5 Things to Do In Zambia
UPDATED 2020: Of the 54 countries in Africa, the border crossing between Zimbabwe and Zambia is the best of the lot! With Zimbabwe being considerably more dangerous, it’s Zambia that receives more tourists, and I can see why. A beautiful, friendly country and there are so, so many things to do in Zambia when you’re travelling here. I spent the best part of a year overland travelling from Cape Town to Cairo, and my time in Zambia was perhaps the best of the lot.
After my time there, I thought I’d lend a hand for you guys, planning your trip, so here are the top 5 things to do in Zambia when you’re here:
NOTE: Check out my blog post on 10 Things to do in Victoria Falls here.
The main draw for tourists of all the things to do in Zambia, and one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls. Africa’s biggest waterfall. You cannot visit Zambia and not go and see Victoria Falls, and in fact, many people visit Zambia and the only thing they see is Victoria Falls! It’s easy to access from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital (by 6 hour bus, or by private taxi), you can also visit it from the Zimbabwe border, or from Kasana in Botswana, either way, you can’t miss it.
NOTE: Don’t confuse ‘Victoria Falls’, which is the name of the Waterfall itself, with ‘Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’, which is the name of the town on the Zimbabwe side, closest to the waterfall (confusing I know!). If you’re in Zambia, the town nearest to Victoria Falls is called Livingstone, and that’s where you’ll base yourself for the few days that you visit the falls.
I try to visit the capital city of every country I visit (which is every country in the world!), so Luska makes the list of things to do in Zambia by virtue of being the Capital City. Trurth be told, it’s not a super beautiful city, but it is booming. So, if you’re on a long trip in Africa, Lusaka is a great spot to find a good hotel, good pizza, proper coffee etc, so it’s a wonderful base in that regard. It’s also a great spot to organise further travel, both to Victoria Falls and on Safari, as most of the operators have offices there. So if you haven’t booked online in advance, you can barter with the guys there.
In terms of things to do in Lusaka, make sure to hit up Soweto Market and the Munda Wanga Environment Park, and the National Museum for a bit of history on the country . Oh and Lusaka is a great place to party! Visit McGintys for pre-drinks and then the bars at Arcade Mall after.
3) Safari (Lower Zambezi, South Luangwa and Kafue (the worlds second biggest National Park!) are the big 3.
Everybody on the continent is rushing to South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya for their safaris, and they’re paying a fortune for the famous names of the national parks there. Good luck to them, there are amazing spots for safari, but so are South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Kafue National Parks. Personally I wouldn’t bother with the other national parks in Zambia, they are all good of course, but these 3 are the best, so limit your choice to those.
If you’re in Lusaka, the easiest to access is Lower Zambezi, and you can even day-trip it, but i’d recommend at least 1 night, ideally 2 or 3 nights, to increase your chances to see all of the big 5!
4) White-Water Raft the Zambezi River
White water rafting the Zambezi river in East Africa is true bucket list stuff. Between the months of July and February, rafting conditions are PERFECT here, and you can expect gorgeous Class 5 rapids (if you choose, of course there are gentle courses too if you’d like to relax). The main hop-off point for rafting the Zambezi is from Livingstone town in Southern Zambia (which is the town you’ll be in when you’re accessing Victoria Falls, so that’s perfect). You can either do a day-trip rafting, or if you’re up for it, a multi-day rafting experience. Hard core.
HARD-CORE: 3 days rafting expeditions from Livingstone is $450, with 5 day about $900.
The tourist centre of Zambia, but don’t worry, it still retains its charms. Livingstone is the easiest place to organise everything affiliated with Victoria Falls – whether it’s bungee-jumping, rafting, or helicopter flights. But that’s not the only reason to visit Livingstone. There is an awesome travel vibe here with great bars, awesome accommodation option and onward travel is super easy to organise. You can even use Livingstone as your base for your trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana for a couple of days.
When Is Best Time to Visit Zambia?
Their winter is May to July, and that’s the best time to visit. Their dry summer (Oct to Nov) is good for safaris too, but their wet summer (nov to March) is pretty wet, so skip that.
Visa for Zambia?
Western travelers can get a visa on arrival in the airport (you can even pay with credit card!), or at the land-borders (cash only). $50 for single entry, $80 for multiple.
Is Zambia Expensive?
It’s pretty cheap. The Kwacha is used day-to-day, but USD is accepted for big purchases, like bungee jumping or safaris. You can scrape by on $30 a day, or with high-end lodges, spend up to $500 a day!
Is it Safe to Travel in Zambia?
Yes, very safe. Comparable to Europe.
