Useful country information

Train operator:

Transrail (a Canadian consortium which has taken over the Senegalese & Malian railways).

 

 

Time zone & dialling code:

GMT  all year.  Dialling code for Senegal +221, Mali +223.

Currency:

1 = 748 Senegal CFA Francs (both Senegal & Mali).  Currency converter

Tourist information:

Tripadvisor Senegal page   Health & vaccinations

Check travel advice at www.fco.gov.uk

Visas:

 

UK & many  EU citizens don't need a visa to visit Senegal.  UK & most other western nationalities require a visa to visit Mali.

Page last updated:

8 November 2013.


Dakar to Bamako

 Current situation in 2013...

The Dakar-Bamako train is definitely NOT RUNNING at the moment, and all passenger service has now stopped completely, except for Kayes-Bamako, and shows no sign whatsoever of resuming anytime soon.  A thrice-weekly Kayes-Bamako train is currently running, see below.  By all means check the situation locally, and if you have any updates please e-mail me.

For the record, way back in 2003 trains stopped running because of the condition of the track.  Much of it is still the original rails laid in 1904 to 1912.  Operation of the railway was handed to a Canadian company which started working to improve things.  In 2005, a weekly express was reinstated from Dakar to Bamako and back, which in 2007 was reduced to running every 8-9 days rather than weekly due to yet more engineering work on the line, and to not set schedule.  This continued until summer 2009.  At this stage, the train was starting from the Gare de Hann, 3km out of Dakar, and not from Dakar station itself.  In summer 2009, all train service from Dakar stopped running again, and that is the current status in 2012.  One report suggests the operator is to all intents and purposes bankrupt.

The timetable below is the last reported official timetable from way back in March 2005.

It was reported that second hand carriages from India and some new locomotives were due to be delivered in late 2006, and that the Indian government had approved a loan to buy 1 loco and 12 new coaches for the Dakar-Bamako train, due to enter service in 2007.  Some of these second hand Indian coaches did arrive and are running between Kayes and Bamako. 

  

 Dakar ► Bamako

             

          

 Bamako ► Dakar

 

 See note C

(running)

See note A

Cancelled

 

See note B

Cancelled

 See note D

(running)

Dakar *

-

 10:00  Saturday

Bamako

 09:15  Wednesday

 07:15 Mon, Wed, Sat

Thies

-

 12:15  Saturday

Kati

 10:25  Wednesday

xx:xx Mon, Wed, Sat

Diourbel

-

 15:28  Saturday

Diamou

 00:55  Thursday

xx:xx Mon, Wed, Sat

Guinguineo

-

 16:56  Saturday

Kayes

 03:45  Thursday

 22:00 Mon, Wed, Sat

Kaffrine

-

 18:40  Saturday

Kidira (frontier)

 08:25  Thursday

-

Tambacounda

-

 03:25  Sunday

Tambacounda

 13:00  Thursday

-

Kidira (frontier)

-

 08:20  Sunday

Kaffrine

 21:05  Thursday

-

Kayes

07:15 Tues, Thurs, Sun

 13:35  Sunday

Guinguineo

 22:55  Thursday

-

Diamou

xx:xx Tues, Thurs, Sun

 16:40  Sunday

Diourbel

 00:12  Friday

-

Kati

xx:xx Tues, Thurs, Sun

 07:12  Monday

Thies

 03:35  Friday

-

Bamako

22:00 Tues, Thurs, Sun

 08:15  Monday

Dakar *

 05:55  Friday

-

* Until it stopped running completely in summer 2009, the Dakar-Bamako train was starting from the Gare de Hann, 3km from Dakar station, and not from Dakar station itself.  This arrangement started in 2007, continued through 2008 and was still the case as at January 2009.  Not all taxi drivers seem aware of where the Gare de Hann is!

