Mali - Facts for the traveller, when to go, events
Facts for the traveller for MaliVisas: Visas are required for all visitors, except French nationals. Visas are not available at the border.
Health risks: Malaria (Malaria precautions should be taken)
Time: GMT/UTC (GMT/UTC)
Dialling Code: 223
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go to Mali
The very best time to visit Mali is November, before the heat hits in March and after the wet humid season. Trips down the Niger are also a good bet in November as the river is usually high enough for passenger boats to get through. By December and January water levels are iffy and boat trips may be more of a hop from one sandbank to another if not cancelled altogether. November, though, is also the high tourist season so if you prefer to sacrifice a bit of comfort for peace and quiet, you could go in December for the crossing of the cattle at Diafarabé. In fact anytime from October through to February is a reasonable time to go, but trying to get around Mali in the hot season from March to May is strictly for masochists.
The most captivating event on the Mali calendar is the crossing of the cattle at Diafarabé. Every year during December, in a tradition that goes back 160 years, Diafarabé gears up to cope with a sudden influx of cattle and herders as they converge on the river bank. It's a time for celebrations and festivities as herders are reunited with friends and family after several long months in the desert. Local chiefs and elders meet before the big event and the order of the crossing is decided by the processes of fair play and democracy. The cattle are then led to the grass that is (both proverbially and literally) always greener on the other side.
The Dogons are famous for their masks and during the five-day Fête des Masques in April many of them are used in ritual ceremonies that go back more than 1000 years. The most famous of these ceremonies is the Sigui, which only occurs once every 60 years, and is probably connected to the Dogon agrarian calendar. This calendar has an eerie Twilight Zone mystique to it: it's thought to be based on the orbital cycles of a white dwarf star that is invisible to the naked eye. It was only discovered in the 1960s by a high powered telescope, despite the fact that the Dogons had been using the star as a seasonal marker for more than a millennium.