After living and teaching in Zambia for close to 3 months, I am confident to say that Livingstone should be added to every traveler’s bucket list. With friendly locals, roaming elephants, and, most notoriously, the infamous cascading Victoria Falls, Livingstone offers something for every traveler with the desire to explore Africa.
Visa, Currency, & Languages
For US citizens, a basic tourist visa for 90 days is $50. If you are volunteering, a 30 day work visa is $80 and, after that, you will need to get a Zambian work permit at their passport offices. If you are not from the US, you will need to look up your visa requirements here.
Zambian Kwacha is the currency used in all of Zambia.
English is the official language of Zambia. There are seven local African languages used in Zambia, with Bemba being the most widely-spoken in the country. In Livingstone, you will come across many local children that only speak Nyanja or (chi)tonga. It would be great to try to learn a few sentences in these languages, but I found it nearly impossible. Ask locals for pronunciation tips.
When to Go
Zambia has very dramatic seasons, based upon the rainfall. While living in Zambia, I experienced both the wet and dry seasons. Here are the experiences you will have at different times of the year.
Dry season (April – October)– As this season progresses, the landscape gets increasingly dry, Victoria Falls weakens from lack of water, and the air becomes boiling hot (especially in October). However, this is the best time to see wildlife. Elephants will walk by the side of main roads and giraffes will eat leaves from hotels’ perfectly watered lawns. September is apparently a great month to visit, as it is much cooler than October and much less humid than the beginning of wet season. This is the best time to go in Devil’s pool as it is closed for much of wet season.
Wet season (November – March)– The mosquitos come out in November en masse, as does the humidity. However, with the mosquitos comes rain that the land and locals drastically need. Within weeks of the first rain, once sandy soccer fields will be covered in fresh grass. Unlike many areas in eastern Africa, the rain is short and strong. Once the rain stops, temperatures can drop by 20 degrees, which is a blessing after dry season. Victoria Falls is at its fullest during this time, making for great sightseeing. You will also see bugs you never thought existed. According to locals, Livingstone can get quite chilly in January and February, so bring a jacket.
Shoulder season (April & May)– The best time to visit Livingstone, according to locals, is during the months of April and May. The rainy season has disappeared, along with many of the mosquitos it brings, and the weather is just starting to heat up again.
How to Get There
Livingstone has its own airport a short taxi ride from the center of town. It is very convenient and the taxi drivers are friendly. If you are headed to either the highlands or town, do not pay more than 80 kwacha. If you are headed to a hotel by Victoria Falls, it will cost you closer to 150 kwacha, at most. It is best to have your own taxi driver on call when staying at these hotels, as the Victoria Falls hotel taxis will cost you about $20 per ride to town (as opposed to the standard fare of $6).
The best taxi driver in all of Livingstone, Zambia is a man named Evans. If you would like his cell phone number, please reach out (or comment below).
From Lusaka, Zambia
You can take a direct, albeit tiny, flight to Livingstone.
The other option is to take the bus for less than $20. It generally takes up to 8 hours. The best bus line is the blue bus line run by a very religious family. They are always on time and crash less than the ‘Shalom’ buses (as the blue line drivers apparently do not drink and follow the rules).
Bring mosquito spray when taking a morning bus during rainy season (as they seem to leave the windows open at night). Be prepared for bible salesmen and very poor village-made movies in Nyanja. Don’t buy the fried chicken at the one pit stop between cities, but do use the restroom. Don’t worry about snacks, you can buy literally anything (including solar paneled cell phone chargers) out the window of your bus as you get on in Lusaka. It is actually a wonderful experience.
From Zimbabwe and Botswana
All three countries (Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe) share a border on the river. I have not been to the Zimbabwe border, but from my experience at the Botswana border, everything moves slowly. Overland borders in Africa are not a simple experience, but are absolute adventures. You can get a taxi once you cross the gate on the Zambian side, or arrange for a car to pick you up prior to arriving.
