Do you need a guide for Dogon Country?

No, you don’t. I mean, okay, if you’re my mom, then yes, but my mom is at that age where if she goes in to a different Costco than the one she’s used to, a guide could really help things out and avoid frantic mobile calls from her about how to turn on the mobile to make calls to ask how many extra kilos of olives I could use. It’s not that I want to tear on my mom in this article (well, maybe I do just a bit), but it’s more the fact that while in Mali, I saw all these women my mom’s age getting carted around by drivers and guides. I scoffed at first and eventually, once reaching Dogon Country, #1 Fan and I made the trip to a couple of villages without hiring one of these overpriced and annoying guides that buzz around you like a mosquito that just a suckled a tea-spresso.

But, there are a number of subtleties in all of this and I realized that instead of just tucking them away on this blog where my 15 2 readers might only see them, why not include them on Wikitravel where hopefully my experiences can be merged with others to create a more comprehensive chunk of info in The Guide to Guides section I created today. Just in case some less-than-stellar nitwit decides to delete the section altogether though, I’ve duplicated it here to preserve for posterity, which I think means, “my ass”:

The Guide to Guides
From the moment you step off the bus, open your car door, sit down in a restaurant, or have a stretch outside your hotel, you will most likely have someone offering to be your guide through Dogon Country. They can be quite insistent, annoying, and act to be offended if you yell at them to go away. Some travelers have mused that the sole purpose of hiring a guide is merely to chase off other would-be guides.

Do you actually need a guide? Numerous guidebooks will tell you that you do, while some allude to the fact that actually you don’t. The guides in Dogon will almost always tell you that you do and there are even some signs telling you that entry to the village is prohibited without a guide. The truth of the matter is that really, you aren’t required to have a guide. There are some caveats to this:

* Language – If you don’t speak French, you will indeed have to have a guide as there are very few people in the villages that speak that many extra languages, although English is gaining ground on French.

* Hassle – Traveling without a guide is indeed more difficult as you have to negotiate everything yourself and for those who don’t enjoy haggling or have the time to do this, a guide makes things easier.

* Respect – Guides are useful in stopping you from making a mistake or walking somewhere you shouldn’t in the villages, which can incur a fine for sacrificing an animal to purify the grounds you have defiled. Of course, you don’t need a guide from Bandiagara or Mopti to help you with this and hiring someone locally for 3,000 CFA upon arrival will work fine.

If you do decide to use a guide, how much should he (they are always men) cost? Again, guidebooks will generally quote the amount at around 10,000-15,000 CFA per person, per day, which gets quite costly quite fast and explains why so many people are trying to act as guides given that most people in Mali earn about 1,000 CFA a day. Most will ask for a great deal more than this amount initially and you will absolutely have to haggle him down. Due to the incredible amounts of money spent by various travelers to Dogon Country, some will even start out their prices at 50,000 CFA per person, per day.

The price you pay can include any variety of things, but it should absolutely include visiting 2-3 villages per day, the tax for those villages, and meals. It will not include drinks (which are quite expensive in Dogon Country) or transportation. If you can, insist on writing up a contract prior to leaving so that there is no changing of plans during the trip. Proper agencies, while more expensive should always print a contract as well as require the money upfront.

If you opt to hire a local guide upon arrival to the villages, they will generally charge about 3,000 CFA for everyone as well as the village tax (generally from 1,000-3,000 CFA.) For those wishing to save money, directly support those who choose to stay in their villages to carry on the traditions, as well as discourage the guide industry seen in larger towns, this is a good balance of options. For those wishing to have someone lead them on a hike (ex. from Dourou to Nombori), a local can be hired for 3,000 CFA to walk you down. Again, it directly supports the local people and works well for those willing to adventure a little.