Zambia can be divided into five geographic regions:
- 1 Lusaka — the capital and largest city of the country
- 2 Chingola — in the industrial Copperbelt region
- 3 Chipata — provincial capital of Eastern Province, on the way to Malawi
- 4 Kabwe — large town midway between Lusaka and Ndola
- 5 Kasama — capital city of the Northern Province
- 6 Kitwe — mining city in the Copperbelt and Zambia's second largest
- 7 Livingstone — gateway to the Victoria Falls
- 8 Ndola — administrative capital of the Copperbelt
- 9 Mongu - biggest town in Zambezi Basin.
- See also: African National Parks
- 1 Blue Lagoon National Park — very accessible, with lechwe, zebra and buffalo
- 2 Kafue National Park — largest national park of the country
- 3 Lochinvar National Park — excellent for bird watching
- 4 Lower Zambezi National Park — used to be the president's private game reserve, now pristine wilderness without mass tourism
- 5 North Luangwa National Park — open for day trips and safaris
- 6 Nsumbu National Park — was very popular in the 1970s but has declined since
- 7 South Luangwa National Park — one of Africa's great safari destinations
- 8 Victoria Falls — one of the world's largest waterfalls
- 9 West Lunga National Park — the only one in Zambia covered by forest
|Currency||Zambian kwacha (ZMW)|
|Population||17 million (2017)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, BS 1363)|
|Emergencies||999, 911 (police), 112 (police, fire department), 991, +260-992 (emergency medical services), 993 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
The territory of Northern Rhodesia was administered by the South Africa Company from 1891 until it was taken over by the UK in 1923. During the 1920s and 1930s, advances in mining spurred development and immigration. The name was changed to Zambia upon independence in 1964. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, declining copper prices, one party democracy and a prolonged drought hurt the economy. Kenneth Kaunda, who led the fight for independence, instituted one party rule, which came to an end in 1991. Since then, Zambia has been a multi-party democracy.
Much of Zambia remains desperately poor, with GDP per capita on the order of US$600/year, and the bulk of Zambia's population lives on subsistence agriculture. The economy continues to revolve around copper, but after decades of mismanagement the industry is now doing better thanks to higher commodity prices and investments made after privatisation. The country's tourism sector has benefitted from the misfortunes of its neighbour Zimbabwe as tourists have flocked to the northern side of the Victoria Falls and Zambia's safaris.
As can be seen even from the bizarre squashed-peanut shape of the country, Zambia is one of the stranger legacies of colonialism, agglomerating a large number of different ethnic groups (73, according to the official count) and languages (20, plus dialects). Fortunately, with a long history of coexistence, significant migration around the country and similar Bantu-family languages, they all seem to get along pretty well and Zambia has been spared the violent interethnic strife that has decimated countries like Rwanda.
The Bemba are the largest ethnic group in Zambia, but they still form only about 20% of the population. The Bemba came from the Congo in the 16th century, and while their homelands are in the north and centre of the country, many have immigrated to Lusaka and the Copperbelt.
The Chewa, Ngoni and Nsenga tribes, all found in the east of the country, share the Nyanja language and form Zambia's second largest grouping with about 15%.
The Tonga, Ila and Lenje, known together as the Bantu Botatwe (Three Peoples), are a close runner-up with 15% of the population, concentrated in the west of the country in the Zambezi Valley and the plateaus to the north.
The Lozi in the far west (6%) are known for their craftwork, particularly basketry, and for a low-key (non-violent) secessionist movement calling for an independent Barotseland.
Other tribes in Zambia's patchwork include the Lala and Bisa (5%), the Kaonde (3%), the Mambwe and Lungu (3%), the Lunda (3%), the Lamba (2.5%) and the Luvale (2%), and 57 more. Despair not: the differences are not crucial for travelers, and locals will be happy to explain their traditions when needed, notably at festivals.
White Africans of English or Afrikaner descent(1.2%) are also visible, particularly in the more upscale areas of the major cities.
A highlight of any trip to Zambia is a visit to any of the many traditional festivals held throughout the country. Planning ahead can be tough though, as schedules are variable and not all are held yearly. Also, if you do manage to attend, bring along tolerance for heat, dust and crowds (increasingly drunk as the evening wears on) and patience for endless speeches by local functionaries like the Assistant Vice-Secretary for Fertilizer Co-operatives in Rutungu Sub-Province. On the plus side, any foreigners attending can usually sneak into the VIP stands, although you may get hassled for photo permits.
- Kazanga, Kaoma [Central Western Zambia] (June - August). The Kazanga ceremony is considered Zambia's oldest traditional ceremony having been celebrated by the Nkoya people for over 500 years. The ceremony celebrates and maintains Nkoya traditions of music, dance and many other ancient practices.
- Kuomboka, Lealui/Limulunga (Western Province, around Easter (March-April). The most famous of Zambia's festivals, this is the ceremonial migration of the Lozi king (litunga) from his dry season abode at Lealui to his wet season palace at Limulunga. Wearing an elaborate Victorian ambassador's costume, the litunga is taken by a flotilla of barges down the river, with musical accompaniment and, of course, much feasting at the destination.
- Ncwala, near Chipata, 24 February. A Ngoni festival to celebrate the first fruit of the season, where the Ngoni chief ceremonially tastes the fruit of the land, then spears a bull and drinks its blood.
- Kulamba, near Chipata, August. A Chewa thanksgiving festival known for its Nyau secret society dancers.
