What is the terrain and geography like in Mali?
Mali stretches across three different climatic regions. To the south is tropical Sudanese savanna, wooded grasslands broken occasionally by cliffs and rock formations, watered by the Niger and Senegal Rivers and their tributaries. In the middle are the semi-arid steppe-lands of the Sahel. Dry, sandy plains dotted with sparse trees and bushes and a vast plateau broken by isolated rocky masses characterize this transitional zone between the savanna and the desert to the north. This middle area comprises the rock buttes of Hombori, as well as the Bandiagara escarpment, famous as the home of the Dogon people. The desert zone in the north covers the largest area of Mali and is a hot, barren plain whose terrain is contoured by sand dunes and rocky outcroppings with little vegetation other than occasional patches of thorn bush.
Mali has two large river systems, the Senegal and the Niger. The Senegal River crosses into Mali from Guinea in the south and follows a northwest course into Senegal. The Niger River flows through the heart of Mali and serves as its most important waterway. The river courses 2,600 miles, the third longest in Africa, and played a large role in European exploration of Africa. The Niger flows northeast to the edge of the Sahara at Timbuktu where it turns east and then south, passing the town of Gao before entering Niger. The Niger is navigable from Koulikoro to Gao by large riverboats from August to November and by smaller craft for most of the rest of the year. Just beyond the Mali-Niger border, rapids prevent the riverboats from going further downstream into Niger.