Definitely a must to get into the local life: use the local green buses, called Sotrama.
They get you everywhere for less than a dollar, depending on the distance.
They have fixed stops; so ask around where you need to get which bus to go where.
For getting out on the next stop, you make yourself heard by knocking on the inside of the bus with a coin, so it is being heard in front; or you just shout if you have a loud voice :) .
Watch your belongings in the sotrama though, 'cause pickpockets may be around.
There are through buses from Dakar to Bamako (30? hours) but at the moment they are not allowed to pick up passengers in Tambacounda. Its best to go to the Gare Routiere Tambacounda in the early morning, take a Sept Place (shared taxi) to the border, 5000 CFA about 4 hours, take then a taxi (the stamp out of Senegal is not done at a distance from the border) and tell the driver you want to go by bus to Bamako, he will bring you to a bus stand before the Mali border, 1000 CFA. The bus from there to Bamako is 15000 CFA and about 18 hours.
On my way back from Timbuktu I took a MALI AIR EXPRESS plane to return. Getting to Timbuktu is hard enough, so I thought coming back by plane would be a good idea. And it was!
One way ticket: 150 euros
You can reserve in anticipation at their website http://www.malipages.com/mae/ and pay once you are in Bamako. They don't accept credit cards.
If you really want to experience Bamako as the locals do, take a green van to get to your destination!
The price to ride one of these is significantly lower than that of a cab. We're talking less than $1, usually less than $0.50, depending on where you are going.
These vans do not operate as a "normal" taxi does though. They are like a mix between a taxi and a bus. There are certain areas that they will pick people up at, but they are not on a specific schedule - they will only depart whenever they fill up. So you could get going within seconds of getting on, or you could be waiting for several minutes.
To my knowledge, the drivers only speak French and local languages (such as Bambara, Dogon, etc.). I never met one that spoke English. Since I don't speak any of those, I only rode these when I was with locals.
When our group arrived in Bamako we were advised not to take these, but I had no issues doing so. I rode them several times without incident. However, I would not advise using these without being able to speak one of these languages, or at least without being with someone who can. If you are by yourself, or even in a group where no one speaks the language, it would be better to take a taxi.
However, like I said, the prices were great. The average fare for most rides was about 100 CFA which is around $0.20!
Taxi cabs are a great way to get around Bamako. There are tons driving around and easy to flag down.
Always negotiate your fare before you get in the cab. Tell the driver where you are going and ask "how much?" As is the general tactic throughout Mali, the driver will always give you a high price and you should always offer lower. Meet somewhere in the middle.
Depending on where you go, the ride should range from 500 CFA (about $1) to 2500 CFA (about $5). I believe I generally paid 1000 to 1500 CFA for my rides.
The drivers pretty much only speak French and local languages (Bambara, Dogon, etc.) although I surprisingly had a few that spoke English.
The Railway Station is a beautiful colonial building, but is virtually EMPTY inside. Once part of a french project to extend the railways into its african colonies, nowadays it only serves 1 weekly train to Dakar. This train is a kind of a nightmare, taking 3-4 days to get to Dakar in rather hard conditions. It runs once weekly but the day depends on when the train arrives to Dakar and comes back!
The only info you get for the train in the station is a hand-written paper with the prices.
If you ever dare, take the 1st class.
Keito Moussa was one of the better taxi drivers that I met, his English is great and he's actually interested in what it is that you plan to achieve as he takes you from one place to another. He's quick thinking and gets involved with what you're doing without actually being annoying about it as some people can be. I mean, he's there when you need him and not there when you don't, if you get what I mean. His full day rate in Bamako, is CFA 30 000 his car is modest, but clean and neat and he wears a seatbelt when he drives... that should say a lot.
Local cell is 648 3269 which I think equates to +223 648 3269
The busstation is 6 km from centre (taxi for 2000 CFA)
The comfortable Somatrabus drove us in 2 hrs the 235 km to Segou where we were left at the wrong end of town. ***.
For the bus we paid 2500 CFA
A lot of people don't have money to buy a car or even a motorbike.
So, Mali has a very high population of donkeys.
Even in Bamako, you can see a lot of people on donkeys, or pulling donkeys.
This animal is strong and very resistant to the heat.
Taxis in Bamako are very old, sometimes without any window. As a foreigner you will pay a fee of CFA 2,000. It is not very possible to negotiate, however, the taxi for a night, like going to restaurant, to a bar and a nightclub will only be charged CAF 5,000.
Be careful when you call a taxi, before stepping in, ask if he has petrol.
It happened several times that in the middle of the course, the engine stopped and the driver had to go and find petrol. Lat time, the guy had no money and I had to prepay my course. Then he came back with one beer glass full of petrol and we could complete the journey.