Note A:  EXPRESS.  Cancelled indefinitely.  Before being cancelled completely it ran every 8-9 days, no longer on any specific day of the week.  Dakar station can tell you the next departure a few days beforehand.  The train has 1st class couchettes (4-berth compartments), 1st & 2nd class seats & bar-restaurant car.

Note B:  EXPRESS.  Cancelled indefinitely.  Before being cancelled completely it ran once a week, leaving Bamako every 8-9 days and not now on any specific day of the week.  1st class couchettes (4-berth compartments), 1st & 2nd class seats and bar-restaurant car.

Note C:  This train is still running in 2010.  Runs 3 times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Sundays.  It's composed of second hand Indian carriages.  2nd class seating, but the Saturday departure also conveys an air-conditioned first class car.  See the traveller's report below.

Note D:  This train is still running in 2010.  It runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays only, it's composed of second hand Indian carriages.  See the traveller's report below.

xx:xx = train stops at this station, but please check times locally.

Dakar to Bamako is 1,230 km (768 miles).  There is currently no train service between Dakar and St Louis.

What are the trains like?

The Bamako-Kayes train...

1st class seats on the Bamako to Kayes train   The Bamako to Kayes train

1st class seats on the Bamako-Kayes train...

Photo courtesy of Jerome Le Roy

 

The Bamako-Kayes train, using second-hand Indian coaches...

Photo courtesy of Jerome Le Roy

The Dakar - Bamako train...

It's currently not running at all, but for the record, this was what the train was like: 

The Dakar-Bamako 'Express' (previously known as the 'Mali Express' or sometimes known locally as the 'Mistral International') has 1st & 2nd class seats plus 1st class couchettes with 4-bunk compartments.  It also has a bar-restaurant car selling drinks, snacks and inexpensive meals.  Previously, when the service was twice weekly, one set of Dakar-Bamako coaches was provided by the Mali Railways, the other by the Senegalese Railways, both originally bought second hand from French Railways.  The Senegalese train was considered to be the significantly better train, with stainless steel coaches that allegedly once operated the Paris-Nice 'Mistral'.  However, it seems to be the Mali coaches that now operate all departures.  You will need to get your passport stamped at each border post.  It may be taken by an official on the train, but you have to collect it yourself by going to the police office at the border, although you may not be told this.  If your passport is taken, ask where and when you have to go to collect it.  Expect a final arrival at your destination anything from 4 to 12 hours late!

Dakar station   Dakar-Bamako train:  1st class couchette car

Above:  Inside Dakar station... Photo courtesy of Hans Vulink.

 

Above:  Dakar-Bamako 1st class couchette car...  Photo courtesy of Hans Vulink.

     
Couchette compartment on the train from Dakar to Bamako   The train from Senegal to Mali about to leave the Gare de Hann, just outside Dakar.

Above:  Inside a grubby 1st class couchette compartment!  Photo courtesy of Wendy Ball.

 

Above:  The train to Mali ready to leave the Gare de Hann.  Photo courtesy of Wendy Ball.

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Iain Bisset took the Kayes-Bamako train in Spring 2010:

We took it from Kayes to Bamako on a Sunday, the tickets were for sale the day before at the station and cost 7000 CFA. These may have been local prices but the stay were friendly and offered us these tickets straight off. They said to be there at 07:00 for an 07:15 departure but it left two hours late just after 09:00. The train passes through some beautiful scenery with rock formations like the Dogon country but uninhabited. There lakes, waterfalls and small villages whose lifeblood and commerce seems to be this train line. There was plenty of opportunity to buy food and drink at various stops and we arrived into Kita at around 18:00 with the night approaching. Kita was the biggest town with the most food and drink options for the break, after Kita someone got on with some freshly cooked meat for sale but we had just bought and eaten bread and mayo, damn! There's a comical number of ticket checks particularly given that we were the only Toubabs on the train. The conductor was friendly and spoke a bit of English, wanting to practice it with us. He bought some fish at one stop and hung them up by the bathroom for the remainder of the journey. We didn't try the toilets actually but the train was spacious, clean and comfortable (not so clean by the time we got off). The tickets have a seat number on and the train is fairly empty from Kayes because it is so much faster and only marginally more expensive (10,000 cfa) to take the bus. But who would do that?! We arrived into Bamako at midnight where share taxis waited to transport people to different parts of the city. An amazing experience and well worth a day of anyone's life. A real insight into a non touristic part of the country.

