If you’re like me, Bamako might surprise you a little bit. The Malian capital is bigger than I expected, more developed than I expected, and much more full of life than I could have ever hoped for. The city buzzes with a swarm of scooters and seems to be active 24 hours a day. There are countless buildings of architectural interest including the Gadhafi-funded administration building. Bamako comes alive at night and might actually be the best music destination in all of West Africa. From intimate live shows with world famous acts like Baba Salah to all night clubs that pump the latest international tracks, there is something going on every single night in Bamako. The people are friendly, the sights are worthy, and if Bamako is your introduction to West Africa, it will be a pleasant one. Don’t let the recent conflict deter you, this city deserves your visit.
Time Needed: 3-5 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: 35-45 usd per day
Things to Do and See in Bamako
On the surface, Bamako might look like a fairly typical city. However, once you dig down a bit you’ll find a wealth of things to do and see in the capital of Mali. Below are a few I can recommend.
- National Museum and Gardens: The national museum is easily the most developed I’ve seen in West Africa. It’s not massive, but a nice introduction to Malian history. Moreover, the gardens around it make for a pleasant escape from the city if that’s what you’re after.
- Grand Marche: The market is frantic, but you’re not likely to get hassled too much, aside from a potential guide looking for work. You’ll find everything here from batteries to sheep heads.
- Point G: Another great escape from the city, Point G offers great views of Bamako. Moreover, there is a nice botanical garden to chill out in as well.
- Music: Ask the good people at the Sleeping Camel Hostel for advice as to what’s going on in town, but there’s always something. Personally, I would recommend Baba Salah’s show which goes down every Saturday. You can also check to see if there’s something going on at Tumast which is the Touerag cultural center.
Where to Eat in Bamako
The nice thing about Bamako is that there is a good variety to the food available. Not only will you find typical Malian eats, but a variety of foreign spots as well.
- Broadway Café: A good place for a light meal up in the Hippodrome. You’ll find everything from hamburgers to meat pies. There is also a bit of a vegetarian menu.
- Pizzeria Da Guido: The best place in town for an Italian style pizza, again up in the hippodrome.
- Shawarma: Up in the hippodrome there are a couple good places for shawarmas including a place called Poularco
- Bamako Plage: This is a bit of an expat hideout. Nice setting along the Niger River, a good pool and a great setting for some afternoon beers and lunch.
- Princess Street: There are a couple places along Princess Street that have decent eats. The best is a little bar/restaurant right across from the club Jet-7 which has awesome brochettes.
- Amandine: I’ll cut to the point, the food at Amandine is pretty shit. However, it’s a lively and they have pizza. You can also get shawarmas and hamburgers.
- The Sleeping Camel: Although a hostel, they also have good food.
Where to Stay in Bamako
There are a number of places to stay, but in my opinion there is one obvious place: the Sleeping Camel.
- The Sleeping Camel: It’s a hostel meets hotel, and it’s a little bit more than either. All guests feel welcomed and most have a hard time leaving. There is a bar, wifi, parking, hot-water showers and everything from dorm beds to double rooms with private baths and A/C. You can visit their website by clicking the link in the title or call them at +223 78175365. If you’re taking a taxi here, tell the cabbie you’re going to the German embassy. The Sleeping Camel is right behind it.
- Bamako Plage: If you NEED a swimming pool, Bamako Plage is a nice place and has a great setting. Certainly a bit more upmarket that the Camel and obviously more expensive.
Getting Out of Town
Bamako is fairly central to just about anywhere in all of West Africa. Besides other capitals, as a capital you can pretty much get anywhere in Mali from Bamako.
- Djenne: There is actually a bus direct to Djenne three times a week. It leaves from near the grand marche at about 6am and takes between 8-12 hours depending on the condition of the road just outside of Bamako.
- Segou: There are buses every hour or so to Segou, the trip takes between 4-6 hours.
- Mopti: You’ll find buses running to Mopti take about 12 hours these days.
- Abidjan: It’s a marathon going from Bamako to Abidjan and likely involves one night sleeping on route somewhere. It’ll take about 32-36 hours and cost about 15,000 CFA
- Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso: You can get to Bobo in a day without a problem, buses to Ouaga sometimes make it in a day, otherwise you’ll be sleeping roadside for one night.
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