Tanzania is so full of ‘don’t miss’ wildlife destinations that safari enthusiasts will just have to accept that they cannot all be done in one safari. However, Katavi Plains is a must for the enthusiast, and being far away and remote but also within 30 minutes flying time from Mahale, it can be combined well with the Mahale Mountains.
Katavi at 4,471 sq. km is large and protects only part of an even larger ecosystem. Extensive open plains alternate with broad-leafed woodlands, flat-topped acacia bush country and wide swamps and lakes.
This is a highly seasonal place only accessible in the dry months from July to October. It is extremely remote, and this very remoteness is its strength for during the long wet season from October to May (8 months) the wild animals have free domain over a huge hinterland of several thousand square kilometers both within and outside the Park, virtually untouched by man. They can move, live and multiply here. As the dry season arrives they are forced slowly back to the swamps and lakes of Katavi, where they get more and more concentrated.
Large areas of the Park are hardly ever visited such as the Mlele escarpment with its waterfalls, Lake Paradise and the country in between.
Katavi is one of those places that have not changed since early European explorers first started entering Africa’s interior, and it is the kind of place that gave this continent its reputation for being impenetrable, of huge scale and swarming with big game. You will need at least three days there.
Wildlife at Katavi National Park
By September, elephants can be seen daily and the numbers of buffalo are phenomenal with herd upon herd of 1000 strong grazing the dried-out flood plains. Hippo and crocs numbering in thousands get increasingly confined to shrinking pools and mud wallows, with regular fights erupting amongst the hippo bulls. Large herds of topi also concentrate into the flood plains.
The predators are here in force, especially lion and spotted hyena. Male lion are characterized by very short manes, but large powerful bodies.
In the hinterland are huge expanses of Acacia and broadleaved woodlands (Miombo), and it is here that Roan and Sable antelope are found, as well as Lichtenstein’s hartebeest.
Things to do
- Game driving by vehicle is the main activity, but guided walking safaris with an overnight or two in a light weight fly camp are also popular.
- 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.
There are National Park bandas and public campsites as well as a number of seasonal camps in the Park, including some that stay open during parts of the wet season. It is also possible to arrange for mobile camps to camp in the Park with prior approval from the Park authorities.
Scheduled flights from Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Kigoma, Tabora, Mwanza and Dar es Salaam operate into Katavi National Park via small, bush-compatible light aircraft such as Cessna Caravan.
It is very approximately a three-hour flight from Dar es Salaam to Katavi and similarly 3 hours from Arusha. The flight from Mwanza is about 2 ½ hours.
All flights will require landing on a dirt airstrip; the Ikuu airstrip (near the Ikuu Ranger Post).
The drive from Mbeya is 550 km/340 miles which makes a spectacular full day’s journey. Mbeya is 838 km from Dar es Salaam, making the total distance from Dar approximately 1,400 km (870 mi) and requiring 20 + hours. In the dry season the drive from Kigoma is 390 km/240 miles.
It is possible to reach Mpanda by rail from Dar via Tabora, then to get public transport to Sitaliki, where game drives can be arranged. If travelling overland, allow plenty of time to get there and back.
Katavi combines well with other southern areas such as Nyerere National Park, Ruaha, Mahale Mountains National Park, and Gombe National Park.