Zambia Country Guide

Blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful vistas and a host of wild animals, Zambia is a top holiday destination. It is home to the world's largest waterfall, stunning lakes and wetlands, the African walking safari, untamed Zambezi, an abundance of birds and wildlife, and an exhilarating, throbbing wilderness.

Zambia gives you the exciting opportunity to  experience the best of what Africa has to offer!

The Zambia Country Guide below gives you some information to let you learn a little more about the country. More general information about what there is to see and do can be found in our Zambia destination guide or Zambia tours page. You can also check out specific information on Livingstone or Lusaka.

We recommend you read about travel in Zambia on GoNOMAD.

Check out the latest Zambia Travel features on YouTube.

Zambia Country Guide

Useful information on this page includes:

Public Holidays Top

Follow the link to view a current list of public holidays in Zambia.

Climate Top

Check out our Zambia weather guide for a comprehensive six-day Livingstone temperature forecast and some handy information about the climate and weather in Zambia.

Communication Top

The telephone system of Zambia has problems coping with the huge load. It is quite difficult to get through to any place, and the more remote the place, the more difficult it is to reach. The only way to get through is to be persistent and keep trying till you get a functioning line.

Zambia's international access code is 260. To call a number outside Zambia, first dial 00 to reach an international line, then dial the particular country's access code. For example, dial 44 for UK, or 1 for the USA.

Mobile phones
Mobile phones, commonly called ‘cells' in Zambia, are used more frequently in the bigger cities, which have a wide choice of networks. Network coverage is gradually increasing to cover the medium-sized towns but coverage outside Livingstone and Lusaka is inconsistent. While in Livingstone, make sure you do not pick up Zimbabwean networks, as the charges may be based on official Zimbabwean exchange rates, thus making the calls rather expensive.

Email and the Internet
The email community in Zambia is quite big. Earlier the Zamnet Server, which is the server associated with the University of Zambia, was used to access almost all websites. The server is no longer with the university and has become part of a separate company. During the university association days, users faced several problems while using the server and it got showered with various nicknames, ‘damnet' being one of the least offensive!

Zamnet is now housed in the USIS Building, which was earlier the Meridian Bank. It is near the roundabout at the south end of Cairo Road. Short-term users can use the computers and email by paying around US $3.50 per half hour.

Ironically, in spite of the fact that more and more businesses and individuals are using email, very few have access to the Internet.

Currency/Money Top

The Zambian Kwacha is the currency of Zambia. Banknotes are available in denominations of K20, K50, K100, K500, K1000, K5000, K10000, K20000 and K50000.

The designs of the banknotes portray the rich culture, history, traditions, and also the tourist attractions of Zambia. Notes of each denomination usually have a unique tree on the front, and an example of Zambia's wildlife on the obverse. The names of the animals are also mentioned.

The best way to bring currency into Zambia is either through traveller's cheques, or in dollars or pounds. These can be exchanged in the major towns at any Bureaux de Change. Beware of black market dealers who may offer to exchange your money at the borders; they are known to cheat people very adroitly.

Exchanging traveller's cheques requires payment of a commission. The value of the Kwacha fluctuates quite quickly. The conversion rate in 2005 was 4800 Kwacha per US Dollar. The coins, called ngwee, have been taken out of circulation as they are of little value. The most commonly used denominations are K500, K1000, K5000, and K10000 notes.

Geography Top

Located in southern Africa, Zambia is a landlocked country. It has a tropical climate and its topography includes high plateaus and a few hills and mountains cut across by river valleys. Zambia has an area of 752,614 sq km (290,566 sq miles) and that makes it the 39th largest country in the world, after Chile. It is a little bigger than the American state of Texas. The Zambezi River basin in south Zambia covers 75% of the country while the Congo basin in the north covers the remaining 25%. The internal drainage basin of Lake Rukwa in Tanzania covers a small area in northwest Zambia.

Health Top

If you travel to Zambia from an area infected by yellow fever, you must carry a yellow fever certificate. It is best to get vaccinated against yellow fever, tetanus and cholera. Malaria is quite common in the low-lying areas and that includes the popular wildlife destinations. Travellers are advised to start taking prophylactics two weeks before arrival and continue for two weeks after departure. Ask your doctor or chemist for the most suitable drug since certain drugs become ineffective with time.

In the main towns, it is quite safe to drink tap water since it is purified. However, in remote areas, water must be boiled before use. Hotels and lodges usually provide boiled water. Bottled water is easily available in the major towns.

Food and Drink
Only boiled or sterilised water should be used for brushing teeth, making ice, and of course, for drinking. Pasteurised milk is available easily and it is usually quite safe to eat dairy products. It is best to eat your meals hot, making sure that vegetables, fish, and meat are all well cooked. All fruits should be peeled.

Other Risks
Swimming or paddling in freshwater is not safe. It is best to find pools that are well maintained and chlorinated. It is not uncommon to be advised to get vaccinated against hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

Health Care
Zambia does not provide free health service. Availability of sufficient health care outside the major towns is not assured and stocks of medical supplies are limited too. Travellers are advised to carry some basic medical supplies as a precaution. An all-inclusive health insurance plan is recommended and if you intend to spend time in isolated parts of Zambia, it is best to include emergency air evacuation coverage in your insurance plan.

History Top

Until around 300 AD, modern day Zambia was occupied by Khoisan hunter-gatherers. They were slowly absorbed and displaced by more technologically advanced tribes. During the Bantu expansion of the 12th century, huge waves of Bantu-speaking immigrants arrived. The Tonga people or the Batonga were the first of these immigrants to settle in Zambia. They are believed to have arrived from the east near the ‘big sea'.