- Likumbi Lya Mize (August)
This is a popular August festival (The Day of Mize). This ceremony takes place at Mize, the official palace of Senior Chief Ndungu, about seven kilometres west of Zambezi Boma. People of the Luvale tribe gather to celebrate their cultural heritage, bringing displays of all types of handicrafts and spicing the event with traditional singing and dancing while the chief holds court. Mize is the official palace of Senior Chief Ndungu. The Makishi dancers recreate famous events from Luvale mythology, and local artists display their work.
- Livingstone Cultural & Arts Festival This was first held in 1994, this festival bring the traditional rulers from all the provinces of Zambia and visitors are also allowed with the knowledge of their culture in their tribe. This festival capture musicians, artist, poets, and dramatist.
- Shimunenga is a ceremony to show devotion to ancestors. The ceremony takes place on a full moon on weekends in September and October. The Ba-lla tribe celebrate this ceremony at Malla on the Kafue Flats.
- Umutomboko ceremony of the Lunda people in Luapula Province is held at Mwansabombwe to depict the coming to Zambia by the Lunda and Luba people from Kola in now Congo DR. The ceremony is held in July and is graced by Mwata Kazembe who performs a dance to commemorate the occasion.
If you look at a map, Zambia appears to be squarely in the tropics, but thanks to its landlocked and elevated position it does have distinct seasons that run as follows:
- Dry season — May to August. The coolest time of the year, with temperatures 24-28°C during the day, can drop as low as 7°C at night. Probably the best time of year to visit Zambia: come early in the dry season for birdwatching or to see Vic Falls at their biggest, or later when the bush has dried up for good game-spotting on safari.
- Hot season — September to November. Temperatures rocket up to a scorching 38-42°C and clouds of swirling dust make driving on dirt roads an asthmatic's nightmare. If you can take the heat, though, it's a good time for safaris as wildlife clusters around the few remaining watering holes.
- Wet season — December to April. Temperatures cool down to 32°C or so and, true to the name, there is a lot of rain — sometimes just an hour or two, sometimes for days on end. Unsealed roads become impassable muddy nightmares, and many safari lodges close.
Temperatures do fluctuate based on the altitude, if you are in a valley (such as the Zambezi) it will be warmer and if you are higher up (Kasama) it will be cooler.
- January 1 - New Year's Day
- March 12 - Youth Day
- Easter - moveable
- May 25 - African Freedom Day
- October 18 - National Prayer Day
- October 24 - Independence Day
- December 25 - Christmas
Zambian visa policy is best summarised as confusing: there is a bewildering thicket of rules on who needs visas, whether visas can be obtained on arrival, and how much they cost. Local border posts also apply their own interpretations. Due to recent political turbulence in Zimbabwe, Zambia has been cashing in on the unexpected boom in its tourism industry, with visa fees hiked and the previous visa waiver program canceled: you're now expected to pay in cash on arrival at the immigration kiosks.
The upside is that once customs has figured out what category you're in, actually obtaining the visa is rarely a problem and a rule of thumb is that most Western visitors can get visas on arrival. Visa-free entry is possible for some nationalities, including Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, Zimbabwe and South Africa. See the immigration department's web-site for the full list of visa-exempt nationalities. Current visa prices are US$50 for a single-entry and US$80 for a multiple-entry visa for all nationalities and is valid for 3 months; US passport holders can only apply for a multiple-entry visa, but it is then valid for 3 years.
- A day entry visa is available to all nationalities at US$20, valid 24 hours
- Transit visas carry the same cost as a single entry visa, valid 7 days
There is also the 30-day US$50 Univisa which is good for both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Univisa can only be obtained at Livingstone airport, Victoria falls land border, Kazangula Botswana border and Lusaka airport.
Do check with the nearest Zambian embassy for the latest information; the Zambian Embassy to the US has some information on their homepage, and getting the visa before arrival will reduce the uncertainty factor.
If you require a visa to enter Zambia, you might be able to apply for one at your embassy or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Zambian diplomatic post. For example, the British embassies in Al Khobar, Amman, Belgrade, Budapest, Guatemala City, Helsinki, Jakarta, Jeddah, Kiev, Prague, Pristina, Rabat, Riga, Riyadh, Rome, Sofia, Tallinn, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb accept Zambian visa applications (this list is not exhaustive). British diplomatic posts charge £50 to process a Zambian visa application and an extra £70 if the authorities in Zambia require the visa application to be referred to them. The authorities in Zambia can also decide to charge an additional fee if they correspond with you directly.
Lusaka Airport Customs and Immigration is unprepared to deal with tourists. There are four lanes, segmented by: Zambian passport holders; Residents; Tourists; and Diplomats. Tellingly, the lane for tourists is sometimes unstaffed. Although there are many immigration officers present, in the Tourist lane is often unstaffed. Be prepared for all other lanes to empty before being processed.
For those who would prefer to leave the hassle to someone else, specialist safari holiday companies can arrange immigration for you.
Every country has its quirks, and one of Zamibia's is that you are not to possess even small amounts of a very common (and very safe) medication for treating allergy attacks: diphenhydramine. This is the active ingredient in Benadryl brand antihistamine pills, but it's also added to some other over-the-counter medications. Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission has arrested unwary tourists who had no idea that this everyday drug was restricted here.
- Istanbul with Turkish Airlines .
