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Overview

Vying with the ancient Islamic adobe towns of the Niger River Route as Mali’s leading cultural asset, the region known as Pays Dogon lies to the southeast of the river. It comprises several dozen villages that run along the escarpment and base of the Falaise de Bandiagara, a burnished sandstone ridge whose sheer 1,000-foot cliffs extend about 93 miles from north to south. An island of traditional animism in the surrounding ocean of Islamic cultures, Pays Dogon is best explored over several days, hiking from one village to the next, and sleeping over in their basic "casas da passage." The villages themselves are fantastic hobbit-warrens of ...

Vying with the ancient Islamic adobe towns of the Niger River Route as Mali’s leading cultural asset, the region known as Pays Dogon lies to the southeast of the river. It comprises several dozen villages that run along the escarpment and base of the Falaise de Bandiagara, a burnished sandstone ridge whose sheer 1,000-foot cliffs extend about 93 miles from north to south. An island of traditional animism in the surrounding ocean of Islamic cultures, Pays Dogon is best explored over several days, hiking from one village to the next, and sleeping over in their basic "casas da passage." The villages themselves are fantastic hobbit-warrens of flat-roofed adobe dwellings and curvaceous conical granaries that seem to mushroom organically from between the baobabs and boulders of the escarpment, which — as seen through the eyes of its animist inhabitants — are haunted by all manner of troublesome genies and protective spirits! Higher up on the cliffs, there are abandoned cave dwellings that were excavated in the 3rd century AD by the Tellem, a mysterious tribe of Pygmoid hunter-gatherers who buried their dead there – a tradition assimilated by the Dogon, who hoist their dead to a final resting place in the old Tellem excavations using rope manufactured from baobab fibers. Elsewhere in the region are vibrant markets, beautiful cave paintings, and – if you time your visit well – vibrant traditional festivals involving stilted and masked dancers. Pays Dogon is not for those seeking luxury or a sanitized version of Africa, but for flexible travelers it is as culturally absorbing as any part of Africa.

Philip Briggs
About the Expert

Philip Briggs has written or contributed to 50-plus editions of Bradt, Insight, AA and Berlitz guidebooks to African destinations.

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Philip Briggs for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    November-June is relatively dry and cool. Other months can be intolerably hot.