Mali - Hiking in Sub-Saharan Mountains

Trip to the Hills in Mali

During my plannings, I gave up the idea of visiting the big mud castles in Mali. Maybe one day it will be possible again when this country will be recovered and freed from terrorism, but that didn't happen before my arrival and so I had to spend my 4 days with other activities.

Coming from the relatively small and old Burkina Faso Airport, it’s a surprise to see how Mali has made it get a very new, clean and big airport.

But the airport is far from the center and to one of the best part to stay for tourists, Missira, the taxi wasn’t cheap. The traffic is always extremely busy in Bamako and every meter is occupied with steel, so it was an interesting 45-minute ride to observe the hectic outside from inside the taxi. Missira is north of the river and on the right side of Bamako.

Map of Bamako:
Tourist Guide with things to see

January 2 – Arriving in Mali

The fact that until a few years ago, Mali was a frequented spot for tourists, surely also is still present in the heads. Its even visible that Mali was one of these top spots to visit in Africa, as when coming from the airport a huge arch is constructed with a big LED sign that welcomes people with a "Bienvenue a Bamako" when coming from the airport.

Driving to Bamako

Bamako streets are not as much covered in sand as the capital Ouagadougou, but still annoying to know that these tiny fine sand particles are being transported in huge amounts to my lungs with every breath. Also had to wash the shoes and socks almost every day.

Even though having bad experiences with police and sensitive security in Ouagadougou, I found the circumstances and the people in Bamako or Mali, in general, a way more relaxed. Also, the amount of soldiers and security is much less compared to the Burkina Faso capital.

View when driving from Airport to the north of Bamako
Scene along the Road in BamakoArt in Bamako with big paintingsTraditional dresses for daily life

They don't look like terrorists (I guess)

People in the streets were remarkably friendly and all seemed to have a positive vibe towards strangers and were more often the ones who started giving smiles or threw greetings while walking on the street. Also, it seemed they are happy with helping foreigners with answering touristic questions.

There is a big amount of Lebanese people in Mali and still a remarkable amount of Russians. I think those Lebanese people influenced Bamako in a positive way and so were white or Caucasian origin wasn’t such a rarity as I felt it was in Burkina Faso.

The big temple in the background is "Al Quoods".

In front of the Al Quoods is big amount of Garbage removed
Bamako safest districtNext to MissiraBamako Goat Market has goats for every need

Best area to stay in Bamako is Missira

I found Missira is the better area to stay while being a visitor in Bamako because there are many restaurants with good western or Asian food, operated mostly by Lebanese or Asians. But clean good food and big selections in air-conditioned dining areas.

There are many coffee shops with good and real cappuccino or other sorts of coffee and cakes and free wifi. Not forget to mention that there is a big supermarket in Missira that has open until 8pm.

I stayed in a Hotel in Missra district and was the only guest for these days. That’s nice, cause, no waiting for the waiter in the morning for breakfast as they were ready when I was. Many say that south of the river in the so-called hostel “sleeping camel” is the best and most secure place to stay because there are embassies and security right next.

Missira is a good area to stay. Recommended
No more tourists visiting in 2019Big art in MaliIn Hotel Dunaso

January 3 – Visiting Bamako

In total, I had 4 days to get to know Mali. While staying in the capital and arriving in the country with the knowledge that it is not safe outside of Bamako, I expected I will not see much further than the capital. However, while having different discussions with locals, I found out that this is not fully accurate as several locals said:

Yes, the north and east of Mali are dangerous as of 2019, but many big parts in the rest of Mali is remarkably safe for a visit. 

So I planned that today I will visit Bamako and plan for tomorrow to visit the Arch and mountains of Siby, one hour away from Bamako.

A "little" big garbage problem

Early in the morning at 7am is cold here in Mali. Didn’t know that and also couldn’t imagine, because this country is also one among the hottest on the planet. But it's true, its cold in the mornings until around 10am, whereas from then it starts to slowly heat up to 40 degrees.

Bamako has a big garbage problem and it was covered all over the West African news recently.

When I was walking towards the Grand Mosque there was this 200 meters long and 4-meter high garbage stack, just next to the market and the area where locals live. People are doing their market business right next to it and children playing soccer a few meters away from the meter high piles of garbage.

Currently, they are removing it with trucks but the smell is still very intense, even long after I passed by this area.

The train track from Missira
Many motorbikes driving from Missira to Bamako for workNot difficult to find the poor peopleNext Generation Mali Houses

The Grand Mosque

During my researches, I found out that the important thing to see in Bamako is their green/white Grand Mosque. As in most Muslim countries, there is always one Mosque called the Grand Mosque, and sometimes even more than one of them with the same name.

The biggest green white Mosque
It not possible to go inside as a touristCentral Mali Telecom BuildingBusy and traditional scenery

The Grand Marché

This one is located in the middle of the Grand Marché, which gets busy already in the earlier morning hours but that was fine for me, cause I'm sure the crowded heat of the markets will show its face later to me anyway.

