Living in Bamako is a unique experience to be treasured and enjoyed. If you know what to expect before you arrive at the bustling Bamako-Senou airport, you will fall in love with this laidback, magical city.
There’s no getting around it — you’re going to need access to a vehicle when you are living and working in Bamako. This is a large, sprawling city which can be difficult to navigate on foot.
Luckily, cars, motorbikes and gas are all cheap and readily available in the city, so owning a vehicle is an affordable luxury.
Green vans are the city’s equivalent of public transport in the city, although they are referred to as “sotrama” (literally “taxi van”) and not buses by the locals. For a few coins, these vans will pick you up and drop you off at any given location. These taxis are usually packed to capacity and on hot days, they can be stifling. Bring a bottle of water with you, and be prepared to shout to the driver when your stop is approaching.
Bamako has a long and lively musical tradition, and Mali has produced some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, including Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen, Amadou et Miriam and, of course, Salif Keita. Blur frontman Damon Albarn is a regular fixture in the city, performing spontaneous gigs with local artists in some of the city’s tiny venues, cafés and festivals.
For some insight into Mali’s cultural history, the National Museum is a good starting point. It is still quite sparsely furnished, but contains a few truly fascinating ancient relics dating back several thousand years. Some other interesting cultural landmarks are the National Library of Mali and the Bamako Grand Mosque.
Poverty and homelessness are rife in Bamako, and some expats can find this shocking. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with limited public services and sporadic healthcare. As a result, many curable illnesses and injuries are left untended, and sufferers are forced to beg for a living. Expats are invariably targeted, but discretion is highly advised. As with most cities, gangs operate here so your well-meaning donations may not necessarily make it into the right hands.
Despite this poverty, Bamako is a relatively safe city which will quickly feel like home. While you are settling in, it is best to hire a driver or ask a local friend to show you around, and expats are advised to stay indoors at night.
Keep an eye on the local news for any signs of governmental instability or nearby coups — these can result in some civil unrest and an influx of refugees.