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Like most African countries, Zambia's recent past has been marked by poverty and political instability and corruption. Spectators insist that Zambia has reached a new period in its history: a time of progressive, fair leadership and rising economic status.
Zambia's tourist attractions, however, are unchanged. The Zambezi river cuts through the west, veering east along the Zimbabwe border and finally departing the country through Mozambique. It and its notorious Victoria Falls (which straddle the Zimbabwe border and can be viewed from both countries) are one half of Zambia's attraction, affording opportunities for heart-pounding adventure and great photos. The other half is the country's amazing wildlife, which is both diverse and abundant. A host of excellent national parks offer safaris, be they at night or day, by car or foot. Lions, elephants, zebras, hippos, giraffes, baboons and buffalos are easily found. The country also boasts a magnificent array of bird species.
The area of modern Zambia was inhabited by Khoisan hunter-gatherers until around AD 300, when technologically advanced migrating tribes began to displace or absorb them. In the 12th century, major waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants arrived during the Bantu expansion. Among them, the Tonga people (also called Batonga) were the first to settle in Zambia and are believed to have come from the east near the "big sea". There were sporadic visits by European explorers starting in the 18th century. The most prominent of these was David Livingstone, who had a vision of ending the slave trade through the "3 C's" (Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation). He was the first European to see the magnificent waterfalls on the Zambezi River in 1855, naming them Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. Nowadays, even a city is named after him. Zambia was gradually claimed and occupied by the British as protectorate of Northern Rhodesia towards the end of the nineteenth century. On 24 October 1964, the protectorate gained independence with the new name of Zambia, derived from the Zambezi river which flows through the country. Kaunda was the first president and it lasted until June 1990 before riots against Kaunda accelerated. Many protesters were killed by the regime in breakthrough June 1990 protests. Kaunda faced one coup attempt in 1990. In 1991, Kaunda's dictatorship fell and was replaced by multiparty elections. In the 2000s, the economy has stabilized, attaining single-digit inflation in 2006–2007, real GDP growth, decreasing interest rates, and increasing levels of trade. Much of its growth is due to foreign investment in Zambia's mining sector and higher copper prices on the world market.
Zambia is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west. At 752,614 km2 (290,586 sq mi) it is the 39th-largest country in the world (after Chile) and slightly larger than the US state of Texas. The country lies mostly between latitudes 8° and 18°S, and longitudes 22° and 34°E. Zambia is drained by two major river basins: the Zambezi/Kafue basin in the centre, west and south covering about three-quarters of the country; and the Congo basin in the north covering about one-quarter of the country. A very small area in the northeast forms part of the internal drainage basin of Lake Rukwa in Tanzania. Two of the Zambezi's longest and largest tributaries, the Kafue and the Luangwa, flow mainly in Zambia. Their confluences with the Zambezi are on the border with Zimbabwe at Chirundu and Luangwa town respectively. Before its confluence, the Luangwa River forms part of Zambia's border with Mozambique. From Luangwa town, the Zambezi leaves Zambia and flows into Mozambique, and eventually into the Mozambique Channel. The Zambezi falls about 100 metres over the 1.6 kilometres wide Victoria Falls, located in the south-west corner of the country, subsequently flowing into Lake Kariba. The north of Zambia is very flat with broad plains. In the west the most notable being the Barotse Floodplain on the Zambezi, which floods from December to June, lagging behind the annual rainy season (typically November to April). The flood dominates the natural environment and the lives, society and culture of the inhabitants and those of other smaller, floodplains throughout the country. In Eastern Zambia the plateau which extends between the Zambezi and Lake Tanganyika valleys is tilted upwards to the north, and so rises imperceptibly from about 900 metres in the south to 1,200 metres in the centre, reaching 1,800 metres in the north near Mbala. Eastern Zambia shows great diversity. The Luangwa Valley splits the plateau in a curve north east to south west, extended west into the heart of the plateau by the deep valley of the Lunsemfwa River. Hills and mountains are found by the side of some sections of the valley, notably in its north-east the Nyika Plateau (2,200 metres) on the Malawi border, which extend into Zambia as the Mafinga Hills, containing the country's highest point, Kongera (2,187 metres).
Zambia is organised into nine provinces.
