Katavi National Park
Katavi National Park is without doubt one of the best parks in Africa and many more safari operators would love to start camps there. However, the logistics and costs are so difficult, that there are only a couple of small, permanent safari camps sharing this 4,500km² land of wilderness. Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago.
The habitat of Katavi National Park is mainly savannah grassland and brachystegia woodland on the East of the park that is home to substantial but elusive populations of the localised eland, sable, and roan antelopes.
But the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada. During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad waterbirds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile. In the wet season the place transforms to lush marshes and shallow lakes, leaving behind dusty floodplains in the dry season.
It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into its own. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion prides and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.
Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday occurrence, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.
Hippo pods converge in spectacular numbers in the dry season: male fights are common
Unusual antelope species, like sable and roan
Walking, driving and camping safaris.
Very exclusive and doesn’t get crowded
Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi (for whom the park is named) – offerings are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessing.
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Katavi National Park Flora & Fauna
Katavi’s dry woodlands are dominated by brachystegia species, which are mostly native to tropical Africa and dotted very densely around this area. Katavi National Park may not host the biggest variety of game on the average drive, but sightings tend to be spectacular and you’ll mostly have them to yourself as most tourist shy away from the park. While lions are very common, the more remarkable sightings are buffalo herds that number in the thousands and the hippos, which are pushed into small pools as the river dries up. Pods of them have to share too small a place and fights are a common sight.
Beautiful sable antelopes can sometimes be found in the Miombo woodland. During the dry season, huge herds of buffalo, zebra and impala gather with elephants, and waterbucks around the drying water reserves of Lake Katavi and Lake Chada. At this time, the Katuma River is packed with hippos and crocodiles and it is unusually easy to spot lions.
Although the dry season is the recommended time to visit Katavi National Park for the big game, this is not the best time for birding. However, the rivers harbor a large concentration of water birds such as yellow-billed, saddle-billed, and open-billed stork. Raptors are well represented, with the fish eagle, bateleur, and white-backed vulture being particularly common. The woodlands of the Katavi National Park are home to African golden orioles, paradise fly-catchers, and pennant-winged nightjars. Over 400 species are recorded and migratory birds are present from November to April.
Katavi National Park Location & Map
Katavi National Park occupied 4,471 sq km in the Southwest of Tanzania, East of Lake Tanganyika, and on the Northern side of the ‘Rukwa Rift’, an extension of the Western Rift Valley. This part of Tanzania’s safari circuit is extremely remote, tricky to access and quite costly to visit. As a result few people make the effort to come here and so it has remained an untouched, unique experience where you will likely see more lion prides than people: The number of visitors to the park on an annual basis is just above 1,500 foreign visitors out of a total 900,000 registered in the whole Tanzania National Parks system during 2012/13.
The headquarters of Katavi National Park at Sitalike are about 40km South of Mpanda town. This can be reached by chartered flights from Dar es Salaam or Arusha. Alternatively, you can take a tough but spectacular day’s drive from Mbeya, 550 km away, or in the dry season from Kigoma, 390 km away. It is however possible to reach Mpanda by rail from Dar e Salaam via Tabora, then to catch public transport to Sitalike, from where game drives can be arranged. If travelling overland, allow plenty of time to get there and back.
Katavi National Park is a typical dry season park. The best time of year for getting to Katavi is between June and October when Game viewing is best in the middle and end of the dry season. Wildlife is easier to spot because vegetation is thinner and animals gather around predictable water resources. The park is open throughout the year, but most roads become very bad in the wet season and many of the camps close down. Roads within the park are often flooded during the rainy season but may be passable from mid-December to February.
Fast Facts On Katavi National Park
Total Land Area
4471 sq km About the same size as Trinidad
Elevation above sea level
About 260 stacked giraffes
Nearest Major City & Airport
About 820 km East
When To Visit Katavi National Park
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Gombe Stream National Park
Kitulo Plateau National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park
Katavi National Park
Rubundo Island National Park
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