Tours Travel

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 has changed. For those unfamiliar with this part of Africa, Livingstone is a small town on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. When Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia, Livingstone was the capital. A smart little town with tree-lined avenues and colonial buildings, it was largely considered 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 1980s, Victoria Falls was a pretty basic one-horse town, and the only decent place to stay was the old Victoria Falls Hotel. In the late 1980s and 1990s these two towns couldn’t have been more different. By then, both countries had become independent. Independence was good for the town of Victoria Falls, tourism boomed and many excellent hotels and lodges sprang up on the waterfront.
Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls. Meanwhile, Livingstone went into decline. Lusaka had become the capital of Zambia, attracting businesses and people. Livingstone was left quite desperate. The expatriate community had long since left the area and little industry had developed to support the growing local population. By comparison, many jobs were found in the town of Victoria Falls to support local Zimbabweans.

Victoria Falls have been and always will be a major draw for travellers, but the recent political instability in Zimbabwe has been a boon for Livingstone. In the last two or three years, investors have poured money into the area. As well as some very good little accommodation 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 Hotel Mosi O Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders). For someone who isn’t a fan of big hotels as a rule, I had to eat a humble cake at this one. Designed along the colonial lines still very much in evidence in the city, the hotel has the best location imaginable. From the mature gardens you can see the spray from the falls, and the service and food could not have been better in Europe or the US.

Livingstone now has direct daily flights from Johannesburg and the local market is bustling with people spending their well-earned wages. The city feels like a great place to be. It might have taken most of my life to get his pride back, but I really feel that he will now maintain this newfound prosperity.

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