The best time to visit Bamako and find cheaper flights is from October to February. From April temperatures begin to soar and when the rains come from July to September the malaria carrying mosquitoes are at their worst. The mainly unpaved roads will be dusty in the dry season and muddy during the rains. The town is the finishing line for the gruelling Trans-Saharan rally, which starts in Budapest. Hundreds of rally cars and motorcycles will arrive in the city on the last Saturday of January. Also, the Dakar Rally often passes through Bamako.
Bamako, or ‘Crocodile River’ in the local dialect, is the capital of Mali, a landlocked country in western Africa. The town sits either side of the River Niger. The people of Bamako live their lives mainly on the streets and you will find it a colourful and noisy place both day and night. When the Scottish explorer, Mungo Park, reached Bamako in 1806 it was only a small riverside fishing village, but it developed rapidly with French colonisation in the late 19th century. The old area, to the north of the Niger, is a precisely laid out colonial town with public areas and green spaces. The Musee National is only a small museum, but exhibits some wonderful ethnographic artefacts such as wooden masks, old textiles and marionettes. You won’t find any English language labels, but English speaking guides can be booked. Few tourists venture as far as the Marche de Medina, but if you do, you will really feel that you have arrived in Mali, shoppers come here to buy second hand clothes, get their hair elaborately braided or their hands and feet decorated with henna. Shop in the market for traditional handicrafts to take home with you, such as wood carvings, jewellery, leather goods and musical instruments. The stall holders will expect you to bargain over prices. When you want to escape from roads crowded with motorbikes and street traders find the quiet places and beautiful gardens set along the river banks. The area is generally very flat, but two hills rise just outside the city. On the Hill of Hope is the newly refurbished zoo providing a haven from the crowded city. Opposite is the Hill of Power with its gleaming white presidential palace at the top. In the evenings enjoy the live music you will find everywhere and sample local Malian dishes such as poulet au coco, couscous and ragout.
Taxis are the most efficient way of getting around Bamako, these are either cars or motorcycles. Negotiate a price upfront as they do not carry meters. There are also green minibuses which operate on set routes. Boat trips on the Niger or Bani Rivers can be organised for you by the tourist office.
Senou International Airport (BKO) is 9 miles (15 km) from Bamako. Apart from renting a car the only transport link is by private taxi which will take about 40 minutes. Confirm a price before you start your journey but, strangely enough, the return journey to the airport is generally cheaper.