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Katavi National Park Tanzania

Katavi National Park Tanzania

Background of Katavi National Park Tanzania

The remote Katavi National Park is another of Tanzania’s secret safari gems. This Tanzania safari park is 4,471 square kilometres in size, making it the country’s third-largest national Park after Ruaha and Serengeti.  Katavi’s dominant feature is the 425-sq-km Katisunga Plain, a vast grassy expanse at the heart of the park. This and other flood plains yield to vast tracts of bush and woodland which are the best areas for sighting roan and sable antelopes that only exist in Katavi and Ruaha National Parks.

Tanzania wildlife safaris in Katavi National Park is most exciting 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 1,000 at a time gather in a single, muddy pool at the end of the dry season (late September to early October is the best time). The crocodiles also often gather in caves in the sandy riverbank walls and it’s a strange sight indeed to see them piled up on top of each other! This offers travellers on Tanzania tours fantastic photographic opportunities. Katavi is also 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. A good population of wild dogs, cheetahs, hyenas are known to exist in the park plus over 450 species of birds.

Where is Katavi National Park?

Tanzania’s Katavi an isolated and hardly ever visited park is a true wilderness, offering travellers on a safari in Tanzania a thrilling experience of Africa just as it was hundreds of years back. Katavi National Park is located in the western part of Tanzania about 40 km south of Mpanda town. It is found in the shortened arm of the Great Rift Valley which ends in the shallow, area of Lake Rukwa. It lies just east of impressive Lake Tanganyika.

The park headquarters are found at Sitalike approximately 40km / 25 miles south of the town of Mpanda.  Katavi is found approximately 503 km from Mbeya town (Mbeya is 838 km from Dar es Salaam). It also lies 382 km from Kigoma town and 1062 km from Arusha town.

History of Katavi National Park Tanzania

The area was first protected in 1911 during the German occupation and was later named Rukwa Game Reserve under British occupation until 1932. In 1974, an area of just 1,823 km² was declared a National Park and in 1997 it was extended to 4,471 km². It was officially opened with the Name Katavi National Park in 1998.

The park derived its name from the Wabende spirit, ‘Katabi’, who according to local legend lives in a tamarind tree near Lake Katavi. Katabi was the name of a legendary hunter and it’s believed that the tamarind tree is inhabited by the spirit of Katabi. Locals looking for blessings from his spirit still leave offerings at the foot of the tree.

Tourist Attractions in Katavi National Park Tanzania

1) Animals in Katavi National Park Tanzania

Katavi plains are known for their spectacular concentration of big mammals in the dry season which is actually the best time for a Tanzania wildlife tour in the park. Large herds of buffalos, elephants gather with giraffes, elands, topis, zebras, waterbucks, hartebeests impalas, topis and duikers around remaining water sources during the dry season.

The Katavi, Katuma, and Chada Rivers become just pools in the dry season, acting as a magnet for these resident games. A lot of predators including lions, leopards, wild dogs, and hyenas are never far from these water sources, waiting for their prey to come to them.

The Katsunga Plain which has various seasonal pools and lakes boasts Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile. Especially in the dry season, they flop together in the last remaining puddles, leading to spectacular territorial bouts. Crocodiles can be found in large numbers in the Katuma riverbed, caves near Ikuu Bridge and the Kapapa River, as well as Ndido Falls.

The forested habitats of the park harbor a larger group of Elephants, Buffaloes, Antelopes, and Zebras. The open glades/areas also host a variety of species such as zebras, giraffes, and elephants. The two great escarpments of Mlele and Lyamba lya Mfipa that are in the north and western part of the park provide habitats for elephants and buffaloes. Beautiful sable and roan antelopes can sometimes be found in the miombo woodland.

And beware of one of the most thrilling residents of the wooded savannah: the black mamba, the most poisonous snake on the continent that grows up to a dazzling 4 meters. The remoteness means animals aren’t so used to humans and vehicles as they might be in more popular national parks.

2) Birdlife in Katavi National Park Tanzania

More than 450 species of birds have been recorded in Katavi. The birdlife in Katavi is good year-round, but a Tanzania birding tour in the park is best from November to April when the migratory birds from Europe and northern Africa are present. At this time, many resident bird species are nesting and are in breeding plumage.

The rivers harbour a large concentration of waterbirds throughout the year including herons, plovers, spoonbills, African open bills and groups of stork such as yellow-billed and saddle-billed stork. Raptors are well represented, with the fish eagle, bateleur eagle, and white-backed vulture being very common.

Other bird species in the park include African golden oriole, African paradise flycatchers, African spoonbills, Black cuckoo-shrikes, Orange-breasted bush-shrikes, Crested barbets, Little bee-eaters, Red-billed hornbills and Yellow-throated sandgrouses.

