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 to get a modern, clean and big airport.

Although the airport is far from the center and getting to one of the best parts to stay for tourists, Missira, the taxi wasn’t cheap.

The traffic is always extremely busy in Bamako and every meter is occupied with cars and motorbikes, so it was an interesting 45-minute ride and see the hectic happenings on the streets from inside the taxi.

Missira is north of the river and on the right side of Bamako.

Tourist Guide with things to see
Tourist Map of Bamako

January 2 - Day 1 - Arriving in Mali

Until a few years ago, Mali was a frequented spot for international tourists, and so surely it is also still present in the heads of many locals.

It's visible that Mali was one of these top spots to visit in northern Africa, cause when coming from the airport a huge arch with LED lights is constructed to welcome visitors with a "Bienvenue a Bamako".

Driving to Bamako
Tourists are welcome in Bamako

Bamako streets are not buried in sand as the streets in the capital of Ouagadougou, but still annoying to breathe the fine sand particles all the time. Also, all my clothes get full of sand immediately and so I had to wash my 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. 

Maybe Mali is more friendly? I don't know yet but also the amount of soldiers and security guards around is much less compared to the Burkina Faso capital.

Is Bamako safe for tourists?

They always told me it's safe around here and yes I felt safe during my trip, and people are helpful. But I still wasn’t sure how they maintain the safety of locals as they told me. 

I didn't see any soldiers or police anywhere outside of Bamako. In Bamako downtown, they also were relatively seldom or mostly invisible, with very few armed guards around.

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 smiling or threw greetings while walking on the street.

Also, it seemed they don't have issues helping foreigners with answering touristic questions.

There is a big amount of Lebanese people in Mali and still a remarkable amount of Russians (which I didn't understand why). I think the Lebanese people influenced Bamako in a positive way. Also, people of white and caucasian origin weren’t such a rarity as it seemed 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

The 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. Clean good food and big selections in air-conditioned dining areas.

There are many coffee shops with all sorts of coffee and cakes and free wifi. Also, there is a big supermarket in Missira that has open until 8pm, which is a rarity in Bamako.

I stayed in a Hotel in Missira district and was the only guest for these days. That’s nice, cause, no waiting for the waiter in the morning for breakfast. 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. I don't know about that, but in Missira I felt safe.

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

Day 2 – What to see in Bamako downtown?

In total, I had 4 days to see 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, 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.

Bamako has a big garbage problem

Early in the morning at 7am it's cold here in Mali. I didn’t know that, because this country is also one of the hottest on the planet. But it's true, it's 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.

The smell is 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 research, 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. Usually, they are built with a huge amount of effort.

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

The Grand Marché

The Grand Marché gets busy in the earlier morning hours. It's getting very crowded later in the day.

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 three museums which all are called almost the same.

The Bamako Museum, the Mali Museum and the National Museum of Bamako which is the Army Museum.

I usually don’t like museums 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 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 it's always interesting to visit an area which isn’t covered by the media and the internet, as in these unpopular places suddenly out of nothing completely unexpected formations of buildings appear.

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

Monument of Independence

Not much further from the hippo-roundabout, the Monument of Independence along the long road towards the bridge and the river.

It's still early in the morning and even tho totally exposed to the sun, it's not yet too hot. But 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 investorNot completely independent anymoreBamako received investments from Saudi Arabia

The Niger River

The water comes 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 which is a bank that has the same architecture as the mud castle in Timbuktu. 

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 restaurants around with proper (clean) food.

Nice place to rest
Place de la CAN areaCalm and clean outside the city centerPlace de la Can with animals

With the afternoon heat comes the traffic and chaos

I didn’t feel any threat at no time during my hike through Bamako and people tried to help me even tho with lack of my french language skills.

Taxi drivers are honest and fair – I 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 that is uncomfortable. With the heat, it's difficult to keep focused and not be rolled over by cars or scooters as they pass by pedestrians way too fast and too close.

It's very hectic all over in the Bamako center, especially in the Bamako Market.

But I went back to the central market as I thought it 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 admire here in Bamako. All the motorbikes are from the same brand. 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 them, 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!

As mentioned before, I didn't feel uncomfortable during my stay. The only dangerous thing here I experience is traffic.

It seems dangerous as everybody is driving without any rules and the motos drive past the pedestrians all the time at a speed 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

Day 3 – Visiting Siby on a day trip from Bamako

Yes, there is a lot of trouble with terrorists in the north and many other parts of Mali – and the situation seems to still escalate in the future. Timbuktu and Djenne have the huge mud castles but they are in a very risky area – which was once the main tourist hot spot in Mali. So those places were a no-go.

I was a bit nervous about going out of Bamako, 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 45 km southwest of 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.

Renting a car was too expensive or complicated to organize. I most liked the idea with the motorbike but there are no motorbike rentals in Bamako. So I asked different garages if they would rent me their own motorbike. But it was still too expensive and also I didn’t want to risk having an accident in this country or dealing with police about missing papers in case of checkpoints.

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

7am – Getting up and having breakfast served. 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 comfortable and the van is a piece of shit. A steel transporter with only one window into the driver's 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 I could ask how to get to the arch of Siby.

Entrance point to the mountains
The RN5 road links Bamako to Guinea18 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 of where the junction is, it's complicated. However, they all suggested it's easier with the motorbike:

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

After going there I'm convinced it's indeed not easy to find the right path. The path leads through the village and is about 4km of sand road up the hill. I didn’t like to walk in the sand with the intense sun and the risk of getting lost and walking around for a couple of hours.

So I asked someone to bring me there on the motorbike.

It is much more pleasant to ride up the hill and enjoy the view, compared to searching the right path (Ride 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 where to climb up the rocks, which is necessary on some parts.

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

My conclusion after visiting the mountains of Siby.

I wouldn’t want to try finding the path without a local. Yes, there is a path but no, there are no signs and no it isn’t clearly visible which paths of the many paths are the right paths. And with the distance of 4km, it's tough to walk on 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 a break. 

It's even a cold wind up there but not uncomfortable. 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 walk 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.

Day 4 – 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 enter 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 though it was supposed to be open already. At one counter the lady told me:

No Mauritania, no flight today.

I couldn’t get much more information out from any of the staff behind any of the counters, other 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. After two hours I got the info that the flight has been changed but the airline didn’t inform all of the passengers. Great! 

Somehow the supervisor was able to arrange 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 about 6 hours to spend at the airport and will probably arrive in Nouakchott sometime at 8pm in the evening instead of 11am in the morning. 

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

With another 10-hour delay! 

But at least I get to Mauritania today, that's the most important thing right now.

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.