For many years Zambia was the Cinderella of Africa, often overlooked by tourists, and forgotten by the rest of the world as disastrous politics in the 1970s and 1980s led to poverty and the virtual breakdown of the country. But by the 1990s the fortunes of Zambia changed, as a massive shift on the political scene lead to economic reforms and other improvements.
Zambia has changed massively for visitors too. For wildlife fans, the excellent national parks are teeming with birds and animals, and boast some of the finest safari camps and lodges in the whole of southern Africa. On top of this, the country shares (with Zimbabwe) Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River - two of the region's major tourist highlights. Apart from sightseeing, these places are also centres for a range of activities ranging from canoeing to white-water rafting and bungee jumping. Sure, for independent travellers Zambia is still a challenge - distances are long, and getting around takes persistence, particularly once you get off the main routes. But for many people, the challenge is the main attraction. Without a doubt, in Zambia you come pretty close to finding the 'real' Africa.
Area: 752,600 sq km (290,600 sq mi)
Population: 10 million
Capital city: Lusaka (pop 1.5 million)
People: African (98%): main ethnic groups are Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi and Tonga. Smaller groups include Ngoni, Lunda, Kaonde, Luvale and Asian (1%); European (1%)
Languages: English and over 70 indigenous languages
Religion: Christian (50-75%), indigenous beliefs (50 - 75%); many people follow both
President: Levy Mwanawasa
GDP: US$3.8 billion
GDP per head: US$400
Annual growth: 0.5%
Major industries: Copper mining and processing, construction, foodstuffs, beverages, chemicals, textiles, fertilizer
Major trading partners: Japan, South Africa, USA, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, UK, Zimbabwe
Facts for the Traveler
Visas: Most visitors need visas, which are good for three months, plus an International Health Certificate showing proof of a yellow fever vaccination within the past 10 years.
Health risks: Cholera, malaria, polio, typhoid, yellow fever
Time: GMT/UTC plus two hours
Electricity: 220/240V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
If you want to spot wildlife, August to October is the best time to visit, though it gets into the low 30s°C (high 80s°F) during the day by the end of that period, especially in low-lying areas - which includes the major national parks. If you want cooler weather and greener landscapes, visit during the cool, dry months of May to August. During the November to April rainy season most of the national parks are closed, and animals are harder to spot because of the lush vegetation, although the lodges that remain open offer very attractive rates. Getting around at this time is also harder as many rural roads become impassable rivers of mud. Zambia is an excellent place for bird-watchers; November to December is the best time, although conditions are good year-round.
Zambia's most important public holidays are New Year's Day (1 January), Youth Day (second Monday in March), Workers Day (1 May), Heroes' Day, Unity Day (first Monday and Tuesday in July), Farmer's Day (first Monday in August) and Independence Day (24 October). Zambia also celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity on African Freedom Day (25 May).
The Zambian people celebrate many traditional festivals, although for tourists these are sometimes hard to pin down, and dates and even locations can vary from year to year. Perhaps Zambia's best-known festival is the Kuomboka, held near the town of Mongu in Western Zambia towards the end of the rainy season in late March or early April. The Lozi chief and his family are paddled in massive war-canoes across the Zambezi floodplains from their palace at Lealui to Limulunga, where the royal residence is high enough to evade the rising waters. In late February, the N'Cwala festival is held at Mutenguleni, 15km (10mi) southwest of Chipata, during which the chief of the Ngoni people samples the year's first fresh produce and commemorates the Ngoni's entrance into Zambia in 1835. The event is marked by feasts, music and some of the best dancing in the country.
In early March, anglers set their poles for the Zambia National Fishing Competition held on Lake Tanganyika.
Money & Costs
Currency: Kwacha (K)
* Budget: US$1-5
* Mid-range: US$5-10
* Top-end: US$10 and upwards
* Budget: US$3-10
* Mid-range: US$20-75
* Top-end: US$100 and upwards
Zambia is a relatively inexpensive destination compared to most western countries, but for tourists it's slightly more expensive than other countries in East and Southern Africa. Travellers on a moderate budget should expect to spend around US$15-50 a day or more, depending on their taste for restaurant meals and safaris. If you do a lot of self-catering, take the train or bus and don't load up on artefacts, you can keep your costs below US$15 a day. Comfortable travel will cost about US$75 a day, though the use of luxury hotels and chartered planes will add significantly more to the cost.
