Zambia Travel Guide
Landlocked Zambia is best known as part owner of the mighty Victoria Falls and shares a border with far too many countries to mention. The product of a 30 year disastrous de-colonialism drive, the country is poorer than when it gained independence and although largely underdeveloped country, is blessed with a rich landscape and diverse fauna, which continue to be its main tourist attraction. Visitors are drawn to superb savannah national parks, the wild rivers and waterfalls, and the rare forms of wildlife that have settled in its forests. Local transport is limited and the road conditions are poor, but for the audacious traveler, that’s just part of the Zambian adventure.
When to Go
Zambia enjoys cooler weather than its neighbors because of the plateau’s elevation. There are three main seasons – a cool, dry winter from May to September, hot and dry from October to November, and a hot rainy season from December to April. Wear lightweight clothing throughout the year, with a topcoat for the winter and a light raincoat during the rainy season.
Getting There & Away
The main gateway is Lusaka Airport, which serves several international and regional flights. Smaller international airports are located in Livingstone and Mfuwe. Rail services are divided into local and international lines; the international line, TAZARA, connects mainly to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, while the local line runs from Lusaka to most major cities. Minibuses – small vans outfitted with seats – are the most popular, but not the most comfortable form of transport. Drivers will usually cram as many passengers and their luggage into the van as possible. Traditional buses, locally referred to as “luxury coaches,” are more comfortable and reliable. Road conditions are very poor, and it’s advisable to rent a rugged car for passing over the rough terrains. There are no road assistance or emergency vehicles in the country.
Health & Safety
As with the rest of Africa, there are major health risks for malaria, typhoid, and polio. Cholera is particularly predominant during the rainy season. Mains water is potentially contaminated, but milk is usually pasteurized and safe to drink. Hospitals in Lusaka have basic facilities, but medical supplies are insufficient in smaller towns. Bring your own first aid kit and medications if you plan to stay outside the major cities for more than a few days.
Terrorism threats are low, but carjackings and armed robberies are on the rise. Petty thefts are also common in downtown areas. In Lusaka, the high-risk areas include the Cairo Road, Freedom Way, Lumumba Road, and Chachacha. Land mines pose a major hazard around the border.
Food & Hospitality
Zambia’s signature dish is nsima, a thick maize porridge rolled into balls and dipped into meat or vegetable stews, or sometimes a sugar sauce. Most restaurants serve nsima and your choice of relish for less than $1. Western food such as pizza, chicken, and burgers are very popular. Bring a hand towel and soap when eating out, as most restaurants have poorly maintained washrooms and no running water.
Only the capital and major cities have tourist-friendly accommodation; minor towns offer only small lodges, youth hostels, and camping/caravanning sites. The best hotels are in Lusaka, Livingstone, and Copperbelt. Rooms are limited, especially in peak seasons, so it’s best to book in advance and obtain a written confirmation. Hotel fees usually include a 10 percent service charge, and tipping is considered illegal.
Three days in Lusaka
Two days at Victoria Falls
Three days at Livingstone
One day at Makwera Falls
Lusaka: the Zambian capital has a good selection of nightclubs, theaters, and restaurants, as well as more traditional attractions like museums, zoos, and botanical gardens.
Victoria Falls: the world’s largest waterfall can be found on the border with Zimbabwe, pouring into the mighty Zambezi over an incredible mile long, 100m hight precipice. Excellent views are available from Victoria Falls Bridge and the Knife Edge Bridge. A micro-light aircraft also provides a unique aerial view.
Livingstone: often called the tourist capital of Zambia, this modern city beside the falls, is home to some interesting museums. The Livingstone Museum offers anthropological exhibits about the town’s history, while the Railway museum has well-preserved photographs of the old transport system.
Makwera Falls and Lake: although not as grand as the Victoria Falls, this lake offers a peaceful hideaway and is great for picnics and long walks. A number of old mines can also be found nearby.
Bird watching: the Kashiba lake in Ndola has a diverse range of bird species.
Shopping: a large commercial center can be found at Ndola, where several shops sell local handicrafts, food, and colorful native linens.
Whitewater rafting: take a wild ride down the Zambezi river rapids, where the foam can rise to several times the volume of the river. For the less adventurous, calmer cruises lasting one to seven days can be taken from Victoria Falls to Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe.
Adventure sports: Livingstone is the center for adventure sports like bungee jumping and abseiling. Visitors can also high-wire across the gorge on a harness, easily one of the most extreme activities in the area.