Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
The Victoria Falls are one of the world's most spectacular plunges. The 2km(1.2mi)-wide Zambezi River drops more than 100m (328ft) into a steeply-walled gorge. The Zambian side of Victoria Falls has long played second fiddle to its better-known Zimbabwean counterpart, but trouble next door means Livingstone is positively booming.
For close-up views of the Eastern Cataract, nothing beats the hair-raising (and hair-wetting) walk across the footbridge, through swirling clouds of mist, to a sheer buttress called the Knife Edge. If the water is low and the wind favourable, you'll be treated to a magnificent view of the falls and the yawning abyss below the Zambezi Bridge. Adrenaline junkies can indulge in white-water rafting, abseiling, river-boating, jet-boating, bungee jumping and a host of airborne activities. At certain times of year it is even possible to visit Livingstone Island and swim at the very edge of the Falls, though sadly it's no longer free. Don't get so caught up with activities that you miss one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world.
South Luangwa National Park
For scenery, variety of animals, accessibility and choice of accommodation, South Luangwa is the best park in Zambia and one of the most majestic in Africa. Amongst the varied terrain of dense woodland, oxbow pools and open grassy plains lurk beasts of all shapes and sizes, from massive elephants to pesky tsetse flies. Take precautions against malaria.
South Luangwa is where walking safaris (Jun-Sep) began. Being in the park, on foot, with the wildlife all around, is a truly exhilarating experience. Despite its many charms, South Luangwa attracts far fewer visitors than other African parks, especially during the wet season, making it all the more attractive. (Note that lots of wild animals in this area makes walking around at night very dangerous.)
Most of park is inaccessible Nov-Apr (especially Feb & Mar), so many lodges close at this time.
Kafue National Park
Covering more than 22,500 sq km (8687 sq mi), this is the largest park in Zambia and one of the biggest in the world. With terrain ranging from the lush riverine forest of the Kafue River to the vast grassland of the Busanga Plains, the park rewards wildlife enthusiasts with glimpses of various carnivores and their nimble prey.
The main road between Lusaka and Mongu runs though the park, dividing it into northern and southern sectors. (You don't pay park fees if you're in transit.) There are several gates, but three main ones: Nalusanga Gate along the eastern boundary, for the northern sector; Musa Gate, near the New Kalala Camp, for the southern sector; and Tatayoyo Gate, for either sector if you're coming from the west.
Rangers are stationed at the two park headquarters: at Chunga Camp and another 8km south of Musa Gate. Some lodges/camps arrange walking safaris, but visitors are not allowed to walk in the park without an armed ranger. Most guests feel safer exploring the park in a 4WD, during a day or night wildlife drive, or by boat.
When to go?
If you want to spot wildlife, August to October is the best time to visit, though an average of around 32°C (89°F) during the day by the end of that period, especially in low-lying areas - which includes the major national parks. If you want cooler weather and greener landscapes, visit during the cool, dry months of May to August. During the November to April rainy season some national parks are closed, and animals are harder to spot because of the lush vegetation, although the lodges that remain open offer very attractive rates and you have the parks virtually to yourself. Getting around at this time is also harder as many rural roads become impassable rivers of mud. Zambia is an excellent place for bird-watchers; November to December is the best time, although conditions are good year-round.
Travel Visa Overview
Most visitors need visas, which are good for three months, plus an International Health Certificate showing proof of a yellow fever vaccination within the past 10 years, though you're unlikely to be asked for this. For many nationalities, visas are available on arrival, though regulations do change so check before you turn up. Visa fees also vary for different nationalities, though for most it's
European plug with two circular metal pins
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave.Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage.
Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'ricewater' diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form.
It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera.
Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
Also known as enteric fever, typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease.
The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains.
You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity.
Seek medical help for any fever (38C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating.
Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellow fever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache, muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidney failure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes - hence the name.
There's no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you have yellow fever.
HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions.
Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com.
Zambia's altitude creates a temperate climate. There are three distinct seasons: the dry season (mid-April to August), when temperatures drop at night and the landscape is green and lush; the hot season (September to mid-November), which is the best time to see wildlife as flora is sparse; and the wet season (mid-November to mid-April). Temperatures climb up to 29 to 30°C (84-86°F) during the day with quite cold nights throughout the year. Overall temperatures are slightly cooler in the middle of the year, which, along with sparse rainfall, make things quite pleasant.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
Zambia's history goes back to the debut of Homo sapiens: evidence of human habitation going back 100,000 years has been found at Kabwe, north of Lusaka. Beginning around 1000 AD, Swahili-Arab slave-traders gradually penetrated the region from their city-states on the eastern coast of Africa. Between the 14th and 16th centuries a Bantu-speaking group known as the Maravi migrated from present-day Congo (Zaïre) and established kingdoms in eastern and southeastern Zambia.
