Whilst Zambia might be famous for the magnificent Victoria Falls and the many safari and adventure travel options available, there is still plenty of wonderful shopping to be had! You can find some beautiful handmade items, such as baskets, wood carvings and chitenges (lengths of fabric with colourful prints).
Exploring the exciting markets for local handicrafts is a wonderful way to experience Zambian culture!
This Zambia Shopping Guide gives some information about the best things to purchase whilst on your Zambia holiday. Mostly of these will be handmade items sold at various markets and stalls throughout the country. You can also check out some more detailed information about shopping in Livingstone, Lusaka, or Kafue National Park. And don't forget to stop for some delicious local food from one of the tasty Zambia restaurants.
Zambia's capital Lusaka is a lively and modern city. This charming and energetic city represents the past and the future of Zambia. Although Lusaka is overpopulated and chaotic, it represents the ‘real' Africa as much as Zambia's scenic beauty and natural parks do.
The city markets, a riot of colour and activities, represent the true spirit of Lusaka. Thousands of stalls are set up each day, filled with goods every morning, and they do brisk business all day. The friendly and smiling vendors sell all kinds of wares and services; you can get a haircut and buy auto spare parts too.
A visit to a market in Lusaka offers visitors a rich and pleasant insight into the daily lives of the city's residents. The three main markets in the city are the Soweto Market close to Cairo Road, another on Independence Avenue opposite the Tazara Building, the third being the newer and covered market located on Freedom Way.
For a more posh shopping experience, there are numerous stores and shopping centres all over the city, with many more still being constructed. Many fascinating boutiques can be found on Cairo Road, which also has many of the bureaux de change and banks. A fine range of boutiques and shops are in the Manda Hill shopping centre too, while the place to go for jewellery and gemstones is Jagoda. Its two stores are located at the Intercontinental Hotel and the Holiday Inn, respectively.
Lusaka is one of the best places to buy Zambian handicrafts. Traditional articles such as copper crafts, local batiks known as chitenges, native masks, spears and woodcarvings are available throughout the city. The Book House Shop in the Manda Hill Shopping Centre, Zambilt on Luanshya Road and Zintu Handicrafts at the Holiday Inn sell all kinds of handicrafts. A great variety of ceramics can be found at Moore Pottery on Kabalenga Road. Go to Zintu Za Nyimba on Panganani Road for a range of locally made batiks, candleholders, carvings, hand-dyed cloths, lampshades and wooden furniture. On the last Saturday of each month, the suburb of Kabulonga turns into a lively craft market.
Zambia has a large number of ethnic groups, and together they present a great diversity of art and culture. Among the great variety of traditional arts and crafts practised in the country, basketry is one of its finest. Depending on where the artisan lives and the material available, baskets are made out of bamboo, bark, grasses, liana vines, papyrus leaves, reeds, roots, rushes and sisal. Symbolic designs are made out of traditional dyes to decorate the baskets. The dyes are made from barks, leaves, roots and soils - all of different colours. The Mbunda and Lozi people of the Western Province are especially skilled in this art.
Another widely appreciated Zambian art is woodwork, with the men of the Lunda tribe being the best at this. Woodwork is a men's craft and they carve animal figures, bowls and utensils, canoes, drums, furniture, masks and walking sticks. Pottery, on the other hand, is a women's speciality; they bake clay forms on open pits and fires. Another popular traditional art is the creation of chitenges, which are lengths of fabric with colourful prints. They are traditionally used by the women as turbans, wrap-around skirts, covers, decorations and also to carry babies. Designed in a variety of geometric prints, chitenge patterns often identify the community of the wearer.
Locally made handicrafts, such as baskets and carvings, are favourites among tourists. There is a pretty good selection at the curio stall near the border to Victoria Falls but better bargains are available at places away from tourist areas, such as some roadside stalls or stores in Lusaka.
The best place to shop for curios is the Kabwata Cultural Centre. While shopping, hard bargaining is not the norm here but a little bargaining in a polite and good-humoured way is not taken exception to. Ultimately, prices are usually reduced by about a quarter. While the difference of a few cents may not mean too much to you, it will probably make quite a difference to the seller.
Carvings imported from DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe are often on sale in the larger stalls. Keep in mind that they would be much cheaper if bought in their countries of origin, so do buy Zambian products as mementos of your trip.
Warning: You may occasionally come across sellers hawking ‘precious' stones, emeralds, rough diamonds, etc. However, unless you are an expert geologist and can spot the genuine article, you are more than likely to be cheated. It is wisest to stay with buying carvings.
Normal curios can be taken out of Zambia without any problems but to take out any game trophies an official export permit from the Department of National Parks is necessary. Visitors are requested to support the CITES ban on endangered species in letter and spirit, as also the ban on the international ivory trade. Ivory poaching has reduced substantially because of the ban so visitors are requested not to buy ivory souvenirs and undermine the effort. In any case, importing ivory items into any country is sure to pose problems for the buyers.