Bamako

Bamako bridge crossing the Niger River

Bamako is the capital of Mali and straddles the Niger river. With a population of around 1.7 million, it's the largest city in Mali and one of the largest in West Africa.

Understand

Bamako has been continuously inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. In 1883 it was conquered by French troops, and in 1908 became the capital of French Sudan.

The city has only a few paved main roads (goudrons), the rest of the city's roads are unpaved, and get dusty during the dry season (November to May) and muddy during the rainy season, offering breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

The city can be hard to navigate through due to the lack of road signs, the complicated layout of the streets and the one way system in the city. The roads are very crowded both with motor vehicles and motorcycles who appear to fill every available space possible. Traffic police are particularly vigilant and will sometimes appear to enforce very arbitrary traffic rules. They are usually on motorcycles as well so it is unwise to try and outrun them in your vehicle as they will easily catch up.

Often the best way to navigate around the city is to hire a taxi-motorcycle to lead you to your destination. These are relatively cheap and depending on the distance can be as low as XOF100. There is no meter and price is negotiated upfront.

Unemployment rates are high.

Get in

By plane

Bamako-Sénou Airport (IATA: BKO) is roughly 15 km (3040 minutes) from the city centre, with flights from Paris on Point Afrique (cheap) and Air France (less cheap). Flights to Europe are also offered by Royal Air Maroc, via Casablanca—the main drawback to this option is that the flight from BKO to Casablanca leaves at 03:35. Taxi rides should cost about XOF7000 from the city.

Passengers flying Air France should consider pré-enregistrement, or early check-in. This can be done at the Air France office on the day of the flight, between 10:00 and 17:00. The office is located at Square Lumumba. Luggage is dropped off and boarding passes issued right then and there, as would happen at the airport - minus the crowds and the hassle!

The airport has been undergoing massive renovations in 2009-10. On the plus side, the underwhelming and cramped upstairs waiting area is gone, replaced by a much larger and more modern room. On the downside, many parts remain incomplete. Expect to make your way through worksites. People with difficulty getting around will still find Bamako-Senou challenging, as there are less stairs than before, but a lot more corridors and construction to contend with.

By train

Bamako is at the end of the railway line from Dakar in Senegal which used to transport passengers across western Africa. However since a few years back all cross-border traffic have stopped and the only remaining service is a thrice-weekly train from the western city of Kayes and a short commuter service from Koulikoro. There have been several announcements recently of a renewed service between Bamako and Dakar but no trains have yet materialised.

By bus

Bus travel to Bamako is possible but often gruellingly slow. Some buses offers air condition, most don't. Segou and Mopti are common destinations, a journey time of about ten hours. International services are available from most regional capitals, with journey times of up to 40 hours it can be a very memorable, if quite unpleasant, experience.

Bamako has two major bus stations, with Sogoniko handling the most traffic.

See

The Grand Mosque

Do

At the end of each January, Bamako hosts the finish line to the gruelling trans-Sahara rally, the Budapest-Bamako. Hundreds of rally cars and motorcycles arrive in the city on the last Sunday of January.

Buy

Prices are not fixed, and for many goods bargaining is expected. Beware, sometimes for common items (like food) the first price mentioned is just right. On the market it might be a good idea to first ask a couple of times at different stands before actually buying something.

Near the area of Bamako-Coura is the lively artisan market where traders from all over Bamako come to sell silver jewellery, leather, musical instruments and wood carvings. Prices are reasonable but the vendors expect their customers to bargain and enjoy it when they do. Once inside the market the atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant but be careful in the busy streets directly surrounding - it's easy to lose a bag to a thief.

Euros are widely accepted.

ATM's were difficult to find in Bamako, but their presence is growing. BDM banks have ATM's for VISA cards in several branches, and Banque Atlantique used to have ATM's for Maestro/MasterCard, but their license has lapsed, so VISA and possibly VISA electron are now the only options for all Malian ATMs.

Eat

Love them or hate them, the French have left one decent legacy in West Africa: bread. Fresh delicious baguettes are ubiquitous, and travellers should not be worried about becoming sick because of the bread.

Vegetarians will have a hard time in Bamako. Asking for a meal without meat will usually be met with the kind of look reserved for children and elderly relatives one does not wish to upset. In a country where poverty is common and food is often scarce, turning down meat is an oddity.

