Mali is one of Africa’s least-known nations. Centered on the River Niger, the country forms a green corridor into the heart of the Sahara Desert. It is also home to a clutch of world-class attractions. These places include the ancient libraries of Timbuktu, the mud-brick Grande Mosque of Djenné, and the timeless Dogon villages of the Bandiagara Escarpment. Amongst all this wonder, Bamako, the vibrant capital of Mali, is often forgotten by backpackers. This is unfortunate as this thrilling city has plenty to offer visitors to the country. In this article, we are going to guide you through the ins and outs of the capital of Mali.
Whether you are wanting to listen to Ngoni and Kora musicians, explore the country’s rich mosaic of ethnicities or get to grips with the country’s struggle for independence from France, this backpacking guide to Bamako, capital of Mali, will show you the highlights of this buzzing metropolis.
Take A Tour Through Mali’s History At The National Museum
Opened by the French colonial authorities during the 1950s, it was known as the Sudanese Museum. This archaeological and anthropological treasure trove was renamed the National Museum of Mali following the country’s independence in 1960. After decades of neglect, the museum is also finally on the up as Mali’s pre-eminent archaeologist, Alpha Oumar Konaré, was elected president of the country in 2002. This resulted in vastly increased funding for this much-needed institution.
Today, the recently renovated buildings contain some of West Africa’s finest archaeological and anthropological artifacts. These artifacts include a plethora of musical instruments used by the country’s different ethnic groups, a rich selection of textiles, and objects used as part of religious ceremonies. Also, for the best experience, visit during the biannual African Photography Encounters festival. It showcases the best up and coming photographers from across the continent.
Explore Mali’s Islamic Heritage At Bamako’s Grand Mosque
Bamako’s Grand Mosque is one of the city’s architectural highlights. Also, it’s one of the largest Muslim places of worship in all West Africa. Built during the 1970s to replace a small mud-brick mosque that has stood since the colonial era, the new Grand Mosque was in part funded by Saudi Arabia. They were seeking to extend their influence in the majority of Muslim states of West Africa.
Built in an unusual modernist style, the mosque’s minaret can be seen from across Bamako and the interiors are a heady mixture of slick 1970s interior architecture and traditional Islamic decoration. The mosque is occasionally open to tourists, but just remember to be respectful. Shoulders and lower legs must be covered; women must wear a headscarf; all shoes must be left at the entrance. It is a working place of worship for the city’s Muslim community.
Marvel At The Monument Of Independence
Located at a busy intersection in central Bamako, the city’s Monument of Independence is one of the city’s biggest draws. Built during the 1990s, the monument celebrates Mali’s struggle for freedom from the French Empire. Also, it is one of Bamako’s most instantly recognizable buildings. With a series of towering arches, cantilevered abstract sculptures and a golden dome, the monument is designed to impress – an effect it certainly achieves! The base is usually packed with hawkers selling various souvenirs. This then makes it also an ideal place to pick up something to remember Bamako by.
Relax In Mali National Park
Bamako, capital of Mali, is one of West Africa’s most fast-paced cities. With a population skyrocketing over the 2 million mark, the local government decided the city needed some extra green space. As a result, the formerly neglected area surrounding the National Museum has been transformed into a verdant park. It is now filled with cafes and restaurants that are an ideal way to escape the city’s buzz.
Covering well over 100 hectares, the park is defined by its lush trees, tranquil ponds and the unexpected presence of a rugged canyon. It is home to various jogging routes to suit all abilities. For backpackers interested in learning more about the Bamako’s green transformation, park guides are available to tell you about its rich flora and fauna.
See West Africa’s Big Game At Bamako Zoo
If you are planning on backpacking from Bamako to the north of Mali to see the ancient towns of Timbuktu and Djenné, it is unlikely you will get the chance to see the country’s megafauna, which primarily resides in the southern grasslands. Fortunately, you can see some of the country’s spectacular wildlife within the city limits at Bamako Zoo. Located nearby to Mali National Park it is renowned as one of Africa’s best-maintained zoos. It houses over 100 animal species including chimpanzees, lions, and grassland animals such as buffalo, cheetahs, and ostriches.
Explore Malian Culture In The Bamako Artisan Market
Located in Bamako’s city center is the zone artisanal, otherwise known as Bamako Artisanal Market. If you want to experience the various different cultures that inhabit Mali, then this is the place to come. Here, craftsmen from across West Africa have workshops producing fine handcrafted goods. These goods include traditional musical instruments, face masks, and furniture.
At the market, you can watch craftsmen at work, haggle for unusual pieces that will make once in a lifetime souvenirs, and get to know some colorful local characters. Also, if you are lucky you may even catch local musicians playing the traditional ngoni and kora string instruments. For the best experience, head to the market with a local guide. They will be able to tell you the traditional uses for various items on sale and offer you a unique insight into Malian culture.
Get A Sense Of Colonial Mali At The Bamako Cathedral
Located close by the Grand Mosque, Bamako’s colonial-era cathedral remains the city’s most important Christian place of worship. Built from red brick in a traditional French architectural style, the church was completed in 1925. It had originally served the community of European administrators who lived and worked in the city. Since the end of the colonial era, the cathedral has become home to Bamako’s large Catholic population. Also, it remains the seat of the archdiocese. Visitors are welcome to this spectacular cathedral though it still serves as a reminder of Mali’s complicated colonial history.
Take A Boat Tour On The River Niger
Bamako, capital of Mali, is built around the River Niger. Indeed, the river is the city’s lifeblood as the ships that ply its waters connect Bamako the country’s northern reaches and south towards Guinea. One of Bamako’s most enchanting experiences is to take to these bustling waters as part of a river cruise. Here, you will get to see up close the variety of produce that is transported along its length. There are livestock, fresh vegetables, and precious minerals. For the best experience, make sure to book a tour that serves up traditional Malian cuisine; one of Bamako’s most rewarding things to do.