Zambia is gaining popularity amongst travellers who want to go on a safari and although many of the parks are more difficult, time consuming and expensive to visit, this only adds to the charm. You won't find 8 cars around 1 lion here. Zambia is renowned for its walking safaris allowing you to get up really close and personal with the animals. A walking safari allows a more personal experience with the environment. Nothing will beat walking through the vegetation led by your guide following ground sign to track the movement of a lion that passed through the area last night before experiencing the thrill of spotting one further along your route. Zambia tourism offers some of the best attractions in Africa. Zambia tourist attractions such the mighty Victoria Falls can be combined with other popular Zambia tourism pastimes such as a safari to the Kafue National Park, South Luangwa National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park. Zambia tourism also boats some particularly adventurous sports. The hub of Livingstone is a spring board for activities like white water rafting, canoeing, abseiling and paragliding.
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The South Luangwa National Park is 9,050 square kilometres big and is located in the east of the country, towards the border with Malawi and is one of the finest parks in Africa with high densities regarding animals, especially around the central river. The park is one of the pioneers regarding walking safaris and nothing beats standing eye to eye with an elephants or lion, of course at a safe distance. There are around 60 different species of mammal, and over 400 species of birds, making it one of the most diversified parks in Africa as well. Access to the park is limted during the rainy season from the end of November until April, sometimes even impossible. Mfuwe is the gateway to the park and flights to and from Lusaka are possible on almost every day and buses from Lusaka take at least around 16 hours and you will need to change buses as well.
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Kafue National Park is the largest national park in Zambia, and the second largest in Africa, with an area of 22,400 square kilometers and is located in the central west of the country. There are over 50 different species of mammal to be seen here and hundreds of species of birds. The Kafue River is the central hart of the park, and is of importance especially during the dry season when water is more scarce. The park is easily reached by private car along the road from Lusaka to Mongu, but getting there by public transport requires some more planning. The Zambezian flooded grasslands in the north of the park is one of the highlights of the park, with many species like antelopes and along with them many predators, like lion and leopard. In general, the north has better facilities, like lodges and roads compared to the south, mainly because animal density is just higher up north.
The Lower Zambezi National Park is located in the southeast of the country, along the Zambezi River and close to the border with Zimbabwe. The parks mainly consists of woodlands and savannah with the area right on the banks of the Zambezi River being flooded habitat for most of the year. This is where most mammals and birds are to be found, like lions, hippos, crocodiles and elephants. Large herds of buffalos can be seen as well. The park is reached from Lusaka by car or plane, but facilities in the park are rather limited, with only one lodge and several camping possibilities. It is best to arrange things before you go here.
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At a height of over 100 metres and a width of about 1,700 metres, the Victoria Falls are the largest sheet of water falling in the world. Located within the boundaries of Mosi-oa-Tunya NP in Zambia and Victoria Falls NP in Zimbabwe, the falls are one of the most impressive landmarks of Africa and travellers from around the world are highly attracted by the opportunities near the falls. Hiking, wildlife viewing, bungeejumping, cruising, whit water rafting the Zambezi river and a helicopter ride to have a bird's eye view of the falls, all are very popular. As the falls are mainly located in Zambia, the best panoramic view is from Zimbabwe, viewing the falls head on. Even better would be the view from the air. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Traditional culture is very visible through colourful annual Zambian traditional ceremonies. Events, such as the Ku'omboka, offer a fantastic insight into the Zambian culture. Ku'omboka means to "move to dry land", and it celebrates the annual move of the Lozi king from his summer palace in Lealui to his winter one in Limulonga. The festival often collides with Easter, though not always- sometimes the festival is even postponed to suit the country's leaders (such as the president and other tribal kings) schedules. In fact, the king often moves earlier when the palace is flooded, and simply returns in order to carry out the ceremony!
The king's entourage includes eight large barges in total- one for himself, one for his wife, one for the royal family, one for luggage, one for staff, and so on. The king's barge is the first one, decorated with a large black elephant on the top, and the queen has a large, white bird on hers. Several skilled paddlers row for hours along the flooded Barotse plains. Being chosen as the king's paddler is a great honour for anyone, and the paddlers are recognised by the animal skins they wear on their waist. Foreigners are welcomed to view the ceremony, but should be aware that it is forbidden to approach, let alone touch, the king or the royal family. Lealui can be reached by hiring a boat or a traditional canoe from Mongu, the main city about 20 kilometres away. It is also permitted to follow the king's barge, but you should never take it over. However, most people choose to take a speed boat to Limulonga, where a huge, festive crowd greets the king as they arrive about six-seven hours later. Later, there will be dancing outside the Limulonga palace, but it should be noted that photography of the palace is not permitted.
