The discovery of 2-million year old stone tools suggests that Zambia has long been inhabited by humans but its indigenous Khoisan hunter-gatherers were displaced by waves of migrating African farmers and herders in the 12th century. Arab and Portuguese traders on the hunt for gold, ivory and slaves followed but it was the 19th century explorers, most notably David Livingstone, who put Zambia on the map with the discoveries of Victoria Falls and huge copper deposits. Colonised and ruled as Northern Rhodesia by the British, independence arrived in 1964.
With copper comprising 80% of its exports, the significance of Zambia's copper mining industry cannot be overstated. It is however agriculture that occupies some 80% of the workforce, most of whom are engaged in subsistence farming though corn, sugar cane, peanuts, tobacco and cotton are important cash crops. Initiatives to diversify Zambia's economy include nickel, tin and uranium mining as well as tourism and hydro power projects.
A country comprising some 70 ethnic groups and as many languages, Zambia is one of sub-Saharan Africa's most highly urbanized countries: almost half of its 13.5 million inhabitants live in Lusaka and Copper Belt towns leaving much of the country sparsely populated. It's a deeply religious country - close to 90% of Zambians are Christians - but one that mixes traditional beliefs with formal worship.
Used in commerce and in schools, English is Zambia's official language but Nyanja and Bemba are the most commonly spoken African languages - travellers who make the effort to say a few words in a local language are always appreciated by the locals! A country noted for its pottery, carving, weaving and music, Zambia has a long tradition of festivals and ceremonies; the Lozi tribe's 'Kuomboka', when their king is transported on a river barge, is one of the most spectacular.
Slightly larger than Texas, most of Zambia lies on an elevated plateau that gives way to mountains in the country's north-east. Covered in large part by vast open woodlands and punctuated by river valleys, Zambia is in effect a huge drainage basin, supplying water for both the Zambezi and Congo Rivers. Unique 'dambos', flat-bottomed drainage valleys on the plateau, support a wealth of plant life while Zambia's extensive wetlands and floodplains are home to huge numbers of large mammals and birds.
Little wonder then that Zambia is home to some of Africa's best game viewing: the crossover of Southern and Central African species and the fact that Zambian parks tend to have a water element to them greatly increases the country's biodiversity. The extraordinary South Luangwa National Park is the flagship reserve and home to huge numbers of classic African animals and predators, as is the Big 5 destination of the Lower Zambezi National Park.
Zambian wildlife highlights include bird watching in Victoria Falls' Mosi Oa Tunya National Park; guided walking safaris and night drives in South Luangwa; canoe and boat safaris in the Lower Zambezi; and predators and birding in wild Kafue National Park.
At a Glance
One of Africa's best kept secrets, Zambia offers superlative game viewing by 4X4, boat and canoe, and is home to the best guided walking safaris on the continent.