- Addis Ababa and Harare with Ethiopia airlines
- Dubai with Emirates Airlines
- Nairobi and Harare with Kenya airways
- Johannesburg with South Africa airways
- Dar es Salaam with Air Tanzania
- Kigali with RwandAir
- Gaborone with Air Botswana
- Windhoek and Harare with Air Nambia
- Luanda with TAAG Angola airlines
- Lilongwe and Blantyre with Malawi airlines
Livingstone International Airport has direct flights to
- Johannesburg with South African Airways, and British Airways.
- Nairobi and Cape Town with Kenya airways.
- Addis Ababa with Ethiopia airlines.
Ndola International Airport has direct flights to
- Johannesburg with South African Airways
- Nairobi with Kenya airways
- Addis Ababa with Ethiopian airlines
TAZARA trains run between Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Tuesdays and fridays. According to the schedule, the trip takes 38 hours. a train ride between Dar es Salaam and Zambia is a beautiful way to see the countryside at a reasonable price (US$30 for a first class sleeper and $25 for second).
Several important things to note about this trip, however:
- Bring water.
- Immigration officials stamp passports as soon as the train crosses the border — probably in the middle of the night. Naturally, this is also when thieves work. If you are riding in a first- or second-class cabin, be very careful when opening your door.
- If you miss the immigration official, they will either: turn you around and send you back to the border; or, arrange for a stamp, pending payment of a "special tax."
- Immediately upon crossing the border, the crew no longer accepts the currency of the country you just exited. In other words, if you are traveling from Lusaka to Dar es Salaam, the moment you cross the border, your Kwacha is no longer legal tender; you must use Shillings. It is, therefore, a good idea to exchange money before the journey — blackmarketeers along the railroad offer poor exchange rates.
- Do not leave valuables near windows, especially at stops.
- Normally the trains have restaurant cars in the middle of the train and in the end or a train saloon car with a bar. However, some stages of the journey, the restaurant and bar may have run out of stock.
- Reservations are not always honoured; someone may be sleeping on your bed already if you came onboard in the middle of the journey.
- In first class cabins, women and men can stay in same compartment, but in 2nd class they are female and male only.
- Tazara (Tanzania Zambia railways) were built with Chinese help and labour in the 1970s. Wagons were brought from China, therefore they are of a high standard, however. maintenance has been lacking somewhat in the last couple of decades.
- The last stop in Zambia is in the middle of nowhere, a small town named Kapiri Mposhi. Plenty of minibuses are eager to carry you to Lusaka, it's about a 2-3 hour trip. The first town that deserves that name on the way to Lusaka from Kapiri is Kabwe (it is rated among 5 most polluted place on earth due to mining!)
The 2nd class sleeper train fare from Kapiri Mposhi to the Tanzanian Border at Tunduma is 135 Kwacha. The journey is 883 km (549 miles).
Via Zimbabwe/Victoria Falls: trains in Zimbabwe run from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. You can take a taxi or hike 13 km across the border at the Victoria Falls Bridge to Livingstone station in Zambia and catch a Zambia Railways train to Lusaka and the Copperbelt connecting with the Tazara railway in Kapiri Mposhi.
Vehicles drive on the left side of the road in Zambia.
There are many ways to get into Zambia by car, but the most popular include:
- through Livingstone (in the south) from Zimbabwe
- via the Chirundu Bridge (in the south) from Zimbabwe
- via the Kariba Dam (in the south) from Zimbabwe
- through Chipata (in the east) from Malawi
- through Chingola (in the Copperbelt) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- via the Katima Mulilo Bridge from Namibia
- via the Kazungula Ferry from Botswana
- through Tunduma and Nakonde from Tanzania
Crossing international borders by car will incur a tax, depending on the size of the vehicle. The process can also take awhile as you will have to pay at different booths or offices, often not conveniently located. For a standard sedan, you can expect to pay the following:
- Carbon tax at K50, payable in kwachas only
- Third Party Insurance at approximately US$46, payable in rands, US dollars, or kwachas
- You will also pay a toll fee of US$10, payable in dollars as there are no Toll Gates on the road in Zambia. You can get a $5 road pass if you are only going to certain locations with in the country e.g. Kazungula to Livingstone
- Kazungula Ferry charges based on vehicular size approximately $10, payable in Kwacha. There are black market traders on the ferries but their rates are bad.
Border crossings are not without corruption and you are particularly vulnerable when travelling by car. Try to avoid arriving early in the day to avoid having to choose between paying a bribe or spending the night in the car at the border post.
There are many international bus routes to Zambia. You can take a bus across the border from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Namibia. Immigration might be painstaking, considering the large number of people requiring simultaneous processing .
Zambia is landlocked but borders on Tanzania's Lake Tanganyika, and there are regular international ferry services across the lake a few times a week. The ship, M/S Liemba was built in Germany in 1914, cut in pieces, shipped to Tanzania, carried by train to Kigoma (Tanzania) and reassembled there again. It is a charming ship of Titanic era, sunk twice, with reasonable services. This trip should be taken if you are not short of time. Also, if you enter Zambia through Namibia's Caprivi Strip, you will have to cross the Zambezi River. You will have 2 options:
- You may ride on a ferry (for a dollar); or,
- You may hire a local boy with a dugout canoe to carry you across (for 50 cents).
Zambia is large and distances long, so budget plenty of time for getting around.
Domestic flights on Proflight connect Zambia's major cities and tourist destinations. While undoubtedly the fastest and most comfortable way of getting around, they are quite expensive with an hour-long flight (say, Lusaka-Mfuwe) typically costing around US$150 one-way. Also note that planes are small and schedules sparse, but if you can rustle up enough people you can also charter planes for not much more.
