With difficult roads, which seem to vanish completely in some of the more remote areas, driving around Zambia is not easy. The big car-hire firms do have franchises in Lusaka, but they concentrate on business-people who need transport around the city. They often insist that foreigners hiring cars also hire a chauffeur. Basically, they're just not geared up for visitors in search of recreation.
A basic model like a Toyota Corolla from, say, Avis will cost around US$80/£50 per day, with 50km 'free' per day, and an 80¢/50p charge per kilometre after that. Just add up the distances on a map and you'll realise that this isn't viable for most trips. Further, a vehicle like these Toyota Corollas just wouldn't stand up to the potholes found on most of the main highways – never mind the state of the dirt tracks beyond.
Until recently, it hasn't been possible to hire reliable 4WD vehicles in Zambia. This is changing, but slowly, so the only option is to bring them in from outside, or arrange for a safari company to take you around on a mobile safari.
Hiring a 4WD
Self-drive trips around Zambia are not for the inexperienced; I think that they're suitable only for those who have previously taken several in Africa, including at least one self-drive 4WD trip. (A 4WD trip around Botswana makes a perfect precursor!)
If you're thinking of a trip just around the eastern side of Zambia, then UK-based Safari Drive have a small fleet of Land Rover 110 Tdi vehicles available out of Lilongwe, for about £200/US$360 per day.
All come well equipped with sturdy kit for bush camping, including long-range fuel tanks, roof tents, and portable fridges.
Then if you plan to explore more of Zambia, there are only two obvious candidates. Foley Hire Ltd, in Livingstone, has good if basic 4WDs, and the big advantage of a base in Livingstone. They have a small fleet of Land Rover 110 Tdi vehicles that come with solid equipment, including long-range fuel tanks, roof tents and fridges.
The best alternative is the Johanesburg-based Britz 4x4 Rentals (Tel: +27 11 396 1860; +27 11 396 1937; www.britz.co.uk), who have an impressive fleet of vehicles, including Land Rovers TD5s, which have been custom-built for comfortable camping trips. These come comprehensively equipped, with much of their kit cleverly integrated into the vehicle. It's practical to collect and drop these in Livingstone, even though they need to be re-located back to Jo'burg.
I've used vehicles from all three sources, and there are pros and cons to them all; the best depends on the route you're taking. In the UK, Sunvil Africa is the only tour operator offering these trips. They act as agents for all three companies, and usually sell trips including these vehicles for the same price as or less than you'll get by dealing with these companies directly. As an added service only available to their travellers, they can often (depending on the GPS model) download all the named GPS waypoints in this book on to your GPS before you go!