Chipata, a small and dusty crossroads in the Eastern Province of Zambia, has about 75,000 residents. It is the provincial capital. Chipata is a popular refueling station for overlanders on their way east to Malawi, west to South Luangwa Park, or north to Lundazi.
Chipata is located roughly 12 km from the border of Malawi along Lusaka Road. Along the western boundary of the city, there is another road, heading north to Lundazi and on to Chama. It's known, appropriately, as Lundazi Road.
From Lusaka, Chipata is an 8-hour bus ride on a luxury bus, costing about $10. It might be possible to find slightly cheaper transport, but it will probably take twice as long to arrive.
Chipata features a grocery store (Shoprite) and a few places to change money.
If you are interested in taking a look around a "real Zambian town," head to the Indian shops (so-called because they are almost exclusively Indian-owned). Also known as the Down Shops, among these shops you will find thousands of Chipatans wandering around, meeting friends, or doing business.
Chipata has several local restaurants offering cheap traditional food.
You can also head to Palm Grove for a good Indian dinner for under $5.
Chipata has a couple of lively nightclubs:
Chipata has several affordable guest houses:
For independent travelers Chipata is useful because it has an immigration official who can provide a visa for Malawi. Lilongwe is only 3 or 4 hours away, and Cape Maclear and Nkhata Bay are within a day's bus ride.
The public bus station is located near the Indian Shops, and if you want to catch a minibus to Lundazi or South Luangwa National Park, this is where you want to head. (Take the "Luxury Coach" -- RPS -- to Lusaka; it's much faster and infinitely safer.) Be prepared, however, to wait a while at the local bus station -- no matter what time the conductor tells you that you will leave, it will be much later. Kick back and have a warm beer; after all, you're in the heart of Africa.