Minibuses — meaning vans outfitted with seats — are popular, but they are often irregular, dangerous, and uncomfortable. To maximise profits, a "conductor" will squeeze as many paying customers — and their luggage, or katundu (ka-TOON-doo) — into the bus as possible; whether or not the customers are comfortable is irrelevant. In terms of meeting locals, however, this method is among the best, and it can provide a traveler with a truly "authentic" experience. Payment is made during the journey — banknotes are passed down the bus to the conductor at the front, and change comes back via the same route.
Larger, more sophisticated "luxury coaches" exist, too. These tend to be more reliable and safer; they depart on-time; they have dedicated space for guests and luggage; and tickets may be purchased in advance. Luxury coaches are much more comfortable and are virtually guaranteed to arrive, but they might seem "generic" to a seasoned traveler.
Vehicles drive on the left side of the road in Zambia — at least most of the time.
Car rental agencies exist in Zambia, but the costs are potentially great. Not only are rental rates high (US$100/day), but some of the main roads in Zambia are in very poor condition. Potholes often take up the entire road, and during the rainy season, large sections of the roads wash away. As you move away from city centres (possibly only a kilometre or so away) you will encounter dirt roads. Although they might look solid, the dirt is often loose, and the chances of an accident are huge if you do not keep to a reasonable speed. Although you are not likely to get lost driving in Zambia (there are only a few roads), you are likely to underestimate the destructive power of these roads and damage a rental vehicle, or worse, yourself! 4WD vehicles are recommended at any time and necessary on dirt roads in the rainy season, although some roads will become completely impassable then.
Remember: there are no Roadside Assistance Packages, and very few ambulances, tow-trucks, or emergency vehicles of any kind in Zambia. Given the circumstances, bush mechanics can do an amazingly good job of patching up your vehicle, but patching up humans isn't so easy!
A nice 4x4 route in Zambia
For adventurous campers, the South Luangwa tour: Lusaka-Petauke-Malama-Mfuwe-Nsefu-Chipata-Lilongwe or Mpika. Very adventurous en scenic routes and campsites. Recommendable and for sure unforgettable.
Zambia is a big country (as big as France) and the public roads are pretty fair for a normal car. Sometimes there are deep potholes (holes in the road), but they are avoidable if you do not drive too fast. Most Zambians drive in a controlled way, sometimes a little too fast. Be especially aware for buses and trucks. They are wide and very long and drive far too fast. If you see a truck or bus approaching, then drive slower and keep left as left as you can. They tend to use your half of the road, pushing you off the road. If you want to see more of Zambia, you will need a good 4x4 four wheel drive car. Especially from December until early April at times rain falls and the roads are wet and muddy.
Zambia is a wonderful country, lovely people, full of stunning nature and wildlife. The most well known parks in Zambia are Kafue (West of Lusaka) and South Luangwa (East of Lusaka). South Luangwa is known and acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful wildlife parks in all Africa. Most national parks in Zambia, like South Luangwa National Parl (SLNP), can be visited with your private car. However, to enjoy this to the full, you will need a 4x4 car.
The South Luangwa National Park is surrounded by the so-called GMA’s (Game Management Areas). You will find only limited habitation and you will be able to see an abundance of wildlife, like, lions, leopards, elephants, girafs, etc. A recommendable tour is from Petauke to Malama, on to Mfuwe and to the Nsefu sector (or the other way around). This route can only be done with a well equipped 4x4 car. You will see and enjouy to the full, the true rural Africa, the local people and their villages and wildlife. From Lusaka you take the road to Chipata (Great Eastern Road) and from that road (well before Chipata) take the junction to Petauke. Once you drove through Petauke you will go off the tarred road on a very fair gravel road. After 60km on this road, you turn left followed by a 120 km local rural road to Malama Chiefdom and Mfuwe. The road is really not too bad. On the way you will have to go over some steep hills, but you will manage. When you go under the electricity network cables (ZESCO Main Power Lines), you enter the Malama Chiefdom and will be 15 km away from the junction. This junction will lead (via the Malama Chief’s Palace) you either to the Lusangazi Gate of the National Park (left) or onwards direction Mfuwe (right). The junction is at a little village. If you are able and willing to do so: The people here and in the villages around the Chief’s Palace, are very friendly and helpful. Leave something for them. It will be highly appreciated because the local people are poor.
If you head for Mfuwe, you will find a campsite after 9 km along the Luangwa River, called Malama Umoyo Camp. It is near (1.5 km after) the scouts training centre. This (basic) campsite is located at a stunning location overlooking the Luangwa River and a dry lagoon, most of the time filled with wildlife. Your hosts here are Menno en Virginie. From here it is also possible to make a daytrip to the National Park.
From Malama Umoyo Camp it is 42 km (2.5 hours drive) to Mfuwe. Mfuwe is a local but bigger than normal village. In the Mfuwe area you will find a lot of lodges, but also a good campsite. Recommendable is Croc Valley Camp. If you arrive from Malama and hit the tarred road, you turn left after 3km and after a few hundred metres right off the tarred road on to a gravelled road. Signposts will lead you further to Croc Valley Camp. Your hosts at Croc Valley Camp are Shaun and Milly. From here it is only a 5 minute drive to the main gate of the South Luangwa National Park (SLNP). Entree fee for the SLNP is US$25 per person per 24 hours and US$35 for a private car entering the park. At 06:00 the park is open and for private cars it is open until 18:00 hours.
