Saga Tours of Mali - West Africa Adventure Travel
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FAQs — Frequently Asked Questions
about travel with Saga Tours
Q: What services do you provide and what do we need to do ourselves?
As a ground tour operator Saga Tours makes all ground tour arrangements: comfortable ground transportation (air-conditioned 4x4 vehicle, with dedicated driver), experienced guide, all nightly accommodations with breakfast, plus all transfers, taxes, touring and entry fees. Optional items are also arranged by Saga Tours, upon request; optional items are priced separately.
- Travellers need to make their own international flight arrangements, to start and end their tour.
- Travellers must also obtain tourist visas for all countries to be visited (Saga Tours can provide a document attesting tour dates and accommodations, to submit with visa applications).
- And lastly, travellers must obtain Yellow Fever vaccination; proof of vaccination must be presented upon arrival in each country to be visited (as with the tourist visa); there are no other health requirements, but malaria prophylaxis is recommended.
See the Prices sections below, for more information on inclusions and exclusions.
Q: What countries can we visit with Saga Tours?
Saga Tours' specialty is Mali, of course, as this is our home country.
We also offer multicountry tours of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Niger and Senegal.
NB: We do not work in these other countries without Mali included. A multi-country tour can start or end in Mali, but it must include Mali, as we have no personnel or equipment in these other countries.
Sorry, we do not work in Nigeria, Mauritania or the Ivory Coast.
Q: What are your departure dates?
Our tours are private, customized and scheduled at the request of each person or group who reserves a tour; there are no group departure dates.
Exception: Desert Festival tours.
Q: What's included in the tour price?
Prices depend upon the size of your party, and are provided upon request.
Saga Tours prices include:
**Please be advised that prices in Mali are largely due to the cost of transportation, which is expensive, and not the hotels, which are very basic outside of Bamako. Mali is a large country, and the interesting sites are quite far apart, so fuel consumption is high. Vehicles, spare parts and fuel are all imported to an African port city, then overland to Mali. Roads are rough, and vehicles require a lot of maintenance. All of these factors contribute to making prices in Mali higher than may be expected.
- all transportation in-country, including fuel and driver (usually a 4-wheel drive vehicle; sometimes a minibus for larger groups; sometimes a traditional riverboat with outboard motor; sometimes a domestic flight)
- all lodging (hotels and/or camping), double occupancy, bed & breakfast; check-in is 2:00 pm and check-out is 12:00 noon; day-room is sometimes provided — refer to your tour program
- continental breakfast; other meals as specified in the tour itinerary (typically during excursions to more remote areas)
- all camping essentials (except sleeping bags) during excursions requiring camping; travelers must bring their own sleeping bags
- airport transfers and porterage
- experienced, English-speaking Saga Tours guide, with other local guides as necessary (for example, a Dogon guide in Dogon country)
- all hotel taxes, municipal tourism taxes, and site visit/entry fees as per tour program
Q: What is not included in the price?
Air tickets to/from Africa (sorry, Saga Tours does not handle international air reservations and ticketing), entry visas, non-specified meals, drinks, and tips are not included.
Excess baggage charges (on domestic flights) if any, and costs incurred in forwarding lost bags are not included (insurance to cover lost luggage is recommended).
Additional transport or medical treatment required due to any emergency situation is not included (medical/evacuation insurance is recommended).
Day-room is sometimes optional, not included refer to your tour program for your specific inclusions and exclusions.
Q: Do you have a minimum or maximum group size?
No; our tours are private and customized (except Desert Festival Tours), and every "group" is a private party; single individuals are also welcome.
Q: What type of transportation do you provide?
The type of transportation depends on the group size, and on the itinerary. For getting to some Dogon villages and for driving to Timbuktu, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is necessary; these are air-conditioned LandCruiser-type vehicles, and will hold 4-6 passengers (plus driver and guide), depending on the model. For larger groups on itineraries that don't require 4-wheel drive, we use minibuses of various sizes.
Q: What type of accommodations do you offer?
We offer best or best-available accommodations: typically 4-star hotels in the capital cities (with upgrades to 5-stars possible); in the interior of the country best-available hotels are often unrated but usually comparable to 2-3 stars. We can also arrange camping in Mali for travelers who prefer that experience in Dogon villages, along the Niger River, or in the desert, camping is the only option. Day rooms can be arranged on the last tour day to accommodate late flight departures.
Q: Can you just reserve our hotels or domestic flights in Mali, without a tour?
Sorry, no, we cannot make hotel or flight arrangements that are not part of a complete tour; Saga Tours does not make independent travel arrangements. Saga Tours is not a ticket agent for domestic flights.
Q: If we opt for camping, what equipment do we need to bring?
Sleeping bags are usually recommended, depending on the season (the cold months are December and January); otherwise sheets and possibly a mosquito net are all that is needed for camping. On specified itineraries, travelers must bring their own tent.
Q: Are the guides local Malians, or Westerners?
All of our guides are Malians with many years of experience; we believe there's no one like a Malian to show you around Mali. We also utilize local guides in our neighboring countries as needed. Some tour operator groups may also be accompanied by their own tour leader.
