Livingstone Revisited – A Phoenix From The Ashes

In April this year I returned to Livingstone in Zambia for my first visit in several years. What a change. For those not familiar with this part of Africa, Livingstone is a small town on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls. When Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia, Livingstone was the capital. A small smart town with tree lined avenues and colonial buildings, it was considered very much the place to live. A short distance away, across the Livingstone Bridge was the town of Victoria Falls in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Until the 1980’s Victoria Falls was a rather basic one horse town, and the only decent place to stay was the old Victoria Falls Hotel. By the late 80s and 90s these two towns could not have been more different. By then both countries had become independent. Independence was good to the town of Victoria Falls, tourism rocketed and many excellent hotels and lodges abruptly arose on the
Zimbabwean side of the Victoria Falls. Meanwhile Livingstone went into decline. Lusaka had become the Zambian capital and it attracted business and people. Livingstone was left looking rather desperate. The expatriate community had long since left the area and little industry had developed to sustain the growing local population. In comparison there were plenty of jobs to be found in Victoria Falls town to sustain the local Zimbabweans.

The Victoria Falls themselves have and always will be a major allurement for travellers, but the recent political instability in Zimbabwe has been a assistance for Livingstone. Over the past two to three years investors have poured money into the area. in addition as some extremely good small lodges along the edges of the Zambezi River, the new five star Royal Livingstone Hotel deserves a special mention. It was built on the old foundations of the rather colorless Mosi O Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders) Hotel. For somebody who is not a fan of large hotels as a rule, I had to eat humble pie on this one. Designed along the colonial lines nevertheless very apparent in town, the hotel has the best location imaginable. From the mature gardens you can see the spray of the Falls themselves, and the service and food could not have been bettered in either Europe or the US.

Livingstone now has daily flights direct from Johannesburg and the local market bustles with people spending their well earned wages. The town just feels like a great place to be. It might have taken nearly all my lifetime to regain its pride, but I truly feel it will now keep this new found wealth.

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