My Personal Experience Traveling in Zambia
I arrived in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, headed to one of the 2 guesthouses and threw off my bags. Standard practice with my lack of planning meant that I had no local currency, no idea what to do or see and no map so I spent the rest of the day rectifying that! Walking around the Capital city, people are so keen to talk to you and with the former British colonization, nearly everyone can speak English. I often had people walking me around the city, showing me where I needed to go and not once was I asked for any form of payment, a welcome break from my years in Asia (I live in Thailand) and the constant haranguing from touts.
As far as a city goes, Lusaka is pretty relaxed. There’s not necessarily so much to see or do but simply walking around and soaking up the atmosphere can easily fill a day. There are a couple of local markets that I walked around which were an experience in themselves and I even managed to find a Subway franchise and treat myself to a footlong meatball marinara (easing myself back into my backpacking ways slowly after a year in Australia on a working-holiday visa, where I saved $25k.
Lusaka soon came and went and I was off on a 5-hour bus (that’s an African 5 hours apparently which is somewhere between 7 and 9 hours in reality) to Livingstone, the town closest to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World – Victoria Falls. Essentially, Vic falls was the reason I had come to Zambia so I was buzzing at the prospect of finally seeing it. The bus journey was fine, if a little overcrowded, but it was broken up sporadically by various breakdowns, overenthusiastic gospel preachers and wildlife so it was certainly entertaining. The roads in Africa, so far, have seemed pretty good so it was relatively smooth throughout (*disclaimer – relatively smooth in relation so some less developed countries I’ve been too, relative to the West it’s like a very, very dusty rollercoaster)
Livingstone is awesome. Of course, it’s set up for a fair bit of tourism being so close to Victoria Falls but it’s laid back, relaxed and affordable. I stayed in a cracking hostel called Livingstone Backpackers for around $8 a night for the dorm. I shared a room with a cool Dutch guy who had driven from Holland in an 80’s military landrover through the centre of Africa to be here, he had some crazy stories about getting put in prison in the Congo for 3 days en route and taking a secret agent across a few countries over 3 weeks – I love the people you meet on the road.
On day 2 I got peer pressured into bungee jumping off the bridge which crosses one of the gorges at Victoria Falls. 110m freefall for $110 fee, extortionate – yes, but worth every cent! Jumping off the bridge, into a circular rainbow caused by the mist coming off the Falls, white water surging past beneath you and a full view of the Falls behind you as you bob up and down after your jump waiting to be reeled in. Don’t get me wrong, I was terrified but it was definitely something I would recommend.
You can feel the wet mist coming from the falls from nearly 1km away, it truly is something special and you can see the ‘smoke’ (read:mist) from miles and miles away surging up from the falls high into the sky, it’s difficult to describe it so you should come and see for yourself.
This day marked a special date too – South Africa was playing a football match! We watched Bafana Bafana (South Africa) draw with Mexico in the local bar and the atmosphere was great. After the game, we got dragged to another couple of bars and then to a Zambian club and let me tell you, these guys no how to have a good time!! Everyone ear to ear smiles, dancing like crazy, buying me drinks because I was a guest in their country – one of the best nights out I have ever had for sure, I clambered back to my dorm about 4 am I think.
Early start the next day, pretty standard in Africa it seems so everyone is up around 7 am. I went with the crazy Dutchman and his car to National Park to see Victoria Falls close up. The water levels at the moment are the highest they’ve been in 40 years so the mist is at an all-time high, which is a sight to behold. I think to get the best experience you would need to come both at the peak of the wet season to see this and also at the dry season to see the sheer size of the falls, or am I just looking at reasons to come back?! We walked around the park, monkeys running around EVERYWHERE, completely unperturbed by humans. I was walking around in flipflops when some guy tells me to go down a track because it’s beautiful but “watch out because I saw a cobra down there” WTF?! You don’t here too many sentences like that back in Ireland.
It’s almost needless to say but Victoria Falls up close are something else. The noise is deafening and the volume of the water is incomprehensible, my photography does it no justice at all. At one point you cross a bridge probably 100 metres from the centre of the falls and as you cross you are entirely engulfed in the spray, literally soaked! Brilliant experience and you can hardly see anything due to the amount of water in the air – crazy.
Luckily I bumped into some guys who are also going to Johannesburg via Botswana although they are aiming to arrive one day later than me, so I changed my plans and went with them. Anyway, that meant I could visit the Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side of the border this time so I nipped over to Zimbabwe today and WOW!!! I thought it was amazing yesterday… the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls blows the Zambian side out of the water, it was awe-inspiringly beautiful today, from the Zim side you get a much better grasp on the sheer size of the falls and they are much better viewpoints so if you make it this far then go that extra step and check it out from Zimbabwe – you won’t regret it!
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