Traveller Wendy Ball used the Dakar-Bamako train in May 2008:

"I had a remarkable 45 hour journey on this train in May 2008. The spectacular views, and slow way of moving through vast plains of West Africa were not undermined by the inevitable discomfort of travelling on a very old, dirty train. This is not a journey for the faint hearted nor for those who appreciate creature comforts.  But it is a brilliant experience for those who are open to adventure. If travelling in May (or the hot season) be prepared for extreme heat.  Following the advice on the Seat61 website, I visited the main Dakar rail station to learn of the next departure to Bamako. The handwritten notice in the window highlighted it would be departing the next day.  I booked my seat (1st Class couchette) immediately, with no trouble or queuing. The ticket cost CFA51700. The following day, the taxi driver (eventually) managed to find the Gare de Hann. The station building is very small. Passengers waited around under a tree - it was here I met two other travellers who also held non-West African passports.  I bought a mattress being sold by vendors at the station (CFA2000). I was very glad I did!  On boarding the train, I found my cabin, fitted the mattress and covered it with the large cotton wrap/fabric which I carried everywhere. I had arrived with plenty water, muesli bars, some French bread and a load of bananas. These supplies were useful - as I never did find a restaurant car.  There was a small informal bar selling soft drinks - supplies were cold, but ran out within 24hrs.  Most people bought food when the train stopped in towns. I had been warned of thieves operating during these stops so as I was travelling alone I decided not to leave the train during the stop. I did however buy fruit and ice from vendors outside the windows. To signal the end of a stop, the whistle would usually blow, and the train would simply start moving very slowly while people would run to catch it! The cabins had four bunks. The first night I shared mine with a mother and child, the second night I had a top bunk to myself.  Getting into the top bunk required tremendous agility as there was no ladder.  There were also very few lights that worked in carriage, so my torch came in handy.  It was easy (and good) to hang my mosquito net. For passport control, an inspector took our passports, and many hours later the three of us were instructed to go to a cabin in another coach to be interviewed.  This was fairly straightforward, except for the leap across the gap between coaches.  For the passport interview, I was glad one of my companions was a fluent French speaker - both his gender and command of language seemed an advantage.  I spent most of my waking time gazing for hours out of the windows (which didn't close) enjoying the breeze (when it wasn't too warm) and the expansive view.  We arrived in Bamako happy, exhausted and craving cold water!"

Travellers Bruno Lima and Bianca travelled on the Dakar-Bamako train in July 2007:

"The train left on Wednesday, July 11.  We walked up to the Dakar train station on Tuesday morning (July 10) and there was a hand-written note on the glass announcing the departure on Wednesday, July 11 at 13:00. It didn't seem like there was a set schedule at all.  We bought the tickets the day before at Dakar main station, and the station attendant told us it would depart from the Gare de Hann and the journey would take 36 hours. The train departed only 1 hour late, only to stop 500 meters later for about 3 hours. The total trip took 54 hours after numerous unexplained stops and break-downs.  The views were incredible, but the heat made the journey a bit uncomfortable when the sun was up high.  Only 2 of the 1st class cabins had lights, and a couple of the cabin doors were not working, so the doors were just propped against the frame.  Our cabin and berth numbers were written on the tickets, but once the trains pulls up at the station, the numbers don't mean anything as people just grabbed whatever berth they could.  So it's best to be early on the train to chose a cabin with a working door.  The "1st class" car and cabins are quite dirty, as is the rest of the train.  Vendors at the station sell cheap new mattresses for the couchettes, which are a good idea, since the foam padding and sheet provided seemed like they had never been washed.  Travellers should also buy drinking water in Dakar for the whole trip, as none was sold in the restaurant car.  Despite some of the discomfort brought by the heat, overall the trip was unforgettable, an incredible experience and a great way to see a bit of West Africa."

