A series of despatches by diplomats from British embassies and High Commissions around the world

On the hard-core backpackers' circuit, Mali is regarded as the jewel in West Africa's crown – and an exciting place to travel. The country has a rich history which has produced some dramatic cultural attractions, and the vast majority of people you meet here are ultra-friendly, generous and helpful. Mali bustles with a diverse and fascinating mix of cultures and people. As a result you will find intriguing ceremonies and festivities everywhere you go.

But there is currently a high threat from terrorism in Mali and the threat of kidnap is very real. There has been a spate of hostage-takings involving Westerners in the region recently and experience suggests that further kidnap attacks are likely. We currently advise against all travel to the provinces of Mali north of the River Niger from Mopti. If you are planning a trip to Mali, or happen to be passing through the country, keep a close eye on our travel advice.

As an alternative to the north of the country, the capital Bamako and Mali's second city Ségou are both worth exploring. Bamako is a vibrant city, rich in West African culture. You can learn about the West African and Niger River Valley traditions by touring the National Museum, and appreciate the Muslim roots and important cultural role in the history of Bamako by visiting the Bamako Grand Mosque.

Ségou, with its mix of French colonial and traditional architecture, is a charming place. For fans of West African music it hosts The Festival on the Niger every February. It features some of the best Malian musicians (Tinariwen, Habib Koité, Salif Keita and Baba Salah all played this year) and other festival activities include artisan expositions, films, story-telling, puppets, as well as more traditional music and dance.

Before you travel to this wonderful country, take out adequate travel insurance – and bear in mind if you venture to areas where we advise against travel, it is very unlikely your insurance policy will cover you if things go wrong.

Ify Agboola is the Consul at the British Embassy in Dakar. For travel advice on Mali, and for travel everywhere else on the planet, see fco.gov.uk/travel