The main domestic airports are at Lusaka, Livingstone, Ndola, Kitwe, Mfuwe, Kasama and Kalabo. Dozens of minor airstrips, most notably those in the Lower Zambezi National Park (Proflight flies here regularly), Kafue National Park and North Luangwa National Park, cater for chartered planes.
The departure tax for domestic flights is US$8. Proflight tickets include this tax in the price, but for other flights it must be paid at the airport.
Airlines in Zambia
Proflight is the only domestic airline offering regularly scheduled flights connecting Lusaka to Livingstone (for Victoria Falls), Lower Zambezi (Jeki and Royal airstrips), Mfuwe (for South Luangwa National Park), Ndola, Kasama and Solwezi. From 2017 they will commence a flight to Kalabo for Liuwa Plain National Park.
Baggage for all flights is 15kg; otherwise you can upgrade your fare to get 23kg or 32kg. Carry-on baggage on all flights is limited to 5kg.
There are plenty of charter-flight companies (Proflight also does charters) catering primarily for guests staying at upmarket lodges/camps in national parks. Flights only leave with a minimum number of prebooked passengers and fares are always high, but it’s sometimes worth looking around for a last-minute, stand-by flight.
If you plan on cycling around Zambia, do realise that Zambian drivers tend not to give you any room, even if there is no vehicle in the oncoming lane. Save being hit by a car, it is safe to cycle Zambia. Mountain biking is rapidly becoming popular in and around Lusaka.
While most times that tourists will be on the water will be for leisure, there's a few instances where you'll need to jump in a boat to get to your destination. To visit the lodges along Lake Tanganyika, you'll need to get either a ferry, 'water taxi' or charter a boat from Mpulungu. They're often overcrowded and slow, so many opt to pay extra for private charters. Also for those visiting Lower Zambezi National Park, some operators will pick clients up from Chirundu.
Distances are long, buses are often slow and some (but not many these days) roads are badly potholed, so travelling around Zambia by bus and minibus can exhaust even the hardiest of travellers.
All main routes are served by ordinary public buses, which either run on a fill-up-and-go basis or have fixed departures (these are called ‘time buses’). ‘Express buses’ are faster – often terrifyingly so – and stop less, but cost about 15% more. In addition, several private companies run comfortable European-style express buses along the major routes, eg between Lusaka and Livingstone, Lusaka and Chipata, and Lusaka and the Copperbelt region. These fares cost about 25% more than the ordinary bus fares and are well worth the extra kwacha. Tickets for these buses can often be bought the day before. There are also express buses zipping around the country.
A few general tips to keep in mind. Even on buses with air-conditioning – and it very often doesn't work – try to sit on the side of the bus opposite to the sun. Also avoid seats near the speakers, which can be turned up to unbearably high volume. Try to find a seat with a working seatbelt, and avoid bus travel at night.
Many routes are also served by minibuses, which only leave when full – so full that you might lose all feeling in one butt cheek. Fares can be more or less the same as ordinary buses. In remote areas the only public transport is often a truck or pickup.
Car & Motorcycle
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
If you’re driving into Zambia in a rented or privately owned car or motorcycle, you will need a Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD); if you don’t have one, a free Customs Importation Permit will be issued to you at major borders instead. You’ll also be charged a carbon tax if it’s a non-Zambian registered vehicle, which just means a bit more paperwork and around ZMW200 at the border, depending on the size of your car.
Compulsory third-party insurance for Zambia is available at major borders (or the nearest large towns). It is strongly advised to carry insurance from your own country on top of your Zambian policy.
While it is certainly possible to get around Zambia by car or motorbike, many sealed roads are in bad condition and the dirt roads can range from shocking to impassable, particularly after the rains. If you haven’t driven in Africa before, this is not the best place to start; particularly when you throw in a herd of angry elephants into the equation. We strongly recommend that you hire a 4WD if driving anywhere outside Lusaka, and certainly if you’re heading to any of the national parks or other wilderness areas. Wearing a seat belt in the front seat is compulsory.
Self-drivers should seriously consider purchasing the in-car GPS navigation system Tracks4Africa (www.tracks4africa.co.za), which even shows petrol stations.
All tourists planning on driving a vehicle in Zambia can drive on their own country's licence for up to three months, so unless you're here long term, you won't need an international driver’s licence.
Fuel & Spare Parts
Diesel costs around ZMW11 per litre and petrol ZMW13. Distances between towns with filling stations are great and fuel is not always available, so fill the tank at every opportunity and carry a filled jerry can or two as back-up.
It is advisable to carry at least one spare wheel. If you need spare parts, the easiest (and cheapest) vehicle parts to find are those of Toyota and Nissan.
Cars can be hired from international and Zambian-owned companies in Lusaka, Livingstone, Kitwe and Ndola. You'll find all the usual chain hire companies at the airport.
Other companies, such as Voyagers, Benmark, Hemingways, 4x4 Hire Africa and Limo Car Hire rent out Toyota Hiluxes and old-school Land Rover vehicles, unequipped or fully decked out with everything you would need for a trip to the bush (including roof-top tents!); prices vary from US$120 to US$250 per day. The best thing about these companies is that vehicles come with unlimited kilometres and you can take them across borders; though read the fine print first.
Most companies insist that drivers are at least 25 years old and have held a licence for at least five years.
The last few years have seen the conditions of Zambia's roads improve out of sight, with approximately 80% of the major roads tourists use being smooth, sealed tarmac. Though with that said when the roads are bad, they're horrendous and can involve slow, dusty crawls avoiding pot hole and after pot hole.
- Sections of main highway can rapidly deteriorate with crater-size potholes, ridges, dips and very narrow sections that drop steeply off the side into loose gravel. Be wary and alert at all times, and seek out information about road conditions.
- Gravel roads vary a lot from pretty good to pretty terrible.
- Road conditions are probably at their worst soon after the end of the wet season (April, May, June) when many dirt and gravel roads have been washed away or seriously damaged – this is especially the case in and around national parks.
- Speed limits in and around cities are enforced, but on the open road buses and Land Cruisers fly at speeds of 140kph to 160kph (not advisable if you're behind the wheel!).
- If you break down, you must place an orange triangle about 6m in front of and behind the vehicle.
- At police checkposts (which are very common) smile, say good morning/afternoon, be very polite and take off your sunglasses. A little respect makes a huge difference to the way you’ll be treated. Mostly you’ll be met with a smile, perhaps asked curiously where you’re from, and waved through without a problem.
As in any other part of the world, hitching is never entirely safe, and we don't recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Despite this general warning, hitching is a common way to get around Zambia. Some drivers, particularly expats, may offer you free lifts, but you should expect to pay for rides with local drivers (normally about the same as the bus fare, depending on the comfort of the vehicle). In such cases, agree on a price beforehand.
Often the most convenient and comfortable way of getting around, especially in the cities. They have no meters, so rates are negotiable; be sure to settle on a price before departure.
The Tazara trains between Kapiri Mposhi and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania can also be used for travelling to and from northern Zambia. While the Lusaka–Kitwe service does stop at Kapiri Mposhi, the Lusaka–Kitwe and Tazara trains are not timed to connect with each other, and the domestic and international train terminals are 2km apart.
Zambia’s only other railway services are the ‘ordinary trains’ between Lusaka and Kitwe, via Kapiri Mposhi and Ndola, and the ‘express trains’ between Lusaka and Livingstone.
Domestic trains are unreliable and ridiculously slow, so buses are always better. Conditions on domestic trains generally range from slightly dilapidated to ready-for-scrap. Most compartments have no lights or locks, so take a torch (flashlight) and something to secure the door at night.