Many of the best bargains in all of West Africa come from Mali, but navigating this country’s many teeming outdoor markets can be a challenge for shoppers who are unused to bartering with aggressive vendors. Bamako’s main market, Le Marché Rose, is the biggest and perhaps most intimidating in all of Mali. A sense of humor, strong negotiation skills and plenty of water are essential to ensuring a pleasant experience.

Bicycles, motorcycles, donkeys, and sheep weave through La Marché Rose’s endless stream of vendors, many of whom make their handicrafts directly in front of a slew of customers. Shoppers should refuse offers to buy ancient masks or jewels as most of them are actually brand new and none of them can be taken out of the country. Many vendors also ask for money when getting their picture taken.

La Marché Rose’s best bargains are musical recordings and instruments, blankets called bogolas, and an African cotton known as bazin riche. Leather goods and silver jewelry are the Touareg people’s most well known crafts. Ségou’s main market is the best place to buy Bambara pottery and Ségou blankets, while elaborate Fulani wedding blankets are the finest items at Mopti’s Marché des Souvenirs, among the country’s largest outside of Bamako. Every Monday, Djénné’s Grand Marché sells some of Mali’s most outstanding mud clothing by Pama Sinatoa, one of the town’s most renowned designers.

In 2001, an organization called Aja Mali created the Fere Kene art gallery to give Bamako’s youth a space to showcase their work as well as a venue for classes in arts, tourism and business. The La Paysanne women’s co-operative makes and sells both traditional mud cloth clothing and Western-wear here.

In addition to its seemingly endless supply of outdoor markets, Bamako also contains increasing numbers of Western-style supermarkets, the biggest of which stands two floors high in the heart of the city. Lebanese businessmen run most modern Mali grocery stores, whose food selection is similar to a North American convenience store. Staples include fresh dairy, produce and cold cuts, most of which are more expensive than in North America or Europe. Bamako’s main fruit and vegetable market is situated at the city’s south bank.