Zambia

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Introduction to Zambia

Zambia has excellent national parks teeming with birds and other animals, as well as the spectacular Victoria Falls and Zambezi River. Apart from sightseeing, these places are also centres for activities ranging from canoeing to white-water rafting and bungee jumping.

For independent travellers Zambia is still a challenge - distances are long, and getting around takes persistence, particularly once you get off the main routes. But for many people, the challenge is the main attraction. Without a doubt, in Zambia you come pretty close to finding the 'real' Africa.

For many years Zambia was the Cinderella of Africa, often overlooked by tourists, and forgotten by the rest of the world as disastrous politics in the 1970s and 1980s led to poverty and the virtual breakdown of the country. But by the 1990s the fortunes of Zambia changed, as a massive shift on the political scene lead to economic reforms and other improvements.

Full country name: Republic of Zambia

Area: 752,600 sq km

Population: 10.4 million

Capital City: Lusaka

People: African (98%): main ethnic groups are Bemba, Nyanja, Lozi and Tonga. Smaller groups include Ngoni, Lunda, Kaonde, Luvale and Asian (1%); European (1%)

Language: English, Bemba

Religion: Christian (50-75%), indigenous beliefs (50-75%); many people follow both

Government: republic

Head of State: President Levy Mwanawasa

GDP: US$8.9 billion

GDP per capita: US$890

Annual Growth: 0.5%

Major Industries: Copper mining and processing, construction, foodstuffs, beverages, chemicals, textiles, fertilizer

Major Trading Partners: Japan, South Africa, USA, Saudi Arabia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, UK, Zimbabwe

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Most visitors need visas, which are good for three months, plus an International Health Certificate showing proof of a yellow fever vaccination within the past 10 years.

Health risks: cholera, malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com)

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 260

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Zambia's most important public holidays are New Year's Day (1 January), Youth Day (second Monday in March), Workers Day (1 May), Heroes' Day, Unity Day (first Monday and Tuesday in July), Farmer's Day (first Monday in August) and Independence Day (24 October). Zambia also celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity on African Freedom Day (25 May).

The Zambian people celebrate many traditional festivals, although for tourists these are sometimes hard to pin down, and dates and even locations can vary from year to year. Perhaps Zambia's best-known festival is the Kuomboka, held near the town of Mongu in Western Zambia towards the end of the rainy season in late March or early April. The Lozi chief and his family are paddled in massive war-canoes across the Zambezi floodplains from their palace at Lealui to Limulunga, where the royal residence is high enough to evade the rising waters. In late February, the N'Cwala festival is held at Mutenguleni, 15km (10mi) southwest of Chipata, during which the chief of the Ngoni people samples the year's first fresh produce and commemorates the Ngoni's entrance into Zambia in 1835. The event is marked by feasts, music and some of the best dancing in the country.

In early March, anglers set their poles for the Zambia National Fishing Competition held on Lake Tanganyika.

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Best time to Visit

If you want to spot wildlife, August to October is the best time to visit, though an average of around 32C (89F) during the day by the end of that period, especially in low-lying areas - which includes the major national parks. If you want cooler weather and greener landscapes, visit during the cool, dry months of May to August. During the November to April rainy season most of the national parks are closed, and animals are harder to spot because of the lush vegetation, although the lodges that remain open offer very attractive rates. Getting around at this time is also harder as many rural roads become impassable rivers of mud. Zambia is an excellent place for bird-watchers; November to December is the best time, although conditions are good year-round.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Kwacha

Meals

Budget: US$1-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-15

Deluxe: US$15+

Lodging

Budget: US$3-10

Mid-range: US$10-50

High: US$50-100

Deluxe: US$100+

Zambia is a relatively inexpensive destination compared to most western countries, but for tourists it's slightly more expensive than other countries in East and Southern Africa. Travellers on a moderate budget should expect to spend around US$15-50 a day or more, depending on their taste for restaurant meals and safaris. If you do a lot of self-catering, take the train or bus and don't load up on artefacts, you can keep your costs below US$15 a day. Comfortable travel will cost about US$75 a day, though the use of luxury hotels and chartered planes will add significantly more to the cost.

You can exchange cash or travellers cheques at banks or foreign exchange (forex) bureaus in most large towns. Travellers cheques get much poorer rates. Bureaus generally give better rates than the banks, especially for cash, and have a faster service. Cash advances on a credit or debit card can be had in Lusaka, but don't expect to get cash for plastic in other towns. There's no black market worth bothering with, and most street moneychangers will rip you off.

Tipping is technically illegal, but of course still welcomed. You'll find a 10% service charge added to your bill in most restaurants. When shopping for crafts and souvenirs at curio stalls, or when buying some market goods, bargaining is common and expected. Bargaining is not common in shops.

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Attractions

Lusaka

Lusaka is a sprawling, swollen city that has grown too fast and has little appeal for travellers, though it is the capital and you're likely to spend some time in it. Lusaka didn't even exist before the 20th century, and until the 1930s it was just a small, sleepy agricultural centre.

Although it became the capital in 1931, rapid growth didn't occur until the 1960s. Since then, most of Lusaka's middle class have headed for the suburbs, leaving a population consisting mainly of civil servants, diplomats and poor Zambians. Downtown is in the western part of the city.

Livingstone

Livingstone sprang up when the Zambezi Gorge was first bridged in 1904. Tourists were among the first to cross the bridge, and Livingstone remained a tourism hub for the next 70 years until it was eclipsed by Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in the 1970s, so it's no tourist trap.

Anyone who knows their narrow-gauge from their standard should drop into the Railway Museum, a few hundred metres west of Livingstone's train station. The rag-tag collection of old engines and rolling stock will warm a rail buff's heart, but to someone else it might look like a rusty pile of junk.

South Luangwa National Park

For scenery and wildlife-spotting, South Luangwa is the best national park in Zambia. Vegetation ranges from dense woodland to open grassy plains, and oxbow lagoons act as natural water holes. Mammals you're likely to see include lions, buffalos, zebras and Thornicroft's giraffes.

The park is also home to one of Africa's largest elephant populations, and is particularly noted for its leopards and birdlife. In the Luangwa River you'll spot hippos and crocodiles. Day, night and walking safaris are available, as are horseback rides.

Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls are one of the world's most spectacular plunges: the 2km (1.2mi) wide Zambezi River drops over 100m (330ft) into a steeply-walled gorge. The Zambian side is sometimes forgotten, but it provides an entirely separate experience to its better-known Zimbabwean counterpart.

First off, the views are different: you can sidle right up to the falling water by walking down a steep track to the base of the falls and following spindly walkways perched over the abyss. One of the best spots for a close-up is at Knife Edge Point.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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