Q: Are the local people friendly towards Westerners?
Very friendly, and hospitable; West Africans are rightfully proud of their hospitality traditions.
Q: Is Mali a safe country to visit ?
You will be warmly welcomed to Mali, which has a strong hospitality tradition. The crime rate is very low and safety is the norm, but the northern regions are currently under rebel control.
All travel to the north of Mali (the Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu regions) should be deferred.
All travel plans should be made with local agencies, who can advise on the areas to avoid.
Please remember that New York, London, Toulouse, Moscow, Madrid, Oslo, Mumbai, Bali, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya have all been victims of horrible terrorist incidents—that is not a reason to avoid these places, and there is no reason to avoid Mali.
With your personal precautions, you will be as safe in Mali as anywhere else in the world—perhaps safer, because there is very little crime—but opportunistic crimes can occur, you must stay out of high-risk and rebel-controlled areas.
Q: Is there a 'best time' to visit Mali and West Africa?
Conventional wisdom has it that the best time to visit is from October through February, when the weather is relatively cool and dry. If you want to avoid crowds, avoid mid-December thru mid/late January.
The rainy season (July through September) is also worth considering: it does not rain every day, and the rain doesn't last all day — most roads are paved and unaffected by the rain, and the countryside is green and fresh (dust-free). So the rainy season can be a very pleasant time, with hotels not fully booked and everyone more relaxed because it is not peak tourism season.
Q: How many days should we allow for a reasonably complete visit of Mali?
Mali is a vast country, most transportation is overland and the interesting sites are far apart. Mali can be visited in a week, if you don't include Timbuktu; with Timbuktu, plan on at least 9-10 days, up to two weeks, with the exact number of days to be determined by the specifics of your tour.
Q: How hot does it get in Mali?
Except during the hot months (April, May, sometimes June) when everyday is 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, the 'normal' daily high is in the 80s or 90s; at night the temperatures may drop into the 60s or 50s, or lower in the desert.
See About Mali for a chart of monthly average temperatures.
Q: What do you mean by 'adventure travel'?
Except for our river, desert or Dogon trekking expeditions, where 'adventure travel' is absolutely correct (although some would consider it "soft" adventure), this is a slightly exaggerated term to apply to Saga Tours itineraries, but we use it to emphasize the fact that travel in West Africa is generally not luxury travel, except possibly in the capital cities where a certain luxury standard is available.
Exact conditions will vary from place to place and from time to time, but basically it means that there are no five-star hotels outside the capital cities; restaurant menus may not offer much variety; cold drinks may not be all that cold; and when we mention camping, that means no frills, sleeping on a ground mattress in a small tent. Travellers should have a spirit of adventure, and always expect to be surprised.
In exchange for accepting these local conditions, you will experience the unique and fascinating cultures that make up Mali and neighboring countries. Please see our Culture Shock page for more information on local conditions.
Q: You mention treks and camping; what about those who want to take it easier, or who simply prefer to focus on Mali's cultural side?
All of the activities we mention are available but optionalwe can create an itinerary to focus on or exclude whatever you'd like. And if culture is what you'd like to emphasize we can include village stays, local markets, and traditional dances of several ethnic groups.
Q: How much climbing is involved when visiting Dogon country?
As much as you'd like, and no more. 'Climbing' the Bandiagara escarpment is like walking up or down a broken staircase; it's strenuous, because every step is up (or down) from the previous one, and the 'steps' are uneven, as though broken. If you think you'd enjoy this, we can program a lot of time on foot, to go into several villages that are only accessible that way. If this sounds like more exertion than you'd care for, we can limit your tour to the vehicle-accessible villages only. Either way, you'll still have visited Dogon country.
Q: Am I likely to get sick from the food or water?
Not likely, but you must take certain precautions. You should only drink water that's been boiled (coffee or tea) or else bottled mineral water, soft drinks or beer. Trekkers should bring water purification tablets, as it may not be possible to find bottled water everywhere. For food, the restaurants we patronize are safe; otherwise you should avoid eating anything raw that you don't peel yourself before eating. Avoid street-corner food—the food itself may be hot and sterile, but the handling and the utensils are always suspect. Lastly, wash and/or disinfect your hands often, especially before eating.
Q: I have special dietary requirements; can these be met in West Africa?
It depends on your particular case - please contact us for a personalized response. We want you to be healthy and stay healthy, so please do not hesitate to bring this up, if it is an issue for you.
Q: Do I need any special immunizations?
Yes, proof of immunization against Yellow Fever is required to enter Mali and neighboring countriesconsult your physician or travel health clinic. After receiving the vaccine, you will be given an International Certificate of Vaccination, which is honored worldwide. Your physician may also advise other immunizations (such as rabies, tetanus, hepatitis, etc.).
Q: Is malaria a concern?
Yes, malaria exists throughout West Africa; it is a serious illness transmitted by mosquitoes, but it can easily be prevented with some basic precautions. First, you should ask your doctor for a prescription for a malaria-prevention medication - this is usually mefloquine (Lariam), doxycycline, or Malarone in tablet form, taken for the length of your trip plus a short period before your departure and after your return. In the U.S., malaria prevention tablets are sold by prescription only; they are not available in Mali. Secondly, while on tour you should try to prevent mosquito bites by covering your arms and legs, especially in the evening, and you should use an insect-repellant.
