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Mali Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

1,240,192 sq km (478,841 sq miles).

Population

18,134,835 (UN estimate 2016).

Population density

13.7 per sq km.

Capital

Bamako.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

Transitional president: Assimi Goita since May 2021.

Head of government

Interim prime minister: Choguel Maïga since 2021.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Larger towns in Mali have their own locally generated supply. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.

With a history blighted by political instability, it's hardly surprising that Mali is missing from most people’s bucket lists. But as peace slowly returns to this dusty land, travellers are trickling back to unearth the country’s cultural treasures – of which there are many.

Though it’s hard to see how one of the most remote nations in the world, located deep within the Sahara Desert, ever became a centre of world learning, Timbuktu is not only a byword for long distances, but also an internationally recognised centre of knowledge: its libraries contain seminal notes on astronomy, mathematics and philosophy dating back to the 16th century.

Closely linked to Timbuktu by the Saharan trade in gold, salt and slaves, Djenné is known the world over for its adobe architecture, in particular the Grand Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest mud-brick building in the world.

Bamako, Mali’s capital, may not have the cultural attractions of Timbuktu or Djenné, but it has a fascinating collection of architectural styles and an elegant location on the banks of the River Niger. What’s more, it is the centre of the country’s traditional music scene and Malians of all ethnicities throng to the nightclubs of Bamako to dance the night away to the sound of the kora, a lute-like instrument.

The most distinct of Mali’s people are the Dogon, whose secluded, cliff-side villages cling to sheer rock faces. Deliberately isolating themselves from the influences of neighbouring tribes they have developed a culture with no similarity in the region.

A land of faraway cities, intriguing civilisations and architecture like nowhere else on Earth, Mali’s position as a cultural juggernaut is well founded and its tentative steps towards stability have opened up an avenue of discovery for intrepid travellers.

Travel Advice

Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

Areas where FCDO advises against travel

FCDO advises against all travel to Mali, except to Bamako, due to the risk of terrorist attacks and kidnaps.  

FCDO also advises against all but essential travel to Bamako and to places within 25km of Bamako.    

Find out more about why FCDO advises against travel.

UK government support

Support for British nationals is severely limited in Mali, especially outside Bamako. If the security situation deteriorates, the British Embassy may be increasingly limited in the help it can provide. Do not rely on FCDO being able to help you to evacuate in an emergency.

If you are in Mali and need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Bamako.  

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

About FCDO travel advice

FCDO provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

This information is for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, who choose to travel despite FCDO advice. It is based on the UK government’s understanding of the current rules for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in Mali set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Malian Embassy in Europe, which covers the UK.

COVID-19 rules

There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Mali. 

Passport validity requirements

To enter Mali, your passport must be valid for the duration of your stay.

Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.

You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.

Visa requirements

You must have a visa to visit Mali. Arrange your visa with the Malian Embassy in Europe, which covers the UK.

Vaccine requirements

To enter Mali, you must have a certificate to prove you’ve had a yellow fever vaccination.

For full details about medical entry requirements and recommended vaccinations, see TravelHealthPro’s Mali guide.

Customs rules

There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Mali. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.    

You must get an export permit from the Ministry of Arts and Culture to take any cultural or archaeological objects out of Mali. You can get this from the director of the National Museum.

Terrorism

There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in Mali

Terrorists are very likely to try and carry out attacks in Mali.

Several terrorist groups operate in Mali, including Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) and Islamic State Sahel Province (ISSP). Whilst the regions most affected by terrorist activity are central and northern Mali, JNIM has increasingly conducted attacks in southern Mali and retain the capacity to target the capital, Bamako.

The security situation in Mali has deteriorated amid an upsurge of terrorist attacks. Violence targeting civilians increased significantly in 2023, compared to 2022. At the request of the Transition Government of Mali, the UN peacekeeping mission has now withdrawn. This has created a more permissive operating space for terrorist groups across Mali.  

Attacks could be indiscriminate and occur at any time, including in places frequented by foreign nationals, such as:

  • military sites and institutions
  • government buildings
  • international institutions
  • transport hubs
  • embassies
  • religious sites and places of worship
  • sporting and cultural events
  • shopping centres and crowded places
  • hotels, restaurants and bars
  • national infrastructure

Take particular care during elections and public holidays, and periods of national or religious significance, such as Ramadan and Eid. Stay aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.  

