With an area of 4471 square kilometers, Katavi National Park is the third largest park in Tanzania. One would expect it to receive a flow of tourists, yet Katavi is one of the less-visited parks in the country. A survey done in 2012 shows that there were only 1500 visits to Katavi out of 900,000 safari-related visits. This is not a surprise because its remote location makes access by road very strenuous. Located hundreds of kilometers from the main Tanzanian cities, Katavi National Park remains untouched and teeming with wildlife.
The initial establishment of Katavi was in 1974, but the park continued expanding to its current size until 1998.
The park is in southwest Tanzania to the east of Lake Tanganyika and the Rukwa Rift, which is the western branch of the Great Rift Valley. This part of Tanzania is highly concentrated in lakes and flood plains. Katavi borders Lake Katavi in the north, and Lake Chada and Katuma in the south. The lakes and the riverbed comprise grassland and endemic woodlands. The water levels of the lakes change drastically between the wet and the dry season. The rain causes excessive water to flood the plains for almost half of the year. With the lakes nearly drying up in certain months, the Katuma River becomes the only water source for hundreds of kilometers, attracting thousands of animals to the area.
The wildlife in Katavi is seasonal. When the time is right, Katavi becomes one of the most densely populated National Parks in terms of elephants and buffalo.
On average, 4000 elephants and 1500 buffaloes migrate towards the river during the high season. The other large herds are of zebras, giraffes, impalas, reedbucks, as well as endangered species like defassa waterbuck, topi, roan, and sable antelope. The abundance of these species brings about large populations of predators like lions, hyena, wild dog, cheetah, and leopard. On a side note, Katavi boasts the largest populations of leopard in Tanzania, so your chances of seeing leopards will be higher than in many other places in the country.
With the massive network of Katuma River and connecting streams to the surrounding lakes, Katavi also has the largest population of hippo and crocodiles in the country. The estimated number of hippos in the river is over 300 at the moment.
With so many lakes, puddles, and the magnificent Katuma, a teeming birdlife is inevitable. The number of recorded bird species is 373, which increases during the wet season due to migratory birds. The endemic species to look out for are spoonbills, plovers, African openbills, storks, herons, as well as raptors like the fish eagle, white-backed vulture, and bateleur.
The safari drives and walks show you the different sections of Katavi that are inaccessible otherwise. You will be able to join these tours by booking through the lodge of your preference.
Game drives involve 4×4 open vehicles driven by rangers. While multiple vehicles drive around different sections simultaneously, you will often hear the drivers reporting animal sights on the radio. This ensures the maximum efficiency of the safari.
The biggest plain in the park is called Paradise, which is a popular choice for game drives. Don’t be surprised if your ranger stops here and lays the blanket for a bush picnic.
Besides the daytime safari drives, after-dark tours are a must because you get to see the real side of the predators as they hunt.
Katavi is also full of hiking trails that you can follow with a guided safari tour. This option allows you to camp overnight in the bush and to have close animal encounters during the day. You can either join short day-trips or longer hikes that include three meals and overnight stay in a tour package called flying camp.
Special birding excursions are available for bird-lovers.
Climate And Best Time To Visit
Katavi National Park experiences a wet season and a dry season with high temperatures throughout the year.
The dry season is from May to October, during which the temperature ranges between 17 and 31 degrees. August is usually the coldest month, while October sees peak temperatures. There is minimum rainfall, especially between June and September.
The humidity rises drastically between November and April. The wet season has typical afternoon showers and thunderstorms.
Considering all this, the best time to visit the park is between July and October when the water resources shrink, which forces the animals to come out for water.
April-May is the worst time to visit because the rains can cause floods in the grassy plains. The majority of the wildlife migrates to either Kenya or the east of Tanzania.
Transportation is the real challenge that puts many tourists off visiting here. It seems that the only way to reach Katavi in less than a day is to take a charter flight. The charter flight services operate through Mbali Mbali, which is part of Zantas Air Services. These flights depart from various points in the country. A flight from Arusha or Dar es Salaam to Katavi takes three hours. The charter planes will take you to the private airstrip of your lodge.
If you want to drive, you need to keep in mind that you will be on the road for quite a while. Cities like Dar es Salaam and Arusha are more than 1000 kilometers away. Furthermore, the roads are not always well-maintained, and they comprise unpaved dirt roads.
Public transport is possible up to a certain point. You can take a train from Dar via Tabora to Mpanda, and take a bus to Sitalike.