Though not much bigger than Mkushi or Serenje, Mpika (GPS: MPIKA) is a busy crossroads of a place which seems to have an importance outweighing its size. Here the Great North Road forks: one branch going to Kasama, Mbala, and Mpulungu on Lake Tanganyika, the other heading directly for the Tanzanian border at Nakonde. It is about a day's travel from Lusaka, Mpulungu or the Tanzanian border, which perhaps explains why one often ends up stopping here overnight.
Getting to Mpika is easy; it is getting away that always seems to be tricky. Fortunately there is a choice of public transport if you are not driving:By bus
Daily local bus services link Mpika with Lusaka, Mbala and (to a lesser extent) Isoka. These all pass by the main central boma of town (the central, circular meeting place), so if you wait there you shouldn't miss any of them. Sometimes, the same buses will pick you up if you wave them down whilst hitchhiking, but not always.By train
The TAZARA station is about 5–6km out of town, almost on the road to Kasama, and private pick-up trucks operate shuttle runs between there and the central boma in Mpika, fitting as many people on to the vehicles as they can carry. If you arrive by train in the early hours of the morning then your options are to get one of these shuttles quickly, or to sleep rough on the station until daybreak and then try to get one. At times like this, the station is crowded but fairly clean and safe.
Mpika is one of the stops between Kapiri Mposhi and Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, on the TAZARA railway. Mpika to Kapiri Mposhi costs around US$13 for first class, US$8 for second and US$4 for third.Hitchhiking
With clear roads and a reasonable amount of traffic, hitching is a very practical form of transport to and from Mpika. There is probably more traffic going towards Mbala than towards Nakonde, but if you're heading to Lusaka you can hitch around the BP station where both roads join.
If you're going towards Kasama and Mbala, then hitch on the turn-off by the BP station. Alternatively, and especially if it is late in the day, walk a further 2–3km down that tarred turn-off road, until you reach a smart, fenced compound on your right. This is known as the DDSP compound – it houses offices for various aid and semi-governmental groups, small businesses, and a nice resthouse with a simple bar and restaurant. You may pick up a lift from one of its workers, who travel widely in the district. You'll certainly see them come and go in a variety of plush 4WDs, and if the worst happens and no lift appears then you can wander across the road and sleep comfortably.
Where to stay
The best place to stay by far is the DDSP
compound mentioned above. The sign outside details many of the offices here, including the MLGH
(Ministry of Local Government and Housing) and the Development Organisation for People's Empowerment – more usually known by its acronym. (You may see this called the DDSP, MLGH or MAFF compound, but they all mean the same place.)
The communal rooms at DDSP are the cheapest: two separate bedrooms which share a single toilet/washbasin/shower are US$5 per bed. These rooms are clean and the beds are OK, though the shower/toilet area is less sparkling. Self-contained rooms with their own shower/toilet are US$7. There are houses available, each with a comfortable sitting room, kitchen, and two bedrooms which sleep four people easily for a total of US$10 each.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared here, at US$2 per meal – just let them know. If you are likely to arrive after about 21.30 then reserve a room in advance by telephoning Mpika (04) 370118 during the day. The key to your room will then be left at the gatehouse.
Alternatives to the DDSP include the Musakanya Resthouse
and the Government Resthouse
, both of which are on the side of the boma away from the main road. Rooms at these are about US$6 each, but are much less pleasant. Rather better than these is the Malashi Executive Guesthouse
, which is about 2km north of town on the west side of the main road to Kasama. This is small and friendly, and has double rooms for US$8.
What to see and do
For supplies, GM Trading/Retail & General Dealers is worth a glance. It has a good range of supplies – from curry powder and canned foods, to South African wine, chocolates, and a fine selection of beautiful chitenjes. However, the Kalolo Bakery, Grocery and Restaurant is probably the best store in town.
If you need to change any money then the only bank in town able to do this is the TAZARA bank, which is off on the right as you head towards the TAZARA station – ask for local directions, and watch for the 'Zamtel' sign.