The Nkoyo people from the Luba-Lunda kingdoms situated in northern Angola and in the southern parts of today's Democratic Republic of Congo also arrived quite early in the expansion. A larger influx occurred between the late 17th and early 19th centuries. The Nsokolo people settled in the Mbala district of the Northern Province in the early 18th century. The 19th century saw the Ngoni people arriving from the south. By the late 19th century, most Zambians had settled into the places they currently occupy.

According to records, Francisco de Lacerda was the first European to visit the area. His visit in the late 18th century was followed by many other explorers' visits in the 19th century. David Livingstone was the most well known visitor. He believed that the slave trade could be abolished by practising the 3 ‘C's of Civilisation, Christianity, and Commerce. Livingstone saw the awe-inspiring waterfalls on the Zambezi River in 1855, the first European to do so. He named them Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria. The locals call the waterfall Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means ‘the smoke that thunders' in the Kololo or Lozi dialect. Livingstone is also the name of a town near the waterfalls. After his demise in 1873, Livingstone's journeys were publicised a great deal and the accounts motivated a surge of traders, missionaries and explorers to follow his path.

Languages Top

English is the official language of Zambia. It is used for all official purposes and as the medium of instruction in schools. There are over 70 commonly spoken native languages. They include Chewa, Chibemba, Chinyanja, Chitonga, Ila, Kaonde, Lamba, Lunda, Luvale, Ngoni, Nkoya, Nsenga, Senga, Silozi, and Tumbuka. The total number of languages spoken in Zambia varies from 43 to 70, depending on whether some of them are counted as languages or dialects.

Urbanisation has affected some of the native languages dramatically. Words from English and other indigenous languages have been assimilated. Urban and rural dialects of the same language are sometimes differentiated by urbanites with the addition of ‘deep' to the rural dialect. Thus Nyanja is commonly spoken in Lusaka, while English is used for official communication, and another chosen language is used at home, especially if it is an inter-tribal family, which is quite common now.

People/Culture Top

Native Bantu Culture influenced by European beliefs and practices makes up Zambian culture. In earlier days when the local people lived in independent tribes, each tribe had its own way of life. The colonial era resulted in urbanisation and amalgamation of cultures. Different tribes began to live side by side in the cities and towns, adopting facets of both European culture and each other's culture. The indigenous cultures still survive mostly in the rural areas. In urban areas, the process of integration and advancement of a homogeneous Zambian culture is a continuous one.

Traditional Zambian ceremonies display the local culture. Some of the well-known ceremonies are Chibwela Kumushi in the Central Province, Ncwala in the Eastern Province, Kuomboka and Kathanga in the Western Province, Ukusefya Pa Ng'wena in the Northern Province, Likumbi Lyamize in the North West, Lwiindi and Shimunenga in the Southern Province, and Mutomboko in the Luapula Province.

Traditional arts practised in Zambia include basketry in the form of Tonga baskets, copper crafts, fabrics, ivory and wooden carvings, mats, pottery, and stools. Traditional Zambian music is largely based on drums and other percussion instruments. This is accompanied by dancing and singing. Foreign genres of music, such as African-American music, Congolese rumba and Jamaican reggae are very popular in the urban areas.

Religion Top

Christianity is the official religion of Zambia but quite a variety of traditions are practised. In many of Zambia's syncretic churches, traditional religious beliefs merge easily with Christian beliefs. Denominations of Christianity prevalent in Zambia include Anglican, many Evangelical denominations, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheran, New Apostolic Church, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Seventh-day Adventist.

Muslims constitute about 5% of Zambia's population. Most of them live in urban Zambia. Ashkenazis make up the major part of the small Jewish community living here. Some of the renowned Jewish Zambians include Simon Zukas, who is a retired MP, Minister, and member of the Forum for Democracy and Development. The Hindu, Sikh, and Ismaili Muslim communities exist because of the Indian and Pakistani diasporas in Zambia. About 1.5% of the population, or 160,000 people, belong to the Baha'i community. They run the William Mmutle Masetlha Foundation, which works very actively in areas such as primary health care and literacy.

Visas/Passports Top

Entry requirements for Americans
Citizens of the United State of America require a visa to visit Zambia. Travellers can obtain it on arrival, and the visa is valid for the duration of the stay. Travellers must also possess a valid passport.

Entry requirements for UK nationals

British citizens must have a valid passport and visa to enter Zambia. Visas may be obtained at the port of entry and they are usually valid for the duration of stay. It is however best to obtain a visa before arrival.

Entry requirements for Canadians

A valid passport and a visa are required by Canadians as well. Visas may be obtained at the port of entry and they are usually valid for the duration of stay.

Entry requirements for Australians

A valid passport and a visa are required by Australians to enter Zambia. Visas may be obtained after arrival and they are usually valid for the duration of stay.

Passport/Visa Note
All travellers must be able to show a return ticket or some proof of onward travel along with documents for the next destination. Proof of enough funds to finance the stay must also be shown. Depending on the number of entries and the nationality, the fee varies for a visa issued on arrival. Day visitors who enter Livingstone from Zimbabwe have special provisions. The fee for day visitors from destinations that require a visa to enter Zambia is US $10, which is to be paid on arrival. The traveller obtains a ‘Day Tripper Visa', which is valid for a maximum of 24 hours.

US citizens who do not wish to go through the trouble of dealing with the red tape themselves can count on the professional services of Travel Visa Pro to speed things up: Apply for Zambia Visa Online (service starts from $39). If you need to renew, add pages, change name, or just get a new US passport, you can Apply for a New US Passport here.