Driving Around Zambia

Zambia offers a superb gateway for vehicle travellers wanting to get off the beaten track. Bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola, Zambia lies at the heart of the subcontinent.
Untainted by commercial tourist development. Zambia is a working example of Africa left alone. A big country, uncompromising and challenging….but real…… home to true adventure and quality experiences enhanced by a warm and friendly people.
Depending on where you’re coming from, or where you’re headed, here are suggestions of routes to take to see the best of the East, West, South and Northern regions of the country. This section will be expanded to include more detailed routes soon.
Travel Tips
Vehicle Travellers – If you’re doing a vehicle trip through Zambia it is a good idea to carry a range of tools and essential spares with you. Two spare wheels and a couple of spare tubes are a must due to the condition of the roads. Spare jerry cans of fuel and water, a tow rope, compressor, winch and a spotlight are useful items to have. Many of the villages along the main routes offer tyre mending services at a very reasonable fee. Road maps are available in Lusaka from the Map Centre in Nationalist Road or the Tourist Board in Lusaka Square, Cairo Rd.
Camping- Zambia is a fascinating country to travel around by vehicle. Even though camping facilities are marginal, if you’re well prepared you can find some of the best, unexplored and remote places in the country and very often have them all to yourselves. Be fully equipped for spending the night with no facilities at all except perhaps a nearby river. Have a bucket for washing pots and clothes, all cooking gear and all the food you need for the whole journey apart from fresh vegetables. Meat is not always available in the remoter areas so bring substitutes. Most villages will sell onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, sugar, salt and oil. You can buy just about anything you need for your journey in Lusaka, but tinned food is pricey. Always have at least twenty litres of drinking water in the vehicle at all times as well as spare jerry cans of petrol. It is best to boil all water before drinking it.
Be very careful in towns and villages not to leave your vehicle open and unattended. People with little are easily tempted. You should have no problem sleeping outdoors in designated camping areas or remote places along the way, but get into the habit of locking things away before you go to sleep.
Accomodation- Zambia has a wide range of standards when it comes to places to stay – from five star hotels and luxury lodges comparable to any in Africa, to cheap guesthouses and good campsites. Foreigners must pay in hard currency except for the smaller guesthouses. Not all of the cheaper / remote ones are equipped to take travellers cheques or credit cards.
When to Go -Zambia’s three distinctive seasons provide visitors with different perspectives depending on the time of year.
The Luangwa Valley for example is best for game viewing during the dry season from June to October, but the rainy season, with its spectacular profusion of greens and reds changes the landscape dramatically and the bird populations increase with the arrival of migrants from the north.
The Victoria Falls are at their most spectacular between April and May after the rainy season but often the spray is so thick it is difficult to see the full width of the falls. To appreciate the magnificent rock formations and gorges, it is just as interesting to come when the water is low at the end of the dry season from October to December.
Kafue National Park is best from May to October as is the Lower Zambezi. Ideal road travelling months are April to September as the heat is at it’s most bearable.
The People – Zambia has over 73 different tribes, with a population of just over nine million people most of whom live in and around the urban centres. The population growth however, at 3.7 % p/a is among the highest in the world.
In the cities, especially Lusaka, where there is massive unemployment and poverty, the informal sector has been allowed to multiply at an alarming rate. There are now fewer people selling wares on every corner, pavement and traffic light. There is a growing number of thieves, pickpockets and beggars, but if you don’t walk around with anything obviously stealable, it’s quite safe and most will be more than willing to chat or give directions. For the most part Zambians are very friendly people.
There is no predominant ethnic culture and Zambians are fast becoming westernised. There is however, an attempt to maintain traditional customs with the revival of ancient tribal ceremonies amongst the various tribes in different parts of the country. If any of these are taking place during your visit, they’re well worth attending.
Safety – As far as personal safety is concerned, one could easily travel or even hitchhike alone throughout the country without a problem. Theft however is rife in the bigger towns and cities. Don’t walk around with things you can’t do without, like your passport or airline tickets. Carry minimum amounts of cash and keep it hidden or in a money belt and if possible, don’t leave your car unattended. This is less of a problem in the rural areas.
Clothes – Zambia has mild winters and the summer days can get quite hot. Lightweight casual clothes can be worn all year round, with a jacket or jersey for early winter mornings and evenings. On safari keep clothes to a minimum and mostly of neutral colouring – khakis, browns and greens. A sunhat, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellant are a must.
Laundry – For low budget travellers there are no coin operated laundromats at all so consider drip dry clothing and be prepared for hand washing. In most places one could hire someone to do your washing.
Health – A yellow fever certificate is mandatory if you are travelling from an infected area. Vaccinations for cholera, tetanus and yellow fever are advised. Malaria is virulent in the low lying areas of the country which include most of the good wildlife destinations. Take prophylactics two weeks before arrival and continue two weeks after leaving. Your chemist or doctor can advise you of the most suitable drug available as certain drugs lose their effectiveness.
Tap water in the major towns is purified and perfectly safe to drink. In the more remote areas always boil it first, except if you’re staying at a lodge or hotel where drinking water is boiled already. Bottled water is readily available in the bigger towns.
Photography – Zambia is an extremely photogenic country. From panoramic scenery, wildlife and birds to people and vibrant ceremonies. Rich color and good low lighting conditions abound. It is considered rude to take pictures of people without asking them first. Only print film and processing is available in Lusaka, not slide. Keep your cameras in a dust resistant, padded case and out of the midday sun. A 200mm (or longer) telephoto lens will prove very useful.
On Safari – Always remember that while some animals have become accustomed to the presence of people they are still wild animals. Keep your distance. It is illegal to feed any animal, make excessive noise to attract their attention, or deviate from designated roads for that closer photograph. Never get out of your vehicle except at designated points. Close all windows and zippers when you leave your room or tent and spray it with insect repellant.
The best way to get the most out of your safari is to take an active interest in everything going on around you, not just the number of species you can see in the shortest possible time. Take reference books on not only wildlife but birds, insects and trees and read up about everything you see.
Borders – All borders are open from 6h00 – 18h00 except Victoria Falls which stays open until 20h00.
Visas – Visas into Zambia are payable by non-commonwealth visitors except the UK, and can be paid at the border.
Insurance – PTA insurance must be purchased either before leaving or at the border. Travel insurance and medical insurance should be taken out before leaving home. Have all your vehicle papers on hand for roadblocks.
Park Entrance Fees – An entrance fee of $10 is payable per person for entry into National Parks, except South Luangwa which is $20 per person. There is also a $5 vehicle fee. Kafue Park $15 .
Supplies – Most food supplies and second hand spares can be obtained in Zambia. Medical supplies however are not readily found outside Lusaka.
Petrol – Both diesel and petrol are available in all towns and intermittently in small villages. Always take extra jerry cans of fuel if driving to the more remote regions.