Zambia is an amazing country that should be on any adventurous traveler’s bucket list. If Zambia hasn’t been on your radar, you may be wondering if safety concerns could affect your trip. I traveled alone using public transportation all over the Zambia and had a wonderful time, but really, is Zambia safe? Let’s explore this question from a few different angles:
Is Zambia safe?
Zambia has one of the lowest homicide rates in its region, and it is similar to the USA’s rate (adjusted for population, of course). According to the US Department of State, the primary crime against tourists is theft.
Being a foreigner
When I am asked “is Zambia safe?” by my friends and family my first inclination is to say yes, of course. Then again I do come from Detroit, which has a reputation for being very dangerous, rendering most other places in the world a lot safer than home…
The reality is that most Zambians are extremely poor, and as a tourist you will be perceived as instantly being rich, even if that isn’t exactly the case. The copper industry in Zambia has been running into some problems as prices go down (or corruption goes up, depending on how you look at it), resulting in even more unemployment and hardship among the locals.
Driving around in luxury vehicles or walking around the streets with expensive camera equipment aren’t very prudent things to do in the big cities and could make you into a target for theft. It is ok if you are on safari, though.
Is Zambia safe….for Tourists vs Residents
Tourists and residents are likely to encounter different kinds of crime threats in Zambia. Tourists are less likely to have their own cars and therefore may not have to worry about car theft. But then again residents will have to worry about the security of their own homes and apartments in lieu of hotel rooms.
Regardless if you live in Zambia or are just visiting for a while, one idea is to not always take the same route if you are going from place to place on the streets. Of course, try and stay on popular streets where you won’t be all alone, but if you walk the same route every single day it could be easy for people with bad intentions to target you.
Safety in Zambian Hotels and Hostels
Just because you are staying in a hotel or hostel doesn’t mean that your belongings are safe. For example, when I stayed at a hostel in Lusaka (Lusaka Backpackers– I recommend it!), I always kept my extra cash in this cheapo money pouch that I wore when I wasn’t near my bags. I never had a problem.
But just be aware that other tourists may also notice your valuables. Don’t just think that you need to worry about staff or strangers getting into your things.
Be wary of using the safe in your hotel room. There have been several occasions of theft from locked safes in hotel rooms, sometimes in very fancy hotels. These are usually inside jobs where a staff member is involved in the theft.
Is Zambia safe after dark?
As a woman traveling alone in Zambia, I never went out alone after dark anywhere. If I did need to go somewhere at night, I made sure I always took a taxi with a trusted cab driver. If you are staying in a hotel or hostel, try and book the cab through them. Or, ask a trusted person who lives there for the phone number of a good cab driver.
There are not a lot of street lights in and outside the cities in Zambia, and so be extremely careful wandering the streets at night, even if you are in a group of friends.
Be careful when you have travel days. I had some incidents where I took a bus between cities and the bus arrived after dark. I think the Lusaka bus station may be my least favorite place in the world, and that is during the daytime! Nighttime is horrible.
Taking the bus
Make arrangements before you arrive, or wait and take a bus the next day to assure you will arrive during daylight.
If you are in a pickle, a lot of transport hubs are near gas stations that are modern and well lit. They also usually have benches where you can sit and wait in a well lit area while you wait for a ride. I definitely had my gas station moments…
Be sure to check out my Zambia page for more travel tips!
Also know that a lot of buses depart extremely early, sometimes before dawn. Make sure you have arrangements to go to the bus station super early (sometimes departing at 4 am…). Do not try to walk to the bus station in any city at this hour before the sun rises. Don’t do it in the national parks either…I remember taking my 4am taxi and having to stop for a herd of elephants crossing the road in South Luangwa!
Is Zambian public transportation safe?
I found the public transportation in Zambia to be in overall better condition than in, say, Mozambique, but there will always be risks involved with taking public transportation in Zambia. And I did take one or two really overcrowded buses- think 5 people sitting in a 3 seat row!
In fact, even though the roads are in decent condition and they do safety checks before buses can leave Lusaka, getting in a traffic accident may be more common than being robbed in Zambia.
There are crazy drivers and also a lot of drunks out there…
You shouldn’t leave your bags unattended around the buses, but sometimes they prefer that all the bags be stored in the back of the bus. There’s really nothing you can do but give up your bag, though I never saw people tampering with the luggage on any bus I took. I kept my valuables in my slash proof messenger bag with me on the bus.
I was surprised at the number of drunks I encountered on the streets of Zambia. In fact I would rank probably rank it as the drunkest country of all the countries I have visited on the African continent.
I encountered drunks on the street in cities and villages at all hours of the day and night. They were bold and drove me crazy.
I once was trying to get on a bus at the station in Lusaka only to be greeted by a group of horribly drunk men. They were all wearing the bus company’s uniform! I panicked at that moment because I thought they would be driving the bus, but turns out they were just the bus company’s security guards. Great.
Is Zambia safe for safaris?
Going on safari is probably the number one thing you should do in Zambia. The wildlife is unbelievable but also very dangerous.
I am wrote a separate post about safety around African wildlife, but in a nutshell ALWAYS listen to your guide or driver.
Do not approach animals and be extremely careful at night- even walking to a lodge’s bathroom can turn into a disaster if there is a hippo grazing nearby! You are not some sort of special animal whisperer. Oh yeah and stay away from those crocodile infested rivers!
Some final miscellaneous safety tips for tourists in Zambia
- Don’t put too much trust in the police. Police corruption is a thing there…
- You technically shouldn’t drink the tap water. I did and I didn’t have a problem but still be aware…(maybe I am full of parasites right now)
- Don’t leave your luggage unattended when you are waiting for stuff.
- Be careful leaving clubs or bars or going to the ATM.
- Women shouldn’t go to bars alone (this holds true in Zimbabwe also).
- Men should know that buying drinks for local women is a sexual proposition.
- It is a cash based society, so you will have to carry a lot of cash around with you. Always be prepared with the amount you need. Don’t waste time going through all your banknotes and showing everyone how much money is in your wallet. Or, keep only a small amount of money in your wallet and keep the rest hidden elsewhere.
One thing I really appreciated having when I traveled to Zambia
Sorry for a bit of a shameless plug, but I am only mentioning this because I really like it! I bought this bag before I traveled to Southern Africa and it was wonderful. It is slash proof, you can lock it shut, and it is made of a material that prevents “electronic pickpockets” from stealing your credit card info.
I kept my passport, phone, camera, and e-reader in it and time and again I was thankful that I didn’t have to worry.
In fact I laugh because I think I am holding this purse in EVERY photo of me during that trip! For Example:
So, in conclusion…
Is Zambia safe? Well I will let you decide for yourself.
These safety posts can be frustrating, though. Any seasoned traveler knows that safety reports distributed by government websites always veer towards being extremely cautious.
I don’t want to make Zambia seem like a peachy utopia. I also really hope that this post doesn’t scare you away. Personally, I felt very safe and happy in Zambia. Is Zambia safe? I say yes.
Zambians are warm and kind and you should not feel intimidated. You should be fine if you are careful, but you really don’t need to spend your entire vacation freaking out and looking over your shoulder.
For those used to traveling in this part of the world, a lot of these safety tips are common sense and you don’t even think of them.