Volunteer's Guide to Lusaka
No matter where you are going in Zambia, it’s difficult not to pass through Lusaka. Whether flying in from overseas, or passing through on your way from Livingstone to Lilongwe, all routes pass through the country’s capital. And the first thing you’ll notice in Lusaka (besides the crazy traffic jams) is the cost of living. Eating out or taking a cab is comparable to European prices. In fact, in 2013 Lusaka was quoted as being 40% more expensive than Washington DC! In the same year Zambia was also declared a middle income country, and while this can be hard to believe when you are living in a dusty, sleepy rural village in Eastern Zambia, with its multi-storey shopping centres and American style diners, it’s easy to see why in Lusaka. But while there may be an abundance of wealth in the capital, there’s no shortage of poverty. Just a stone’s throw away from the neon Wimpy Burger signs are compounds (housing districts on the suburbs of the city) without access to running water, sanitation or medical facilities.
At first this can be unsettling but if u you look beyond this stark dichotomy you will find a city rich in culture and people who are banding together to work towards a brighter future for Lusaka. Yes, poverty rates are high, yes HIV rates are high, yes there are many challenges to overcome. However, rather than being disheartened, I came away after my time in the John Laing and Chawama compounds with the feeling that the people are not only ready and willing but that they are more than capable of rising to those challenges.
Where to stay: Kalulu Backpackers
Eating: For eating out, there are loads of options. Mahak is a great Indian just down the road from Kalulu and does a fantastic value all-you-can-eat veg Thali for 5 usd! There are lots of other options around Lusaka, but if you are on a budget you need to be cooking for yourself. There is a supermarket within 10 mins walk of Kalulu where you can buy anything you need and I’d advise any long termers to do their shopping for the basics in the compounds where they are working –much better value!
Getting around: Kalulu will supply bicycles for volunteers to use free of charge (returnable deposit required) and it’s safe to walk around the city during daylight hours. For those working in the compounds a little outside of the centre, there are buses that run all day from the station in the centre of town.
Taxi: From the airport you’ll need to get a taxi. Kalulu can send one to collect you if you let them know what time you will be arriving (25 usd).
Internal Flights: Proflight operate between a few major towns/cities in Zambia (Chipata, Livingstone, the Copperbelt). If you have time and only carry-on baggage it can definitely be worth getting a stand-by flight (you can get them as cheap as 80 usd to fly Lusaka –Mfuwe). However, their weight restrictions are really strict, and lower than the standard airlines, so don’t get caught out.
Bus: This is your main mode of transport between towns/cities. The best advice is to book an early morning “luxury” bus (Mazhandu, Johabie, Zambia-Malawi) a day in advance, that way you secure your seat and the bus will leave at the time it says it will leave. There is still no guarantee that the bus won’t breakdown a few times, but that’s why you get the early bus and make no other plans that day. And don’t get spooked by the dudes that will swarm you at the station, just buy your ticket the day in advance and then steadfastly ignore them… though it seldom works…..
Available in Lusaka: Lusaka has everything you need… atms, banks, post offices, supermarkets, pharmacies and even a cinema, so don’t worry about stocking up for any eventuality, if you need it chances are you’ll find it in Lusaka. The city itself is quite sprawling but Kalulu is in the centre and everything is accessible by foot or local bus.
Around Lusaka: Lusaka has all the advantages of a city, such as a vibrant night life and easy access to everything you need. However, there is not a lot to do in the way of day trips from Lusaka, but if you have a few days off it would be a crime not to jump on a bus to Livingstone to check out Victoria Falls, while Zambia boasts a number of fantastic National Parks within a day’s journey of Lusaka, including Kafue and South Luangwa
Kampasa, John Laing, Lusaka
Kalulu Backpackers, Lusaka
Shopping Mall, Lusaka