Katavi National park overview

Katavi National Park is a relatively untouched wilderness paradise, situated in the Southwest area of Tanzania. The park boasts a wonderful array of habitats, which range from flood plains of thick reeds and dense waterways that teem with hippo and crocodile to woodlands, open grasslands, forests, and pristine seasonal lakes. Visitors to the area can seek out the legendary tamarind tree, which is said to house the spirit of a great huntsman named Katabi. Here, they can place an offering at the base of the tree in memory of this exceptional hunter.

Katavi National park is ancient Africa as one might imagine from days gone by; mountain ranges provide a backdrop to the low-lying seasonal lakes (Katisunga, Chada, and Katavi), each one encircled by the evocative palms and scrub. The lakes, in reality, open plains in the dry season and boggy marsh in the wet, are connected by the Katuma River, which supports a refreshing belt of green, winding through the landscapes, and providing contrast to the drier areas around.

Wildlife in Katavi National park

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 National park is a great destination for watching lion-buffalo interactions. Spotted hyena are frequently seen, whilst leopard appear on the woodland fringes but are more elusive. The wild dogs 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.

When to go to the Katavi National park

Like the Nyerere National park (Selous) and Ruaha National Park, Katavi National park is a classic dry season park with the game viewing getting progressively better towards the end of the year. As the water holes and rivers dry up, the game moves down from the surrounding hills and congregates around the remaining river system – now the viewing gets seriously good. July to October is absolutely peak season for Katavi but more and more travelers are trying Katavi out of season if only to have the park completely to themselves!

What to do in Katavi

Game drives in Katavi offer a varied and rewarding experience. Drive along crocodile-infested rivers, through arid palm-studded sand bars, and skirt seasonal lakes, seeing quantities of game reminiscent of a bygone era.

Climate in Katavi

The climate of Katavi National park is generally hot and it stays that way for the rest of the year since it is situated near the equator crossing. At night in Katavi, it is quite different from other parks in the northern part of Tanzania since they are normally warmer (approximately 20°C or 68°F). During the day, the Temperatures are approximately 32°C or 90°F. Its broad difference in altitude (816m to 1634m or 2677ft to 5361ft) is actually responsible for the temperature variations. For every 1000 meters you ascend, the Temperatures drop by approximately 6.5°C you climb (or 3.5°F / 1000ft). Fortunately, the areas commonly accessed by tourists are mainly on low altitudes.

Dissimilar to the coast and other parks in the north, Katavi experiences a single continuous wet season (that starts in November to April). It normally does not rain the entire day, however experiences afternoon thundershowers. The park has a dry season that begins in May to October.

Getting there

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.

The least expensive way to get to Katavi (and the Mahale Mountains, which is relatively nearby) is by using twice-weekly scheduled flights that 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 scheduled flights from Arusha.