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The big, beautiful country of Zambia is situated in the heart of the African sub-continent, largely untainted by commercial tourist development, but nevertheless well-equipped to allow visitors to experience the warmth, excitement, challenges and adventures of Africa. Zambia beckons with an abundance of natural attractions and extreme sports, which has earned it the reputation of being the 'adventure centre' of the continent.
The country's prime attraction is the spectacular, breathtaking Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Not only do the falls provide unmatched scenery as the water plunges into the depths of the gorge, but they are also the setting for a multitude of adrenaline pumping activities, like whitewater rafting, bungee jumping from the 364 foot (111m) high bridge, canoeing, abseiling, micro-lighting over the falls, elephant-back safaris, jet-boating through the rapids and much more.
If travellers prefer dry land, Zambia offers dozens of superb game parks stocked with a profusion of birds and wildlife. Chief among the parks is South Luangwa National Park. Centred on the most intact major river system in Africa, it hosts a huge concentration of game. The legendary 'Zambian walking safari' originated in this park and still offers one of the finest ways to experience the African wilderness.
Visitors to Zambia seldom linger in the towns, being bent on safaris or destined for game lodges and adventure camps. Those who choose to explore the somewhat dishevelled capital, Lusaka, will find it has an interesting charm. More than half of the inhabitants of this over-populated city are unemployed, yet the atmosphere is far from despondent as the people hustle and bustle, determined to survive. Thousands of stalls line the streets offering a fascinating array of services and goods.
Lovers of the outdoors cannot fail to find everything and more to satisfy them in the varied wilderness of Zambia.
Zambia introduces foreigners to some of the best natural attractions and adventurous activities that Africa has to offer. Tourism is concentrated around a few major attractions in the country. Lake Kariba draws many visitors and is a hub for fishing, boating, wildlife safaris and watersports, and Livingstone is the gateway to the wonders of Victoria Falls and the mighty Zambezi River. Zambia also has some excellent wildlife reserves.
The country's lack of infrastructure can be problematic for travellers, as the poor roads make accessing certain areas difficult. Livingstone and the capital city, Lusaka, are both fairly well developed, though. Lusaka is not a popular tourist destination in itself but many travellers pass through the sprawling city and it is quite an experience. The markets and nightlife can be exciting and fun, and there are a number of small museums to visit.
Zambia is accessible to both budget travellers and those in search of luxury. Livingstone in particular boasts both great backpacker hostels and incredible luxury hotels.
Kafue National Park is one of the largest nature reserves in Africa, spanning a diverse 8,650 square miles (22,400 sq km), which makes it roughly the size of Wales. Vast swathes of Kafue have yet to be explored and developed, making it a wonderful destination for those who want a real African adventure. Although the headquarters of the park are in the south, the southern region is actually less visited and more rundown; the real gem of the park is the flooded grasslands ecoregion in the north, which includes the Busanga Swamp. These rich lands support large herds of herbivores and their natural predators and the area is also noted for its birdlife. Visitors are likely to see lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and a host of other species in their natural environment while exploring Kafue. Besides enjoying the wildlife through safaris, visitors can enjoy abundant bird watching and fishing. Kafue is a 224 mile (360km) drive west of Lusaka, and a short two-hour drive from Livingstone, but some of the park's interior roads are dilapidated, especially in the rainy season, making the park accessible only to 4x4s or chartered flights. There are now a number of great safari camps and game lodges in and around the reserve and infrastructure is gradually improving.
Livingstone is a historic colonial city on the southern border of Zambia. Also known as Maramba, the town was incorporated as part of Northern Rhodesia under Cecil John Rhodes, and gained prominence in the 19th century as a trading hub for passage across the Zambezi River. As trade and industry in the region has declined, the town has embraced the tourist trade that comes naturally to it. Located just six miles (10km) from the Zambezi River, Livingstone is a popular gateway to the mighty Victoria Falls and has benefitted from the hordes of tourists that flock there every year. Its colonial past means the city has a number of historical buildings, and several decent museums devoted to archaeology, history, ethnography, geology, railways, and of course the town's namesake: David Livingstone. Livingstone also has a surprisingly festive nightlife, with a number of bars and clubs frequented by tourists and expats. Its thriving backpackers' scene makes it a favourite with budget travellers. That said, there are also some luxury lodges nestled into gorgeous riverside settings.
It is the perfect base for whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and visiting the falls. It is also well situated as a gateway to the abundant nature and wildlife of southern Zambia. Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park offers bird watching and game safaris, and a number of game cruises are available along the Zambezi River.
Lake Kariba is the largest artificial lake in the world, and a very popular tourist destination in Zambia (and Zimbabwe). A number of game and safari parks ring the lake on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, and tour operators offer a number of water activities such as boat and pontoon cruises. The best way to experience the vast body of water is to hire a houseboat, though there are a variety of accommodation options for those who prefer to sleep on land, including campsites, luxury lodges and self-catering chalets. All budgets will find something on offer. Lake Kariba is an excellent place to see wildlife, but foreigners should be wary of hippo and crocodiles when swimming in Kariba, and on the banks. The facilities around the lake are good, with entertainment available at the casino and hotel complexes. Also, travellers will appreciate Lake Kariba's famously beautiful sunsets. Those who are planning a houseboat holiday should time their trip so they can witness the full moon rising over the water, which is quite a magical experience.