You can exchange cash or travellers cheques at banks or foreign exchange (forex) bureaus in most large towns. Travellers cheques get much poorer rates. Bureaus generally give better rates than the banks, especially for cash, and have a faster service. Cash advances on a credit or debit card can be had in Lusaka, but don't expect to get cash for plastic in other towns. There's no black market worth bothering with, and most street moneychangers will rip you off.
Tipping is technically illegal, but of course still welcomed. You'll find a 10% service charge added to your bill in most restaurants. When shopping for crafts and souvenirs at curio stalls, or when buying some market goods, bargaining is common and expected. Bargaining is not common in shops.
Lusaka is a sprawling, swollen city that has grown too fast and has little appeal for travellers, though it is the capital and you're likely to spend some time in it. Lusaka didn't even exist before the 20th century, and until the 1930s it was just a small, sleepy agricultural centre. Although it became the capital in 1931, rapid growth didn't occur until the 1960s. Since then, most of Lusaka's middle class have headed for the suburbs, leaving a population consisting mainly of civil servants, diplomats and poor Zambians. Downtown is in the western part of the city; the government district lies a few blocks east.
The city is surprisingly rich in galleries featuring local artists. Among the best are the Henry Tayali Visual Arts Gallery at the Showgrounds a few kilometres east of the centre, the Mpala Gallery about halfway between the two, and the sculpture garden at the Garden House Hotel, a few kilometres west of the centre. Just north-west of the centre is the Zintu Community Museum, which exhibits traditional arts and crafts. The other major attraction in the capital is bustling open-air Kamwala Market, a few blocks south of the centre.
The capital is in the southern part of the country, about 100km (62mi) from the Zimbabwe border. It's accessible by air, rail and bus.
Livingstone dates from just after the turn of the century, springing up when the Zambezi Gorge was first bridged in 1904. Tourists were among the first to cross the bridge, and Livingstone remained the area's tourism hub for the next 70 years. The town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe eclipsed Livingstone in the 1970s, though Livingstone has been battling back ever since. Still, it's not the tourist trap its southern neighbor is.
Anyone who knows their narrow-gauge from their standard should drop into the Railway Museum - the short name for the Zambezi Sawmills Locomotive Sheds National Monument, which lies a few hundred metres west of Livingstone's train station. The rag-tag collection of old engines and rolling stock will warm a rail buff's heart, but to someone else it might look like a rusty pile of junk.
The National Museum has a slightly broader appeal, featuring a collection of archaeological and anthropological relics. One highlight is a copy of a Neanderthal skull estimated to be over 100,000 years old. There are also examples of ritual artefacts and Tonga crafts, an African village mock-up, a collection of David Livingstone items and a display of Africa maps dating back to 1690. If that all sounds too tame there's a creepy collection of witchcraft paraphernalia, but you have to ask to see it.
Livingstone is located about 300km (185mi) south-west of Lusaka, and is accessible from the capital by bus or train.
The Victoria Falls are one of the world's most spectacular plunges: the 2km (1.2mi) wide Zambezi River drops over 100m (330ft) into a steeply-walled gorge. The Zambian side of Victoria Falls is sometimes forgotten, but it provides an entirely separate experience to its better-known Zimbabwean counterpart. First off, the views are different: you can sidle right up to the falling water by walking down a steep track to the base of the falls and following spindly walkways perched over the abyss. One of the best spots for a close-up is at Knife Edge Point, reached by crossing a hair-raising (but safe) footbridge through swirling clouds of spray to a cliff-girt island in the river. If the water is low and the wind favourable, you'll be treated to a magnificent view of the falls and the yawning abyss below the Zambezi Bridge.
