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 sprang up 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 support the growing local population. In comparison there were plenty of jobs to be found in Victoria Falls town to support the local Zimbabweans.
The Victoria Falls themselves have and always will be a major attraction for travellers, but the recent political instability in Zimbabwe has been a benefit for Livingstone. Over the past two to three years investors have poured money into the area. As well as some extremely good small lodges along the banks 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 drab 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 still very evident 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 prosperity.
John Spence originally cut his teeth as a cocktail barman in Cape Town and white water raft guide in Zimbabwe. This unorthodox first travel to Africa buried a strong seed of love for that continent which has grown and grown. Endless weird and wonderful trips to Africa on horse back, by canoe, on foot, light aeroplane and behind the wheel of his own Land Rover have yet to fully satisfy his thirst for knowledge of Africa. Johns two children are also set to become safari experts and are beginning to accompany him on some of his less adventurous trips so hes a good person to talk to about family holidays as well. An itinerary to Africa designed by John will be based on a huge bank of knowledge and a big injection of enthusiasm and adventure.
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