Other large and notable ceremonies include:
Zambia has a tropical climate with relatively high temperatures and humidity throughout the year. Temperatures are usually around 30 °C during the day and still above 20 °C at night, although some places at somewhat higher altitudes might be slightly cooler. November to April is rainy season when much of the country, especially the national parks, are best avoided, as roads might be blocked and parks may be unreachable. After May, the temperature drops drastically, and in high altitude areas, such as Lusaka, temperatures in June/July can drop as low as 5 °C.
Lusaka International Airport (LUN) is located near the capital and Zambian Airways flies from here to and from Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of Congo). Other airlines are mainly flying to neighbouring countries, but British Airways flies to and from London.
Livingstone Airport (LVI) might be of more importance for travellers wanting to visit the Victoria Falls. Zambian Airways serves the same cities from here than from Lusaka. South African Airways and Kulula.com both fly to and from Johannesburg, while Kenya Airways flies to Nairobi and British Airways to London directly.
Centrally located in Zambia, north of the capital Lusaka, Kapiri Mposhi is the starting point of a two nights trainride to Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian coast. From here you can travel further by boat or plane to the tropical island of spices, Zanzibar. The TAZARA (Tanzania-Zambia Railway) operates scheduled services twice a week. This 38-hour journey leaves in both ends of the line on Tuesdays and Fridays and arrives on Thursdays and Sundays.
If you are travelling overland, there several routes of getting to and from Zambia. Border crossings used by buses and minibuses (see below) are generally ok to cross by car as well. It's also possible to cross into Mozambique, which has no public transport connections (so hitching might be a better option if you don't have your own car). Most used crossings are with Tanzania, Malawi and (by ferry) to Botswana. Note that fuel in Zimbabwe might not be available so fill up in Zambia (or Botswana if you are travelling to Zambia) if you take the route via Victoria Falls and on to Kasane in Botswana. Also note that when renting a car in South Africa, Botswana or Namibia, you are usually not allowed to cross into Zambia (Zimbabwe is ok though).
There are international connections from Lusaka to neighbouring countries, the main corridors being Lusaka to Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and to Gaborone in Botswana via Victoria Falls and Bulawayo. There are even buses that travel between Lusaka and Johannesburg in South Africa, taking about 26 hours (via Masvingo and Pretoria). Most of these buses stop in Bulawayo as well. From Lusaka, there are also connections to Windhoek, taking about 27 hours and travelling via Livingstone and Botswana. Also, direct buses connect Lusaka with Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, taking almost 30 hours to cover the distance.
If you want to avoid travelling through Zimbabwe on your way to or out of Botswana, you can take a direct service from Botswana to Zambia by taking the Kazungula ferry over the Zambezi River. From the Zambian side, there is onwards transportation in the form of buses to take you to Livingstone. Other possibilities of getting there by boat are to and from Namibia's Caprivi strip (across the Zambezi River) and to and from Tanzania (Kigoma), across Lake Tanganyika. The latter goes on Friday only.
Chipata, Lusaka, Mfuwe, Ndola, Solwezi and Livingstone are served by Zambian Airways. Several tour operators in the country organise fly in trips to national parks like Kafue, South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi National Park. Prices are high; you might be able to pick up a flight to Mfuwe (by South Luangwa NP) for about US$100 one way.
Travelling by train is cheap and comfortable, but much slower than buses. It takes 15 hours between Lusaka and Livingstone for example, twice as long as the bus.
Main roads are tarred and renting a car is becoming more and more popular, although car rental is pricey. Bear in mind though that most roads are not of a high quality with potholes very common. Renting a car though is the best way if you want to visit parks like Kafue National Park, especially when you don't want to do an organised tour. Please note that in the spring of 2009, the road between Livingstone and Lusaka is still being build, which causes delays and possible puctures; the first 2 hours after leaving Livingstone the road is still not tarred.
Buses travel between all major cities and towns in Zambia. From Lusaka, examples include buses to Chipata (gateway to South Luangwa National Park, 8 hours) and to Livingstone near the Victoria Falls (8 hours). Buses are not timed, and only depart when they are full; this means you might wait hours for the bus to fill. The safest bet is the first bus of the morning, as it usually leaves on time, or at least not much later. Minibuses do not have schedules at all. Some companies are cheaper than others, some are more reliable. Shop around for tickets, and feel free to haggle. By far the best bus company between Livingstone and Lusaka is the Mazhandu Family Bus (blue bus), which leaves pretty much on time. Other good companies include Marks Motorways, and Juldan, who operate to the copperbelt area and to Chipata by the malawian border.
