Bienvenue to Mali, a landlocked West African country that borders seven other countries (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Cote d'Ivorie, Guinea, and Mauritania). The modern day country of Mali didn't exist until 1960 when it gained its indpendence from France, where it was known as French Sudan.

This is but a small snipet of Mali's history, a place that once a stop on the trans-Saharan trade route. Still, another small snipet of history--as its believed that Mali has been inhabited for more than 150,000 years.

One thing that's remained pretty constant in Mali is its weather. The country is hot & humid year round, especially its capital city of Bamako where average daytime temps are constantly in the 90s, and only cooling off into the 70s. But with all the museums, like the National Museum, Archaeology & Anthropology Museum, National Library, and Grand Mosque--you'll be too busy to notice the heat.

Mali is also home to the famous city of Timbuktu, a UNESCO site that's famous for its crafts made from iron or copper (think daggars and swords). From November to February it's a tad cooler here--as temps easily soar to 3-digits other times of the year. It doesn't stop people from coming here--as Timbuktu has a few guesthouses and small hotels.

With elevation comes some cooler weather, so head to Hombori where you'll just love rock climbing--or tackling Mt. Hombori, whose peak reaches to 1153 meters above sea level.

Getting around Mali is a lesson in patience. If you're driving in Mali, remember to stick to the main roads or drive in a convoy. Extra caution is necessary if you're driving at night.

It might be easier to take a less expensive collective taxi, as even rail service isn't all its cracked up to be. Train service can be a tad erratic (and only running between Bamako and Damar), but does offer 1st and 2nd class accommodations.

During rainy season (June-December) boats can take you between Bamako to Gao (via Timbuktu)--just remember service can be interrupted during Mali's dry season. For shorter jaunts, for hire river boats could also work.

Gao, by the way, is located along the Niger River; and famous for its Gao Mosque and Tomb of Askia (a 15th century Emperor) that's also a UNESCO site.

Before you leave to backpack Mali, you're going to need a Yellow Fever vaccination; and its recommended that you get one for Hepititis A & B, Typhoid, Polio, and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) as well. If you're traveling during dry season, its best to get one for meningitis.

Don't let a few vaccinations stop you from enjoying Mali's rich intellectual history, its friendly people, and its Malian music--it'll have you singing Mali's praises.

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