Examples of recent significant attacks include:

  • in 2023, at least 40 Malian soldiers and Dozo hunters were killed in a militant attack in Farabougou village in the central Segou region
  • in 2023, militants perpetrated 3 attacks in the south-central regions of Segou and San resulting in a number of deaths and wounding others
  • in 2023, at least 10 people were killed during a raid on Allaye Kokollo village in central Mali by suspected militants
  • in 2023, a project worker for a humanitarian organisation, Action Against Hunger, was killed in Gao Region
  • in 2023, a roadside bomb killed 3 people and wounded 16 others in the Cercle de Bankass, in Mali’s central region of Bandiagara
  • in 2023, 37 UN peacekeepers were seriously injured by IEDs during their convoy’s journey from Kidal to Gao, as part of the UN peacekeepers’ withdrawal from Mali
  • in 2023, more than 60 people were killed in a suspected jihadist attack on a river boat near Abakoira in the north of Mali
  • from August 2023 to January 2024, JNIM repeatedly shelled Timbuktu, including the airport, resulting in the suspension of some flights
  • in 2022, there was an attack on the Kati military base, 15km from Bamako city centre, killing one soldier and 7 attackers
  • in 2022, terrorists attacked the villages of Diallassagou, Dianweli and Deguessagou, killing at least 132 civilians

This continues a historical trend of terrorists attacking military bases and personnel, sometimes including foreign military, often leading to the deaths of soldiers, civilians and others.

Terrorist kidnap

There is a very high threat of kidnapping by al-Qa’ida and Islamic State-aligned groups in Mali. JNIM and ISSP operate throughout Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. JNIM, in particular, has previously conducted kidnappings from all parts of Mali, including in urban areas and in the capital, Bamako. The kidnap threat is most significant in northern and central Mali but is increasing in southern Mali.

If you are working or travelling in Mali, be aware of the very high threat of terrorist kidnapping. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times, including when travelling and in crowded public places, including camps for displaced people, religious gatherings and places of worship, markets, shopping areas and places frequented by westerners like hotels, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and transport hubs. Make sure you have carefully considered the threat and have security measures in place

British nationals are seen as legitimate targets, including tourists, humanitarian aid workers, journalists and business travellers. If you are kidnapped, the reason for your presence is unlikely to protect you or secure your safe release. 

The long-standing policy of the British government is to not make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can, in turn, increase the risk of further hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.  

Political situation   

On 24 May 2021, the vice-president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, detained the transitional President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, along with other members of the transitional government. Goïta was sworn in as head of state in June 2021. Presidential elections, originally scheduled for February 2024, have been postponed.

Political unrest is an ongoing risk. Regular, large and at times violent protests have taken place in Bamako, with burning of tyres and clashes with the police. Police have responded with tear gas and small arms fire. Deaths and injuries have been reported.

Monitor local media and stay away from all large gatherings and political demonstrations. Avoid any blockades set up by the police and security forces. Keep several days’ stock of food and water in of case disturbances. You can monitor daily developments in English through the BBC World Service (88.9 FM in Bamako).   

Security incidents between and within communities continue in many parts of the country, most notably in Mopti and Segou regions. In some instances, terrorist groups have become involved in these conflicts. In March 2019, masked gunmen killed 160 villagers in a single attack in Ogossagou in central Mali. Groups operating in the centre, north and north-east sectors use landmines.

Crime

Personal safety

The level of violent crime is high, especially in the capital Bamako and southern regions. Be alert to the risk of street crime, armed robbery and kidnapping.

In the northern border areas, bandits and smugglers may attack travellers, especially after dark.

To reduce your personal risk:

  • do not walk alone at night
  • avoid isolated areas
  • take particular care when using ATMs

Keep copies of your passport’s photo page and your visa or entry stamp in a separate place from the original in case your passport is stolen. 

Vehicle crime

There have been incidents of carjacking and kidnap across the country. If you are travelling outside Bamako against FCDO advice, beware of the threat to your vehicle and get advice from a security company or personal sponsor. 

