Katavi is Tanzania’s third-largest national park, together with two contiguous game reserves the conservation area encompasses 12,500sq km and one of its most unspoiled wilderness areas. Though it’s an isolated alternative to more popular destinations elsewhere in Tanzania Serengeti National Park receives more visitors daily than Katavi does all year), the lodges are just luxurious like anywhere else. For backpackers, it’s one of the cheapest and easiest parks to visit, if you are willing to take time and the effort to get there.
August through October is best for seeing large herds of wildlife. From February to May it’s very wet, so getting to the park can be almost impossible and all the best camps close. It’s a good time for birders though.
Katavi’s dominant feature is the 425sq km Katisunga Plain, a vast grassy expanse at the heart of the park. This and other flood plains yield to vast tracts of brush and woodland more southern African than eastern), which are the best areas for sighting roan and sable antelopes (together with Ruaha National Park, Katavi is one of the few places you have a decent chance of spotting both).
Small rivers and large swamps support huge populations of hippos and crocodiles and Katavi has more than 400 bird species.
The park really comes to life during the dry season, when the flood plains dry up and elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, elands, topis, and many more gather at the remaining waters. The park really stands out for its hippos, up to a thousand at a time can gather in a single muddy pool at the end of the dry season, late September to early October is the best time, and its Buffaloes. Katavi is home to some of the largest remaining buffalo herds in Africa and it’s not unusual to see over a thousand of these steroid-fueled bovines at any one time.
Walking safaris with an armed ranger and bush camping, plus a guided walking for a short walk or a long walk are permitted throughout the park.
This makes it a great park for budget travelers. The road to Lake Katavi, a seasonal flood plain, is a good walking route; it begins at the headquarters so a vehicle is not needed.
Some top-end camps no longer allow their guests to go on walking safaris. In part that’s because your chance of seeing the park’s variety of wildlife is greatly reduced. But there have been reports of some serious incidents involving undertrained park staff leading walking safaris resulting in injuries to tourists. This is also one of the most tsetse fly-infected parks in Africa.
The park no longer hires out vehicles, but Riverside Camp in Sitalike provides 4X4 cars, some with a pop-up roof. A guide or driver is strongly recommended, for both safety and to make the best of your viewing experience.
Katavi Park Bandas
This is 2km south of the village and within park boundaries (so you need to pay park entry fees to stay here). The rooms are big, bright and surprisingly good. Zebras, Giraffes and other animals are frequent visitors.
Katavi Wildlife Camp
This comfortable, well-run camp has a prime setting overlooking Katisunga, making it the best place for in-camp wildlife watching. The six tents have large porches with hammocks and are down to earth comfortable without being over the top. The quality guides round out the experience. It’s owned by Foxes Africa Safaris, which offers some excellent combination itineraries with southern parks
Katuma Bush Lodge
With stunning views over the grasslands, the large safari tents here have four-poster beds, carved wooden showers and plenty of privacy. The defining feature is the relaxing lounge fronted by a deck with a small swimming pool. The price includes a wildlife drive.
Riverside Camp has a prime setting just above a hippo-filled river. The bandas are simple, but the location is worth it. Mr Juma, the owner, is very helpful with arranging vehicle rental for a Katavi safari. Meals can be arranged, dinner and breakfast. Vervet monkeys and a host of birds are easily spotted here.