Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, is its largest city by far, and although its population is growing rapidly, increasing the traffic in the city and filling the streets with large, bustling markets, the tree-lined boulevards impart a feeling of space and tranquillity in many parts.
Lusaka turned 100 years old in July 2013. The history of the city goes way back to the 1890s, when Northern Rhodesia was formed after the area in which the city is situated was taken over by the British South Africa Company from the local chiefs. In 1924 the British Colonial Office took over, and Lusaka was then named after the headman of a nearby village, Lusaaka.
It became the capital of the British colony of Northern Rhodesia in 1935, replacing Livingstone. And that is when Lusaka started to grow. The town has since transformed from a mere village into a budding city full of life, and one of the fastest growing in central Africa. It is seen by locals as the glittering capital and lures many rural migrants in search of jobs.
It is these people flocking to and living in the city that provide the city’s biggest attraction as, true to Zambia’s reputation, they are a warm and friendly people. With a population of just over two million, the city is surprisingly a haven, with most people trying to make an honest living, selling their wares or services, always with a welcoming smile.
There are many interesting things to do and places to see when in Lusaka. The city offers a wide range of nightlife experiences, from upmarket clubs and restaurants to roadside pubs, where you can spend some time with the city’s inhabitants and get to know their style of music.
Modern malls, including Manda Hill, East Park, the Arcades Shopping Centre and Levy Mall, have improved the shopping options in Lusaka. In the past, shopping meant a serious search of the busy and cramped private shops of the city centre. Now visitors and most of the city’s residents shop in spacious malls, among large supermarkets.
However, many of Lusaka’s traditional markets and bazaars still exist and are worth a visit to pick up some of the more unique souvenirs, and also for an authentic Zambian shopping experience. The Sunday Market held in the parking lot of the Arcades Shopping Centre is a great spot for browsing for African woodcarvings, prints and crafts, while the Lusaka City Market has a less touristy vibe, offering local bargains and second-hand goods, but it is a bit more chaotic.
For some arts and culture, the Kabwata Cultural Village is a place worth seeing. Made up of 43 rondavels, which were ‘temporary’ housing for Lusaka’s black labour force during the 1930s and 40s, the centre was converted into a cultural village to preserve Lusaka’s heritage. These huts are now inhabited by artists from all over Zambia, creating carvings, jewellery and other crafts, making this one of Lusaka’s best spots for buying hand-made curios and souvenirs.
Another culturally rich spot to visit is the Lusaka National Museum, dedicated to showcasing Zambia’s history and culture, with sections devoted to archaeology, ethnography and political and social history. Contemporary art by some of Zambia’s current artists is also on display. For more contemporary paintings and sculpture, head to Namwandwe Gallery, about 15km south-east of the city centre.
This is a private collection of Zambian art, but is open to the public, and showcases some of the best contemporary Zambian and African art both of established and up-and-coming artists. For a glimpse of Zambia’s natural environment and renowned wildlife without venturing too far out of the city, the Munda Wanga Environmental Park is a great choice. This wildlife sanctuary and botanical garden contains a selection of Zambia’s flora and fauna in areas that recreate the natural environment. The park has a heavy emphasis on conservation and environmental sustainability. Further out, about 15km, is the new Lusaka National Park. Officially opened to the public this year, this park is the smallest protected area in Zambia – at about 6.7 hectares – and home to approximately 1 000 species of wildlife, including white rhino, giraffe, eland, hartebeest, zebra, sable antelope, kudu, blue wildebeest, waterbuck, black lechwe, impala, puku, bushbuck, reedbuck, warthog, one pangolin and axis deer. It offers activities like camping, walking safaris and bike riding.
A wide range of ethnic cuisine from the country’s 72 tribes and a cross-section of Zambian people living and working in the city, make Lusaka an interesting and enjoyable capital city.
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