Traveller Hans Vulink reports on a trip on the Dakar-Bamako train in July 2004:

"We took the train from Dakar to Bamako on Saturday July 10th.  It was scheduled to leave at 13:00 but actually left at 16:00, and took 44 hours.  It stopped a lot but not but not because the train or the track was broken.  You can get the tickets the day before.  The ticket window opens at 9 in the morning - we were there at 10 and there was a very long queue.  The trick is let your wife get the tickets, as women have a separate queue which is much shorter.  It still took us 2 hours to get the tickets.  My wife bought tickets for 4 people so we ended up with only 4 people in one wagon-lits compartment.  The Africans invite a lot of friends in their compartments so it can get very crowded..! The train is old, dirty, there is no water in the toilets but the restaurant serves three decent meals a day and cold beer..!  And the atmosphere is great, the Africans were very nice.  And with the wagon-lits is comfortable, except when you have to close the windows because of the rain when the upper berths get very hot.  The border crossing was easy.  You give them your passport and some time later they call your name and you get it back.  After the border the locomotive is changed to a Mali one.  The price for the 1st class ticket was 34250 CFA and for the bed 17140 CFA."

Dakar-Bamako train.  Photo courtesy of Hans Vulink.   Dakar-Bamako train.  Photo courtesy of Hans Vulink.

Fares...

Children under 3 travel free, 3-9 pay half fare, 10 and over pay adult fares.

One-way fare:

1st class couchette

1st class seat

2nd class seat

Dakar to Bamako:

51,700 CFA (GBP58 / US$ 81)   

35,250 CFA (GBP36 / USD51)   

25,500 CFA (GBP27 / USD38) 

Dakar to Kayes:

33,000 CFA (GBP58 / US$ 55)   

?   

Bamako to Kayes:

  -

7,000 CFA (GBP7 / US$ 11)    

How to buy tickets

...when in Senegal / Mali

Book at the reservation office at Dakar or Bamako stations.  Tickets go on sale the day before departure.  You can also try to get tickets from touts on the day of departure, although a 50% premium may be charged!

If making a booking in Kaye, you might try finding a way onto the platform and going to see the Station Master.  It is reported that he may be able to issue tickets in his office, possibly saving you hours!

...from outside Senegal / Mali

For departures from Dakar, try e-mailing some local travel agencies.  Africa Connection tours (www.actours-senegal.com) was recommended by one 'seat61' correspondent as 'fantastic' for booking the Dakar-Bamako train over the internet.  However, reports in December 2006 suggest that none of these agencies will now arrange tickets for this train.  If you want to book in advance from outside Mali/Senegal, for departures from the Bamako end you could try e-mailing the Chemin de Fer du Mali at rcfm@cefib.com.  Further feedback on agencies prepared to book this train is always welcome!

Sponsored links...


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www.booking.com is my favourite booking site, as it's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least 1m or preferably 5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, and if you're not careful you can return home to find some huge bills waiting for you.  I've known people run up a 1,000 bill in data charges just by leaving their iPhone connected during a simple trip to Europe.  However, if you buy a global SIM card for your mobile phone from a company such as www.Go-Sim.com you can slash the cost by up to 85% and limit any damage to the amount you have pre-paid.  It cuts call costs in 175 countries worldwide, and you can receive incoming calls and texts for free in 75 countries.  It's pay-as-you-go, so no nasty bills when you get home.  It also works for laptop or PDA data access.  A Go-Sim account and any credit on it doesn't expire if it's not between trips, unlike some others, so a Go-Sim phone number becomes your 'global phone number' for life.

 


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