Zambia offers travellers some of the finest experiences in Southern Africa, from the wondrous Victoria Falls to three of the continent’s premier safari destinations. There is little of interest in the cities, so a holiday to Zambia is all about the natural world. The Victoria Falls are known as the Mosi Ao Tunya (“the Smoke that Thunders”) in the local dialect, an evocative moniker that goes some way to illustrating the primeval majesty of one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders. The Falls are easy to view multiple times during a stay in Livingstone, which lies on one of Africa’s great rivers, the Zambezi, and offers a wide range of activities to suit thrill seekers or honeymoon couples.
But Zambia is perhaps most renowned as the destination of choice for safari connoisseurs. This is where walking safaris were pioneered and are still operated to an exceptional standard, taking place in unspoiled wilderness areas where guests at a tiny bushcamp are able to enjoy game viewing activities that are utterly private. The Luangwa Valley is one of Africa’s best leopard hotspots, the vast Kafue National Park is thrillingly wild, and the picturesque Lower Zambezi allows visitors to enjoy a diverse range of activities that includes canoe safaris. With all this choice, the first time visitor to Zambia should try to find time to combine at least two safari areas with a little downtime by the Falls.
And a final word for the people. Zambia has always remained relatively safe and stable compared to some of its near neighbours, and it’s easy to see why. Warm, welcoming and friendly, with a wicked sense of humour, Zambians also happen to be amongst the best, most decorated guides in Africa.
Food & Drink
Food and non-premium drinks are often included on safari, and at some of the lodges on the Zambezi outside Livingstone. It tends to be delicious, international fare with large portions, numerous courses at dinner and a surprisingly wide range of options given that you are often dining at a remote bushcamp with no easy access to fresh supplies or modern technology! Snacks and drinks are regularly provided between meals, meaning that most visitors to Zambia tend to return feeling extremely well fed! At hotels catering for international tourists, prices for food and drink should be relatively similar to what you would pay in the UK, although imported wines and spirits can be more expensive.
When to Travel
For the safari destinations, the most popular times to travel are generally May to November. September and October are very hot and dry – prime game viewing time as animals congregate around the few remaining water sources, but much of the wildlife is at its lowest ebb, and there are far more frequent kills to see (great for some, stomach churning for others). Heavy rains hit Zambia from December to April, a period which is referred to as the Emerald Season. There are attractions to a safari at this time, including lush scenery, healthy animals and birthing season for many species, but a number of roads become inaccessible and many camps close.
The Victoria Falls are at their fullest after some months of the wet season: incredibly impressive, but the sheer volume of water can create so much spray that the Falls become less visible! In the middle of the wet season, the Falls are far less imposing, but lower water levels make Livingstone Island visits and swims in the Devils Pool on the rim of the Falls more feasible.
There are currently no direct flights to Zambia from the UK, so the choice that you have to make is where to fly via and which airline to use. The most convenient is normally to fly via Johannesburg and then connect up to Livingstone or Lusaka from there. There are flights via Dubai straight into Lusaka which can also work well, as well as options with Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airways into Livingstone which works for trips combining time in East Africa.
UK passport holders require a visa to enter Zambia. This is purchased on arrival in the country at immigration by cash payment (at the moment the amount is USD50 per person). We recommend that you ask for the KAZA Uni-Visa which is a multiple entry visa at the same cost of US$50 per person (cash only). Validity – the KAZA Uni-Visa will be valid for 30 days and act as a multiple entry visa as long as visitors remain in Zimbabwe and Zambia i.e. visitors can cross into Zimbabwe/Zambia as frequently as they like within the 30 day period. It also covers those who visit Botswana for day trips through the Kazungula Borders, however, it will not be valid if staying in Botswana overnight. In this case, you would need to purchase a new Visa.
If you are travelling via South Africa with children (18yrs and under) you will be required to present an unabridged birth certificate for each child, and possibly sworn affidavits permitting them to travel from parents not travelling. Please ask us for more details.
Zambia is largely a very safe country, particularly in the remote areas most frequented by tourists. Crime rates are high in the major cities, and we would not recommend walking alone in Lusaka after dark, but it is unlikely that you will spend much time in the capital anyway. Livingstone is safer, with a strong backpacker presence, but we would still recommend taxis if you are visiting the town at night.
As we’re not medical experts we feel it is essential you contact your G.P. regarding vaccinations and medication for travel to Zambia. What follows are some suggestions, but they must be verified by a medical professional. In addition to such vaccinations as you’d routinely have for living in the UK, further boosters are recommended for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Diptheria.
