I never thought I would ever go to Zambia. Botswana, perhaps; but Zambia was never on the radar. It wasn’t until our friend from Namibia proposed we do a road trip to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfalls in Africa, that we knew we would be traveling to Zambia. This is because the safest way to get to Victoria Falls is through Zambia.
Zimbabwe also shares Victoria Falls since it is the border between the two countries, but traveling through Zimbabwe is quite dangerous from what we have read and heard from our friends, so we decided not to risk it.
We embarked on our road trip with our wonderful friend, squeezing all three of us into our bakkie (single cab pick-up truck). We left Otjiwarongo after getting groceries, gas and some cash. Note: be prepared for long lines in front of ATMs. I had to wait 20 minutes in one only for the ATM to crash as soon as it was my turn. People wait outside of the ATM’s boxed-in area and in some cases, there is even a security guard.
We drove towards Rundu, a town in Northeast Namibia and to get there you cross the Red Line, a line that separates the North from the South. In the North the land is communal whereas in the South the land is privately owned. Livestock in the North roam wherever and in the South they are cared for on the private farms. This is important because whenever you enter/leave the Red Line there are roadblocks to check each vehicle. They search the cars for any meat and the tires of your car and all of your shoes must be dipped in a solution in order to reduce the chance of disease.
We were fortunate to find a camping spot near Rundu because it was so hard to spot a hidden place. Because all the land is communal, there wasn’t a side road in sight that didn’t have a hut. The road to Rundu stretches some 250 kilometers (150 miles) so you can imagine how strange it was seeing homes the entire way. We found a spot however, and there we found this GIANT bug!
That’s the main highlight from this night.
Up the next morning we made it to Rundu, got some gas, and kept on towards Caprivi. Caprivi is the odd strip of land that jets out to the East. I had an illusion that it would be a very intriguing place but we found it rather monotone.
So without any stops along the way we arrived to Divundu to see Popa Falls. The falls were a bit disappointing considering how much we were looking forward to them but still beautiful nonetheless.
It would’ve been nice to take a swim but it’s nicer to stay alive. I say that because crocodiles and hippos abound in this river.
That night was our only night in Africa where we had to pay to camp and although we don’t like to pay to sleep on the ground, we are so glad we did here! We went to Rainbow Lodge camping grounds and paid 120 Namibian Rand (10 USD) per person and were tickled to find a nice pool, a dock to look out along the river and perfectly groomed lawns… let alone a hot shower. We had the entire place to ourselves because we were traveling in the off-season.
Sadly, we didn’t see any hippos even though Rainbow Lodge is famous for giving guests great views of them in the morning. We did hear them however, and I found their footprints just a few strides away from where we slept!
From there we drove to the end of Caprivi, which meets the border of Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
After loading up on gas in Katima Mulilo, we went to the Zambian border and here is where the fun begins. If by fun you mean complete chaos.
The first thing you’ll notice is 15-20 Zambian men running towards your car flashing American Dollars. They shout that you need the money but we decided to first enter the border post. We spoke to some women who took our passports, my American one and my husband’s Spanish one. Our Namibia friend had no problems and received a stamp immediately. We, on the other hand, were told that our visas would cost 50 USD each! First off, there are few countries that require Americans and Spaniards to pay for a visa, and second, I know of none that won’t even accept their own currency to pay for those visas!
Besides the visa that would last us 5 days (though we ended up staying just 2), we had to pay a road tax, a carbon tax, a fee for our foreign vehicle, insurance for the vehicle, and a levy… which I have no idea what that went towards. Two of the six payments needed to be made in USD and the other four could be made in Kwacha, the Zambian currency. This meant that we had to go to the ATM to take out 2 000 Kwacha, exchange 1 300 of it for 120 USD (100 for the visas and 20 for the road tax) and use the remaining 700 Kwacha for the other taxes and fees. Needless to say, we were floored during this experience! And the immigration officer had the gall to ask us when we would be returning to Zambia. My husband snapped, “Never!” and I had to translate that into, “Well, you see, it’s very expensive to come to Zambia, especially from where I’m from.” I was trying to keep us out of trouble for being sassy.