That said, mornings beans, fries, and fried plaintains can be found streetside throughout the city. Morning, noon, and night you can find small streetside "cafes" where you can get a VERY fried egg sandwich and some nescafe. Several varieties of fried dough are also easy to stumble upon. Lunch- Rice and sauce is most easy to find, in local restaurants a plate with meat shouldn't cost more than 500, but can range up to 1,500. Evenings you can find attcheke (cassava dish), spaghetti, beans, boiled eggs, and fries relatively easily.

Meat eaters will be pleased to learn beef and fish are exceptionally good. Beef kebabs and grilled Capitaine, a freshwater fish from the Niger river, are always a good choice. Chicken are usually left to fend for themselves, and tend to be on the scrawny side, especially compared to North-American chicken. Although the situation is improving, you might want to avoid disappointment and just give chicken a miss while in Bamako. To avoid food borne illness, stay away as much as possible from fresh vegetables, and make sure your food is piping hot before eating it.

Grocery shopping

You can eat like the locals for a few hundred francs cfa a day, or shop in one of the western-style supermarkets.

There is one main market, in the centre of town, and several smaller markets in Bamako.

Supermarket-style stores are generally run by Lebanese businessmen.

These stores will carry Western or Middle-Eastern goods, including cold cuts, fruit and vegetable, and dairy products including fresh milk and yogurt. Prices are generally higher than in Europe or the US, and choice more limited in a way reminiscent of a North-American convenience store.

Budget

There are many restaurants where you can get nice omelette sandwiches for about XOF250.

Many street vendors sell bread, rice, fries, salad, grilled meat; however, use precautions while eating on the street.

Assalam - ACI 2000 between the obelisk round point and Place Can. Lebanese- good schwarmas, hummus, brochettes- varied menu. Pleasant staff.

Mid-range

Bamako has many Lebanese and Chinese restaurants.

Splurge

Hippodrome

Drink

The Evasion Jazz Club can be pretty cool on Fridays and Saturdays. The Hippo d'Or (close to Hippodrome) is also a nice place for enjoying non-stop live music on Fridays and, even more, on Saturdays. There is a big Casino near the Hotel L'Amitie. Ibiza, Blyblos (under renovation as of August 2010) and Terrace are still the hippest places to dance and drink. For some less seedy drinking establishments, try No Stress & Jet Set (formerly Privledge), which both have pool tables as well. Bla Bla and its twin in Badalabougou are known to get pumping on weekends.

Crazy Horse has some good food and is well priced.

Sleep

NOTE: Due to the dramatic decline in the number of tourists/visitors due to the conflict in northern Mali, many hotels in Bamako have closed temporarily, including a few high-end ones. Travellers should keep in mind that the hotel where they plan to stay may be closed and plan appropriately. (July 2012)

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

In Bamako you have a high chance of encountering the police. You should always at least carry a copy of your passport and visa. It is often not sufficient to just show your driving license and this might lead to a ride to the police office - if you're not prepared to bribe your way out. Notice that the police often stops taxis.

If the price of the 'ticket' seems high (more than, say, XOF5,000 for a minor offence), ask to go to the police station. There you can get an official receipt which shows the true price of the offence. Many locals consider it a moral issue to pay proper fines rather than grease the pockets of corrupt police.

Stay healthy

If you go gradually (doni doni) you'll be able to drink Bamako's quite chemically tasting tap water. You shouldn't drink the unmarked sachets with water or syrupy water as long as you don't drink tap water—though the branded sachets of mineral water are fine (XOF50).

Or you can avoid any hassles and drink bottled water. If you're sticking around town for a while, try buying bottled water by the case. The price will drop from about XOF1500-1800 to XOF600-700 per 1.5 litre bottle.

Clinique Pasteur is a more expensive tubab clinique, is fairly clean, and is within close proximity to the US Embassy in ACI 2000 area of Bamako. Dr Toure there speaks English, was medically trained in Canada and he can be reached via mobile at: +223 6674 0572. Bamako Grand Mosque. don't consult Dr Nazha... and don't trust Dr. Dolo with your pregnancy. Normally they want to have you taking all possible tests, and are notorious for recommending drastic unnecessary and expensive treatments. You first might want to consult a cheaper normal heath centre like Clinique Farako in Hamdallaye, or the Centre Diagnostique (Dr. Catherine Cisse) near the old Pont de Martys. Even then, double check all recommendations online and with a doctor abroad before embarking on any treatment plan or surgery.

Cope

Embassies & Consulates

Séméga Bldg, District II,  +223 20-21-22-36, fax: +223 20-21-43-62, e-mail: . M-Th 07:30-16:00, F 07:30–13:00.

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