I would rate trekking in the Dogon as the very best thing I did in West Africa, and probably in the top five things I did in the whole of Africa. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The sights were amazing and the people were wonderfully friendly and welcoming…… my top tips!
My favourite places to visit
- Yougoudougourou – best up close tellum houses and a fabulous gorge to traverse
- Youga Piri – lovely setting and view with great tellum houses
- Kani Bonzon – historically interesting and little visited, the first village settled in the Dogon
- Ende, Ireli, Kani Kombole – nice well kept valley villages with good hillside ruins and nice mosques
- Begnimato – plateau village set in spectacular rock scenery
- Koro, Youga Na, Soninghe and Tiogou – little visited by tourists, these offer an entirely authentic village experience (no cokes to be found)
Favourite hiking sections
- Natural tunnel path from Soninghe to Ende,
- Ascent from Djindalou to Aindelou through a hidden chasm in the rock
- Climb from Youga Na to Yougadougourou through the narrow canyons and round to Youga Piri jumping over the insanely deep crevasses
In my view the plateau in general is better hiking terrain than the valley, and I really like going up and down the cliff rather than just walking along the valley, it is much more interesting (albeit more strenuous)
Getting organised/guides/transport etc
Mali is one of the few places I have been where I prebooked everything. As far as I could tell it would be easy and safe (if time consuming and uncomfortable) to get round the country with bush taxis. I didn’t have a lot of time and had overly heeded the warnings of the foreign office and so arranged private transport everywhere (which was expensive but worth it).
I cannot recommend more highly the services of Monique Teggelove at Papillon Reizen. She was amazing, crafted a great itinerary for me, made sure it all flowed seamlessly, and paired me up with the perfect Dogon guide for my fitness and interest levels (Mamadou Traore from Bandiagara who was hands down the best guide I have ever had in my life!!!! – thoughtful, lovely, kind, fit, wise, delightful and he knew everybody). I even got to have a divine lunch with her and her partner Ibrahim on the river whilst I was passing through Segou! I found Monique through friends who had also worked with her and were equally complimentary. If you want to go to Mali, definitely give her a call.
When to go
I think you would need to be a masochist, a desert nomad, or in training for the marathon des sables to come in May when I did (temperatures in the 40s). I loved it, but suspect it would have been easier in November/December when the days are sunny and warm and the nights are cool. I didn’t see a single tourist in five days as it was the hot season, but given current politics I don’t think you risk being overrun with tourists even in December.
A couple of suggestions
- Dogon villages have been hit hard by the lack of tourists in the past five years, some more so than others. As a result I spent more money than I normally would buying drinks and souvenirs, and I honestly didn’t even negotiate unless the price was insane (I was once asked for €140 for something which I had already been told was €10). Ask your guide which villages would benefit most from your custom – Yougapiri and Yougadougourou stood out to me as places where living was difficult – and buy your souvenirs there
- Villages which have seen frequent tourists are evident from the kids asking for bonbons and bidons (lollies and bottles). The locals hate the tourists for creating this dynamic. Remember that in Europe a stranger coming into town giving away sweets to kids would be arrested for being a paedophile. If you want to do something nice for the village, go give some money or supplies to the chief or the school teacher
- Your guide will likely be a devout Muslim. I only mention this as I think it is good manners to bear in mind that he (and it will be a he) will need to pray during the day. I let my guide know I was always happy to stop whenever for the 5-10 minutes that takes. I had a drink and he would pray. If your guide suggests a five minute pause, he probably wants to pray and doesn’t want to say so, so take the five minute breaks when offered
- Facilities are basic, obviously don’t expect running water or electricity or much in the way of sanitation. You can wash, but remember that a women or girl has carried the water up to a kilometre for you to do so, and that the wells aren’t always reliable in the desert, so use water sparingly.
Items I would definitely pack again
- Sawyer water filter and platypus…. pump water was high quality and mineral water is rarely available, definitely not available in remoter villages and most people porter it in. It’s faster, cheaper and better for the environment to filter your own
- Nuun zero electrolyte tablets – a must given how much salt and minerals I was sweating out
- Lightweight trekking Umbrella – without question the thing that saved me from heat stroke. Hats only shade your face and I also find they make my head to hot. I would have not made it without the umbrella
- Blow up sea to summit pillow – I can’t sleep without a good pillow and this is the business
- Silk sleeping bag liner – helpful for a few cold nights and when the mattress wasn’t super clean. In December you would want a summer weight sleeping bag. Note I considered taking a thermarest and am glad I didn’t as never needed it
- Robust battery pack – it might be possible to charge devices occasionally off the solar panels at the camps but I found it easier to carry my heavy but robust battery which can charge my iPhone nine times
- Apart from that I took just two changes of clothes, basic toiletries, toilet paper (not available) and a few snacks. I rinsed and dried my clothes each night (using less than a cup of water). Snacks are not necessary to bring as there were places to buy peanuts and fruit in most villages, but do try and take lots of small money with you otherwise you might need to wait an hour when you buy something for them to find change.
Bandiagara, Mali, May 21, 2017