You wouldn’t come here just to see Kayes (pronounced ‘Kai’), but as the principal settlement in the west of Mali, it can be a reasonable place to break up the long journey between Bamako and Dakar. Kayes is hot and dusty, and was the first place the French settled in Mali (several colonial buildings remain). There’s a thriving, chaotic market, and the town is largely hassle-free.
The Fort de Médine, about 15km upstream from Kayes, was part of a chain of defence posts built along the Senegal River in French colonial times. The crumbling buildings hold a real sense of history, and the old train station is particularly beautiful.