From Mfuwe/Croc Valley Camp you can proceed to the Nsefu sector. Do not forget to fill your fuel tank in Mfuwe. You follow the tarred road to Chipata and the local airport and after about 12 km from Mfuwe (the cropping it is called) you turn left (you will see a signpost and two palm trees). After about 12 km you will reach the gate of the National Park. If you are going to camp, then tell at the gate that you are on your way to Zikomo camp. Zikomo Camp is just outside the borders of the park. Right after the gate you turn left and follow the road (about 4 to 5 km) to Zikomo Camp. Your host at the camp is Demian Wallace. The Nsefu sector is part of the SNLP and considered by many as the most beautiful part of the park.
After visiting Mfuwe, you can then return to Chipata (about 2 hours drive). Chipata is the capital of the Eastern Province and a good place to buy supplies and refuel. There are two supermarkets and lots of shops. Opposite Total fuel station you can find Afroc. Here you can refill camping gaz. From Chipata it is a 20 minutes drive to the Malawi border.
Crossing the border will take about half an hour. When entering Malawi, you have to fill in a TIP form for your car and pay 5,000 Malawi kwacha. This will allow your car in Malwai for 30 days. Do not forget to insure your car for Malawi, because they check on it frequently. Just after the border there is an insurance company. Try to get Malawi kwachas before you enter the border post because they only accept Malawi kwachas and not US dollars or any other currency. At the border there are many money changers. Tip: take one US$100 note in your hand, put away your wallet, and change this for 100 x 180 Malawi kwacha. Be careful. These guys are quick and often give you less than they say. So you get 18,000 kwachas for US$100. You should a least get a 15% better rate than the official bank rate.
If you passed the border it will be another 125 km over a good tarred road to Lilongwe. Watch your speed, especially where it says you have to drive 50km.
From Mfuwe there is the possibility to go right through the park to the North. This is a really adventurous road. Do not drive this road when it is wet/raining! When you passed the northern gate, you will reach the escarpment and you have to drive up a very steep road. It can be done by good 4x4 drivers, but do it slowly. Once out of the Luangwa valley you will have a stunning view over the valley. You then can proceed to Mpika. In Mpika you can camp and get new supplies and fuel. From Mpika you can visit Kasanka NP (in November you will be able to see the daily migrations of millions of bats) or you can go up north. Recommended is to visit Shiwa Ngandu. A beautiful mansion built by an eccentric British gentleman (Stewart Gore Brown) a 100 years ago in the middle of nowhere. Camping you can near the hot water springs. The water is lovely and relaxing for at least a half hour dip. Mark Harvey and his wife are your hosts here. From here you can proceed for example to Tanzania (to Ruaha NP, also a place not to miss).
When visiting Mfuwe, if you prefer a lodge for a good sleep, dinner and a warm shower: Thornicroft Lodge en Croc Valley are both recommendable (good value for money).
You can catch TAZARA trains between Kapiri Mposhi and Nakonde at the Tanzanian border. The Zambezi train, operated by Zambia Railways runs between Livingstone and Kitwe via the capital Lusaka and Kapiri Mposhi every Wednesday. All trains are relatively reliable and safe, but slow. You might still consider them for the views and sense of adventure they provide, though.
Hitchhiking in Zambia is popular, although it can be extremely hit-or-miss as traffic density is low. Also note that, if picked up by a local, you will be expected to pay for the ride. Nevertheless, hitchhiking does not carry with it the same stigma in Zambia as it does in the United States; you are unlikely to be harmed, and you might make a great connection.
In Zambia, travelers do not "thumb" a ride. The proper method for flagging transportation is:
- Pile your luggage near the road.
- Sit in the shade.
- When you see/hear a vehicle, jump up.
- Rush to your luggage.
- From your shoulder, wave your entire arm up and down, palm open and facing the ground, as though you are fanning someone in front of you.
- Hope the vehicle stops.
In the south the use of private taxis or cabs is easy enough. Cabs are a distinctive light blue, though not all have a taxi sign on top. Most drivers will negotiate a rate and are quite happy to drive between cities and often cross in Zimbabwe from Livingstone.
Thanks to its former colonial status, English is Zambia's official language and the language most often spoken in schools, on the radio, in government offices, etc. However, there are over 70 different Bantu languages spoken throughout the country, the most important of which are:
- Bemba, spoken in Lusaka (a little), the Copperbelt and the north;
- Nyanja (Chewa), spoken in the east as well as in Lusaka where it is the main language;
- Tonga, spoken in the south and Livingstone;
- Lozi, which predominates in Western province; and
- Lunda and Kaonde, which are spoken in Northwestern Province.
Many urban Zambians will speak at least passable English. As you move into the rural areas, though, expect communication to become more difficult. Nevertheless, do not be surprised to find a rural Zambian who speaks flawless English.
The most important thing to remember when speaking to Zambians is to greet them. When you first approach a Zambian, always begin by asking, "How are you?" even if you do not care. They will consider you very respectful. Sport, especially football (soccer) is a very good conversation topic with men; church is a good topic with either gender.
Wherever you happen to be in Zambia, it is a good idea to learn the local way of exchanging greetings, asking for something politely, and thanking someone. These simple phrases will help make life easier.
Afrikaans usage is on a slow but steady rise, mainly because of immigration from South Africa and the ease of learning the language.