Adrenaline junkies will love Victoria Falls. Here you can indulge in white-water rafting, abseiling, river-boating, jet-boating, bungee jumping and a host of airborne activities. Stories exist of people who become so caught up with activities here that they don't get around to seeing one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world.
Souvenir hunters can raid the line of curio stalls near the falls, where there's an excellent selection of crafts and the sellers are keen to barter - that 'Just Goa' t-shirt might fetch you something really nifty. Nearby are an archaeological site and a small museum with exhibits on the dig showing that humans and their ancestors have inhabited this region for 2.5 million years. The falls are 11km (7mi) southwest of Livingstone, and the best way to reach them is by bus or hired car.
South Luangwa National Park
For scenery and wildlife-spotting, South Luangwa is the best national park in Zambia. Vegetation ranges from dense woodland to open grassy plains, and oxbow lagoons act as natural water holes. Mammals you're likely to see include lions, buffalos, zebras and Thornicroft's giraffes. The park is also home to one of Africa's largest elephant populations, and is particularly noted for its leopards and birdlife. In the Luangwa River you'll spot hippos and crocodiles. Day, night and walking safaris are available, as are horseback rides. Accommodation includes rustic camp sites, barebones hostels, comfortable chalets and full-service resorts. The park is located about 250km (155mi) northeast of Lusaka. Most people arrive by air at Mfuwe Airport, 20km (12mi) southeast of the village of Mfuwe and the park's main gate, although you can also arrive by public transport. The park is closed during the rainy season of December to April.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Kafue National Park
This vast park is Zambia's largest, home to grassland plains stretching for hundreds of kilometres, forests lining the banks of the Kafue River, and critters big and small everywhere you look. Kafue is prime safari territory, with the lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, antelopes, zebras and even ultra-rare yellow-backed duikers to prove it. One highlight is the Busanga Plains at the northern end of the park. This 750 sq km (290 sq mi) area floods from March to May, when it becomes a giant bathing ground for thousands of hippos and millions of birds. Another good bird-watching spot is Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, where herons, spoonbills and many other waterbirds roost.
There are a number of places to stay in the park, including camp sites, chalets and lodges. Most are along the Kafue River. The park is about 200km (125mi) west of Lusaka and is accessible by car, though the roads are generally horrible and most visitors who can afford it fly in by chartered plane.
Siavonga & Kariba Dam
Located at the northeastern end of Lake Kariba, Siavonga is the nearest most Zambians get to the seaside. The town is quiet and low-key; the dam offers great views of the lake on the southwestern side and the Zambezi River gorge on the other. There's fine fishing and boating on the lake. About 40km (25mi) north is the Chirundu Fossil Forest, with 150-million-year-old trees and Stone Age artefacts.
Siavonga is a great spot to take in the view, but don't go in the water - or even too close to the shore: the lake's positively crawling with crocodiles, and they make lunch out of 20 to 30 people every year. Siavonga is about 100km (62mi) southeast of Lusaka; buses make the four-hour run between them daily.
Ngonye (Sioma) Falls
If it weren't for Victoria Falls 300km (185mi) downstream, the Ngonye Falls would be a major attraction. Luckily for visitors, it's a wonderful place that's free of the tourist trappings of its better known counterpart. Admittedly, the plunge isn't nearly the same - the Ngonye Falls only fall a few metres - but the broad expanse of the cascade is a magnificent sight. There's good white-water rafting below the falls. Nearby is Sioma Ngwezi National Park, where you can spot elephants taking a night-time drink. The falls are 600km (370mi) east of Lusaka, and about 200km (125mi) south of the town of Mongu. If you aren't driving your own vehicle, the bus from Mongu to the Namibian border can let you off less than a kilometre west of the falls.
The safari has come a long way since the days of moustachioed men with big guns and pith helmets; today you're much more likely to see giant telephoto lenses sticking out of a 4WD. Zambia has many excellent safari opportunities, mainly in its great national parks, with endless opportunities for photos. Most popular are wildlife-viewing tours by open-top vehicle. Unusual in Africa, night drives are also permitted, and open up a whole new world. Zambia is also famous for walking safaris, where you leave behind all modern trappings and follow an experienced ranger. Nothing beats being on foot in the African bush for sharpening the senses and heightening the wilderness experience! But it's not all big mammals - bird-watching is also superb in Zambia. Standing at the crossroad between east, central and Southern Africa, the country boasts a wide and varied range of species - well over 700 at the last count. All the major national parks (South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue) are excellent for bird-watching.
