When new arrivals or potential visitors to West Africa ask questions in they are often frustrated by the vagueness of the answers which all tend to start with “Well, it depends...” After they have been here a while they understand that the vagueness is not cheekiness but the reality of the situation. It really does depend. That said here are some general answers to some of the typical questions from first time visitors.
When it the best time to visit?
Any time is possible to visit. November - February is
basically the tourist season. It is when the climate is the coolest which makes
it preferable for most westerners who are not adapted
to the heat. However that also means that there will
be a lot more tourists which may facilitate finding
people to share the trip with or make it feel more
“touristy” than you want it. July-Sept is the rainy
season which can make it tougher to travel in areas
that don’t have good roads but it also gets
beautifully green. April-June is the hottest time of
the year though most of that time is not very humid so
is manageable if you take care to stay hydrated.
What clothes should I bring?
Light weight breathable cloth that cover you. This is for
your protection from sun and heat related problems (sun burn,
heat rash, chaffing, jock itch, etc.) as well cultural
considerations. Underwear should be natural
materials like cotton or made of high tech wicking
material. A sturdy bra for those rough bush taxi rides
is a good idea for the ladies. A hat or scarf to keep
the sun off your head. You can pack shorts for
lounging in private but public wear should be calf or
ankle length. Skirts and dresses spacious enough to
sit cross-legged in. Shirts should cover the shoulders
and mid-rif. Some sandals or flip flops that you can
easily slip on and off are a good idea too.
Is the water safe to drink?
Tap water in most cities in Mali is treated with chlorine
so it is probably reasonable clean and safe to drink
especially for people who have strong systems or have spent
a while in the area adapting. Certainly if you further
subject it to filtering or purification tablets
ect. Any narrow bore closed system pumps or “forage”
are also probably quite safe. Wide diameter open well
are subject to greater risk of contamination, however
treatment or filtering should make it safe to drink.
The river and any lakes, ponds or seasonally flooded
areas are extreme risks and should be avoided as
sources of drinking water if at all possible. If
forced to drink if be sure to boil for at least 15 min
or filter or treat chemically if possible let the
collected water stand overnight to allow cysts and
certain parasites to settle to the bottom then take
the clear water off the top and treat that. Only with
extreme thirst and risk of dehydration and heat
related collapse should you drink it without thorough
Is the Festival in the Desert
Yes. For most people it is a great experience, especially
if you have never been to West Africa before. People on a
tight budget find the cost, especially of the entry fee, a
bit high. And some people feel that there are too many
tourists or touts and fake Tuaregs trying to sell you
something but the vast majority of the people who come are
actually locals there to enjoy local music and events.
Do I need a visa?
Most people do but it is now pretty easy to get one at the
border or the airport. see the Visa page for more information.
Can I use my credit card?
You can use Visa cards in most of the big cities, there
should be at least one cash withdrawal machine. Other kinds
are doubtful. Be sure to inform your bank of you plans to
travel and in what countries/ cities you may use your card
otherwise you may find it blocked. See the page on money for more details
Will my electronic devices work there?
Mali runs on 220 V and the style of plug with two round
holes like that used in France, Austria, Belgium, Germany,
Switzerland, Spain and many other European Countries. If
your plug comes from a country with a different plug
configuration you will need a plug adaptor. Most devices
like battery chargers, mobile phones and laptops have a
voltage transformer in them that converts input of up to
240 V down to the very small amount needed to power the
device but some items will require a voltage convertor as
well as a plug adapter. examine the items you intend to
bring before you travel. More information on electricity in
Timbuktu see the blog on Utilities