I’d hazard a guess that Zambia is mainly known for the world famous landmark, Victoria Falls which it shares with Zimbabwe. The falls are themselves spectacular and on their own a good enough reason to visit this piece of Africa.
Doing and seeing anything else is I’m sure an added bonus for both oneself and Zambia and personally, I didn’t do the country justice. Into my fourth month traveling around Africa, I was starting to have to be cognisant of funds and unfortunately, Zambia is NOT one of the cheaper African places to visit.
I’d just been through Namibia. Where I’d been awestruck by its scenery and game viewing. And Malawi, with its huge lake, beaches, gentle people and relative inexpensiveness was beckoning. So this blog and my time in Zambia are fairly small.
First up is some travelers information:
- getting to Zambia from Namibia
- information on Livingstone & Victoria Falls
- getting to Lusaka from Livingstone
Scroll down if you want to just read about My Experience.
$1 usd is equivalent to 10.19 Zambian Kwacha
Intercape Overnight bus from Windhoek, Namibia through to Livingstone, Zambia
- Cost – $580 na ($38.6 usd)
- Departs 1 pm (for us it was 1.30 pm) and is supposed to arrive into Livingstone at 10am (for us it was 11.30am). NB. This bus continues onto Victoria Falls (the town, not the actual falls) in Zimbabwe.
- You can book a ticket online but you need to have the credit card you booked with to show when they assign your seat (they do this out on the footpath outside the Intercape Office on Bahnhof Street )
- Although the bus is supposed to stop for meals, ours only stopped for a 10 min break at around 5pm, when most people decided to take the opportunity to buy food, and then never stopped again for a meal break. Some people ended up hungry. I advise taking the option to buy food when you can or, take it with you when you board the bus.
- The Intercape buses are not like overnight buses in Asia – there’s no laying down, these buses seats only recline about 4 inches so not the best for sleeping
- There’s no wifi (again, I’ve been spoilt living in Cambodia)
- So far this is the biggest border crossing distance to walk between countries I’ve ever experienced. Trucks were driving behind us tooting for us to get out of their road, I’d hazard a guess at least a kilometer.
- Once you finally get to the Zambia side, keep your eye out for the tent on your right side as you have to have a quick health. They point a gun-type thing at you and I’m presuming they’re just taking your temperature as they aim it at your ear.
- On the 13th July 2016, the “Univisa” has been reinstated to include, Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. This means you only have to pay $50 usd to visit all three countries and in the future, they are hoping to incorporate Angola as well. Unfortunately for me, even though it was past the 13th July, this particular border post doesn’t issue the “Univisa”. Hopefully, they will in time and I’d advise checking with the embassy first so you’re not caught out expecting the Univisa like I was.
- It cost me $50 single entry for Zambia.
- The $50 has to be in USD.
- There is an ATM at the Zambia border but it only issues Zambian Kwacha. It cost me the equivalent of 50k – Kwacha ($5 usd) to get the Kwacha exchanged into USD for the Visa, from one of the many money changer hanging around at the border. Although it was a high charge at least he didn’t short change me which can so often be the case with these border money changes
- Other than that, it’s very easy as in no hassle to both leave the Namibia border and enter into Zambia one
Accommodation In Livingstone
I stayed at Faulty Towers backpackers. The dorm rooms are only 80 Kwacha ($8 usd) per night and you can book female only. I booked a three bedroom female only dorm and had the room to myself for the three nights. They do free coffee from 7am until 5pm. The bathrooms were cleaned throughout the day. There’s a kitchen for self catering, big sized swimming pool although very cloudy in colour and has sun loungers. The restaurant meals are what I think of as fairly expensive at around $6-$9. The drinks in the bar are pretty standard prices with beers around $1 and spirits around $2-$3 with a mixer.
They offer a free shuttle to the Falls but you have to get a taxi back. The taxi back only cost me 50k ($5 usd) Faulty Towers also have a travel office where you can book safaris, trips and activities. They have free wifi but it’s only available in the communal area, ie bar, lounge area but I failed for three days to even be able to upload photos onto Facebook. It’s directly across the road from ATM’s, Shoprite supermarket, a good coffee shop/Cafe and a fried chicken place.
Eating in Livingstone
For me the beauty of Faulty Towers Backpackers is that they’re 4 minutes walk from the Zambezi Cafe. I loved this gem of a place. They do the best latte I’ve had in Africa so far. It’s just the right level of strong and creamy and only 12K ($1.2 usd). They also have an extensive menu filled with local food, western and Caribbean food. I was very excited to be able to order a Halloumi Salad on one of the days.
The staff are really lovely, attentive when they need to be, happy to leave you alone if you want it and also, happy to have a chat, answer any questions and give advice if they can. The owner ever did his best to find a way for me to keep my laptop charged when I’d forgotten to bring my adaptor.
They also do baking, whole cakes, pieces and biscuits if you need a sugar fix. It doesn’t look much from the outside but it’s a cavern of a place stretching out into the back with seating outside and in.