Zambia, in particular Livingstone, has a mind-boggling array of adventure activities to choose from. The Zambezi River offers outstanding canoeing and white-water rafting, while the bridge and gorge downstream of Victoria Falls offers bungee jumping, abseiling, rock climbing and hiking. For the rafters, the rapids below Victoria Falls are among the world's wildest - and safest - due to the deep water, steep canyon walls and lack of mid-stream rocks. Having said that, most rafters take a swim during their trip. Requiring no effort whatsoever, but still very popular, are rides on the river in larger boats with decks, rails, a bar and many other facilities; an evening boat tour with a few drinks is most popular - known locally as a booze cruise.
Zambia's history goes back to the debut of Homo sapiens: evidence of human habitation going back 100,000 years has been found at Kabwe, north of Lusaka. Beginning around 1000 AD, Swahili-Arab slave-traders gradually penetrated the region from their city-states on the eastern coast of Africa. Between the 14th and 16th centuries a Bantu-speaking group known as the Maravi migrated from present-day Congo (Zaïre) and established kingdoms in eastern and southeastern Zambia.
In the 18th century, Portuguese explorers following the routes of Swahili-Arab slavers from the coast into the interior became the first known European visitors. After the Zulu nation to the south began scattering its neighbors, victims of the Difaqane (forced migration) began arriving in Zambia in the early 19th century. Squeezed out of Zimbabwe, the Makalolo people moved into southern Zambia, pushing the Tonga out of the way and grabbing Lozi territory on the upper Zambezi River.
The celebrated British explorer David Livingstone travelled up the Zambezi in the 1850s, searching for a route into the interior of Southern Africa, hoping to introduce Christianity and European civilisation to combat the horrors of the slave trade. Livingstone's efforts attracted missionaries, who in turn brought hunters and prospectors in their wake. In the 1890s much of Zambia came under the control of the British South Africa Company (BSAC), which sought to prevent further Portuguese expansion in the area.
Under the BSAC, the area became Northern Rhodesia in 1911. At about the same time, vast copper ore deposits were discovered in the north-central part of the territory (the area now called the Copperbelt). Large-scale mining operations were set up and local Africans employed as labourers. They had little choice: they needed money to pay the hut tax introduced by the Europeans, and their only other source of income vanished when much of their farmland was appropriated by European settlers. The colony was put under direct British control in 1924; Lusaka became the capital in 1936.
Settlers began pushing for federation with Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Malawi) - an arrangement delayed by WWII and finally coming about in 1953. Meanwhile, the influence of African nationalism spread throughout the country. Kenneth Kaunda founded the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in the 1950s, advocating the end of British rule. That rule ended in 1963, when the federation dissolved and Northern Rhodesia took the name Zambia, after the Zambezi River. Independence came too late to halt the haemorrhaging of money occurring under British rule, however. Taxing Zambians to the bone, Britain and the BSAC spent most of that money on Southern Rhodesia - a drain that continued to plague the country well into the 1990s.
Following independence, Kaunda led Zambia for 27 years, a feat he accomplished by declaring the UNIP the only legal party and himself as the sole presidential candidate. Calling his mix of Marxism and traditional African values 'humanism', Kaunda rapidly bankrupted the country with a bloated civil service and a nationalisation scheme wracked by corruption and mismanagement. Falling copper prices and rising fuel prices accelerated the slide, and by the end of the 1970s Zambia was one of the poorest countries in the world. Not content to fiddle at home, Kaunda stuck his nose in the domestic political spats of several of his neighbours, including Ian Smith's Rhodesia, who promptly restricted Zambia's imports and exports by closing its rail routes to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Desperate by the mid-1980s, Kaunda turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose severe conditions for aid - withdrawing basic food subsidies and floating the currency - sent prices skyrocketing and touched off nationwide riots that killed thousands. A further round of price hikes in the early 1990s led to more rioting, but this time Zambians demanded a cure rather than a salve: bring back multiparty democracy. Kaunda capitulated with an amended constitution, legalised opposition parties and full elections in October 1991. When labour leader Frederick Chiluba won a landslide victory as president, Kaunda had the good grace to bow out peacefully. Chiluba immediately began to woo the IMF, the World Bank and private investors, introducing austerity measures that drove food prices up and the value of the kwacha down. Chiluba also set about reforming the civil service and reprivatising or closing failed government enterprises.
