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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in zambia
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Zambia is in Central Africa. Roughly the size of Texas, Zambia is a landlocked country, bordered by Tanzania to the northeast, Malawi to the east, Mozambique to the southeast, Zimbabwe and Botswana to the south, a narrow strip of Namibia known as the Caprivi Strip to the southwest, Angola to the west, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the northwest.
Cities and towns
See also: African National Parks
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 1980s and 1990s, declining copper prices and a prolonged drought hurt the economy. Elections in 1991 brought an end to one-party rule, but the subsequent vote in 1996 saw blatant harassment of opposition parties. The election in 2001 was marked by administrative problems with at least two parties filing legal petitions challenging the results. Opposition parties currently hold a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
Much of Zambia remains desperately poor, with GNP per capita on the order of US$400/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 privatization. Another recent success story has been tourism, with the misfortunes of its neighbor Zimbabwe driving tourists to the northern side of the Victoria Falls and Zambia's safaris, but the fast growth has come from a low base.
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 tribes (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 intertribal strife that has decimated countries like Rwanda.
The Bemba are the largest 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 center 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 independendent 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.
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 Assistent 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.
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:
All temperatures above are given for the lowland valleys that house most of Zambia's population and national parks. If you're heading up to the plateaus, temperatures will be around 5°C lower.
Zambian visa policy is best summarized as confusing: there is a bewildering thicket of rules on who needs visas, whether they can get them on arrival and how much they pay, and local border posts also apply their own interpretations. You can also apply for visa exemption via your travel agency if you've booked a package tour. The upside is that once they've figured out what category you're in, actually obtaining the visa is rarely a problem and a rule of thumb that most Western visitors can get visas on arrival for US$25 (bring along a copy of your passport's main page and two photos). Do check with the nearest Zambian embassy for the latest information; the Zambian Embassy to the US has some information on their homepage (http://www.zambiaembassy.org/), and getting the visa before arrival will reduce the uncertainty factor.
Zambia's main international gateway is Lusaka, which has direct flights to London on British Airways and good regional connections. For access to the eastern parts of the country (eg. Chipata), it will be faster to fly into Lilongwe in neighboring Malawi, and cross the border (which is quite straightforward by African standards). Also, Livingstone, near spectacular Victoria Falls, and Mfuwe, near South Luangwa National Park, have small international airports serving regional destinations.
TAZARA (http://www.tazara.co.tz) trains run between Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. According to the schedule the trip takes 38 hours, but these trains break down regularly. If you are on a tight schedule, a train might not be your best option. On the other hand, a train ride between Dar es Salaam and Zambia is a beautiful way to see the countryside and is very economical (under $10).
Several important things to note about this trip, however:
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:
Crossing international borders by car will incur a tax.
International bus routes exist. You can take a bus across the border into Malawi, Zimbabwe, or Tanzania. 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. Also, if you enter Zambia through Namibia's Caprivi Strip, you will have to cross the Zambezi River. You will have 2 options:
Zambia is large and distances long, so budget plenty of time for getting around.
Domestic flights on Zambian Airways (http://www.zambianairways.co.zm/) — formerly Roan Air, and unrelated to now bankrupt state operator Zambia Airways — and tourist-geared Airwaves (http://www.airwaves.co.zm/) 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 hourlong 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 maximize 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 ($100/day), but many of the 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 centers, you will probably encounter dirt roads. Although they might look solid, the dirt is often loose, and the chances of an accident are huge. 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!
Completely separate from the TAZARA network, local trains run in the central and northern portions of the country, with the main line running from Livingstone through Lusaka to Kitwe. They are relatively reliable and safe, but slow.
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 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:
Thanks to its former colonial status, English is one of Zambia's eight official languages and the language most often spoken in schools, on the radio, in government offices, etc. However, there are over 70 different Bantu dialects spoken throughout the country, the most important of which are Bemba, spoken in Lusaka, the Copperbelt and the north, and Nyanja (Chewa), spoken in the east and also commonly understood in Lusaka and Livingstone.
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 that speaks flawless English and, in fact, knows more about your country than you do!
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?" ("Muli Bwanji?" is the most recognized form) even if you do not care. They will consider you very respectful.
Originally, the Kwacha — meaning "sunrise," so-named to celebrate Zambia's independence — was tied to the US dollar, so conversion was simple. However, in the late-90's, the kwacha was floated and devalued rapidly. Over the past few years, though, the kwacha has remained relatively stable, hovering around $1 = 4500K. Dollars are still commonly used for larger purchases and will be accepted by anybody in a pinch.
If you want to sound like a local, refer to 1000 kwacha as a pin, so for example 10,000K is "ten pin". In the '90's, 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. Notes are now available in denominations of up to 50,000K, but hang on to small change if you can because there are occasional shortages.
ATMs may be found in major cities, but you should not depend on them to be functional. Some shops and restaurants might accept debit or cr cards, as do practically all high-end hotels and safari lodges, but surcharges of 5-10% are common.
Although using forms of payment other than cash is growing in popularity, you should not depend on cr to get around the country. Instead, the most promising way to obtain cash is by Traveler's Cheque. Although many hotels and banks will process TCs, keep in mind the laws of supply and demand — the more remote you are, the poorer the exchange rate will be. Plan carefully, and try to get an adequate cash supply when passing through larger cities.
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 barter — 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 is a little expensive compared to its neighbors. A bare-bones budget traveler will be looking at a minimum of US$20/day just for a bed and three meals, and transport is (again, comparatively) expensive, in part due to the great distances involved. 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 is difficult.
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. 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), pumpkin leaves (chibwabwa) and other vegetables. 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 5000K ($1).
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 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 (thanks to a significant ex-pat population) 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.
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 $0.35 in a store or $1-2 in a bar.
If you are near the borders, you are likely to find Carlsberg (good, from Malawi), Simbas (excellent, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Tuskers (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 Chipuku 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 cachasu (cuh-CHA-suh) a spirit distilled from anything Zambians can get their hands on — including battery acid and fertilizer. 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 an top-notch hotel for a few hundred dollars (such as The Intercontinental); you can stay in an independent hotel (like the The Ndeke), for about $50; or you can opt for a budget experience, and spend $5 to $10 (at ChaChaCha Backpackers) for a highly adequate space. These are only a few of the options. Of course, choosing accommodation off the beaten path might be more exciting but unsafe.
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 (e.g., Lundazi's Castle Hotel is like no other in the world).
The University of Zambia is the official university. However, it is not affordable for most Zambians. There are also Technical Schools throughout Zambia, and Teacher's Training Colleges are found in each Provincial Capital, providing two year's coursework for about $300.
For tourists, the biggest educational experiences would likely be:
Unemployment in Zambia is rampant. The government has never passed any minimum wage legislation. Nevertheless, Zambians accept low-paying jobs, because there are few other options.
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.
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.
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.
The HIV infection rate among adults was estimated to be 16.5% in 2003. 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. Alternatively, effective malarial prophylaxis exists.
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.
Zambians follow a strict patriarchal society — men are afforded more respect than women, and older men are respected more than younger men. You might find, however, that a white person is afforded 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 greeted by kids yelling mazungu, mazungu! 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.
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.
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."
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 "1." The city code for most other towns is "2." 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.
Cell phones have been booming in recent years, and Zambia has a highly competitive market with three main operators: Cell Z (095), Telecel (096) and Celtel (097). Generally speaking, Celtel has the largest network, while Telecel is the cheapest. You can pick up a local SIM card for as little as 15,000K ($3). 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 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 5000K/min ($1) for domestic and 15000K/min ($3) 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. Some hotels might offer Internet connections to their guests.