Once the buzzing capital of Zambia, Livingstone has settled down to become a sleepy tourist town. However, its peacefulness belies its importance as a major centre of Zambia’s tourist industry. Barely 10km from the spectacular Victoria Falls, Livingstone is a haven for adrenaline junkies and sports enthusiasts. But it also bears a rich colonial history; Livingstone itself is named for Dr David Livingstone who recorded the first written description of the Victoria Falls, and the city is certainly worth a closer look.
Getting there and away
Livingstone is serviced by its own international airport, Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, formerly Livingstone Airport, on the northern edge of town and approximately 7km from the town centre. There are daily domestic connections via Lusaka and a year-round international connection to Johannesburg. A number of international airlines fly to Livingstone, including South African Airways, Lufthansa, British Airways, Kenya Airways, and Proflight Zambia. Hire cars are available from the airport and many hotels offer their guests shuttles as well. Alternatively, a taxi can be hired or a bus service utilised.
Livingstone is small and peaceful enough to walk around, although the 10km distance to the Victoria Falls is likely to make many visitors opt for wheeled transport. There are many taxis around town, which are light blue in colour. A trip to the Falls is likely to cost around $5 but negotiate the best price beforehand. Cheaper minibuses are also an option but expect them to be jam-packed. For a full day’s travel however, it is advisable to opt for a licenced tour operator. If the distance to the Falls doesn’t quite deter you, bicycles or mopeds can also be hired from various operators.
Where to stay
For real luxury, try the River Club located picturesquely on a bend of the Zambezi River. Self-described as an Edwardian-style eco-luxury lodge, the River Club offers a tranquil hideaway where doing absolutely nothing is an actual activity! The Royal Livingstone Hotel also sits on the banks of the river, and there is even a view to the mists of the Victoria Falls, which is only a fifteen minute walk away. If a chain hotel is more within your budget, the Protea Hotel Livingstone is on the outskirts of the town and has great business facilities.
Olga’s – The Italian Corner Restaurant is a city mainstay, offering authentic Italian fare. Their pizzas and pastas are legendary, the staff is friendly and helpful, the outdoor seating is pleasant and, best of all, proceeds of the restaurant, guest house and craft shop go to the vulnerable youth of Livingstone. Café Zambezi offers the only authentic Zambian food in town. Centrally located, the restaurant is always buzzing, but patience can reward you with amazing crocodile, Caribbean goat curry and jollof rice. Serving up what many consider to be the best Indian curries on the continent, the Golden Leaf restaurant has great service and an excellent atmosphere.
As one can imagine, nightlife in Livingstone is pretty relaxed, but a great night out can start at Fezbar. This Mexican-themed open-air bar has pool, drinking games, dancing, tacos and crocodile burgers. From there, Rhapsody’s Café and Wine Bar offers a more upscale venue for gourmet cuisine and cocktails. The décor is attractive and upscale and the atmosphere vibrant. Chez nTemba, part of the international nightclub chain, is the only true nightclub in Livingstone and is a great place to dance the night away. To end the night, and start the morning, the deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel is a beautiful way to see the sunrise.
In the city
Everything David Livingstone-related can be found at the Livingstone Museum, the largest and oldest museum in Zambia. The museum focuses on local history and prehistory, archaeology, ethnography, and contains photographs, musical instruments and other memorabilia relating to David Livingstone. The Railway Museum also offers a glimpse into the country’s colonial history. It holds some of the finest examples of Zambia’s railway heritage, including historic steam locomotives and vintage coaches. Walking tours around Livingstone can also be booked so as to take in the wonderful colonial architecture and history of the town.
There is an impressive array of shops in Livingstone and, while there are large international banks, such as Barclays and Standard Chartered, present in the town, it is best to ensure that you have plenty of US currency with you. You won’t lack for anything in Livingstone although more specialised items will be imported, harder to find and certainly expensive. There is also no shortage of markets and souvenir stalls. The Curio and Craft Market in Mukuni Park houses local artisans, craftsmen and carvers but come prepared as a bargain hunter or the prices can be outrageous. African Gifts and African Visions are two gift shops in town offering well-made trinkets.
Out of the city
The Victoria Falls dominate the tourist options in the area. Dubbed Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) by locals, the Falls are certainly worth the anticipation and the choices of activity are endless: white-water rafting, bungee jumping, abseiling, boating and air charters are just some of the ways you can spend your off time. If you tire of the Falls, there is bird-watching or fishing, guided tours through the Gwembe reptile park, rhino walking safaris, or sunset cruises on the Zambezi. If that still doesn’t fill your trip, there are several national parks nearby and all are worth a visit.
History and culture
David Livingstone might have brought the Victoria Falls to the world but the area was inhabited long before his arrival. Before colonialism, the area was home to peoples from the regions that are now Zimbabwe, the Congo and South Africa. In the 1890s, Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company set up British rule to establish mineral prospecting and exploration of other natural resources in the region and the Zambezi was crucial to this trade. The subsequent industrialisation of the region has shaped the population but many inhabitants still retain their indigenous and traditional customs and values.
Health and safety
Like any tourist area, Livingstone is prone to con artists looking to make a quick buck. Make sure the tour operators and guides you use are the real deal, especially when undertaking more extreme activities. Although Livingstone is a relatively peaceful town, it is not advisable to walk from town to the falls at night as a number of muggings have been reported. Also, the area is home to wild animals so it’s best to make the journey during the day. Be aware that Zambia is also a malaria-affected region and it is therefore essential that you take all precautions before and during travel to the country.