Old buildings that shows a bit ancient Mali
Art from Mali exists only in MaliPopulation is 18 times what it was in 1960Bamako as seventh-largest capital in West Africa

One of the many museums (and surroundings)

In the whole capital are somehow three museums which all are called very similar. The Bamako Museum, the Mali Museum and the National Museum of Bamako which is the Army Museum.

I don’t like museums at all and so haven’t been in any of them but passed by the Bamako Museum which has real-size Malian animals made of stone outside in the yard.

One of the three museums in the city
History and culture in the museumOnce upon a time there were rhinos in MaliBamako also has a church

Interesting roundabouts of Bamako

There are splattered some towers and roundabouts all over Bamako which I didn’t expect but were nice to see as they suddenly appear without expectation. That’s why its always interesting to visit an area which isn’t charmed by media and the internet, as in these unpopular places suddenly out of nothing completely cool buildings appear which have never been shown on tv screen or talked about.

Bamakos best Roundabout has a hippo
Me in front Malian RoundaboutMalis biggest building is a bankMali has big export with self and handmade chairs 

Not much further from the hippo-roundabout, the Monument of Independence along the long road towards the bridge and the river. Its still earlier in the morning and even tho totally exposed to the sun its not yet hot as expected at this time. But I that will change after around 11am, when the heat will turn up close to 40 degrees.

Along the road Avenue Independence
China has become an important investor Not completely independent anymoreBamako received investments from Saudi Arabia

The Niger River. Coming all the way from Niger and basically said it would be possible to jump in a dinghy and ride all the way from Niamey in Niger to Mali. It's flowing through Bamako and three bridges connect the south with the north of Bamako. At the river, there is BCEAO tower is a bank and they told me it’s the same architecture as the mud castle in Timbuktu and which is now in hands of terrorists.

Bamako is located north of the river
Commercial fishing occurs on the Niger River.In total about 3 or 4 museums in Bamako which all have similar nameAlong the streets with big figures

Place de la CAN also is a good area to stay for tourists as it also has a few restaurants which have proper food, they said.
Nice place to rest
Place de la CAN areaCalm and clean outside the city centerPlace de la Can with animals

With the afternoon heat also comes the stress

I didn’t feel any threat at no time during my hike through Bamako and people try hard to help even tho with the lack of my French language skills. And taxi drivers are honest and fair here – wish taxi drivers from many other countries would be more like this.

In the afternoon it's getting really hot but it's not only the heat in particular which is a bit uncomfortable, furthermore its difficult to keep focused and not being driven over by cars or scooters as they pass by pedestrians way too fast and close.

It's very hectic all over in the center, especially in the Bamako Market. But I went back to the central market as I thought is surely is a good situation to take photos of the crowded areas and observe the people in their traditional local dresses and clothes all over the busy markets full of people.

The downtown is highly congested
Covered with markets stands including the freak marketAfrica is polluted especially in BamakoTraffic and in the background the BCEAO Tower which is the tallest building in the country

One motorbike (-brand) to rule them all

One thing, in particular, I appreciate here in Bamako. All the motorbikes are made of the same type, as it seemed they only import the brand “power x motos”. This has a big advantage, as

a) there is no need for a client to compare different bikes before buying and
b) there are always plenty of spare parts available without searching too long for it and
c) all the mechanics know blindfolded how to repair the motorbike.

Nice – sometimes some government regulations that feel like communism, indeed do have advantages! During my stay, I didn't feel uncomfortable, the only dangerous thing here I experience is traffic. It seems dangerous as everybody is driving without any rules and the motos drive past me all the time with a velocity of about 50kmh and with only a few cm between the motorbike and my arm.

Green Red Yellow flagBamako has a big music culturePeople are busy carrying things on their head

Friday, January 4th – Visiting Siby on a day trip from Bamako

Yes, there is a lot of trouble with terrorists in the north and many other parts in Mali – and the situation seems to still escalate in 2019. And Timbuktu and Djenne have the huge mud castles but they are in a very risky area – which was once THE tourist hot spot in Mali.

I was a bit nervous about going out of Bamako at all but as many people in Bamako told me Siby is totally safe, I wanted to go there, because I wanted to see some of the real Mali with nature. Siby is about 45kmsouthwesth west from Bamako and has those typical Malian mountains.

One hour away from Bamako

How to visit the famous Arch of Siby?

Even though Siby connected on one road directly from Bamako and theoretically not at all difficult to find, the question still remains: How do I get there.

I tried to organize with taxi drivers, then a driver friend from the reception at the hotel, then thinking about renting a car or renting a motorbike. But all of them either were way too expensive, complicated to organize, or, too risky. I most liked the idea with the motorbike but there are no motorbike rentals in Bamako and so I asked different people and garages if they would rent me their own motorbike. But it was too expensive and also I didn’t want to risk having an accident in this country or deal with police about missing papers in case of checkpoints.

The best option I found was the bus and it was way easier than I imagined.

7am – getting up and having breakfast served…mmhh… coffee and delicious baguette with honey from Mali.