Just getting into Zambia cost us around 200 USD. It didn’t take us but five minutes to get even more frustrated because the road that leads to Victoria Falls was completely covered in potholes! It was better to drive on the side of the road in the dirt than on the actual road. So we saw that we had paid a road tax for nothing.
Luckily, we found a camp spot relatively easily and we quickly went to bed to get up at the crack of dawn the next morning. Driving to Livingstone, the town closest to Victoria Falls, took a couple of hours of slow driving, dodging both potholes and pedestrians walking on the main road. We made it through Livingstone and to the falls midmorning after stopping to get more Kwachas from the ATM to pay for the entry ticket.
Victoria Falls is a gorgeous ravine that is a kilometer long, stretching between Zimbabwe and Zambia. We were there in late November, the dry season, so the Zambian side was dry. However, this made it possible to walk on the rocks where the river would normally be. A Zambian gentleman told us we could walk along the river, so we started walking and then two minutes later he started following us and telling us to come this way and that way. We were uncomfortable because he didn’t ask to guide us but just did it anyways. He led us to a striking cliff face.
And then to a swimming hole, where I got to see my first elephant in the wild!
We walked back towards the main trails to say goodbye and all I could give him was 30 Kwacha (3 USD). He was not happy about it. But hey, it was all I had and it was he who tried to con us into letting him guide us without asking if we wanted his services.
Anyways, we explored the rest of the falls.
And we found some baboons.
And the baboons seemed nice enough but while we were showering (there are proper showers at the falls) and getting things in and out of the truck, a baboon took advantage of the open window and stole a bag of apples!
We left Victoria Falls and decided to cross the border to Botswana immediately to get out of Zambia. It’s a quick drive to the border at Kazungula, but of course Zambia couldn’t let us go that easily. We had less than a mile to the border when all of a sudden a policeman walks out onto the road. He shows us his radar gun that says we were going 60 km/h in a 50 km/h zone (a difference of 6 mph) and we hadn’t even seen a max speed limit sign! He tells us to get out of the car and come to his car, which was hidden underneath a tree. That’s when he says we must pay a 350 Kwacha fine on the spot. I was furious.
We didn’t have any Kwachas or any US Dollars but I did have Namibian Rand and they said they’d take it! So I had to give up 500 Namibian Rand (40 USD) on the spot to a Zambian police officer who undoubtedly pocketed it. We were able to get a written fine off of him and we just convinced ourselves that we paid the money to really understand how horrible a country can be.
Then came the border crossing… I was livid at this point so I had no problem pushing back at the tens of men that swarmed me to help fill out all the paperwork just to leave! Oh, the border is a river and since there is no bridge (yet), all of the vehicles have to load onto a ferry that takes about 10 minutes to cross to Botswana. The ferry hardly seems like it should float.
It only fits one normal sized car and one semi truck at a time, and though there are four ferries going back and forth, there is still a line of semis that lasts for days. Some of the drivers even had their clothes hanging on a line outside their truck because they knew they would be stuck for more than a day or two.
But then came Botswana: a complete 180° from Zambia! The border took less than 5 minutes and there was only one fee of 150 Botswanan Pula (15 USD) that we could pay with card! The roads were perfect, the people incredibly accommodating and inviting, and the gas stations empty (remember we were used to 20 men swarming the car in Namibia)! Besides the fact that the country functions, there are the remarkable animals (which can best be described with photos).
And with only three days of constant driving through Botswana, we made it back to Namibia. The border crossing was also smooth and we couldn’t have felt happier to be back “home” in Africa. Botswana is gorgeous and I hope to return to explore more of its parks and see its renowned animals. But Zambia, well… I think my husband’s answer to the customs official at the border crossing was quite accurate.