Apart from great rafting on the Zambezi, ther is no need to travel on rivers in Zambia.
Nationals of the following countries do not need a visa:
Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Grenada, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Romania, Saint Kittis and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Vanuatu, Zimbabwe.
People from the following countries will need to get a visa beforehand:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Belarus, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Croatia, Georgia, Guinea, Jordan, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Moldova, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jordan, North Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria
Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Territories, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan, Syria
Taiwan, Tajikistan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen.
All other nationalities can get a visa upon arrival in Zambia, usually for $50 for a single-entry visa and $80 for a multiple-entry visa.
See also Money Matters
The currency of Zambia is the Kwacha with the international currency code ZMK. The currency sign for the Kwacha is K (Kwacha means ‘Good Morning’). The Bank of Zambia (BoZ), the central bank of the Zambia, issues all the banknotes, the coin system has been since late 1993, but the local currency has tremendously stabilised as the result of the great economic policies:
Banknotes: K20, K100, K500, K1,000, K5,000, K10,000, K20,000 and K50,000
The kwatcha fluctuates greatly, even from week to week, so it's good to check the rates online.
Banknotes issued by the BoZ are accepted everywhere in the country. Foriegn currencies have to be converted into Kwacha as they are not legal tender. Bank of Zambia offers official exchange rates.
Banks – Barclays Bank has the widest branch and ATM network in the country, other banks include ZANACO, Standard Chartered, Standard Bank, Finance Bank, Access Bank, NatSave and Investrust.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) , also known locally as cash machines, cashpoints, or "holes in the wall," are widely available in urban areas. Banknotes dispensed by ATMs are in K10,000, K20,000 and K50,000 denominations. You can get up to 2 million kwatcha in one transaction only from Barclays and Standard Chartered.
Credit cards are widely accepted and Visa and Mastercard are usually the preferred ones by merchants. American Express is usually only accepted by certain hotels and certain stores, so check before you decide to purchase anything if that's the only card you have. Please note that the networks are often down, so reserve some cash for your purchases as well- the network could be down all day.
The Zambia education system is loosely based on the British system, basic education is divided into three phases: primary (years 1 to 7 which is free), junior secondary (years 8 to 9) and upper secondary (years 10 to 12). There private and government operated schools in the country. The private school system began largely as a result of Christian mission efforts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Amongst famous private schools are the International School of Lusaka and Baobob College in Lusaka. Private schools operate under either the British or American way of schooling.
Educational opportunities beyond secondary school are limited in Zambia. After secondary school, most students study at the various colleges, around the country. There are three main universities: the University of Zambia, the Copperbelt University and the new Mulungushi University. Other institutes of higher learning include the Public Administration College (NIPA), the Northern Technical College (NORTEC), the Zambia Insurance Bussiness Colleege (ZIBCT), the National Resources Development College (NRDC), the Evelyn Hone College, and Northrise University.
The official language of Zambia is English, which is used to conduct official business and is the medium of instruction in schools & Colleges. Commonly-spoken indigenous languages are Bemba, Tonga, Lozi, Chewa, Njanya, Kaonde, Lunda etc.
The staple food in Zambia, as in much of Africa, is maize meal, nshima (like Ugali in Kenya, or pap in Namibia). Nshima is cooked by boiling water, then slowly stirring in maize meal, letting it boil, addind more maize, and then vigorously stirring it again until it has a gooey but solid consistency, and eaten by rolling it into a ball in your hand. Nshima is everywhere, and served with a soup (sauce); usually a tomato/onion mix boiled with oil. In poor families, this might make up the meal, but usually you'll find a relish with your nshima - fish, meat or vegetables, or a combination of a few. If you are a vegetarian, ask for rape (pronunced as reb!) which are pumpkin leaves, or chiwauwa, which are a leafy green vegetable fried. Okra is also common, and very cheap when in season. Otherwise you might end up with a fish or a chicken dish. Fish is usually tasty - it is served either boiled or fried. Eggs are common, and you might find a fried egg on top of your dish.
Other dishes you might find are fried, crunchy catepillars, or kapenta, a tiny fish caught in Lake Kariba, fried and eaten whole. Fries and rice can also accompany a meal- sometimes you'll find nshima with fries and meat! In a typical local restaurant, you'll usually be given an option of meat, fish or chicken with either nshima, rice or chips. More than often, though, the restaurant will only have one option actually available! Cooking is generally un-adventurous and food quite plain- salt, chilli sauce and ketchup are often used as only seasoning. Most food is fried in plenty of oil - ask for boiled food if this is too much for your stomach. Larger cities usually have good Indian restaurants, as do the Eastern Province towns.