Olga’s Pizza five minutes walk from Faulty Towers, was where I headed straight off the bus as a bag of crisps is all I’d had in the last 10 hours. The pizza was fine and a decent enough price. Their beers are nice and cold and only $1.
It costs 190k ($20 usd) to get into Victoria Falls. There are souvenir stalls outside the entrance gate but all is fairly peaceful once you get inside the actually gate into the grounds. The ticket does allow you to leave and return on the same day and here’s a shop to buy drinks inside the grounds.
There are marked walkways within the park for different viewing points. For example you can get great distant shots from some different angles by doing the “Photographers Walk”. Or for a bit of vigorous exercise you can go right down to the Zambezi rivers edge at the Boiling Pot.
Buying Bus Tickets From Livingstone to Lusaka
The next day I walked up the rise into town, about a 15min walk from Faulty Towers to buy my bus ticket to Lusaka, Zambia’s central transport hub for the next day. There are three bus companies that I could find going to Lusaka. One of them, Mazhandu Family Bus Company has many bad reviews of crashes so for once I took note of the reviews and booked with Shalom instead. As per, the list below these are the times they depart and I booked for 8am. As is the norm, they departed late and took longer than stated but at least we didn’t crash.
As already mentioned Zambia tends to be more expensive than its neighboring countries, especially with regard to activities. The activities are numerous, however if you have the means to enjoy them. For example, a “Lion Encounter”, a 2-hour event where you do get to walk with lions costs $140.
There’s bungee jumping off the bridge which joins Zambia and Zimbabwe, boat cruises, helicopter flights etc. That aside, I loved my short period of time here which in the end amounted to only 5 days, 2.5 of which were traveling days.
Amazing Victoria Falls
Yes, yes, yes the falls really are incredible. Even in July, when the water tumbling over them is not cubic metrically as much as it can be around the big rains from January to May. It’s still a beautifully amazing thing to see, hear and feel. Not taking away from the majesticness of seeing the falls at full capacity, you can actually get to see more at this time of the year and feel less. In this case feeling less is a positive when it refers to the spray the falls give off when it’s at full pelt ie you get less wet. Plus you can see more because things are not as blocked from view by the spray.
I did all the walks, including the hearting pumping accent back up from the Boiling Pot and enjoyed the rest of nature on display around the falls. Including the bush, trees and baboons! There’s a lot of these and the big males can be quite intimidating. Be careful of putting any bag down as they will quickly appear from nowhere and grab it in a quest for food. I saw one poor lady wrestling a male baboon for possession of her camera bag.
Zambia vs Zimbabwe
Most reviews of the falls I read told that there are many more viewpoints from the Zimbabwe side which is probably the case. But if you’re not too concerned about having a lot of choice then you will be more than satisfied with being on the Zambia side. I managed to take a truckload of photos from a million different angles, more so that I will ever use.
No Mans Land
But if you are keen to get to the Zimbabwe side then it’s easy enough to walk there. Although I didn’t have my passport on me I still managed to pass through into Zimbabwe. I went into the Zambia border, told them I didn’t have my passport and they gave me a ticket which I handed to the border guard complete with AK47 in hand. Who I might add was either very friendly or bored as he asked me where I was from and told me his name was Henry.
From there I got onto the bridge through the one metre of no-mans land (aka bridge) and on into Zimbabwe territory. The viewing was not so great from the bridge so I walked on towards the Zimbabwe border crossing. The view got no better and I would need my passport plus $30 for a Zimbabwe visa to go any further, so turned back.
Same thing coming back into the Zambia border, they gave me a ticket which I handed to the border guard.
Local Tales Livingstone
A local who had earlier asked if he could have a photo with me was passing through the border at the same time so after walking and chatting we shared a taxi back to Livingstone together.
It was one of those nice opportune events where you get to hang out with locals for a period of time, albeit a short taxi ride and chat, share some laughs and learn some things. The local beer is called Mosi and the main road from the Falls to Livingstone is called Mosi-oa-Tunya.
On asking what Mosi means he explained the whole story behind a long ago war between tribes fighting over the falls and the confusion caused because of the mist caused by the Falls that one of the tribes, Kololo thought was fire.
I love learning information this way. So much more interesting to hear it from a local who’s had it handed onto him from someone else. A kind of “Chinese Whispers” where the simple telling of it matters so much more than the accuracy of the information provided. Beats reading Wikipedia hands down. Fyi, Mosi-oa-Tunya translates as “The Smoke That Thunders”.
Cheap African Sounds Downloaded at the Bus Station
I’d been on the hunt over the past three countries for someone to give me recommendations for some decent African music to download. Leaving the bus station I heard some great tunes belting out of a hardware store so without deliberating I bowled straight up to the store and asked the first guy who approached me what the music was and how I could get it. He ended up selling me his SD card, which only turned out to have 10 songs on it. I told him that wasn’t near enough and how could we get more on it. He took me back to the bus station where a guy sits with electricity and an old hardrive and loads music up for people for 10k ($1 usd). Very excited I was, not only to finally have some great African sounds, I also now had sounds on my phone, a first for me.