With Chiluba's popularity plummeting, Kaunda briefly threatened to return to the political stage. However, in May of 1996, Parliament passed a bill that limited a president's service to two terms, hence thwarting Kaunda's political aspirations. Chiluba effectively eliminated all serious opposition and triumphed handily. Two independent election monitors who dared to suggest that the election was neither free nor fair were arrested, and journalists were suspended for showing insufficient enthusiasm for Chiluba's victory. A group of dissatisfied army officers staged a failed coup attempt in October 1997, to which Chiluba responded by declaring a state of emergency for several months and charging over 100 people with treason. Regional troubles moved in a new direction in 1999, when the Angolan government accused Zambia of backing the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels in that country's ongoing civil war. Zambia in turn stated that Angola's accusations were the result of Zambia's refusal to get involved in the conflict by denying permission to Angola to battle UNITA rebels on Zambian land.
Despite electorate fears that Chiluba would find a way around the two-terms rule to stay on as president, he was replaced at the December 2001 elections; however, his ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), was not. Chiluba's personally selected president-elect Levy Mwanawasa won the vote, amid claims from opposition parties that the election was rigged. The legality of the election results has been challenged and as of early February 2002, Mwanawasa's government is in an uncertain position; although a High Court challenge for an election recount has been denied, opposition parties are blocking legislative process in the National Assembly. In addition to a lack of parliamentary support, key issues facing Chiluba's replacement are economic problems in the mining and agriculture industries, in particular a grain shortage that is apparently having widespread effects among the population.
Despite the political chaos, the election, however flawed, returned one of the most broadly based democratic parliaments the country has seen, with the United Party for National Development (48 seats) and United National Independent Party (11 seats), among other opposition parties, putting an end to the rubber-stamp, one-party system that has ruled since independence. Visitors to Zambia should keep an eye on political developments and any civil unrest that may accompany it.
There are about 35 different ethnic groups or tribes in Zambia, all with their own languages. Main groups and languages include Bemba in the north and centre, Tonga in the south, Nyanja in the east, and Lozi in the west. English is now the national language and is widely spoken, even in remote areas. About two-thirds of the population is Christian, though many combine that with traditional animist beliefs. A lot of traditional Zambian music is heavily rhythmic, usually played on drums, whistles and thumb pianos, and nearly always to accompany dancing. One of the most popular styles, however, is an import from the Congo (Zaïre) - the rumba.
The staple dish in Zambia is a stiff porridge called nshima, commonly made from maize or sometimes sorghum. It's typically served in a communal dish and eaten with the right hand, rolling the nshima into a ball and dipping it into a sauce of meat or vegetables. In areas along rivers and lake shores, fish are also eaten. Popular freshwater types include bream, lake salmon and Nile perch.
Land-locked Zambia is one of Africa's most eccentric legacies of colonialism. Shaped like a crumpled figure-eight, its borders don't correspond to any tribal or linguistic area. It's bordered by Angola to the west, the Congo (Zaïre) to the west and north, Tanzania to the northeast, Malawi to the east, and Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south. Zambia sits on an undulating plateau, sloping to the south. Areas of high ground include the Copperbelt Highlands and the Nyika Plateau on the border with Malawi, which contains Mwanda Peak (2150m/7050ft), the country's highest point. Zambia's main rivers are the Zambezi, which rises in the west of the country and forms the border between Zambia and Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe; the Kafue, which rises in the highlands between Zambia and the Congo (Zaïre); and the Luangwa, which flows from the north into the Zambezi.
