Explore the famous Katavi National Park. Katavi National Park is a largely undisturbed natural paradise in Tanzania’s western region, home to the world’s largest herds of buffalo. The park has a diverse range of habitats, including thick reedy floodplains and dense waterways teeming with hippo and crocodiles, as well as woodlands, open grasslands, forests, and beautiful seasonal lakes.
Katavi National Park, which is largely unaffected by civilization, is ideal for people seeking solitude among breathtaking scenery, far from the distant hum of safari vehicles. With only a few hundred tourists per year, you’re more likely to see a pride of lions than another game drive group. The mythical tamarind tree, which is claimed to house the soul of a renowned huntsman named Katabi, may be found in the vicinity.
History of the park
Katavi National Park, on the Rukwa Rift, was expanded to its current size of 4470km2 in 1998, making it Tanzania’s third largest park. Katavi’s geography is characterized by three vast floodplains connected by the Katuma River, which is home to one of the world’s greatest populations of hippos and crocodiles, as well as a plethora of waterfowl. During the day, the savanna plains are filled with massive herds, and predators wait eagerly for them to return to the woodland.
Wildlife, rivers, and birdlife
During the dry season, the Katavi, Katuma, and Chada Rivers become nothing more than pools, functioning as a magnet for the local wildlife. Elephant and buffalo herds, as well as zebra, waterbucks, and duikers, congregate around the few surviving water sources. From lions and leopards to wild dogs and hyenas, predators watch with bated breath. In fact, this is an excellent location to observe lion and buffalo interactions. Although spotted hyena sightings are common, wild dogs tend to remain near the escarpment, so finding these can be difficult. Impala and topi are also prevalent, as are hartebeest and giraffe. Crocodiles can be found in high numbers in the Katuma riverbed, caves near Ikuu Bridge and the Kapapa River, and Ndido Falls.
Getting to Katavi National Park
A 4-5-hour chartered flight from Arusha or Dar es Salaam is the most convenient method to get to Katavi. Your entry point to Katavi will be either Kilimanjaro International Airport (46 km from Arusha) or Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, depending on your schedule.
Katavi is a two-to three-day drive from Dar es Salaam and a 22-hour drive from Arusha. We recommend flying to avoid a long car trip. Safari Air Link operates a bi-weekly route between Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale, which is the only commercial flight available. However, most campgrounds have airplane connections, and if you book with Focus East Africa Tours, will arrange your transportation and lodging for you.
When to Visit Katavi National Park
Katavi National Park is best visited during the annual dry season, which runs from June to December. During the dry season, the Katuma River is one of the only water sources in the area, and the area around the river offers superb wildlife viewing opportunities.
Hundreds of hippos and crocodiles congregate around the few remaining waterholes, while thousands of topis, impalas, and zebras traverse the plains. Despite the increased visitor numbers during the high season, the park will be almost empty.
Tourist attractions at Katavi
Wildlife: Large herds of wildlife such as Cape Buffaloes, Zebras, Wildebeest, Giraffes, Elephants, Cheetahs, Wild Dogs, Hyenas, Leopards, Lions, and even crocodiles and hippopotami can be found along the Katuma River. The Katavi plains are known for their incredible fauna, which is best seen during the dry season. Wildlife in the park congregates in huge numbers near the water pools of lakes and rivers such as Katavi, Katuma, and Chada at this time.
Birdlife: The saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork, herons, plovers, and black cuckoo-shrikes are just a few of the bird species that may be seen in these plains and parks. The Chada Plains and the Katsunga Plains are two other great birdwatching locations.
Lake Katavi: Lake Katavi is one of the best places in the national park to see wildlife. Visitors to the lake can also pay a visit to the renowned sacred tamarind tree, which the local Bende and Pimbwe people refer to as “the tree of the spirit.” Lake Katavi is a seasonal body of water that spans 100 to 150 kilometers depending on water levels.
Katuma River: The Katuma River is the lifeblood of the Katavi National Park. The river is critical to the survival of the species that live in the national park. The river flows through the Chada and Kavuu plains, which are home to a variety of animals, including crocodiles and hippos, and empties into Lake Katavi.
