Many thanks to Mary Ellen for pointing out this article on Mali in the LA Times
Postcard from Mali: By foot, camel or riverboat
which brought back a lot of memories of my two years there. Since the article is by Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, I suspect that this is an excerpt from the latest guide.
A little tough to get to? Only a little? 12 hour flight to Paris from California, 3+ hour layover in yucky Terminal 5 at CDG, and then another 6 hours to Bamako. And that's just to get there. There's a lot more hard core slogging once in country.
Colorful? Definitely. Exciting? At times.
The Niger river makes a HUGE difference. The river makes Bamako a romantic capital. The lack of a river makes Ouagadougou a somnolent one.
Dazzling architecture? Yes - for Africa. The mosque in Djenné is definitely worth a look.
Take a hike in Dogon Country. Not to miss. But it is a long slog from Bamako. 8 hours to get to Mopti, which is the gateway to Dogon Country. Or you can take a 2-3 day trip upriver but only during and after the rainy season when the river is high enough. The most picturesque villages are dispersed so there's even more car time involved.
After having spent three years in Morocco (and now married to a Moroccan), I don't see what the fuss is about Tombouctou though I give points to LP for the correct Taureg spelling. I confess, I've never visited. For two reasons: it's an expensive and lengthy trip, and no one has told me about anything I could see in Tombouctou that I hadn't already seen in Morocco. Once you get to Mopti (remember, a 8 hour drive from Bamako, after that long plane ride), it's another 8 hours or so on deteriorating roads. That's an awfully long trip to ride a camel.
The people are relaxed and welcoming to tourists. More likely outside of the tourist areas...Peace Corps volunteers seem to universally love Mali, but vendors in Bamako and Mopti tend to be assertive.
Granted, my perspective is colored by my cushy expat life in Bamako. I traveled to our field office in Mopti at least every other month, and visited many of the villages where we work in Dogon Country. And I definitely recommend staying at Mac's Refuge as a great place to recharge. This might be the only place in Dogon Country where you can find whole wheat pancakes.