Imagine sitting in the comforts of your home. Perhaps you’ve just returned from a lengthy vacation or perhaps you’ve misplaced your vacation time for years. Regardless of your travel history, there’s always an opportunity to consider your travel future. And that begins with your next Sub-Saharan travel destination — Zambia.
You read that correct! Europe is undisputably great. Those beaches in Mexico are extremely fine too. But what you’re looking for is a destination that makes other Instagram accounts truly jealous. You’re looking for a place that hooks you, doesn’t let you go, and knocks the socks off your expectations. Got it? Let’s go!
Why Zambia, Exactly?
Zambia is a land known for its peaceful demeanor, hospitality to guests, and the common refrain to new faces: And how do you find our country?
Can you find Zambia? It’s okay if it took you a few seconds! Nestled comfortably in Sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia is a landlocked country primarily known as the home to Victoria Falls (more on that later), wildlife, and the friendliest folks around.
Sure, there are other suitable countries in the region and there’s no problem with dipping your toes on the other side of the fence. But Zambia is a destination that screams authenticity and carries with it the charm of a different way of living — the Zambian way.
Out of all the sunrises in Sub-Saharan Africa, the sunrise in Zambia is one to remember.
Arriving in Zambia
When you arrive in Zambia, you’ll most likely fly into the nation’s capital, Lusaka (otherwise, you’ll fly into Livingstone — home to Victoria Falls). Lusaka is a hard-knuckle city with a nice mix of tradition and spotted modern flare. To help acclimatize, visit Manda Hill Shopping Mall or Levy Junction Shopping Mall to purchase any last minute goodies that you and your family may need. But remember, you’re not in Zambia to dwell within the air conditioned confines of shopping centers. Collect your wits, take a deep breath, and make moves!
The cost of your lodging can range from budget $10/evening accommodation – Lusaka Backpackers – all the way upwards to the more luxurious lodges that cater to the travelers seeking pampering and all the comforts of home. The “nicer” accommodation options will give you privacy, while offering you all the attention you deserve as you plan your daily activities.
Transportation within Lusaka
Your best bet when it comes to transportation within Lusaka is to take a private taxi. This may be your first true-opportunity for dialogue between yourself and a local. Make the most of it!
Muli Shani — “How are you?”
Ni Shinga? — “How Much?”
Did you remember to pack your bargaining gloves? You’ll need them. When a taxi driver sees that you are a foreigner, chances are that he or she will try charging you the Mzungu price. He will tell you “petrol is very expensive” or “traffic is bad,” or a similar pre-installed excuse.
If you are comfortable with paying more, that’s great! If not, then please bargain firmly but politely. The taxi driver is just trying to make an honest living.
Traffic in Lusaka can be hefty, especially during dinner time when everyone is making moves. Plan accordingly!
If you’re feeling adventurous: Besides taxis, minibuses are extremely popular in Lusaka and in all of Zambia. For the right amount of kwacha (Zambian currency), you can get yourself a ride to pretty much anywhere. The only downside? You’ll have to find the correct minibus going in the direction you wish to go. You’ll also have to forget about leg room. There’s no such thing when it comes to Zambian minibuses.
Take It Off the Beaten Path
Sub-Saharan Africa is not your cookie-cutter vacation, but you weren’t looking for standard operation procedures, right?! Let’s assume you’ve reached Lusaka, you’ve acclimated to your new surroundings, maybe even walked around the city streets. Now you and your family are faced with a decision — to head north or south.
Let’s assume you have scheduled several days into your vacation — fantastic. If there’s one thing you should have in your luggage it’s time. Transit between destinations within Zambia can be long, bumpy, but totally worth it. Sure, you could fly north or south from Lusaka, but where’s the fun in that? Since we have time, we’re going to go about it a little differently.
So let’s go off the beaten path and head north where we will be able to visit such attractions as Lake Tanganyika or Chisimba Falls. From Lusaka, it will take you roughly 12 hours via bus. In order to get an idea of what your 12-hour journey will feel like, close your eyes and have your significant other read the following to you in the most over-the-top adventure voice he or she can put together.