Katsunga Plains: The Katsunga Plains have a diverse wildlife population. The plains are one of the best places in Tanzania and the East African region to see animals. On the borders of the plains are scrub and savannah forests, as well as a river that runs through them. The Katsunga plains include a number of seasonal pools and lakes, as well as around 600 hippos who frequent the riverbanks. During a game drive, the area is also great for seeing rare wildlife such as roan and sable antelopes.
Tourist Activities at Katavi National Park
Katavi offers a diverse choice of activities, making it feasible to spend three or more days there. A mobile camping experience, a chance to be in the center of the outdoors and open all of your senses to the wildlife cast, should be high on everyone’s list. Instead of driving around, you explore the area on foot, allowing for a more direct touch with nature. During the wet season of March to May, the Katavi savannah becomes a swamp, and we do not advocate visiting during this time. It is, nevertheless, the ideal site to visit during Tanzania’s peak tourism season, which runs from June to September. Katavi constantly provides breathtaking experiences, and we believe it is one of Africa’s best kept secrets.
Treks with an armed ranger and bush camping are part of the walking safari experience. The walking safari trail follows Lake Katavi, a seasonal floodplain where grazing hippos and crocodiles can be seen. Game drives can be arranged through your lodging for those who are unable to walk great distances.
Visit historical sights.
The history of Katavi National Park is fascinating. The Kabora-Lyonga slave route, which traveled through this area during the slave trade, can be visited. Visitors can also see the famed tamarind tree, which, according to local legend, gave the park its name. The tree is the home of the great hunter Katavi whom, according to Katavi customs, and residents donate food to its roots to gain luck when hunting.
Katavi National Park is home to over 400 bird species, making it one of Tanzania’s greatest birding safari sites. The African fishing eagle, Lilac-breasted rollers, Paradise flycatchers, and many other kinds of birds can be seen in the park.
Game drives in the national park are great for seeing wildlife. Guided game drives in the national park are even better because you can observe specific wildlife species that you want to see in the park with the help of a park guide.
The Katuma River, Lakes Katavi and Chada, and floodplains like Chada and Katsunga are ideal for game drives in Katavi National Park. In Lake Katavi alone, the national park is thought to include 4,000 elephants, over 1,000 buffaloes, and up to 200 hippos. Giraffes, zebras, impalas, and reedbucks are among the other wildlife species that can be seen in the national park.
Accommodation at Katavi National Park
Chada Camp, run by Nomad Tanzania, lies 50 kilometers east of Lake Tanganyika. Chada Camp has six safari tents that are surrounded by trees and provide panoramic views of the plains. The tents are spaced out to provide privacy, and the camping experience is appropriate for children aged 12 and up. Each tent comes with a comfy bed, a writing desk, and gauze windows that let in natural light. Natural fabrics and palm matting are used to embellish the accommodations. Each tent has its own bathroom, complete with a flush toilet.
A bucket shower is located outside your tent. After a day of activities, you may relax while taking in the scenery, and you might even glimpse a herd of elephants. Guests can relax, read, or watch elephants, giraffes, and buffaloes pass by from a large common tent. Guests have the option of dining indoors or al fresco under the stars. Guests gather around the campfire for appetizers and drinks before supper. Chada Camp offers 4WD game drives, picnics among the animals, bird watching, and guided walking safaris, among other safari activities.
Katavi Mbali Mbali Lodge
Mbali Mbali Camp has eight cozy tents and was entirely renovated in 2018, with a minimalist and modern design. The public areas are made up of two open-sided, tiered structures made of wood and thatch. Each canvas tent is constructed on a wooden platform and has a thatched roof. There is a sofa, a veranda, and a traditional Zanzibari bed in each room. The site contains one family room with a common platform and a conjoined double and twin tent.
The modern en-suite bathrooms feature double sinks, flushing toilets, and glass showers. A superb menu of native and western favorites is available at the camp. On safari, you can enjoy a bush breakfast with panoramic views of the park or a buffet breakfast at the campground. Dinner is a three-course meal, and there are bi-weekly outside BBQ buffets. 4WD safaris and birding are among the activities available at the property.