Travel By Numbers: Mali

A trip to the fabled city of Timbuktu really is possible, says Peter Harmer. And while you're at it, head into the Sahara for an overnight trek


The year in which Mali, along with Nigeria and 15 other African countries, achieved independence from colonial rule. The British Museum is organising a year of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary, starting with an exhibition called "Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa". The exhibition opens this Thursday and runs until 6 June, admission £8.


The year Ségou was founded by the Bozo people. The old colonial capital of Mali, the city lies along the shores of the Niger and still boasts faded buildings from its French colonial past. The L'Hôtel Djoliba is set back from the river and offers doubles from €35.


The length, in metres, of each side the square platform upon which the Great Mosque of Djenné is constructed. Djenné is a city on the River Bani celebrated for its mud brick (adobe) architecture. The mosque, built in 1907, is the largest mud building in the world. It joined Unesco's World Heritage list in 1988. Hotel Djenné is a 12-room hotel in the city offering air-conditioned doubles for 6,000 CFA francs (£35).


The estimated population of Mali's Dogon ethnic group, known for their masked dances, elegant wooden sculpture and striking mud and thatch villages. They mainly occupy the central plateau south of the River Niger in the Mopti region. Exodus runs a "Timbuktu and the Dogons" tour during which visitors use a local river boat, or pinasse, to get to individual villages. The 16-day tour including flights starts from £2,269.


The size in square kilometres of the Sahara, the planet's largest sand desert. Much of Mali lies in the south of the Sahara making it an excellent base from which to explore the vast expanses. The "Journey to the Heart of the Sahara and Mali" tour offered by Fulani Travel includes camping at night in the Sahara. Prices start at €2,195 per person excluding international flights.


The population of Bamako, Mali's capital and Africa's fastest-growing city. It also contains the tallest building in West Africa (the 20-storey BCEAO building). Air France flies daily from various UK cities to Bamako, with a change of planes at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.


The length of the River Niger in kilometres. An excellent way to explore the country is through a cruise up the river. The Mali discovery tour through Responsible Travel includes a seven-hour river trip as part of a 15-day itinerary. Rates start at £1,799 per person excluding flights.


The duration, in days, of the "Road to Timbuktu" tour run by Imaginative Traveller. The trip takes you from Bamako to Timbuktu and includes excursions to the Douentza Elephant Reserve and Djenné, before arriving in Timbuktu. Prices from £2,495, not including flights.