The area can get swelteringly hot in the summer, and many people prefer to visit in the cooler months (May to September), when the weather is still balmy and sunny, but far more comfortable.
The majestic Victoria Falls, or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), are located on the Zambezi River, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Explorer David Livingstone named the falls for Queen Victoria when he first saw them in 1855. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the falls have been attracting travellers and adventure seekers for decades; its pounding waters creating a mist that can be seen for miles and the sound of the falls, especially in the rainy season (November to April), make it difficult to hear anything else. There is a trail that runs along the cliff adjacent to the waterfall which visitors can use to reach the scenic viewpoints, and a helicopter tour is a phenomenal way to see the falls from above. Although it is only accessible at certain water levels, and is certainly not for the faint of heart, there is also a natural pool right above the falls called the Devil's Punch Bowl; swimming just above the lip of the pounding waterfall is an amazing thrill. Guided tours to the falls are available from Livingstone, but it is easy to explore without a guide. Many tourists like to see the falls from the Zimbabwean side as well (especially during the dry season when the Zambian side gets quite dry) and crossing the border is usually quick and painless as the officials are accustomed to visitors popping over just to see the falls.
Lusaka's humid subtropical climate is heavily influenced by its high-altitude location. The city experiences hot summers and warm winters, with little variation in temperature. Winter, from May to July, sees temperatures move between 78°F (26°C) and 92°F (33°C). In summer, from September to January, Lusaka's temperatures range from 87°F (31°C) to 104°F (40°C). Lusaka experiences distinct wet and dry seasons. The wet season lasts from November to April, when precipitation amounts to between three inches (76mm) and 10 inches (245mm) of rainfall per month. Humidity regularly exceeds 80 percent during the rainy season. From May to September, Lusaka experiences very little rainfall.
Zambia is warm all year round, but has three distinct seasons. Between December and April the weather is hot and wet; from May to August it is cooler and dry; between September and November conditions are hot and dry. The rains come earlier and last longer the further north in Zambia one ventures, and the east generally receives more rainfall than the western lowlands. The Zambian summer, between November and March, can get swelteringly hot, with the average temperatures ranging between 77°F and 95°F (25°C and 35°C), while in winter, between May and August, the temperature range becomes far greater with temperatures measuring anywhere between 43°F and 75°F (6°C and 24°C). Autumn and spring are short in Zambia; there aren't really four distinct seasons. During the rainy season, roads often become impassable due to mud and potholes, and many attractions are unreachable; as a result, many camps close during this time and it is not an easy time to visit. The best time to visit Zambia is between June and September, when the nights are cold but the days are usually sunny and pleasant, and game viewing is at its best.
The Zambian currency is the Kwacha (ZMW), and is divided into 100 ngwee. It is best to bring US Dollars or Pounds Sterling, which can be exchanged at the many bureaux de change found in the main towns; visitors should avoid exchanging money outside of banks or respected hotels. While most of the tourist hotels, restaurants, travel agents and larger shops, especially in Lusaka and Livingstone, accept credit cards, many outlets in the rural areas do not and deal only in local currency. ATMs are available in Lusaka and some of the major towns. Banking hours vary but are usually 8.30am to 3.30pm on weekdays and mornings on Saturdays.
There are many dialects spoken in Zambia, but the official language is English. Most business is conducted in English and most Zambians speak it fairly well.
Electrical current in Zambia is 230 volts, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs, as well as two- and three-pin round plugs are in use.
US nationals: United States citizens require a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is required. Single and multiple-entry visas can be obtained on arrival for stays of up to 90 days (tourists) or 30 days (business travellers). E-visas can be obtained before departure.
UK nationals: British citizens require a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not necessary for a touristic stay of up to 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadians require a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is required. Single and multiple-entry visas can be obtained on arrival for stays of up to 90 days (tourists) or 30 days (business travellers). E-visas can be obtained before departure.
AU nationals: Australians require a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is required. On arrival a 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained. E-visas can be obtained before departure.
ZA nationals: South Africans need a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay. South African nationals do not need a visa for stays for up to 90 days (tourists) or up to 30 days (business travellers). Note that temporary or emergency South African travel documents are not accepted.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for four months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is required. A 90-day tourist visa or 30-day business visa can be obtained on arrival in Zambia. Passengers with a New Zealand passport issued to residents of Niue, Tokelau or nationals of Cook Islands traveling as tourists do not require a visa for a maximum stay of 30 days.
