The far west of Tanzania gives home to two of Tanzania’s lesser known national parks: Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. This western circuit is extremely remote, tricky to access and pretty costly to visit. As a result few people make the effort to come here and so it has remained an untouched, unique experience, and absolutely worth visiting.
Katavi National Park is a name to conjure with. It is one of the best parks in Africa and many safari operations would love to start camps here. However, the logistics and costs are so difficult, that there are only a couple of small, permanent safari camps sharing this 4,500km² of wilderness. You sometimes run across more prides of lion than other people on a game drive.
Once in Katavi, Tanzania’s third largest national park won’t disappoint you. Two enormous plains of knee-high golden grass – Chada and Katasunga – dominate the park, surrounded by varied woodlands and a usually abundant amount of game.
Katavi National Park is at its best in the dry season, when the plains fill with thousands of zebra, topi and impala. Hartebeest, giraffe, and Defassa waterbuck are also very common, there’s a large population of resident elephants, and some impressive herds of buffalo. Katavi is a great park for watching lion-buffalo interactions. Spotted hyena are frequently seen, whilst leopard appear on the woodland fringes, but are more elusive. Wild dog do live here, but tend to stick to the escarpment and are rarely seen on the plains.
During the dry season, the Katuma and Kapapa rivers are the only water for miles. As the game files down to drink, hundreds of hippo congregate in the tiniest waterhole and enormous crocodiles sit out the heat in river-bank mud-holes.
Katavi hosts large flocks of open-billed and saddlebilled storks, spoonbills, crested cranes and pink-backed pelicans. Raptors are plentiful whilst the woodlands of the national park are home to species as diverse as African golden orioles, paradise fly-catchers and pennant-winged nightjars.
Vegetation in Katavi
Katavi is situated on the northern aside of the ‘Rukwa Rift’, an extension of the Western Rift Valley. Katavi’s dry woodlands are dominated by brachystegia species, which are mostly native to tropical Africa and dotted very densely around this area.
Katavi’s isolation has helped it to remain untouched and largely unvisited; by light aircraft it takes four or five hours to reach here from Dar or Arusha. However, the result is that whilst the Serengeti National Park sees around 120,000 visitors per annum, Katavi has only a few hundred visitors per year!
The least expensive way to get to Katavi (and Mahale Mountains, which is relatively nearby) is by using twice-weekly scheduled flights which link these parks with Arusha, in northern Tanzania. Operating on Mondays and Thursdays, their relatively high cost helps to make these parks two of Tanzania’s most expensive destinations!
There are also flights routing Dar-Selous-Ruaha to Katavi/Mahale, and back. These also run on Mondays and Thursdays. Sadly, the costs for these are similar to the costs of chartering; certainly no lower than the schedule flights from Arusha.
There are numerous luxury tented camps within the park.