Zambia travel guide
Vast lakes and wetlands, long and life-giving rivers, breathtaking African sunsets and a rich tradition of guiding all contribute to Zambia’s immense appeal as a safari destination.
Its most famous landmark, Victoria Falls, which it shares with Zimbabwe, attracts nature lovers and thrill-seekers alike. Visit in March or April, when the falls are in full spate, and you’ll be bowled over by the rainbows, the roar of the cascading water and the dense, drenching clouds of spray.
Livingstone, the closest urban hub to the falls and once Zambia’s colonial capital, has a number of accommodation options, colourful markets and a busy restaurant and nightlife scene. The mighty Zambezi River itself is glassy-smooth above the falls and wild below. It’s perfect for booze cruises, canoe safaris and adrenaline activities such as white-water rafting and river surfing. There are a plethora of beautiful riverside lodges dotted along its banks.
Beyond the falls, Zambia is not as high-profile a safari destination as Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa, but it’s a favourite with those in the know. Packed with untamed wilderness and fascinating wildlife, minus the crowds, Zambia is the African bush at its most raw and romantic.
The country’s excellent safari lodges and camps will put you fully in touch with your wild surroundings. You’ll fall asleep to the hooting of owls, the whooping of hyenas, the distant roar of lions, and the loud munching of hippos grazing nearby.
Almost a third of Zambia’s landmass is given over to national parks and game reserves, but South Luangwa National Park is the cream of the crop for sheer density of big game. It’s also the home of the legendary African walking safari.
Another of Zambia’s drawcards is the people. The country is home to a staggering 72 different ethnic groups, each of whom have their own distinctive cultural traits and traditions, but all of whom are unfailingly warm and welcoming.
752,614 sq km (290,586 sq miles).
16,717,332 (UN estimate 2016).
20 per sq km.
President Edgar Lungu since 2015.
President Edgar Lungu since 2015.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins, three round pins or three square pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Travel in major cities, as well as the major game parks is generally safe during daylight hours. However, serious crimes can and do occur, like armed robberies, home invasions and sexual assault. Vehicle hijackings happen across the country from time to time. Take particular care when approaching locked gateways at night. Don’t stop to give lifts to people at the roadside. Watch out for objects that have been placed to block the road.
Be vigilant, keep all vehicle doors locked and windows closed when driving, and remain aware of your surroundings, especially after dark.
Bag snatching, pick pocketing and theft from parked cars are common at some restaurants and internet cafes in downtown areas, particularly near bus and railway stations and in some shopping areas. Keep large amounts of money, expensive jewellery, cameras and phones out of sight. Don’t change large sums of money in busy public areas. Thieves have followed people after they have withdrawn money from banks and later robbed them at gunpoint.
Security risks increase after dark, especially in tourist areas and city centres. In April 2016, a series of ‘ritual’ murders in some of the poorer neighborhoods of Lusaka resulted in riots and looting of mainly foreign-owned shops and businesses.
Keep valuables and originals of important documents in a safe place and carry a copy of your passport and immigration permit.
Use reputable banks, bureaux de change or ATMs to exchange money.
A general election took place in August 2016. The presidential result was disputed by the main opposition party. Initial large-scale protests have now subsided; occasionally small gatherings of opposition supporters take place outside the main Courthouse compound in Lusaka. You should exercise caution, avoid any political rallies, demonstrations and monitor local media.
There are also occasional student demonstrations, which can be violent, at the University of Zambia on the Great East Road (the main route to and from Lusaka International Airport), and around Copperbelt University. There are also occasional demonstrations in the central business district along Cairo Road. Don’t attempt to cross protester roadblocks as this commonly provokes a violent reaction from demonstrators. Monitor local and international media and keep up to date with this travel advice by subscribing to email alerts.
Take care when travelling in rural parts of North Western, Copperbelt, Central and Luapula provinces close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly after dark. Using legitimate border crossings in these areas is generally safe, although Congolese officials may ask for payment to cross the border. Avoid travelling in the bush along this border for hunting or prospecting.
There is a risk of explosive remnants of war in remote areas near the borders with Angola, Mozambique and DRC. Take care if you venture off road in these areas.
Wild animals in the bush, including venomous snakes, are unpredictable and do kill. Whether you are travelling on land or water, you are at risk of potentially fatal animal attacks. Always observe local regulations and follow your tour or safari guide’s instructions.
Adventure sports, including in the Victoria Falls area, carry risks. Serious accidents and deaths sometimes occur. The quality of medical care varies greatly. Follow safety instructions closely and make sure your insurance policy covers you.
You can drive using a UK driving licence for up to 90 days. If you intend to stay longer you will need to get an International Driving Permit or a Zambian driving licence.
Take care when driving. Vehicles are often poorly lit, inadequately maintained and badly driven. Drink driving and driving while talking on a mobile telephone is illegal.
Road travel at night in rural areas can be hazardous. Abandoned vehicles, pedestrians and stray animals are a danger. Many roads are severely pot-holed or otherwise unsafe, especially during the rainy season (November-April) when bridges and roads risk being washed away by sudden floods. There are frequent fatal crashes. Don’t drive at night outside the main towns.
Travel by long-distance public transport can be dangerous due to poor standards of driving, lack of rest periods for drivers, the poor quality of vehicles and poor road conditions. Minibuses used in urban areas are usually severely overcrowded, poorly maintained and badly driven.
The Road Traffic and Safety Agency has recently started to more vigorously enforce an existing law to prosecute traffic offenders: drink driving; speeding; careless driving, etc through a fast track court system. Penalties include fines and/or imprisonment.
The European Union lifted a ban on Zambian air carriers in June 2016. Previously Zambian airlines were refused permission to operate services to the EU because of the inability of Zambian civil aviation authorities to ensure the safe operation of airlines.