A return ticket or proof of onward travel, all documents for next destination and proof of sufficient funds is required for all travellers. Visas issued on arrival vary in fee according to amount of entries and nationality. Passports must have at least three blank visa pages. It is also possible to obtain an e-visa online prior to departure for Zambia; passengers must have printed confirmation of the e-visa with them upon arrival. There is a special provision for day visitors coming across the border from Zimbabwe into Livingstone. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Typhoid, polio, rabies and hepatitis A vaccinations should be considered for travel to Zambia. Malaria is endemic in Zambia (prophylaxis is essential), and outbreaks of cholera and dysentery are common especially during the rainy season. Yellow fever is a risk in the northwest and western provinces. Visitors to game parks are at risk of African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), which is carried by tsetse flies; insect repellent is ineffective against tsetse flies. The country also has one of the highest rates of HIV/Aids infection worldwide. Visitors should avoid swimming or wading in bodies of fresh water, such as lakes, ponds, streams, or rivers due to the presence of bilharzia.
Medical facilities in the country are under-developed and limited to the point that basic drugs and even clean needles are often not available. The small clinics in Lusaka are regarded as superior to the general hospitals, but clinics in rural areas are rarely stocked with anything more than aspirin or plasters. Full travel insurance, including cover for medical evacuation by air, is therefore essential and it is vital to bring a good first-aid kit. Visitors should avoid food bought from local street vendors and ensure drinking water is filtered and boiled, or bought in sealed, branded bottles.
Tipping in Zambia is usually about 10 percent. A 10 percent service charge is usually included in bills.
Though package tours in Zambia are generally safe and most visits are trouble-free, visitors should be aware that car hijackings and armed robberies are increasing. Mugging, bag-snatching and theft from parked cars is common in urban areas. Political rallies, demonstrations, and large gatherings have the potential for violence and should be avoided. Travellers should be vigilant and avoid displaying valuables. They should also avoid the border areas where Zambia meets Angola and the DRC; cross-border raids are frequent and landmines are a potential danger. Many roads can become impassable in the rainy season (November to April). Travellers should be aware that overstaying a visa is a serious offence and may result in arrest and imprisonment.
Zambia's culture is largely patriarchal; however, white visitors tend to be treated respectfully regardless of gender. Zambians are curious, and visitors should not be offended by stares and questions. Women should refrain from wearing short skirts and low-cut tops, and beachwear should be worn only on the beach; even when dressed conservatively, women may find the stares from locals disconcerting. The Western practise of 'getting to the point' is not practised in Zambian culture, and it is polite to say hello and exchange pleasantries before asking a question or requesting assistance. Shaking hands is a common greeting, and many Zambians will continue to hold hands throughout the conversation. It is traditional to eat with the right hand, and utensils are not used in many areas.
Homosexuality is condemned by the general population and is considered illegal. Gay travellers should be discreet and avoid public displays of affection.
According to the World Bank, doing business in Zambia is less difficult than in many other African countries, but it is a very poor country and the lack of infrastructure can be a challenge. Bribery and corruption can also be a problem. Business meetings are formal but seldom punctual; a suit and tie are appropriate attire despite the heat. Office hours in Zambia are 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, with a one hour lunch break between 1pm and 2pm; however, in practice workers often arrive late or leave early making these office hours a mere guideline.
The international dialling code for Zambia is +260. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)1 for Lusaka. Connections tend to be bad, particularly outside of Lusaka. Wifi is limited to top hotels and restaurants, and free international calls can be made using the internet.
Travellers to Zambia over 18 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 400 cigarettes or 500g tobacco or 500g of cigars; 1.5 litres of spirits, 2.5 litres of wine and 2.5 litres of beer, and goods to the value of USD 1,000. Prohibited items include narcotics, pornography and explosive materials, and restrictions are applied to live animals, medication and hunting weapons.
Zambia National Tourist Board, Lusaka: www.zambiatourism.com
Zambian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 234 4009.
Zambian High Commission, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 207 589 6655.
Zambian High Commission, Ottawa, Cananda: + 613 232 4400.
High Commission of the Republic of Zambia, Canberra, Australia: +61 261 994 900.
Zambian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 326 1854.
United States Embassy, Lusaka: +260 211 357 000.
British High Commission, Lusaka: +260 211 423 200.
Canadian High Commission, Lusaka: +260 1 250 833.
Australian Embassy, Harare, Zimbabwe (also responsible for Zambia): +263 242 853 235 55.
South African High Commission, Lusaka: +260 211 26 0497.
Irish Embassy, Lusaka: +260 211 290 650.
New Zealand Honorary Consulate, Lusaka, Zambia: (+260) 211 252 402 / 5 / 6.
Getting around Lusaka is not easy. While the city centre is relatively small, walking is not always a pleasant experience because of the climate and the hawkers along the sides of the roads. Public transport consists of buses and minibuses that run frequently along main transport routes, helping people get around the city. However, buses and minibuses can get crowded, meaning they're not always a comfortable way to travel. Visitors who have an international driving licence can hire a car, and there are plenty of reputable car hire companies in the city and at the airport. On the downside, driving in Lusaka is not an easy task because traffic is often gridlocked and it can be difficult to find parking. While signage is usually quite clear, the condition of the roads is not always good. Hiring a car with a driver is a popular option.
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