With national parks all over the country, it's never hard to find a piece of postcard-perfect Africa in Zambia. The country offers excellent safari opportunities, and parks range from popular tourist destinations to seemingly unexplored wilderness. There's an amazing array of wildlife to spot, and elephants, giraffes, huge herds of grazers, lions and hundreds of kinds of birds are only the tip of the iceberg when talking about Zambia's fauna. South Luangwa National Park is surely the most famous one, and a travellers' favourite because of its dense and greatly varied population of wild animals. North Luangwa National Park is far less crowded and known mainly for the massive herds of buffalo and the large lion prides that roam its area. Even more off the beaten track - to the extent that even dirt roads are very limited - is Lower Zambezi National Park. The fact that it was the private hunting ground for the president ensured that development remained limited and the real, untouched African wilderness is all around. If you're around in October, head to Kasanka National Park to witness the enormous bat migration, with an estimated 8 million of the little creatures flying in the air above you. If you're fit enough, go canoeing down the Zambezi river as far as the gorgeous Mpata Gorge.
Apart from its great wildlife and African landscapes, the Victoria Falls, marking the border with Zimbabwe, are one of Zambia's major draws. No visit to the country is complete without a stop at one of the most stunning waterfalls in the world. An extra fascinating experience is a November dip in the Devil's Pool, a naturally formed basin, allowing for a few weeks of fairly safe swims right on the edge of the dramatically high drop.
For a more cultural experience, make sure to be part of one of the country's many colourful festivals and witness traditional ceremonies like the springtime Ku'omboka of the Lozi people. Visit the Shiwa Ng'andu estate near Mpika for a remarkable insight of Zambia's colonial past. Or, for a more urban vibe of modern Africa, spend a day strolling the colourful outdoor markets of bustling Lusaka.
Exchange rates for Zambian Kwacha
As of January 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency of Zambia is the kwacha — meaning "sunrise," so-named to celebrate Zambia's independence — denoted by the symbol ZK (ISO code: ZMW).
The currency was re-based (dropping the last three zeros) between January 2013 and June 2013, but you can occasionally receive change in both the new re-based currency and the old currency. ATMs and banks will only issue the new currency (there are helpful posters everywhere with the new and old notes).
U.S. dollars are still commonly used for larger purchases (although it's illegal) and will be accepted by anybody dealing with tourists. It is not unusual to see all printed prices at a hotel restaurant in local currency, and then receive a bill in U.S. dollars. If you bring U.S. dollars, in Zambia only the "big heads" (new notes) are accepted in banks and bureaux de change, small heads are not accepted (if you are lucky you can change them in Livingstone). US$50 and US$100 notes are the best to bring, for smaller nominations you will get a poorer rate at the bureaux (5-10% less).
Changing euros is difficult, especially up country: bureaux are giving a very poor rate (25% less than the market rate!) International banks will accept, but with commission charge. Finance Bank, Arcades Shopping Centre Lusaka is known to accept euros at a good rate and without commission charge. Bureaux and banks will only change a maximum of US$1000 (or equivalent) per person per day. Watch the rates as they can change overnight, fluctuations of 3-5% per day are common.
South African rand are exchanged relatively easily in major centres. Other second tier currencies like the Australian dollar are not worth bothering with. Expect blank looks from the locals, and a mocking laugh from those in the tourist trade.
If you want to sound like a local, refer to 1000 kwacha as a pin, so for example 10,000 kwacha is "ten pin". In the 1990s, the kwacha devalued so rapidly that the government didn't have time to produce new, larger bank notes. To pay for things, Zambians often had to bundle — or "pin" together — large numbers of small bills.
ATMs may be found in all major towns/cities. Most of the ATMs accept Visa and Master cards. Other international credit cards (like American Express) can also be used at some ATMs. Maestro is definitely a problem in Zambia and very few ATMs accept Maestro. many shops and restaurants accept debit or credit cards, as do practically all high-end hotels and safari lodges, but surcharges of 5-10% are common. ATMs only dispense local currency. the three big banks' ATMs which take Mastercard/Visa Card are Stanbic Bank, Eco Bank, Standard Chartered Bank. Traveler's cheques are impossible to process in Zambia.
Most shopkeepers advertise fixed prices and are unwilling to negotiate, but this is not a given. On the other hand, most "freelance" salesmen — vendors selling curios; taxi drivers; etc. — who do not post their prices are usually willing to negotiate. As a (very) general rule of thumb, assume the first price they mention is at least double the amount they will accept. You should not be afraid to bargain — after all, Zambians bargain among themselves — but try not to get carried away with saving a few pennies.
Tipping is not required — indeed, it was at one point illegal — but often expected. Porters expect US$0.50 or so per bag, and better restaurants typically add in a 10% service charge or expect an equivalent tip.
Finally, keep in mind the Zambian custom of mbasela (em-buh-SAY-la) — giving a freebie when more than one item is purchased. If you buy a few small items, do not be shy about asking for your mbasela.
Zambia has about the same costs compared to its neighbours. A bare-bones budget traveler will be looking at a minimum of US$20 a day just for a Dorm bed in a Backpackers hostel and three meals and transport. At the other end of the spectrum, all-inclusive safari lodges or Lusaka/Livingstone's five-star hotels will take care of all your needs but charge US$200/day and up for the privilege. Finding a middle ground between these two extremes can be difficult but there are safari operators who will offer 'DIY' camping for around US$5 to $95 and above - it pays to look around (see below).
Zambian safaris are amongst the best available in Africa; they offer top-quality viewing experiences with the continent's top guides. Zambia's national parks are not 'commercialised' as in other countries (e.g. Kenya and South Africa) and one will not see the ridiculous zebra striped game viewing buses, Land Cruisers, etc.
