For intrepid shoppers, Zambia offers a wide range of curios and souvenirs, with different parts of the country producing distinctive localised crafts. The best places to buy your souvenirs are roadside stalls or curio stalls in markets. Prices here will not be fixed, and you have to bargain.
At the other end of the price range, collectors of modern art can find pieces by some of Zambia’s best-known artists in galleries in Lusaka.
In shops and markets all over Zambia you can buy chitenjes (sheets of brightly coloured cloth that local women use as wraps, cloaks, scarves and baby carriers). They make nice souvenirs and are useful items for female travellers, especially if heading for conservative rural areas.
Other traditional crafts include the famed basketry of the Lozi people of western Zambia, and the excellent wooden carvings of the Leya of Livingstone. Most of the wooden carvings are representational animals and figures, or ornaments such as bowls, stools and chess-sets; quality varies immensely. As well as the conventional souvenirs, some craft-workers produce abstract or contemporary carvings; the smooth and rounded Zimbabwe-style soapstone figures are especially good.
You can also buy traditional items such as gourd containers decorated with beads and cowrie shells, which originate from the Western Province. In sharp contrast are the model bikes, buses and aeroplanes made from wire – called ‘jouets’ in the Copperbelt (a francophone Congolese import). Simple models made by children are cheap and fun, but you can also find very intricate works, complete with opening doors and moving engine parts.
If purchasing something made from banana leaf, grass or wood such as basketry, it’s best to ensure that there are no wood boring beetles living inside. One sign of infestation is if dust falls out after tapping on it several times. Freezing the item overnight should kill any bugs.