Maps & navigation
Zambia has an excellent range of detailed 'Ordnance Survey' type maps available cheaply in Lusaka, from the basement office of Mulungushi House. There are also a few maps of the parks, aimed at tourists, which are useful to supplement these – including an excellent 1989 map of South Luangwa's landscape and vegetation. If you are driving yourself around, then go there to buy all the maps for your trip at the start.
Outside of Zambia, two commercially produced maps are commonly available. One (ISBN 0921 463839) is produced by International Travel Maps, 530 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC, Canada V5Z 1E9; and the other (ISBN 0 333 63819 0) by Macmillan, which is based in the UK but represented in Zambia.
The International Travel Map is printed only on one side, a 1:1,500,000 scale map with contours, roads, and the park. Around this are printed boxes of general-interest text, from words on the wildlife to Zambia's history and geography. The cartographers have worked hard on the roads, carefully marking many of the pontoons, though their coverage of the main points of interest to tourists has been less detailed. This is just a jazzed-up version of the main country map, of the same scale, available in Zambia.
Macmillan's map has a less-detailed 1:2,200,000 scale, and hasn't even tried to include the same details of contours or smaller tracks. However, it has been more successful at marking the points of interest for visitors, and on the reverse side are many excellent 'inset' maps of the main parks, plus plans of Lusaka and Livingstone. It's worth getting hold of for an overview of the country before you go.
Navigation by any of these maps becomes more difficult as your location becomes more remote. Expecting any of them to be accurate is unrealistic. Thus if you're heading into the wilds, get what maps you can and compare them with reality as you go. They'll often be very close, but seldom spot on.
If you are heading into one of the more remote parks in your own vehicle, then consider investing in a hand-held GPS: a Global Positioning System. Under an open, unobstructed sky, these can fix your latitude, longitude and elevation to within about 100m, using 24 American military satellites which constantly pass in the skies overhead. They will work anywhere on the globe.
These small units will enable you to store 'waypoints' and build a simple electronic picture of an area, as well as working out basic latitude, longitude and elevation. So, for example, you can store the position of your campsite and the nearest road, making it much easier to be reasonably sure of navigating back without simply re-tracing your steps. This kind of function can be invaluable in remote areas with lots of bush and no signposts.
Although a GPS may help you to recognise your minor errors before they are amplified into major problems, note that such a gadget is no substitute for good map work and navigation. Try not to rely on your GPS too much, or you will be unable to cope if it fails. Always remember to have a back-up plan in case it stops working.Which one to buy
Commercial units now cost from around US$160/£90 in Europe or the USA. As is usual with high-tech equipment, their prices are falling and their features are expanding as time progresses. About eight years ago, I started using an old Garmin GPS 38 which, at the time, was amazing. In the last few years I've upgraded to a Garmin II Plus, and experienced just how much the technology has moved along. The difference is huge: the new model is much easier to use, quicker at acquiring its location, and lighter on batteries.
Many newer models now come with pre-programmed maps, and highly sophisticated ways to direct you around European or US cities. These features might be fun or useful back home, but all are redundant in Zambia. Most of these units use lots of battery power, so bring plenty of spares with you. In addition, a cable to power your GPS from the vehicle's cigarette lighter is worth its weight in gold.