It’s early in the morning at Lusaka’s main bus terminal. Buses are crammed together and rumbling. The African sun is beginning to rise over the bustle of street-hawkers, busybodies, and locals going about their business. You have your ticket in hand (you purchased it the day before to be sure of a seat). You board the bus to hear African religious music blaring from the speakers above. You look out the windows and see vendors raising their products hoping to make a sale – bottled water, potato chips, socks. You see everything, yet you feel jitters about the journey ahead.
You’ll be humming African tunes for the remainder of your trip.
There are several different bus companies that go up the spine of Zambia each and every day. It’s important that you arrive at the bus terminal a day before to reserve a seat. The bus companies can be located within the terminal inside of ramshackle stalls that appear in danger of abandonment, but don’t be fooled — these companies are run by individuals who are precise and know what they are doing.
North leads you to the provincial capital of Kasama. This city doesn’t have as “much” as Lusaka but it gets the job done – markets, lodges, banks, etc. Kasama will be your launching point to Lake Tanganyika (a beautiful lake bordered by many Sub-Saharan African nations) and Chisimba Falls. Chisimba is a beautiful day trip from Kasama and a great opportunity for a romantic picnic with a up-close view of the waterfall. Make sure you bring identification along with kwacha for those pesky park fees and taxi fares.
Meeting Point: Once in Kasama, walk to Shoprite — the modern grocery store in the middle of town. Here you will be swarmed by taxi drivers aiming to get your business: Yes, my friend, where are you going?
Victoria Falls: A Travel Destination For Everyone
The route in Zambia that you’re most likely to take includes a Intercape Bus south from Lusaka. Intercape is a reputable bus company that operates in sub-Saharan Africa. It is modern, sleek, and in many ways the exact opposite of the regular buses in Zambia.
You’ll be taking an Intercape bus south to Livingstone, where you’ll be greeted by Victoria Falls — The Smoke that Thunders!
Unlike a majority of all the other transportation options, Intercape allows you to book online. This takes away the annoying step of buying a ticket in person — although you can still do that if you wish! Instead of a 12-hour haul, the trip to Livingstone is a mere six hours – give or take due to constantly changing road conditions.
Livingstone is truly a meeting point between tradition and what the modern day tourist demands. It caters to both budget-minded travelers along with the luxury-capable among us. You can drink your tea and enjoy the elephants at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, or you can hit up a fan-favorite Jollyboys Backpackers where they’ll give you a free ride to Victoria Falls and help with any other logistics you may need solved.
The low season of Victoria Falls runs between August and January. During this time, the mighty falls appear less formidable. Yet, this is a perfect opportunity for you to visit the Devil’s Pool. This daredevil attraction allows you to step right on up to the edge of the waterfall — I’ll stay safely on dry land, thank you very much!
The high season runs between February and July. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to wear two raincoats at once, this is it. The sheer force of the falls makes it feel like a downpour on a perfectly sunny day. You can rent a raincoat at the falls, and it is highly advisable. This place will leave an impression that will be difficult to shake for years to come.
If you time it right, visiting Victoria Falls during a full moon is also a unique experience. Don’t forget a flashlight!
Livingstone is more than a one-trick pony. Ask the receptionist at your lodge what else there is to do in the city, and you’ll get a laundry list of opportunities: walking safari, markets, volunteer teaching, walking with cheetahs, game drives, booze cruises, helicopter rides, group BBQs, and so on.
If you’re really trying to absorb authenticity, then take an evening to walk to the part of town where the local workers hang out after a hard day’s work. There, you’ll have an opportunity to chat with locals, enjoy a laugh with locals, and maybe even be challenged to a game of pool.
Your Sub-Saharan Travel Destination
Ultimately, your trip to Zambia will be what you make it! If you want to spend relaxing afternoons at incredible game lodges, then that’s very doable. If you want to sit in dusty buses and collect imagery of the African savannah, then that’s cool too! There’s no right or wrong way to travel Zambia. The real shame would be missing out altogether. Are you ready?