Despite the assertions of the tourist board, Lusaka is still not high on Zambia's list of major attractions. Its wide, tree-lined boulevards can be pleasant, but the traffic is chaotic and many of the suburbs are sprawling and dirty. However, Lusaka is no worse than London, New York, or any number of other big cities. Like them, it has a fascination because it is unmistakably cosmopolitan, alive and kicking. As home to one-tenth of Zambia's people, it has a discernible heartbeat which smaller or more sanitised cities lack. So if you go to Zambia with an interest in meeting a cross-section of its people, Lusaka should figure on your itinerary.
In my experience, the city's bad reputation is exaggerated. It is certainly unsafe for the unwary – but much less risky than Nairobi or Johannesburg. Walking around at night is stupid, and during the day pickpockets will strike if you keep valuables obvious or accessible. However, visitors to Lusaka who allow their paranoia to elevate the city's dangers to the dizzy heights of Lagos are deluding themselves. It isn't that dangerous, if you are careful.
The rest of this chapter aims to provide you with some useful contact details, help you find places to stay and eat that will suit your budget, and suggest options for spending your spare time.