Zambia has a lot of British influence in their drinking culture; majority of people drink tea, and although instant coffee is widely available, it is not quite as popular. Tea is drank fairly weak, with milk and several spoonfuls of sugar. Remember to tell the waitress if you do not take sugar at all- usually sugar is mixed in when the drink is brought. Filter coffee is only available in more western-style restaurants and coffee shops. Always ask if the coffee is prepared by a machine- if you ask for a filter coffee, most people won't know what it means. Soft drinks are cheap and drank everywhere, with the most common varieties of coke, fanta, sprite and mirinda. Zambia also has its own soft drink called Apple Max. Bottled water is sold everywhere and it is fairly cheap. Water is often listed in menus as "manzi", which is the most common brand name.
Zambians are either teetotallers or drinkers; such thing as social drinking is not really understood. Zambia's own bottled beer, Mosi, is popular and tasty, as are the South African brands such as Castle. Foreign ciders such as Savanna or Hunter's, are available in supermarkets and more upmarket bars, but they are much more expensive. Wine is usually South African, and pricey. It is rarely sold outside of supermarkets and Western bars.
Zambia's home-grown beer, maize beer, is cheap, weak and everywhere. It is sold in milk-like cartons in pubs and even supermarkets, and there are plenty of brands. The most common, Chibuku, is also known as shake-shake. It has the consistency of a weak, runny porriage, and is certainly an acquired taste. If you visit any local bar, you will certainly be handed one for a try.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Zambia. There is one exception though: you have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering Zambia overland.
Still, it's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Zambia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A and yellow fever would be recommended. During the rainy season, cholera outbreaks are not uncommon - if you get a sudden bout of vomiting and fever, get tested immediately. Concider a cholera vaccination, and buy bottled water.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis, hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Malaria is, unfortunately, very common, and people do catch it even in Lusaka. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. If you feel at all unwell, get tested immediately - tests are done quickly in all health centres, and are cheap and reliable. Make sure you protect yourself against mango flies which are small, nasty insects that burrow under your skin, and are painful and hard to remove. They nest in clothes as they dry outside, so make sure you iron everything before wearing it - including your underwear!
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. Also note that Southern Africa and thus Zambia as well has a high percentage of people with AIDS.
See also Travel Safety
Zambia is relatively safe for a backpacker, and as with most African countries, the biggest hazard is the traffic. There are very few rules- the biggest vehicle gets to go first, which usually leaves the pedestrian last. You might have two cars on one lane going very fast, sometimes even in the wrong direction, so make sure you check the road from every possible angle before you cross. They will certainly not stop. Pickpocketing is unfortunately common, especially in the few Western shopping centres and bars, so make sure you do not carry anything extra. Pickpockets go where the rich tourists go, so don't let a "nice" neighbourhood lull you into feeling too secure. The biggest hassle are the various touts, taxi drivers and bus conductors. Be firm but not rude - Zambians are temperamental, and a lack of acknowledgement might lead to an uncomfortable situation.
Lusaka has a curfew of 10:00pm- you can move freely around after that, but use a car/taxi, as pedestrians at that time might get picked up by the police - and sometimes it is for their own good! Lusaka city centre is not safe after nightfall, as the city empties out of workers, and street kids take over.
Internet connections are available even in the smallest towns - they don't always work, and are sometimes slow, but there are, usually, plenty. Uploading photos and files is always slow. Internet usually costs about 100 kwatcha a minute, and in more touristy places 150/200 a minute. Ask for a discount, if you plan to stay online for long, and make sure the time is recorded correctly.
See also International Telephone Calls
Getting a local sim card is easy and cheap. The biggest network is Zain, with Zamtel and MTN following. A sim card usually costs less than US$1. Texts to Europe and the United States|US]] cost between 200-300 kwatcha per text. People use texting more than calling, as calls from a mobile to a mobile are expensive.
Post in Zambia is slow but usually reliable. A post card to Europe can take between four days and two weeks, and costs about US$0.30. Parcels take longer, and are quite expensive - make sure you only seal your box at the post office, so you can show what's inside. It also works in your advance - if the personnel sees you only have boring soapstone carvings and nothing of value, your parcel is much more likely to arrive. Leave your cards and letters in the biggest post office; it therefore passes through less hands and is more likely to get to its destination.
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