Visas are not required for citizens of Algeria, Andorra, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco and Tunisia. For all other countries, a visa must be obtained before arrival to enter Mali. An invitation is required copy of hotel reservations or company letter explaining purpose of trip to obtain the visa. For U.S. citizens, the fee is USD131 regardless of the length of stay up to 5 years. For other citizens, a visa costs: USD80 3 month, single entry, USD110 3 month, multiple entry, USD200 6mo, multiple entry, USD370 1 year, multiple entry.
It is possible to reach Mali by bus directly from a variety of African cities. These include, but are not limited to, Dakar, Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Niamey, & Accra.
There is public transport almost all the way from Europe to Mali be it buses or bush-taxis. The only exception is from Dakhla, Western Sahara, to Noudhibou, Mauritania where you can easily get a ride with a Mauritanian trader.
Air France flies daily non-stop from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Bamako and return. Royal Air Maroc RAM is a little cheaper than Air France and has daily flights from Europe and New York via Casablanca in Morocco. There are also smaller companies, such as Point Afrique, who fly cheaply to & from Mali in the busy tourist season. Both Air France and RAM unfortunately arrive and depart in the middle of the night - so even if you are planning a budget trip it may be worth splurging for a nice hotel the first night where you can make real reservations and maybe even get picked up at the airport.
Many African and pan-African airlines fly into Mali, for example: Air Mauritania, Tunisair, and numerous others. Some of these airlines also have feature connections to Mopti.
The airport is about twenty minutes drive from the centre of Bamako. There are fixed rates for taxis to different parts of town: to find them, cross the roadway in front of the airport and go the the right-hand end of the block of kiosks. You will see a group of taxi drivers and a board with prices. As at August 2007, the price was XOF7500 around USD15.
However, if you know the local language enough, you might be able to bargain the official price down to XOF4000 or even XOF3000, especially if you arrive during the day. Make sure you board an official taxi though see the "Stay Safe" section below. There is even well-hidden restaurant: follow the exit road past the barrier, and it is on the right, surrounded by trees, about 50m from the terminal building. They're very friendly and serve basic but filling and tasty snacks. For getting back to the airport from Bamako, try negotiating hard and you may get a rate significantly cheaper than the set rates for the airport to Bamako.
If you fly Royal Air Maroc, beware that Casablanca Airport is notorious for opening checked-in bags and removing valuables. Also luggage can arrive late.
As is common with many other airports, there will be people trying to push you into unauthorised taxis and to change money some are even allowed into the airport terminal itself, avoid them.
Mali has two large rivers that are navigatable at least part of the year, both of which cross into neighbouring countries, although only the Niger has much in the way of pirogues.
The Senegal River crosses into Mali from Guinea in the south and follows a northwest course into Senegal.
The Niger crosses into, appropriately enough, Niger. Large boats are only active August-November and do not continue far past the border, but small pirogues regularly ply between Gao and Niamey with many stops along the way.
From EuropeFrom Europe one has to cross the straits of Gibraltar, Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania. There are no longer any problems crossing Western Sahara along the coastal road. You will need to have your car and passport information ready to hand over at the various checkpoint however. There is now tarmaced roads all the way from Europe to Bamako and on to Gao apart from 3 km at the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania.
There are several ways to get to Mali by car.
The most popular routes are from Senegal especially since the Dakar-Bamako trains stopped and Burkina Faso. The road from Gao to Niamey has recently been paved and a bridge is being built in Gao so the entire journey from Niamey to Bamako can be completed on paved if not remote roads.
There are also decent land crossings from Mauritania recently paved & Guinea. The Ivoirian crossing leads into a region of northern Cote d'Ivoire controlled by rebels and, while fairly safe, will lead you through countless roadblocks and "officials" demanding bribes; if travelling to southern Cote d'Ivoire, you're better off travelling through Burkina Faso & Ghana.
There is a remote desert crossing with Algeria near Tessalit, but it is dangerous prone to banditry and used for smuggling and remote. It may be closed to tourists; even if not, the Algerian side is dangerous banditry and al Qaeda extremists! and requires a military escort.