Malaria is present in all areas of Zambia, particularly during wetter months, and we would strongly recommend that you take malaria prophylaxis. Please consult your G.P. for advice on what malarial precautions to take.
We also like these guys but again you must talk to your GP first: The Travel Doctor, an interactive website providing specialist health information for travellers plus customised lists of travel medicines, vaccines and malaria tablets for holiday makers, global adventure travellers and expeditions.
Money & tipping
The local currency is the kwacha (ZMK) and it’s seen plenty of recent upheaval! Firstly the government announced that US dollars would no longer be legal tender in Zambia. Now, the Zambian kwacha has also undergone a change and been “rebased”, with three zeros knocked off it with immediate effect. This has primarily been done to avoid confusingly high numbers and the need to carry large bundles of cash! There should be no impact at all on visitors, but the exchange rate is now roughly 8.5ZMK to the £, having previously been approximately 8,500! All a little confusing, but in the long term this should actually make Kwacha payments more easy to follow.
It is still possible to pay for visas on arrival in US$, but all subsequent payments, including departure taxes, must now be paid for in kwacha. Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels and at some lodges but cash is necessary at some of the more remote safari camps. ATMs are reasonably widespread in Lusaka and Livingstone, and your driver or guide will be happy to stop off at one if you require more cash. There are also ATMs and money exchange desks at Lusaka, Livingstone and Mfuwe airports.
Tipping is welcomed in Zambia, particularly when you remember that poverty is widespread. The safari season can be short and guides, drivers and camp staff are not tipped during the off-season, when many return to agrarian work for relatively low pay. 10% is normal in restaurants, and small contributions are expected for porterage at hotels and lodges. On safari, we would advise tipping your guide direct, roughly at around ZMK25,000 per person per day. Lodges and camps tend to have tipping boxes for camp staff, including chefs, housekeepers and hosts, and we would recommend a similar amount per day for this communal contribution. You may also want to tip your driver or spotter on safari, although they may well be included in the camp box contributions. For transfer drivers, a small amount of roughly ZMK25,000 per journey is usually sufficient, unless transfers are extremely long. It is important to remember that tipping is a very personal thing, and if you feel someone deserves more or less, or even no tip, then that is entirely your prerogative and you should not feel bound by these suggestions.
Travellers Code of Conduct
- We provide all of our clients with a “Travel Facts” document upon confirmation of your booking. This details useful facts and travel advice for your chosen destination, including restaurant recommendations, reading tips, basic language, cultural traditions, climate information and brief historical overviews. We feel that this offers a useful insight into the country you are visiting, and can help you interact with local residents in a more sensitive, well informed manner. Please try to take the time to read this information before your visit, if at all possible.
– A number of the countries in which we operate holidays are religious societies with a widely observed set of customs. Always respect these norms, particularly when visiting religious buildings.
– To the best of our knowledge, all of the hotels, lodges and camps within our portfolio operate stringent measures to minimise water usage. Many of our destinations have issues with water supplies to a certain extent so feel free to raise any possible wastage should you encounter it during your stays, either with the accommodation or with us upon your return.
– Please ask before taking photographs of people, and respect their wishes should an individual not be happy to be photographed. We find that friendly requests and a smile are usually met with assent.
– Strive where possible to make your own contribution to environmental practices within the destination you are travelling. This might include minimising your electricity usage, avoiding smoking in protected areas, sticking to marked roads at all times while self-driving, avoiding coral while snorkeling and safely disposing of all litter (recycling where possible).
– Where possible, try to purchase from local suppliers. This includes shopping for souvenirs, eating out in restaurants and booking further excursions during your free time. In areas where haggling are an accepted part of daily life, don’t become angry or offended if you are unable to obtain what you perceive as a fair price for an item. We emphasise to local suppliers that our clients should never be taken on unsolicited shopping trips, but if this does happen, try to retain your sense of humour, provide a firm refusal to participate and tell us about this on your return. We pass on all feedback from every trip undertaken with Holiday Architects to the relevant local suppliers, who share our commitment to travelling with sensitivity.
– Please don’t remove any indigenous items from their natural habitat and attempt to bring them back as a souvenir. This particularly applies to coral, shells, plants and food in the natural world, and to cultural artifacts and antiques.
– If you are unsure about anything relating to the above, please feel free to ask our local suppliers or your Holiday Architects specialist. All of these people either live or have travelled extensively in the country you are visiting and will be more than happy to offer their considered advice.