken a severe toll in the 1970s and 1980s. The government has settled down to the mammoth task ahead and the good news is that Bamako tourism is on its priority list.
The bus network within the city is fairly well developed. But if a vacationer wishes to rent a car, Bamako vacation rentals can be easily found. Another way of traveling in Bamako is by using the famous West African 'bush' taxis. They usually come in the form of Peugeot 504s and seat about seven passengers. They are cheap and will take you anywhere you want to go. Luggage usually costs between 5% and 10% of the fixed fare. Of course, the ubiquitous truck is always an option but you may have to share your seat with livestock.
If you are the avid or intrepid traveler, Bamako is a feather you must add to your cavorting cap.