Where to Stay
Guest or Volunteer House
The best places to stay in Africa (in terms of friendliness and culture, not cleanliness and amenities) are often guesthouses, teacher houses, or volunteer houses. Don’t be afraid to volunteer during your time in Zambia, it is an incredible experience.
My favorite organization for volunteering throughout the world is IVHQ (use my ambassador referral code #8E98B for a discount).
Livingstone Backpackers is actually a pretty nice hostel. They have a pool, a fun manager named Conner, and they are notoriously known for throwing great pre-games on Friday nights. The kitchen is outside and wonderful for preparing your own foo.
The best hotels in Livingstone are located by Victoria Falls.
Avani is the most affordable hotel option on Victoria Falls. There is an incredible pool, wandering zebras, and a direct walking path to the Royal Livingstone hotel. However, sometimes it gives off a slight Disneyland vibe. If you are not staying at Avani, you can purchase a day pass for use of their amazing pool for 100 kwacha. Do not eat food at Avani.
The Royal Livingstone is, arguably, the best hotel in Zambia. There is a beautiful deck bar for watching the sunset over Victoria Falls, with zebras eating the grass behind you and hippos in the water directly in front of you (don’t worry, you’re safe). There is a wonderful restaurant with food that will remind you of nice restaurants at home. There is also a bar with live piano and a stunning pool. The lobby bathrooms even have matching lotion and soap with washcloth hand towels. In Africa, that is a selling point alone.
Where to Eat and Drink
Royal Livingstone– For a night out, eat at the Royal Livingstone. For any other night, watch the sunset from their deck bar with a drink in hand.
The Golden Leaf– The best food in Livingstone is Indian food. Even being back in America, I am still having dreams of the amazing garlic naan, mutton rogan ghost, and Burma chicken. They even sell some of the best wine you will find in Zambia ($12 per bottle for the best wine in Zambia is not that bad). Make sure to try the vegetable samosas.
Zambezi Café– If you wanted to try fried caterpillars, this is your chance. The crocodile isn’t half bad.
Fez Bar– Every tourist under the age of 35 goes here on Friday nights. DJ Francis will take requests and, if he is not working, the owners might even let you play DJ (it is a stressful job including song requests for everything from Kygo to Will Smith). This is a great place to play pool with the friendliest locals any day of the week. You will need to bring 1 kwacha coins.
Olga’s– For a hearty pasta meal after a long day adventuring, go to Olga’s. Order the arrabiata.
Kubu Café– Kubu boasts the best breakfasts in town with great wifi, coffee, and used books for sale. It is located by the new Shoprite (arguably the nicest affordable grocery store) and several ATMs.
Local Homes– The best place to try nshima (traditional Zambian food) is at a local’s home. Get invited, it is completely worth it. Also, a good house warming gift is a bag of millimeal (if they are in need of food and just being generous), Mosi (if the husband invited you over), or chocolate (if you just think a fun treat would be nice)
Basic Do’s and Don’ts of Livingstone
DON’T be afraid to talk to locals. Everyone is genuinely nice and just wants to know more about your life. Zambia has the friendliest people I have ever met in my life.
DO get a drink at sunset at the Royal and go to Golden Leaf for dinner afterwards.
DO hike down the Boiling Pot.
DO consider climbing the water tower in the highlands (I say consider because this may be horrible advice).
DO take a weekend trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana.
DON’T mess with baboons. They will steal all of your stuff and throw your cell phone into the Zambezi River, I’m serious.
DO go to Rapids 7 viewing point at sunset and have your taxi wait for you (half the fun is figuring out how to do this and get there, so I will leave this to you).
DO go to Devil’s pool.
DON’T get too close to zebras, especially zebra mothers, they kick hard.
DO be offended if an older person calls you mozungu (“white person”), but DON’T be offended is little children do, they are just really excited and want hugs.
DON’T get shots in your butt just because your Zambian doctor tells you it is the only cure for a sore throat. Also, DON’T put the thermometer in your mouth.
DO be adventurous. Livingstone has some of the best adrenaline-rush activities in all of Africa.