A trip to Africa can be one of the most amazing experiences. For a (white, privileged) Westerner like myself, it was eye-opening and definitely a big culture shock. If you find yourself planning a trip to southeastern Africa, a visit to Zambia is one you can’t miss!
Before my trip (my first ever to the African continent), I was really nervous and had a million questions: how should I handle money? What is transportation like? How do I get my visa? Do I need any vaccinations? Now that I’ve been and seen it for myself, I wanted to create a guide for other travelers. Here is everything you need to know about visiting Zambia!
Airports: The two most common airports for tourists in Zambia are Lusaka (Kenneth Kaunda International Airport), with airport code LUN, and Livingstone (Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport), with airport code LVI, although there are a few other airports serving the country with commercial flights. I flew in and out of Lusaka, and it is a small airport but a bit of a labyrinth to get to your place of departure. You may or may not be given a laminated boarding pass…
Currency: Zambia uses Zambian kwacha as their currency. There are lots of ATMs in big cities (like Lusaka and Livingstone), so you can withdraw cash when you arrive. US Dollars are also commonly accepted for tourist activities, but the exchange rate (and the conversion rate you’ll pay) will change day-to-day. Always ask in advance if tourist activities can be paid for by credit card, or if they will be cash only! Keep in mind that foreigners/tourists will almost always pay more than locals.
Dress: It’s more common to see men wearing shorts—women don’t wear shorts or pretty much anything above the knee in Zambia, so pack accordingly. Football jerseys of any major English team (Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, etc.) will help you to blend in, as they’re very popular with the locals. Make sure to bring long pants and long sleeves, as it can get quite chilly at night! You should definitely bring them if you go on safari in any of the national parks.
Electricity: Zambia has a landshedding schedule in some places, where power is shut off for up to 8 hours a day (this is the case in Lusaka). Zambia uses the same 3-pronged plugs as the United Kingdom, so make sure you have an adapter if you’ll need it.
Language(s): English is the official language. People also speak a variety of languages depending on where they live, or which tribe they are from. Bemba is the most widely spoken indigenous language in the country. Most people in the capital, Lusaka, will speak Nyanja.
Medications: In addition to bringing all your own prescription medications from home (don’t count on being able to fill any prescriptions there), you should also take anti-malarial pills with you. I was prescribed “atovaquone-proguanil,” which I took once a day for 2 days before my arrival, every day during my trip, and for seven days after I left Zambia (with no weird side effects like vivid dreams). DO NOT bring antihistamines such as Benadryl to Zambia, as it is a controlled substance and therefore illegal. You can get in deep trouble.
Neighbors: Zambia is a land-locked country with 8 bordering neighbors: Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
Population: The population of Zambia is 14.5 million people. The largest city is the capital, Lusaka, with an urban population of 2.5 million.
Religion: Christianity is the official religion, although you will find several mosques in Lusaka and other parts. No denomination of Christianity is specified as the country’s religion, and you’ll find many different denominations are present.
Safari: There are great options for safari in Zambia! Mosi-oa Tunya National Park near Livingstone (the national park for Victoria Falls) and Kafue National Park are two of the most popular parks for safari. The only rhinos are in Mosi-oa-Tunya, and you can only see them on a walking safari. Kafue National Park is where you should go if you want to see cats—there are lions and leopards there.
Safety: In general, most big cities (like Lusaka and Livingstone) and parks in Zambia are perfectly safe during daylight. Petty crime (pick-pocketing and mugging) is fairly common. Keep your belongings with you at all times, your zippers zipped, make sure you lock everything up where you’re staying, and never let anyone help you with your stuff. Take taxis (registered taxis only, which will typically have a stripe painted around the middle of the car) when it gets dark, or whenever your gut instinct tells you to. Also make sure to keep your car doors locked as carjacking is a problem.
Transportation: The main way to get around Zambia is either by coach bus or by car. There are tons of bus companies that run inter-city routes. If you have the time and want to secure your spot, buy your ticket the day before—some popular routes will be full. Be prepared that buses will often stop to pick up/drop off on the side of the road, so the bus schedule isn’t always on time. And sometimes the buses don’t have working speedometers and the door will be held on by an old seatbelt. I’d also recommend packing light and taking all your belongings with you on the bus, instead of in the luggage hold. As a former British colony, Zambia drives on the left side of the road. Driving by car is probably the best way to get around Zambia, although the roads aren’t always in the best conditions, and other drivers tend to do whatever they want on the road.
Vaccinations: Zambia does not require yellow fever vaccine unless you’re coming from a country with risk of yellow fever. You should be up to date with all your standard vaccinations, including Hep A and Hep B. You might want to consider getting a typhoid vaccine, and/or a rabies vaccine—Zambia does not currently have the post-exposure prophylaxis rabies immunoglobulin. Translated to real talk: if you get bit by an animal and you weren’t vaccinated for rabies, you’ll need to find medical care outside of Zambia to make sure you don’t get rabies.
Visas: A tourist visa is easily accessible for U.S. citizens. A single-entry visa, valid for 30 days, costs USD $50. The only accepted currency is dollars, and you need to pay in exact change (no $100 bills)—make sure you have some with you before you arrive! You’ll need two blank pages in your passport.
Water: In general, tap water is not drinkable in Zambia. Bottled water is cheap and easily accessible.
What to Do: Where to begin! You absolutely can’t miss Victoria Falls, especially if you decide to take the plunge and get a bird’s eye view from a microlight! A trip to the capital, Lusaka, shouldn’t be missed either—especially if you can take a daytrip out to Siavonga and Lake Kariba! And of course, a safari experience is a must if you’re visiting any of the national parks.
I hope this guide will give future visitors to the country some peace of mind—it’s not all as confusing or scary as it might seem! Zambia is an amazing country and absolutely blew me away.
Have you ever been to Zambia or another African country? What was your experience like?