Photo Credit: Lauren Locke
Zambia is rather unknown compared to its many neighbors, receiving fewer tourists who seek an authentic African experience. Once a British colony, Zambia gained recognition for its fruitful copper mines in the northwest, and later its remote wildlife reserves and access to Lake Kariba and the Iconic Victoria Falls in the south.
Today, Zambia retains its diverse cultural roots and has been coined as “the real Africa” due to its satisfyingly southern-African landscapes and absence of western-infrastructure outside of its major cities. Zambia struggles with poverty, many families living truly in need.
It is also combatting illegal poaching and fighting for the conservation of its wildlife. Zambia’s ongoing struggles, yet forward development make it an exciting destination to volunteer or explore during a gap year.
Zambia has a wide variety of volunteering projects to fit the skills and interests of international volunteers. Projects commonly focus on education and health, community development, or wildlife conservation.
Volunteer placement posts can range greatly from everything from being placed in rural villages and living with a host family, to staying in a bustling major city, or going far, far off the grid to a more remote natural area.
Like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia is a developing country that can truly benefit from the aid of international volunteers. You Should Volunteer in Africa in 2015 for many reasons, however, Zambia could prove an ultimate volunteer destination for those who seek to create a lasting, meaningful impact in a thrilling, dynamic country.
Victoria Falls, located along the Zambezi River on Zambia’s southern border, is Africa’s adventure capital. Activities around the falls include bungee jumping, white water rafting (not for the faint of heart!), and microliting.
From the Zambian side of the falls, Devil’s Pool – a protected rock pool precariously perched along the edge of the falls, is open to tourists during the dry season. Catch the falls on a full moon and you will be able to enter the park at night to witness a lunar rainbow.
If extreme sports are not for you, there are still ways to get your adrenaline pumping down Zambia’s roads less traveled. Wildlife reserves are numerous in Zambia, offering the thrill of seeing large and small game in their natural habitat. Many wildlife reserves offer horseback riding, walking safaris, animal interactions, night drives, river safaris and sundowner cruises.
Internships are a wonderful way to make a positive impact on your host community while giving your résumé a boost! While Zambia still grapples with challenges faced by many southern African countries, it also has a rapidly developing economy and has made great strides in combatting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the past few years. As an intern, you can get first hand insight to the logistics of how these organizations are run.
Programs like Happy Africa Charity NGO Internships tap into changing industries like sustainable agriculture, business development, and many more so interns can learn skills applicable to their future careers.
Recent college graduates and qualified young professionals can also take advantage of paid fellowship opportunities in Zambia through the Global Health Corps, adding skills like international development, leadership and management to their repertoires.
Cost of living
The local currency is the Zambian Kwacha (ZMW). Since exchange rates fluctuate frequently it is always a good idea to use a currency converter to check the latest rate of exchange before you travel.
Relative to the United States and the United Kingdom, Zambia has a low cost of living. Expect to pay relatively low prices for rent, living essentials and local entertainment.
On the other hand, imported goods like certain types of fruit, clothing, and petrol will cost much the same as it did at home. When visiting large tourist destinations and participating in curated activities prices reflect those of western companies and are generally charged in dollars. For more information, visit Numbeo.
When it comes to paying for goods and services in Zambia, cash is your most stable option. In some cases, businesses will accept credit cards, but service systems are slow and often fail. It’s also recommended to carry both the local currency and US Dollars.
Since it is a common occurrence for ATM’s to run out of dispensable cash, try to draw large amounts when possible, and then store it is a safe place like a locked safe at your accommodation site.
Traveler’s checks are obsolete and will not be redeemable at local banks.
Culture and etiquette
Zambians have a diverse history. Colonialization caused various different tribal groups with unique lifestyles and customs to assimilate in newly established urban areas. While many rural individuals maintain their traditional roots, a new Zambian culture has formed in the country’s larger cities as a product of local cultures blending with European influence.
Major cities in Zambia can seem overwhelming at first, but offer great local shopping in markets and from street vendors. Haggling over price is basic practice in markets, however local people are aware that tourists are often well-off and may be offended by the negotiation of an unfairly low price. Behind the hyperactivity of Livingstone and Lusaka, Zambians are generally mild mannered and courteous people.
A traditional greeting is simply a handshake; it is important to be patient and move slowly and interestedly through the greeting process. Zambians tend to have many cultural traditions that vary by region, so it is always helpful to look up the specific customs of your host community before visiting!
Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to watch how others are behaving and to maintain a subtle politeness and gratitude towards your host.
While Zambia is more politically stable than some of its neighbors, it’s important to realize that safety is still a concern. Anywhere in the country, you should practice basic safety precautions like never walking around alone at night and properly accounting for your valuables.
Major cities Livingstone and Lusaka (also common points of arrival into Zambia) have high amounts of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. It’s not uncommon for street peddlers to approach you hoping to sell you knick-knacks or children to approach you to ask for money. Note: do not encourage this behavior. Instead, give directly to a local school, hospital, or charity, if you’re looking to make an impact.
Particularly near border posts and ATMs, locals will tell you that they can exchange your dollars for local currency at a good rate; the money these individuals carry is usually fake.
In rural areas, or designated wildlife zones in Zambia, exercise caution when leaving your volunteer post or accommodation site. Local people, particularly children, are often fascinated by western tourists. Most often this interest is benign and annoying at worst. Be nice about their curiosity, and understand that it’s just that: curiosity.
Wildlife is prolific in Zambia and should always be respected and should never be approached. If you’re volunteering with wildlife, make sure you have proper training before getting involved.
When traveling around Zambia is it is good practice to have multiple scanned copies of all of your important documents. Anyone that may be self-driving through the country should be aware that there are frequent “cop stops” where your documentation will be checked. Always keep your documentation organized and at hand.
While many public facilities appear a little on the rough side, health in Zambia does not need to be a major concern as long as travelers are cognizant of their surroundings and take basic precautions. It is highly advisable to have hand sanitizer available and to drink bottled water, among other basic tips on staying healthy and safe while volunteering in Africa.
Zambia has been rather successful in their effort to reduce country’s population affected by HIV/AIDS. However, the disease is still a concern and tourists should exercise appropriate caution.
It is suggested to have medical and travel insurance for your trip to Zambia. You’ll also need to have at least two blank pages in your passport, which should be valid for at least six months after your return date.
Currently, a visa is required for US and UK passport holders to enter the Republic of Zambia. Due to recent tourism developments, tourists can now purchase the KAZA Visa for $50 USD upon arrival at multiple points of entry in Zambia (have American dollars, cash, ready to pay this).
The KAZA Visa allows tourists to move between Zambia and Zimbabwe for 30 days. It also allows for day-trips into Botswana through the Kazungula border. For more information on the KAZA Visa for Zambia and Zimbabwe, read here.
A handful of vaccines, such as Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Rabies may be recommended for travel to Zambia. Malarial precautions are frequently used in all southern African countries. Yellow Fever may also be required depending on other countries you visit during your trip (most notably South Africa).
It is important for every individual traveler to assess their own risk, discuss possible immunizations and precautionary measures with their doctors, and to regularly check for entry and exit requirements of their home country and countries of travel.
Zambia’s Drug Enforcement Commission prohibits many drugs from being brought into the country. Therefore, all necessary prescription medicine should be packaged in its original casing with visible dosage instructions and preferably a doctor’s note detailing its necessity.