Mali Honey and Coffee from Mali

7.30am – taxi ride to the bus station Djiokorono, located south of Place de la CAN (Cost 1500 CFA)

One hour by bus from Bamako to Siby

8.30am – with the minibus directly to Siby, with a few stops between. It's not too comfortable and the van is how one can probably imagine. A steel transporter with only one window into the driver cabin. (Cost 1000 CFA)

Not very comfortable but a window seat

10am – Drop Off in Siby. Siby is only a small town with market stands and some stores along the street and the Hotel Kadjamaran with Malian bungalows. The Hotel is probably the only point where to ask on how to get to the arch of Siby.

Entrance point to the mountains
The RN5 road links Bamako to Guinea 18 Million people in MaliEasy to find a motorbike driver to the siby mountains

Finding the right way to the arch

The path isn’t visible on google maps and even with a good description from locals where the junction is. However, they all suggested its easier with the motorbike:

You will maybe find the way, but its difficult and you might get lost quickly!

After going there I think its indeed not easy to find the right path right away. The path leads through the village and is about the 4km sand road up the hill. I didn’t like to walk in the sand, intense sun over the head and getting lost and walk around for a couple of hours, I asked someone to bring me there with the motorbike.

It is much more pleasant to ride there up the hill and enjoy the view on the ride up, instead of searching the right path (Cost 3000 CFA).

To the foot of Siby Arch its a long dusty way
Old and traditional houses in which people still liveConvenient to drive with the motorbike in sibyRound huts in Mali

On the way, the arch is visible from far away. The motorbike driver brought me up there and even showed me how to climb up the rocks, which is necessary on some parts. It's literally climbing with hands and feet.

From far it looks massive
Much easier to ride with the motorbike to the Siby ArchSiby looks small from the topMountains in Mali are coming out of nowhere from the ground

Even after visiting there I wouldn’t want to try finding it without a local, cause, yes there is a path but no, there are no signs and no it isn’t clearly visible which further paths of the many paths are the right path. And with the distance is of 4km until there though to walk in a sandy and rocky path.

From the top is a great view over the valley with a sight several km far before the haze covers the sight.

The Arch is just below
Not many tourists visit SibyMe on top of Siby MountainsSub-Saharan Mountain desert in Mali

Spent about 30 minutes with some break up there. It's not hot at all and even a bit a cold wind up there but not comfortable. Glad having stable shoes, as without it would cause injuries all over the legs while climbing up and down.

Its necessary to climb up there to have the full view
Worth climbing up thereOnly one day trip necessary to go hereA break from busy Bamako

The local with the motorbike waited down there and brought me back with the bike to Siby town. In Siby town wasn’t a lot to do except walking along the street through the village but I was happy to soon find one of the next buses back to Bamako.

Old houses with ancient door
How long will this door remain in SibyBig old oven in Siby to cook breadTraditional Huts in Siby on the way to the arch

13pm – a minivan bus took me back to Bamako to Djiokorono bus station (Cost 1000 CFA)

Every hour drives a bus to Bamako from Siby

14pm – Back in Bamako.

They always told me its safe around here and yes I felt safe, and people are helpful to the maximum. Although I still wasn’t really sure, how they maintain safety as they told me because I didn't see any soldiers or police all around outside Bamako. In Bamako they also were relatively seldom or mostly invisible, very few armed guards I've seen, very few, mostly only at the embassies.

Saturday, January 5th – It would be too easy to just leave on time

What a nice day to move on to the next country. Having visited what I wanted to see and ready to climb the plane towards Mauritania. It’s a 45-minute taxi ride to the airport and my flight is before lunchtime.

Au Revoir castle in Mali

Inside the airport, the flight was on screen as planned but there was still no check-in counter open, even it was supposed to be open already. At one counter the lady told me:

No Mauritania, no flight today.

My mood dropped. I couldn’t get much more information out from any of the staff behind any of the counters than:

There is no flight today. It was yesterday. It seems you have missed your flight yesterday evening! Can you please wait for the supervisor. Her bureau is over there.

I had a confirmed ticket and no announcement that the flight has changed.

Long story short. After two hours I got my answers and it was that the flight has been changed but the airline didn’t inform all of the passengers. Somehow the supervisor lady was able to arrange me a seat for another flight which goes sometime in the afternoon first towards Senegal and then from Senegal to Mauritania. And this means I have now to spend about 6 hours at the airport and will probably arrive in Nouakchott some time at 8 in the evening instead of 11 in the morning.

Mauritania I'm on my way (with a detour)

Another 10-hour delay, but at least I get to Mauritania today, that's the most important thing, right. Time for welcoming myself to Africa one more time!

View from plane over whole Bamako


  1. Thank you for sharing your trip. Thoroughly enjoyed it and glad you had a safe trip.

  2. Thanks for sharing appreciated.
    Safe travels

  3. You made me really laugh with your comment that all taxi drivers are honest and fair in Bamako ! We don't think so. Usually they will try to charge more to foreigners, but, it is true that not many will try to get a big amount of money and it is rare that they will be aggressive like happens in many countries. There are also some of that are extremely honest - maybe you got lucky! In fact, there are no tourists that come to Mali in the last years so it is not in the mind of people to try to make a living off of them.