Q: What are Mali's entry requirements?
There are only two requirements:
- a visa (see section below)
- Yellow Fever vaccination (consult your physician or a travel health clinic)
Q: Do I need a visa to enter Masli?
Yes, a visa is required for most travellers; see our Travel Tips page for exempt countries. A list of Mali Embassies and Consulates is provided on our Travel Tips page. The Malian Embassy (Washington DC and Ottawa) websites have all of the pertinent information and downloadable forms to obtain a visa.
If you cannot obtain a standard tourist visa before you travel, a 5-day entry visa is available upon arrival at Bamako airport, which allows you to enter Mali; this visa must be extended while in Mali, either in Bamako, Mopti or Timbuktu.
(For stays in Mali of 5 days or less, the 5-day entry visa is sufficient.)
**New** Since December 2011, 90-day visas are currently available upon arrival at Bamako airport; this is a new (and perhaps temporary) measure, to promote tourism in Mali. Check with a tour agency in Mali, to be sure this new program is still effective during your travel time.
NB: We recommend obtaining a visa prior to your trip—airline security procedures are such that flight boarding may be refused by the airline to any traveller without a visa.
Also, the airport visa program may be rescinded anytime, without notice.
Q: Do you arrange international flights?
Sorry, Saga Tours does not handle international flight reservations or ticketing; you must make your own flight arrangements at the start and the end of your tour. A list of the airlines that serve Mali can be found on our Travel Tips page.
Q: Do you arrange domestic flights within Mali?
Saga Tours does utilize domestic flights within Mali occasionally. We regret to say that domestic flights are infrequent and not always available or reliable, so we recommend that all travel within Mali utilize other transportation as much as possible. We do not provide domestic air tickets unless the flight is part of a tour Saga Tours is not a ticket agent for domestic flights.
For more information on domestic flights, see Terms & Conditions section on Domestic Flights.
Q: How is payment arranged?
See Terms & Conditions
To reserve tour dates, a deposit of 50% of the total tour price must be transferred to our Bamako bank, 60-180 days prior to the start date of the tour. When this payment arrives we make hotel and transportation reservations.
The balance in full is due upon arrival in Bamako, in cash (Euros or US dollars); sorry, we do not accept checks, travellers checks, or credit cards (see the section on Credit cards, below).
N.B.: When checking exchange rates, please remember that Currency Converters show the interbank rate, the retail rate will be slightly lower; and local rates fluctuate with local conditions. Click here to access a currency converter now.
Q: What is Saga Tours refund policy if I should need to cancel my tour?
Please see our Terms & Conditions for our cancellation and refund policy.
Q: Will I be able to use my credit cards or travellers checks in Mali? in other West African countries?
Credit cards, probably not. As in all developing countries, Mali's economy is a cash economy. Only the large hotels and restaurants in Bamako and other capital cities accept credit cards, and most of them take only Visa card; a few may take MasterCard; despite American Express' publicity, it is rarely utilized in Mali and West Africa.
In Bamako and other country capitals there are banks and some ATMs where you can get a cash advance on a Visa credit card (usually only Visa); the cash advance is usually limited to 200,000 CFA (approximate value $450 USD; dispensed in local currency).
In the interior of Mali and other countries, do not count on credit cards at all. It is nevertheless a good idea to bring a Visa card for use in Bamako or other capital cities, in case of emergency.
Foreign exchange: Euros and USDollars (cash) are readily exchangeable in all cities.
NB: Large cash denominations ($100, 100€, 200€, 500€) are preferred and provide a better exchange rate than smaller bills.
Travellers checks are also exchangeable, with a variable 5-20% commission.
**Be prepared for lengthy procedures to exchange travellers checks, and be sure to have your purchase receipt some banks and exchange bureaus will not exchange travellers checks without the purchase receipt.
In the interior of Mali and other countries, cash may also be exchanged, but travellers checks likely not.
There are also Western Union and/or MoneyGram outlets in most major cities, including Bamako, Sikasso, Kayes, Segou, Mopti, and Timbuktu, as well as towns in our neighbor countries, where cash can be transferred and accessed the same day. Check the Western Union or Moneygram websites for locations.
Q: How can I reserve a tour?
For a customized tour go to our Tour Request page, fill in the pertinent items there, and click on the Submit button at the bottom of the page to e-mail your info to us. Alternatively, you may send us a regular email; be sure in include the number of travellers, the number of days you would like to spend in Mali, and the approximate time of year, if your exact dates are not known.
To sign-up for one of our featured itineraries, click on the "Sign-up" link at the bottom of the itinerary page, then fill out the form and click on the Submit button at the bottom of that page.
You will receive an e-mail from us outlining our customized tour proposal for you, and/or providing information on a featured itinerary. If you want to proceed, we will send you our bank references so that you can make your deposit and reserve your tour dates (see the Payment section, above).
We look forward to hearing from you!