Mali

The landlocked West African nation was a pivotal hub for trans-Sahara trading routes that gave some of its cities like Timbuktu almost mythical status over the centuries. Africa's third-largest gold producer, Mali has had to fight an Islamist insurgency in recent years. But capital Bamako, on the banks of the Niger river, remains a popular cultural center, its famed markets and museums filled with locals and tourists alike.

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