Zambia's great wildlife parks are home to a very wide range of mammals and birds. Aside from the marquee names like lions, elephants, hippos, buffalos, zebras and giraffes, commonly sighted species include warthogs, mongooses, honey badgers, baboons, African striped weasels and Lichtenstein's hartebeests. Zambia's varied birdlife includes ostriches, hornbills, woodhoopoes and starlings. Most of Zambia is moist savanna woodland, where broadleaf deciduous trees grow far enough apart to allow grasses and other plants to grow on the woodland floor. In the wetter north, bushveld covers much of the drier southwest. In drier areas, especially the valleys of the Zambezi and Luangwa you'll see sprawling branches of stout baobab trees, some thousands of years old.
Along with much of southern Africa, Zambia's altitude creates a temperate climate. There are three distinct seasons: cool and dry from May to August, hot and dry from September to October, and rainy between November and April (summer).
Getting There & Away
Europe has the best air connections with Zambia. British Airways, KLM and Air France all have regular services to Lusaka. African carriers flying to the capital include Air Zimbabwe, Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways and South African Airways. Many tourists fly directly to Victoria Falls. Lusaka Airport is 20km (12mi) east of the centre. There's no airport bus, but taxis and hotel courtesy vans meet international flights. The airport departure tax is US$20.
The most fabulous way of entering Zambia by road is over the Victoria Falls Bridge from Zimbabwe. The main route between Lusaka and Bulawayo, from where you can reach Harare, crosses the border here. The other main border points with Zimbabwe are Chirundu and Kariba, where you cross between Zambia and Zimbawe over the massive Kariba Dam.
From Malawi, the main crossing point is east of Chipata, on the main road between Lusaka and Lilongwe. The only crossing point between Zambia and Botswana is the ferry across the Zambezi River at Kazungula, about 60km (37mi) west of Victoria Falls. From Namibia, buses run from Windhoek to the Namibian outpost town of Katima Mulilo. From here you can cross the border into Zambia, go over the Zambezi on a ferry, then go via Sesheke to Livingstone. An easier option from Katima Mulilo is the bus which runs through Botswana to Victoria Falls in Zimbawe, from where you can easily cross the border to Zambia.
For backpackers and independent travellers, crowded conditions and long hauls over potholed roads make travelling by bus wearisome. All the bus companies are privately owned, but prices are relatively standardised and most services run fairly regularly. Minibuses are available for shorter runs and tend to be faster and slightly more expensive than regular buses. The train is a good alternative if you don't plan on going far from the Livingstone-Lusaka-Nakonde corridor, and you're not in a hurry. There's a train that goes from Lusaka to Kitwe, which is very slow. The Lusaka-Livingstone route has an express three times a week and a local daily - all liable to delay.
The best way of getting around is undeniably by vehicle, preferably a 4WD. There are several rental agencies in Lusaka and a few in Ndola, north of Lusaka on the Congo (Zaïre) border. With Lusaka at the hub, main roads radiate out to Chitapa (in the east), Livingstone (in the south), Mongu (in the west), Nakonde (on the Tanzanian border in the northeast) and to Mpulungu (on Lake Tanganika in the north). Conditions vary, and range from new smooth tar to appalling potholes. Dirt roads range from bad to impassable, especially after the rains. If you haven't driven in Africa before, this is no place to start. All drivers need an International Driver's Licence. Driving is officially on the left, but you wouldn't always know it. Drive defensively and be prepared for anything. Domestic flights and charter planes serve Lusaka, Livingstone, the Copperbelt towns of Ndola and Kitwe, and various national parks. For visitors short on time these can be the most efficient way of getting around.
Your final option for getting around is by organised safari. Using air, boat and road transport, safaris can take the trouble out of travel, and be ideal for visitors new to Africa or who have little time. Travel agents in Lusaka can arrange things, and there are several Zambia specialists in Europe (notably Britain) and North America who can set up packages and tailor-made trips. Safaris can also be organised within Zambia.
Source : LonelyPlanet.com