In the 18th century, Portuguese explorers following the routes of Swahili-Arab slavers from the coast into the interior became the first known European visitors. After the Zulu nation to the south began scattering its neighbours, victims of the Difaqane (forced migration) began arriving in Zambia in the early 19th century. Squeezed out of Zimbabwe, the Makalolo people moved into southern Zambia, pushing the Tonga out of the way and grabbing Lozi territory on the upper Zambezi River.
The celebrated British explorer David Livingstone travelled up the Zambezi in the 1850s, searching for a route into the interior of southern Africa, hoping to introduce Christianity and European civilisation to combat the horrors of the slave trade. Livingstone's efforts attracted missionaries, who in turn brought hunters and prospectors in their wake. In the 1890s much of Zambia came under the control of the British South Africa Company (BSAC), which sought to prevent further Portuguese expansion in the area.
Under the BSAC, the area became Northern Rhodesia in 1911. At about the same time, vast copper ore deposits were discovered in the north-central part of the territory (the area now called the Copperbelt). Large-scale mining operations were set up and local Africans employed as labourers. They had little choice: they needed money to pay the hut tax introduced by the Europeans, and their only other source of income vanished when much of their farmland was appropriated by European settlers. The colony was put under direct British control in 1924.
Settlers began pushing for federation with Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Malawi) - an arrangement delayed by WWII until 1953. Meanwhile, African nationalism spread throughout the country. British rule ended in 1963, when the federation dissolved and Northern Rhodesia took the name Zambia, after the Zambezi River. The new country suffered from a legacy of British rule under which the Brits taxed Zambians to the bone, and spent most of that money on Southern Rhodesia - a drain that continued to plague the country well into the 1990s.
Following independence, Kenneth Kaunda led Zambia for 27 years, a feat he accomplished by declaring the UNIP the only legal party and himself as the sole presidential candidate. Calling his mix of Marxism and traditional African values 'humanism', Kaunda rapidly bankrupted the country with a bloated civil service and a nationalisation scheme wracked by corruption and mismanagement. Falling copper prices and rising fuel prices accelerated the slide, and by the end of the 1970s Zambia was one of the poorest countries in the world. Not content to fiddle at home, Kaunda stuck his nose in the domestic political spats of several of his neighbours, including Ian Smith's Rhodesia, who promptly restricted Zambia's imports and exports by closing its rail routes to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Desperate by the mid-1980s, Kaunda turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose severe conditions for aid - withdrawing basic food subsidies and floating the currency - sent prices skyrocketing and touched off nationwide riots that killed thousands. A further round of price hikes in the early 1990s led to more rioting, but this time Zambians demanded a cure rather than a salve: bring back multiparty democracy. Kaunda capitulated with an amended constitution, legalised opposition parties and full elections in October 1991. When labour leader Frederick Chiluba won a landslide victory as president, Kaunda had the good grace to bow out peacefully - an all too rare occurrence in African politics. Chiluba immediately began to woo the IMF, the World Bank and private investors, introducing austerity measures that drove food prices up and the value of the kwacha down. Chiluba also set about reforming the civil service and reprivatising or closing failed government enterprises.
With Chiluba's popularity plummeting, Kaunda briefly threatened to return to the political stage. However, in May of 1996, Parliament passed a bill that limited a president's service to two terms, hence thwarting Kaunda's political aspirations. Chiluba effectively eliminated all serious opposition and triumphed handily. Two independent election monitors who dared to suggest that the election was neither free nor fair were arrested, and journalists were suspended for showing insufficient enthusiasm for Chiluba's victory. A group of dissatisfied army officers staged a failed coup attempt in October 1997, to which Chiluba responded by declaring a state of emergency for several months and charging over 100 people with treason. Regional troubles moved in a new direction in 1999, when the Angolan government accused Zambia of backing the UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebels in that country's ongoing civil war. Zambia in turn stated that Angola's accusations were the result of Zambia's refusal to get involved in the conflict by denying permission to Angola to battle UNITA rebels on Zambian land.
Despite fears that Chiluba would overstay his welcome, he was replaced at the December 2001 elections. His party, the MUD, was not. Chiluba's hand-picked successor Levy Mwanawasa won the vote, amid opposition claims of electoral fraud.
Despite the political chaos, the election, however flawed, returned one of the most broadly based democratic parliaments the country has seen, putting an end to the rubber-stamp, one-party system that has ruled since independence. Equally refreshing was Mwanawasa's decision to pursue corrupt officials, a campaign that would eventually focus on Chiliba himself, even though the former president was immune from prosecution.
Zambia is far from a model democracy, and the levels of poverty and disease remain disturbingly high. Yet strong copper prices and an extended period of stability and relative prosperity (with emphasis on the relative) mean there is palpable optimism in the country.
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