Traditional Zambian food revolves around one staple, maize, served in one form, nsima (n'SHEE-ma). Nsima is basically a type of thick porridge, rolled into balls with your right hand and dipped into a variety of stews known as relishes (ndiwo, umunani). Those who can afford them eat relishes of beef, chicken or fish, but the many who can't make do with beans, tiny dried fish (kapenta), peanuts, pumpkin leaves (chibwabwa) and other vegetables such as okra (ndelele), cabbage and rape. At breakfast, nsima can be served watered down into a soup, maybe with a little sugar. Local restaurants will serve nsima and relish for less than 5 kwacha.
Western food has also made major inroads, particularly in major cities, and in Lusaka or Livingstone you can find almost any food you like. Fast food — including chips and burgers, pizza, and fried chicken — is very popular in Zambia. Bakeries making cheap fresh bread are a common sight in towns, and rice from Chama provides an alternative staple if all the maize starts to get to you.
For sit-down meals, ethnic eateries are popular. In Lusaka, especially noteworthy is the Sunday brunch at The Intercontinental; and if you like Indian food, be sure to hit The Dil. Of course, game parks often cater to wealthy — usually foreign — visitors; therefore, high-quality Western meals can be found easily. Along the major roadways, you will find "tuck shops" featuring packaged cookies or take-away meals — meat pies or sausage rolls, for instance — which may or may not satisfy you.
Finally, in terms of hygiene outside the major cities, you are unlikely to find a proper washroom with running water. You will probably be given a bowl of water, a piece of soap, and a (damp) towel. Therefore, some travelers bring small bottles of anti-bacterial hand soap with them.
Tap water in Zambia is generally not drinkable, at least unless boiled. Bottled water is widely available in cities, but not necessarily in rural areas. It is advisable to carry chlorine pills to purify water, in case of emergency.
A traditional local drink worth trying is maheu, a somewhat gritty and vaguely yogurty but refreshing beverage made from maize meal. Factory-produced maheu is sweet, comes in plastic bottles and is available in a variety of flavors including banana, chocolate and orange, while homemade versions are usually unflavored and less sweet.
Coke products are accessible and cheap at less than a quarter a bottle, but beware of the deposit system: in rural areas, you may have to return an empty bottle before they'll sell you a new one!
Zambia's best-known brew is Mosi, a clear 4% lager available everywhere. Eagle has more taste and more kick at 5.5%, while Zambezi Lager is a microbrew worth sampling if you run into it. The South African brand Castle is also bottled locally, and all of the above run around $1 in a store or $1-2 in a bar.
If you are near the borders, you are likely to find Carlsberg (good, from Malawi), Simba (excellent, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Kilimanjaro (nice lager, from Tanzania), and Tusker (strong, from Kenya). Other imports can be found in larger markets but will also cost more.
The locals' drink of choice is masese (muh-SE-say) or ucwala (uch-WALA), also known as Chibuku after the biggest brand, made from maize, millet, or cassava and resembling sour porridge in texture and taste. If you want to try this, it's best to look out for the factory-made kind in milk-carton-like containers.
In rural areas, there are opportunities to drink local "homebrews." A wide variety of homebrews exist in Zambia, from beers made from honey (in the Southern province of the country), to wine made from tea leaves (in the Eastern portion of the country).
Finally, there is kachasu (cuh-CHA-suh), a spirit distilled from anything Zambians can get their hands on — including battery acid and fertiliser. For obvious reasons, therefore, it is better to avoid this moonshine.
On a final note, most men at bars are relaxing, while many women at bars are working. Therefore, if you are a single woman in a Zambian bar, be aware that you might be approached and offered the opportunity to do something you did not intend to do.
Accommodation in Zambia runs the gamut. In Zambia, you can sleep in a top-notch hotel for a few hundred dollars per night (such as The Intercontinental); or you can stay in an independent hotel (like The Ndeke), for about $50; or you can opt for a budget experience, and spend about: $5 to $8 (camping) or $10/15 (dorm bed) or $30 (double room) at a one of about 12 backpackers hostels around Zambia. These are only a few of the options. There are now many Budget Lodges in many towns from K 70 a night. You need to ask around when you get to a town.
Outside the big cities or tourist areas, however, you might be hard-pressed to find quality accommodation. If your tastes run to the elegant — or even if you demand constant electricity — you might want to reconsider venturing too deep into the bush. However, if you seek an enjoyable, memorable, and authentic night at a local hotel, you might be pleasantly surprised.
The University of Zambia is the official university. However, it is not affordable for most Zambians. There are also technical schools throughout Zambia, and teachers' training colleges are found in each provincial capital, providing two year's coursework for about US$300.
Northrise University is in Ndola. As a private university, it focuses on business, information technology and theological study.
For tourists, the biggest educational experiences would likely be:
- Visit a game park and learn as much as possible about the area's animals from the guides. Guides can be an incredible source of information. Remember to tip them.
- Arrange for an overnight stay in a "Traditional African Village". Of course, because the locals have prepared for you, it is no longer 100% authentic, but you will get an idea of the hardships Zambians face.
Unemployment in Zambia was 8% in 2018, a considerable improvement compared to the decades before 2011. The agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries employ over 70% of Zambian workers. The legal minimum wage for non-unionised workers equates to around US$90 per month – one of the lowest minimum wages in the world. Most minimum wage earners supplement this through subsistence farming. In practice, almost all unionised workers received salaries considerably higher than the non-unionised minimum wage.
