Navigation and Driving
THE ROADS IN ZAMBIA
The country of Zambia covers various terrains and has large stretches or rural areas and natural habitats. For this reason – road conditions vary dramatically.
As you move away from city centres, driving can be tricky as some roads are in disrepair or poor conditions. Paved roads also make way for dirt roads which require a certain amount of concentration and responsible driving – but slower speeds and alert drivers make for a much smoother journey.
4WD vehicles are generally recommended for dirt roads – but absolutely advised for dirt roads in the rainy season. Potholes often take up the entire road and during the rainy season, large sections of the roads simply wash away. Some more rural roads will even become completely impassable.
As with any roads through rural areas you must always be observant of pedestrians and animals wandering onto roads, as well as prepare for a lack of road lighting.
The best suggestion to navigate the alternating terrain would be to check out a mapping app such as Tracks4Africa who specialise in off-road and less travelled routes, covering most of Africa. They give you terrain categories and difficulty levels as well.
While traversing a new country – and especially if you are planning to explore its more rural areas – a GPS with is a must! It is a great resource for navigating in national parks and on the more minor roads, and will also lists petrol stations, banks and accommodation options.
However, as a precaution – you should always take a map as well. A hard copy, or at the very least a downloadable digital map. This helps you to plan along the way, and to see ahead if you come across an impassable road. Especially when heading out of the main cities, or with a foreign network provider – internet and cell reception is limited.
Within Zambia, 50ppm is not a common fuel type, and is in fact near impossible to find. However, 250ppm is widely available.
Officially, all fuel brought into Zambia privately must be in tanks that are plumbed into the vehicles fuel system.
Vehicles drive on the left side of the road in Zambia – and most other traffic laws are the same as you’d find in any country.
Speed bumps are used to slow traffic in populated areas – but be careful as these are usually not marked.
Road blocks and police check points are common in Zambia, and officers are generally very friendly – so be sure to respond in a similar fashion. Officers will generally either ask for cross-border papers (like 3rd party insurance) or your driver’s license. They will also check your vehicle from time to time to make sure everything is in working order, such as headlights, and an up-to-date licence disk.
Wear your seatbelt and don’t speed. True for any driver in any part of the world – but the areas around border crossings are particular hot-spots for traffic police. Passengers on the back seat should be buckled up too.
If caught for speeding, you will have to pay a spot fine, but be sure to compare the amount with that stated in the official police fine book, and be sure to ask for a receipt. You will most likely stand out as a tourist – which makes you automatically vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
SOME HANDY TIPS
- In Zambia there are no Roadside Assistance Packages and very few ambulances, tow-trucks, or emergency vehicles of any kind. Given the circumstances, bush mechanics are extremely resourceful and can do a great job of patching up your vehicle!
- Due to past civil strife in Zambia’s neighbouring countries of Mozambique, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo – the areas along these borders can be dangerous. There are still a few active landmines around which can make off-road travel highly hazardous. However, speak to local authorities in these areas and they can provide you with advice on affected areas.
- Ensure you plan your trip properly before leaving home and pre-plan your accommodation. Campsites and lodges are generally located around major tourist attractions and will be hard to find in towns.
- Ensure you have enough time to travel between your destinations. You need to generally assume that driving anywhere will always take longer than you think it will due to bad road conditions.
- Trucks and cars might indicate randomly to the left or right. If there are no immediate turns ahead, or the driver does not show signs of turning, then indicating left is also a kind way of telling you that it’s safe to overtake them, and indicating right means that you should stay left as the road is not clear.
- Another self-adopted consideration of driver’s in Zambia is that if there is a broken-down vehicle or truck, their drivers will break branches from nearby trees and lay them across the side of the road well in advance of the standing vehicle – so look out for these too.
Been to Zambia recently? Got any additional information, tips, suggestions or updates for this page? We want you to be part of our efforts to help future self-drive visitors to Zambia. You can send your updates to us here.