Thursday, 23 April 2009

Zambia, the butterfly in the heart of Africa

If you’re out to experience the ‘real’ Africa, Zambia is that diamond in the rough. The country boasts some of the continent’s best wildlife parks, and shares (with Zimbabwe) some of the region’s major highlights: Victoria Falls in Southwestern Zambia, Lake Kariba as well as Lower Zambezi National Park in Southeastern Zambia. It is also an angler’s dream, as fishermen hail from all over the world to try their luck on the mighty Zambezi River with the hopes of landing a toothy tigerfish or the rare, giant vundu. Avid birders also flock to Zambia to glimpse its fabulous diversity of birds, most notably Chaplin’s barbets.

For independent travellers Zambia can be a challenge: distances between major towns and attractions are large, and getting around by car or public transport takes time and patience. But for many, this challenge is part of Zambia’s appeal. Save Lusaka and Livingstone, this is the ‘real’ Africa, so rare among the increasingly developed and Westernised parts of the region.

So if you like your travel easy and your wilderness neatly bundled into a homogenised and Westernised version of ‘Africa’, then much of Zambia may not appeal. But if you enjoy a raw edge and an Africa with few tourists, Zambia is the place you’re looking for.


The capital of Zambia is Lusaka, a small city, part modern and part traditional African, where dusty markets sit alongside Soviet-looking high-rise blocks. Although Zambia is a fascinating country, Lusaka will never be a highlight for tourists. There are few notable buildings, monuments or other sights, but it does boast a lively ambience and genuine African feel. The markets are good, there’s a decent arts scene and the nightclubs throb at weekends. If you have to be in Lusaka for a few days you’ll have no trouble passing the time pleasantly enough. You can easily book a hotel on the website

• Dutch Reform Market: The Dutch Reform Market features artisanal goodies that are a step up in quality from markets elsewhere.
• Henry Tayali Visual Arts Centre: Check out Henry Tayali Visual Arts Centre if you're in a buying mood for local contemporary art.
• Kalimba Reptile Park: A bit of a schlep northeast from town, Kalimba Reptile Park is not only a crocodile and snake zoo (not for petting!), but is also a pleasant place to grab a beer and a crocodile sandwich, though you'll need a 4WD to get there. To get there, go east on the Great East Rd 13km from Arcades. Then make a left at the Caltex filling station, take the road to the end (11km) and the park is on the right.
• Lusaka City Market: The Lusaka City Market is large and lively, but not as atmospheric (or smelly) as the Town Centre Market.
• Munda Wanga Environmental Park: Munda Wanga Environmental Park rehabilitates all sorts of animals for re-entry into the wild, unless they are too injured. The park features plenty of regional flora and fauna, including two cheetahs and seven lions, though the American black bear (a gift from Kenneth Kaunda) looks a little out of place. For visitors, the pool, bar and braai grills are welcome additions. It's about 16km south of central Lusaka.

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