As for tourists, temporary work is likely to be difficult to secure. Although there is a substantial expat community in Zambia, most of these individuals are contracted by international agencies; by and large, they did not come to Zambia and then find work. Persistence and connections might pay off, but outside of the few hostels or Western-oriented bars, a tourist should not expect to find ready employment.
Women should avoid going to bars alone. Furthermore, men should avoid purchasing drinks for Zambian women they meet casually in bars; this is an invitation to spend the night.
There is a 10PM curfew throughout most of the country. Avoid being found on the street after 10PM or risk being arrested.
As the Kwacha has been declining, it often takes fistfuls of cash to purchase items. Be careful about flashing money.
While it's possible to get a good exchange rate from an individual money-changer on the street (although you really should use banks if you can), you should avoid changing money with groups of men. They are likely running a scam.
Generally, Zambians are friendly people. However — as with any location — be careful about walking at night, especially if you've been drinking. There are few streetlights, and many of the locals are very poor.
Carjacking is also a potential risk while driving after dark.
Many places of accommodation have electric fences, gates and guards for added security. You can check before booking.
Corruption is endemic in Zambia. Don't expect the police to be of any substantial assistance to you. If you need to log a report for insurance purposes, you can expect to have to pay to do so. If you make an accusation or indicate a suspicion against a local, the person you lodge the complaint against may be interrogated and beaten by the police.
Drinking tap water in the cities is potentially risky, unless either (a) you have a strong stomach, or (b) you are at a restaurant or hotel that caters to foreigners. If neither of these conditions apply to you, you should probably stick with the bottled stuff, boiled water or chlorine tablets. Check bottles of water to make sure that they are sealed, as some local "bottled" water could be simply tap water poured into a used bottle.
The HIV infection rate among older teenagers and adults was estimated to be 11.6% in 2017 – and even higher among younger women. Do not have unprotected sex.
Zambia is a highly malarial country. Especially at dusk, you should make every effort to cover exposed skin with clothing or insect repellent. In addition, using malarial prophylaxis is highly recommended.
In practice, yellow fever is not a problem in Zambia anymore, except perhaps in the extreme west along the Congolese borders. However, many countries will insist on a yellow fever vaccination certificate if they find out you've been to Zambia, so it's best to get a jab at least 10 to 14 days before arriving.
Typhoid and Hepatitis B vaccines are advised for all travelers entering Zambia.
Zambians follow a strict patriarchal society — men are afforded more respect than women, and older men are respected more than younger men. However, you might find that a white person, of any gender or age, is granted the most respect of all. A holdover from colonial times, this might make a traveler uncomfortable, but this is largely a Zambian's way of being courteous. Accept their hospitality.
Zambians are a curious people. To a Western mindset, this might be interpreted as unnecessarily staring at you or talking about you in front of you. Be prepared to be greeted by kids yelling mzungu, mzungu! (literally, white man) and answer lots of questions about yourself.
Zambians love to shake hands, and you should oblige them. However, Zambians often like to hold hands for the duration of a conversation. This should not be interpreted as anything sexual; they are merely trying to "connect" with you. If you feel uncomfortable, simply pull your hand away. If you wish to be courteous or show respect then holding your right wrist or elbow with your left hand as you shake is acceptable. Do not expect a firm handshake as this is considered aggressive, likewise do not be too firm in yours.
Eye contact is also considered aggressive and disrespectful, you can make eye contact but do not hold it, slide your eyes away, but do not face away.
Women should not wear shorts or mini-skirts, especially as they travel away from Lusaka. (Thighs, to Zambian men, are huge turn-ons.) Low-cut tops, however, while discouraged, are not nearly as provocative.
Pointing with the index finger should not be done, it is considered vulgar.
Finally, when meeting a Zambian — even to ask a question — you should always say hello and ask how they are. Properly greeting a Zambian is very important. They are uncomfortable with the Western notion of simply "getting to the point." Enquiries about children are generally welcome and are a good way to break the ice.
The Zambian mail service is slow and a little flaky (especially outside Lusaka), but not completely hopeless. Using a private courier service is still recommended if sending something important.
The country code for Zambia is "260." The city code for Lusaka is "211". For the city code for other towns, check the directory. However, phone service both within Zambia and into Zambia is very hit-or-miss. In large cities, you are more likely to get regular, dependable phone service, but it is by no means a guarantee. The farther you travel from Lusaka, the less likely you are to maintain a good connection. International calling rates can be as high as $3 per minute.
Zambia has a highly competitive market in mobile phones with three main operators: Airtel (0976,0977,0979), Cell Z (0955) and MTN (0966,0967). Generally speaking, Airtel has the largest network, while Cell Z is the cheapest. You can pick up a local SIM card for as little as 5,000K (US$1). Prepaid time is sold in "units" corresponding to dollars: figure on 0.4 units for an SMS or up to 1 unit/minute for calls, although as always the precise tariffs are bewilderingly complex. If you plan on roaming with your non-Zambian SIM, check first to see if your home operator has made any roaming agreements; Zambia is usually not on the top of their list. Also note that the roaming prices are very high and coverage in rural areas can be spotty.
Booths labeled "public telephone" these days consist, more often than not, of a guy renting out his cellphone. Typical rates are 5K/min for domestic and 15K/min for international calls.
Internet cafes are springing up in Zambia, but again, connections can be sporadic and very slow. Moreover, because constant electricity is not a guarantee, some Internet cafes operate backup generators, which can be extremely costly. Be prepared to see Internet cafe charges as high as 25 cents per minute. Most hotels and backpackers will offer internet connections to their guests for a fee, normally around 5K for 15 minutes.