To reduce the risk of attacks:

  • take professional security advice before you travel
  • travel in pre-arranged transport with trusted operators
  • keep doors locked and windows shut while in the vehicle

Laws and cultural differences

Mali is a secular country, but the people are predominantly Muslim. The country’s laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. Respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions. Make sure your actions do not offend religious beliefs, especially during Ramadan or in religious areas.

French is the official language in Mali and not many officials or healthcare workers speak English. You may have difficulty communicating if you cannot speak any French. Make sure you can use translation apps in case of an emergency.

Personal ID

As a foreign national, you must carry ID such as a passport. You could face difficulties with security checks if you do not have the original document on you.     

Ramadan

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims. The dates vary by year and country. During this time, do not:

  • eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public in the daytime, including in your car
  • play loud music or dance
  • swear in public

Get more advice when you arrive from your tour guide, hotel or business contacts.

You should also: 

  • check opening hours of shops and restaurants
  • be aware that if hotels and restaurants are providing food or drink in fasting hours, they may separate you from Islamic guests, for example with screens
  • follow local dress codes – clothing that does not meet local dress codes may cause more offence at this time
  • be aware that fasting can cause tiredness, particularly during the later afternoon and early evening
  • be patient and show tolerance

Using cameras

Do not take pictures of military or government installations. Always ask permission before taking photographs that include local people.  

LGBT+ travellers

Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal in Mali, but discrimination is widespread. Police may refuse to intervene. There have been arrests for ‘immoral behaviour’, and LGBT+ individuals have experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence. The LGBT+ community in Bamako has experienced homophobic attacks and false arrest.   

Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.

Transport risks

Road travel

If you are planning to drive in Mali, see information on driving abroad.

You can use a UK photocard driving licence to drive in Mali. If you still have a paper driving licence, you may need to update it to a photocard licence or get the 1949 version of the international driving permit (IDP) as well.

Police checkpoints are common throughout Bamako. Always keep vehicle and personal identification documents with you.

Approach security checkpoints slowly and follow instructions. There have been incidents late at night where people dressed as policemen have demanded money from drivers in Bamako. Ask to see identification and get a receipt for payment.      

Exercise caution and do not resist demands if you feel threatened or in danger.

Road conditions

Road conditions in Bamako are difficult during the rainy season from June to October. Roads outside Bamako are often damaged and dangerous. Other road users may drive unpredictably. There is a risk of landmines and other explosive devices on the roads in northern and eastern Mali.

Take all necessary safety precautions, especially outside of main urban areas, have confidence in your security arrangements and stay alert.

If you have an accident, go to the nearest police station to report it. If you stay at the scene of the accident, you may be vulnerable. Medical help after an accident is likely to be limited, especially outside of Bamako.

Air travel

Flights often change or are cancelled with little warning. The security at Bamako airport is heavy, and guards search your vehicle before you enter the airport. Scammers posing as taxi drivers and guides operate around the airport – only use pre-arranged transport.

Airports in Mali outside of Bamako are extremely dangerous. Terrorist groups have repeatedly shelled Timbuktu airport since August 2023. 

Extreme weather and natural disasters

The rainy season in Mali is from June to October. Heavy rains can cause floods and landslides. Monitor local weather reports and expect difficulties when travelling to affected areas during this season.

Find out what you can do to prepare for and respond to extreme weather and natural hazards.

Before you travel check that:

  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

The emergency number is 15 but emergency response capacity is very limited. Take local advice and arrange your own transport to a medical centre or hospital.   

Contact your insurance company quickly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccine recommendations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip:

See what health risks you’ll face in Mali, including:  

  • typhoid and cholera
  • rabies
  • Zika virus
  • malaria and dengue
  • yellow fever
  • meningitis

You should drink only boiled or bottled water, and avoid ice in drinks.

Medication

Pharmacies are easily identifiable throughout Bamako. The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries.

Read best practice when travelling with medicines on TravelHealthPro.

Healthcare facilities in Mali

Medical facilities in Mali are very limited. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

FCDO has a list of medical providers in Mali where some staff will speak English. 

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also mental health guidance on TravelHealthPro.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in Mali

Emergency response capacity is very limited. If no help is available, take local advice and arrange your own transport locally.

Police: 17

Ambulance: 15

Fire: 18

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

You can also contact FCDO online.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you’re in Mali and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the British Embassy in Bamako.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.