Segou, the main city of the Bambara tribe, is near the remains of Mbella, the ancient Bambara capital. Segou is a nice place to stop and catch your breath after the dust and congestion of Bamako: It's a calm, tree-lined city with more than its share of friendly people. Monday is market day—a good day to people-watch and the best time to find the bright hand-woven fabrics for which Segou is famous.

A wonderful day trip can be made to Niono, locally known as the Venice of Mali because of the canals and aqueducts that run through town. Niono's mud mosque rivals the larger, more famous one in Djenne (and it's generally easier to get in). Niono is a stop on the overland route to Timbuktu, which branches north off the main highway at Segou, and has an interesting market nearby.

Other day trips can be made to Banankoro (tomb of Bambara king Da Monzon); Markala (large dance festival every May/June); and Sansanding (mosques and traditional shamans).

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