Cost of living in Zambia
Like anywhere else, the cost of visiting Zambia varies with the style in which you travel, and the places where you spend your time. However, unlike many countries, Zambia's lack of infrastructure leads to a polarisation of travelling styles.
If you plan a couple of weeks to visit the parks, staying at small private safari camps, then it's not a cheap destination. You will probably need the odd small charter flight, and an average US$270–450/£150–250 per day, including basically everything, would be expected. This is actually quite good value for an exclusive safari in a pristine and remote corner of Africa – the kind of trip at which Zambia excels.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you travel through Zambia on local buses, camping and staying in the occasional local (sometimes seedy) resthouse, then Zambia is not expensive. A budget of US$36–54/£20–30 per day for food, accommodation and transport would suffice. However, most backpackers who undertake such trips are simply 'in transit' between Malawi and Zimbabwe. They see little of Zambia's wildlife or its national parks, missing out on even its cheaper attractions.
Finding a trip of medium expenditure, between these two extremes, is difficult. One possibility is to make use of the odd medium-priced safari camp. Lufupa/ Shumba in northern Kafue, and the Wildlife Camp in South Luangwa, are obvious options, as is Kasanka – especially if four or five people are travelling together.
Hiring a vehicle is another possibility, as then you can buy food, camp and drive yourself around. However it requires driving expertise and lots of planning; it isn't something to undertake lightly.
Creatively using these options, being prepared to pay where necessary, you might spend only US$180/£100 per day whilst seeing some of the very best that the country has to offer.
Currency and inflation
Zambia's unit of currency is the kwacha. Theoretically each kwacha is divided into 100 ngwee, although one ngwee is now worth so little that these subdivisions are never used. The old practices of strict exchange control and unrealistic exchange rates have now gone – as has the black market for currency that these policies created.
As the result of the present free market, US dollars and UK pounds sterling are easily changed, and it is sometimes possible to spend US dollars (in small denomination notes) directly.
In mid-August 2004 the exchange rates were UK£1=Kw8,720; US$1=Kw4,760; ZAR1=Kw760. Broadly, US$ rates in this book remain accurate on the ground, whereas the kwacha rates are less reliable.
Inflation has varied enormously since at least 1989, but now seems to be slowing down. In December 2000 it was quoted as being around 30%, but it dropped to 16% by mid-2001. Despite a relatively tight monetary policy, it was still about 19% in mid-2004.
Though the kwacha seems to have stabilised a little in recent months, its rates against the US dollar and UK pound have varied greatly in the last nine years. The rough trends have been as follows:
This constant movement of the currency and high inflation makes thinking and calculating in US dollars the easiest way to plan. It explains why we have used US$ for most of the prices in this guide, and even converted kwacha prices into dollars for reference. In doing this we've generally used a notional rate of US$1=Kw5,000.
If you need to change foreign currency, receive bank drafts, or do any other relatively complex financial transactions, then banks in the larger cities (ideally Lusaka) are your best option. They open as early as 08.15–08.30, and close around 14.45–15.30 from Monday to Friday. Some work a shorter day on Thursday, from 09.00 to 11.00. A few of the bigger banks in Lusaka also open 09.00–11.00 on Saturdays. As yet, cashpoint (ATM) machines can only be found in Lusaka and Livingstone.