The main cities along the paved road into the north are connected via bus (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao). A separate paved loop runs through the south (Bamako, Bougouni, Sikasso, Koutiala, Segou) There are many different companies with different schedules but they all have more or less the same prices. Normally a ride to Mopti (600km, half the way up), endures approximately nine hours; a ride to Gao at least 12. All times are very rough, however, and few bus companies will even give you an estimated arrival time as different drivers drive different speeds and it is not improbable that the bus breaks down and needs a repair or stops to help another bus. It is usually possible to make a reservation several days before, recommended during the tourist season, though one rarely has a problem just showing up 30-60 minutes before the bus leaves. More reliable companies include Bittar, Bani and Banimonotie (Sikasso region) among others.
BY TAXI BROUSSE:
To get around one can take the “Taxi – Brousse”, the bush taxis. They are the main connection between towns which aren’t connected via bus. They are very slow and they sometimes break down or stop to help other broken down taxis. So sometimes the ride takes longer than expected. Unlike the buses, these rarely run on a set schedule, so you generally just need to show up at the station (in a larger town) or sit by the roadside (in smaller villages) and wait for the next to come along – locals may be able to give you some idea what to expect.
In any larger city, taxis will be plentiful and are usually an easy way for the tourist to get where they are going without trying to figure out the local public transport system (if one even exists). Be prepared to bargain, as they will generally try to overcharge you – in Bamako CFA1,000 should get you anywhere in the city during the day (or up to CFA1,500 at night), while crossing the river will be CFA1,500-2,000. Also, tell the driver clearly if you do not know the location of the place you want to go, as they are rarely forthcoming about admitting that they don’t know it and will often expect you to give directions, especially if it is not a popular or common destination.
BY PRIVATE CAR:
A good option for a larger group or travellers who value comfort over economy is to rent a private car. A 4×4 is strongly recommended if you will be leaving the main highways (this includes the trip to Timbuktu). There are very few asphalt roads, and they are all single-carriageway outside towns, though most are in good condition. One leads into the North of the country (Bamako, Segou, San, Mopti, Gao), another branches off after Segou to cross the Niger at the Markala dam and goes as far as Niono, while another goes from Bamako to Sikasso and on into Ivory Coast. There are private people who rent out their 4×4 cars for a ride (in which case make sure you’ve got insurance and a carnet de passage, and plenty of petrol), but generally renting a car means renting a car and driver. This is strongly recommended as Malian roads and drivers can be unpredictable and the vehicles unreliable (better to have the driver figure out what that loud rattle is or why the engine started smoking!).
Travel within Bamako can be difficult for the business traveller and leisure tourist alike. One of the best options is to rent a car with a chauffeur. This can be done on a by-day basis and is an enormous help for someone that is new to the city. When trying to visit numerous places in one day, it becomes difficult to rely on the local taxi system. The chauffeur is a local resident and will know most of the names of the places that you need to go. There is no hassle in finding a parking spot as the chauffeur can wait for you while you attend to the business at hand.
For the tourist, this option can be your solution to seeing the city of Bamako in a care-free manner. Trips out of the city are available as well, although the fare can be somewhat higher than intra-city rates. Gas is an additional cost to the renter. A distinguished man by the name of Aldiouma (pronounced al-Jew-ma) Togo runs a classy operation is open to negotiation for rates. Usually around CFA25,000-30,000 per day for intra-city use. Slightly less than double that fee for extra-city travel. His info: Aldiouma Togo: Cell: +223 642-6500 Home: +223 222-1624 firstname.lastname@example.org
It is possible to travel across Mali by plane, as numerous companies have sprung up. It is possible to fly (usually from Bamako) to cities such as: Mopti, Timbuktu, Kayes, Yelimané, Gao, Kidal, Sadiola, and others.
The planes, typically, are Czech turboprops (LET-410s) and small Russian jetliners (Yakovlev YAK-40s). Air travel in Mali is fast but, compared to a bus ride, expensive. It is not, however, foolproof – often you are at the mercy of the carrier, who may choose not to fly on a certain day if too few passengers show up! You can generally get tickets at the airport before flights, however the best bet is to book a ticket in advance.
Société Transport Aerienne (STA) and Société Avion Express (SAE) are the two most popular, and most reliable, carriers.
It is possible to travel around Mali by boat, however this is very seasonal. The most common option, only really possible in the wet season, is a barge to/from Timbuktu. There are also very small boats, “pirogues” in French, which are available to be hired almost anywhere – they are essentially large canoes. When the big boats are not running you can still charter a pinasse (like a big, motorised pirogue). Or use one of the public pinasses. These will run for another 3 months or so before the water levels being too low for them as well. You can navigate the river all the way from near Bamako to Gao, though the level drops more rapidly in the portion between Bamako and Mopti.
Rail services in Mali are limited to a twice- or thrice-weekly train between Bamako and Kayes.