Dogon Country (French: Pays Dogon) is the name used for a region of south-central Mali renowned for its secluded villages embedded on cliffs and for the region's distinct culture. Most visitors to Dogon country will start and in one of the couple of major towns connected by roads and trek to smaller villages.
Dogon Country's villages lie among the plains, and especially the cliffs along the Bandiagara Escarpment. For obvious reasons, it's rather difficult to reach the steep cliffside villages, where the Dogons have lived to protect themselves from potentially hostile neighbors, as well as wild animals. Today, the vast majority of the population lives in the plains below the escarpment in more recently constructed villages, but the old homes remain, and are taken care of and in excellent shape.
It's wholly possible to travel to Dogon Country without a guide, especially considering that you can hire a (French-speaking) guide at any of the villages for a negligible sum.
The local Dogon language is spoken by everyone, but due to its popularity with tourists French remains the lingua franca. English is spoken by only a handful of tour guides in the entire region and practically no one outside the handful of cosmopolitan (relatively speaking) base camps/towns. A working knowledge of French is essential unless travelling with one of the few guides who speak English.
There are almost no roads in the region, except those connecting a couple of towns used as base camps with the neighboring regions.
There are hundreds of unique towns scattered throughout the region and while all are unique and, while there is no "typical" Dogon village, most can be found built into the sides of hills and escarpments.
The main reason to take on the expense and time of going to Dogon Country is to hike the many small villages that exist there, perched either up on the plateau or down in the sandy lowland. Bandiagara, Bankass, Douentza are the three main town entry points in to Dogon and places where you can find a never ending supply of harassing guides as well as supplies for the trip, although they will cost a great deal more than in a town such as Mopti.
For those who will make the hike down in the villages, the most common starting point are the larger villages of: Kani-Kombolé, Djiguibombo, Endé, Dourou, and Sanga. Below are the villages that are most commonly visited.
====Begnimato====Housing is available. ====Dourou====On the top of the plateau and a trail head to villages such as Nombori. Also a good place to buy the indigo fabrics on market day, although haggling will be tough. Housing is available. ====Songo====Very accessible from the main road and has luscious paintings on a cliff where they perform traditional male circumcisions. Officially, women aren't allowed in the place, but foreign women are as long as they aren't of African descent. A local guide costs 3,000 CFA. Housing is available.
====Bamba====Housing is available. ====Kassa====Housing is available. ====Koundou====Housing is available. ====Sanga====Housing is available. ====Yendouma====Housing is available. ====Youga====Actually a series of three villages on a loop in the northern area that are best approach from Sanga or driving close to them via 4x4. Housing is available.
===Amani===No housing. ===Banani===Housing is available. ====Endé====Housing is available. ====Guimini====No housing. ===Ibi===No housing. ====Idjeli-na====An additional walk of about 4km round trip from Nombori and also a very picturesque village in the area. Recommended for those who make it early enough to Nombori to complete the trip in a day or who plan to stay overnight. No housing. ===Ireli===Housing is available. ====Kani-Kombolé====Housing is available. ====Komokani====No housing. ====Nombori====With a staggering approach through a gorge on the cliff above, Nombori is an excellent hike in for those looking to make just a day trip and see a typical village of the area that has old Telem homes in the rocks above the village. A local guide costs 3,000 CFA and is really necessary as it is quite easy to stumble in to an area that the people hold sacred. Approximately 10km round trip hike from Dourou and it is recommend to hire a local kid for 3,000 CFA to lead you down there as while the trail is good, it is easy to get lost at various points and the scramble down the cliff is arduous. Housing is available. ====Ourou====No housing. ====Teli====Housing is available. ====Tireli=====Housing is available. ====Yaba-Talu====Housing is available. ====Yawa====Housing is available. ===Yaye===No housing.
Sadly, many (but not all) of the villages have learned the value of tourism and while the culture remains strong and the villages remain spectacular, expect to pay for everything from entering each village to photographing anything inside villages to meeting certain people (i.e. chiefs). Most villages will sell arts and crafts to tourists.
Towns will generally sell small quantities of food to tourists, but there are no restaurants outside the couple of major base towns. You will likely be sharing a meal with a family. You should bring food with you to eat, although there is food to be had in the more recent small guest-houses, where they will feed you sauce (occasionally meat sauce) over rice, noodles, or couscous. It's simple, but quite tasty and cheap.
Water is a scarce commodity (do not expect to use water for bathing or hand washing) and you should bring some with you, especially to prevent dehydration while trekking between villages.
There is no alcohol to be found outside of the couple of base towns, where you'll find beer, coke, and bottled water for about 1000CFA (1.5 euros).
Dogons are very spiritual and visitors should be very keen to respect their beliefs. One should always ask if it is appropriate to photograph something. Altars may look like piles of dirt to the untrained eye and religious buildings may look like just a house, both of which (along with people, unless you ask permission) should not be photographed.
If trekking, you should be in good physical shape and carry and drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. Also, be careful of snakes in brush (although most are nocturnal).