Planning a Dogon Trek (Mali)
Hi folks. Here’s a post I planned to write weeks ago but my sabbatical has made it hard to get around to it. But finally, here she be!
The Dogon Escarpment is an amazing geographical feature in Mali. It needs a few days to be visited at the very least, and it’s pretty much obligatory to do it with a guide on a ‘trek’. I’ve used inverted commas here because when people think ‘trek’, they imagine crossing mountains and the like with some serious hiking.
Most of the hiking in Dogon Country is on flat, sandy ground. There is a climb up the 500 metre escarpment (probably) but apart from that the terrain is unlikely to challenge any one. One walks from small town to small town, where you can see traditional life going on without a HUGE change from the outside world. The towns don’t have electricity for example, and you won’t see many vehicles.
If the terrain isn’t taxing, it’s all compensated for by the weather. Walking in forty degree plus heat is – in my personal experience – never something to savour. Thus most treks involve starting walking pretty early and stopping by 11am. Siesta in the middle of the day until around 3pm, including lunch, and then walking for a couple more hours. Perhaps around 12 km in a day.
So you need a lot of water (guide will help you there), a hat, sunscreen or preferably long sleeves and pants. Big backpacks are driven to the evening sight, you just carry a day pack. A sleeping bag is a must if you want to do what I did (I recommend it) and sleep on the rooftops. It does get cool at night.
There are two principle towns that you can access the escarpment from, Bandiagara, the main town with more transport options, or Bankass where I started from. I started from Bankass because it was the most convenient town as I was coming from Burkina Faso. From the other direction (elsewhere in Mali) Bandiagara is the better option, and also has better accommodation options. I finished the trek in Bandiagara and it’s possible to go in reverse of course if you are heading to Burkina Faso.
I was taking to a town called Kani-Kombelai at the foot of the escarpment with a mudbrick mosque to begin the trek. I walked to a village by around 11am and stopped there for lunch. The cliffs above the villages have these old mubrick houses that are actually built into them. They are truly stunning!
Onwards to Ende for the night. Saw a cow get slaughtered (not a highlight) and enjoyed a cultural show of dancing. The house I stayed at had a car battery powering a few lights, and the roof was the bed and not too bad a sleep it was under the stars! The next morning we saw village life – millet pounding, where the town meetings are held and the like before heading off.
The hiking that day included going up the escarpment. It’s steep, but not mega-steep and the path went through the greenest vegetation of the whole trek. On top of the cliffs was the village of Begnimato, and that’s where the night was spent. The next morning it was a short walk to another nearby village where we joined a class of primary school kids with amazing smiles, saw a blacksmith at work and climbed to the top of a rock for amazing views.
Back to Begnimato for lunch and then a hike to get to a 4WD to take us into Bandiagara.
It was an amazing 3 day – 2 night experience. You can do longer and probably shorter but this was pretty short but very rewarding. The meals are basic – pasta and tomato sauce with a bit of meat most often. Trickier for vegetarians who will probably have the same sans meat.
The costs are very reasonable too – you shouldn’t be forking out more than $30- a day if you’re in a small group per person. At least not for the kind of tour we did.
The Dogon Escarpment, along with the Mosque at Djenne, is simply the must-see/do thing in Mali. But before going, you must check the security situation. People still do the trek, but I fancy numbers are not so high right now. Mali is not as stable as it was in 2007 when I went there. Timbuctu, a long way from the Dogon country, was not that long ago in militant hands. They didn’t, I believe, come much further south, but it’s always wise to know what you’re going into. Government warnings are always over the top, for example smarttraveller.gov.au strongly advises against all travel to over half of Mali and strongly advises you to reconsider your ‘need’ to travel for the rest. Dogon Country is somewhere right on the line.