Bateleur eagle in Katavi National Park Tanzania

A bird of prey that can be spotted often while on a Tanzania birding safari in this area is the bateleur eagle. This large and beautiful raptor has rich brown upper body feathers and a striking orange beak. This colourful species with a bushy head have a very short tail and white underwing converts that make it unmistakable in flight.

Immature bateleur eagles have lighter brown almost chocolate-coloured feathers. The bateleur eagle is generally seen soaring through the skies over Katavi and is capable of sensational acrobatics. When hunting prey, it is capable of descending through the air with great speed and power.

The Bateleur is generally silent but can produce a variety of barks and screams. The bird spends a considerable amount of time on the wing, particularly in low-altitude glides. “Bateleur” is French for “tumbler”. This name implies the bird’s characteristic habit of rocking its wings or tilting action from side to side when gliding as if catching its balance. The wings are held in a slightly bent, deep ‘V’, position and fast flight with.

The Bateleur is a territorial bird and will defend its territory by means of an aggressive attack flight pattern shown to intruding conspecifics. Intruders to whom this behaviour is displayed always submit and submission are shown by retreating to a safe upper boundary (elevation). Males and females both display this behaviour in all stages of the breeding cycle. This behaviour is mainly shown to members of the same sex and particularly to non-adults, as it is thought that they may have a greater ability to take over another bird’s territory (having the greater competitive ability for limited food resources).

Bateleur eagles spend 8-9 hours each day in the air looking for food. Their diet includes small antelopes, mice, birds, snakes, carrion, lizards and especially road kills.

3) Chada Plain in Katavi National Park Tanzania

Chada was the name of one of the gods of the Pimbwe people who once lived around these plains and they currently live outside the park boundary. Chada lived in the middle of the Chada flood plain and the hippos were like his cattle.  He had beautiful wives who looked “white like melting ice.” During his wedding, people were not allowed to beat drums because by doing so the pregnant women were likely to get problems when giving birth.

Living chiefs were not allowed to visit Chada or they would be pelted with stones from the sky, but now it is easy to take a Tanzania trip to Chada without being pelted with stones.  The plain now harbours a great number of wild animals due to space and nutrients. In the rainy season, usually, all the plain become seasonal lakes flooded with Water. Chada is a place where visitors can undertake game drives and walk. You can drive or walk along the edge of the plain, where it can be easy to get close to the Chada pride of 16 lions which are always patiently waiting for the buffalo to come closer to them.  It may be the only place you can see about 1000 to 3000 buffalo at a time and at a very close distance.  Not only buffalo but elephants in herds from 20 up to 200 crossing the plain. So Chada plain and is now the hottest hotspot for game viewing and walking safaris in Tanzania.

4) Katsunga Plain in Katavi National Park Tanzania

Katsunga Plain is second only to the Serengeti in size and forms the heart of the park. A scrub brush and woodland is found on the outskirts. A river cuts through the middle and there are various seasonal pools and lakes. One pool is home to 600 hippos. This flood plains also yield vast tracts of bush and woodland which are the best areas for sighting roan and sable antelopes during a tour in Tanzania.

5) Katuma River and Lake Katavi in Katavi National Park

The Katuma River is the lifeline of Katavi National Park is the major focus of a Tanzania wildlife safari in the park. The river pours its water into important habitats of Lake Katavi, chada and Kavuu plains which harbours huge concentration of wild animals, and it is important habitats for aquatic animals. Hippo in their thousands cram the remaining pools, crocodiles retire to caves in the mud walls of the river banks, buffalo and elephant are drawn to the rivers to drink. The lion, hyenas and other predators know this.  In the late dry season, there are few places that offer such a raw and wild experience as Katavi.

The seasonal Katavi lake covers an area between 100 -150km depending on the volume of water available. During the rainy season, this lush, marshy lake is a haven for myriad waterbirds, and also supports Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippo and crocodile.

6) The sacred tamarind tree (tree of the Spirit “Katabi”) in Katavi

A Tanzania cultural safari to the tree of the spirit “Katabi” is a good opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the surrounding local people. This sacred tree is found near Lake Katavi and it is believed to be inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi for whom the park was named. This tree was traditionally called “The tree of the spirit” by the Bende and Pimbwe communities who once lived inside Katavi. These communities believed that “Katabi Spirit” could grant them fortunes, magical protection and discover traditional medicines to cure some diseases. It is believed that their spirit is powerful enough, even to stop rain season if requested so, and to pre-empt the epidemic diseases such as smallpox. It is at this place when Katavi National Park was named after Katabi.

It is used by local tribes, basically, hunters Pimbwe and Wabende that were staying close to the park for asking blessings and other spiritual needs from the Katabi Spiritofferings are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessings.

Tourist Activities in Katavi National Park Tanzania

There are a plethora of activities visitors can do in Katavi National Park during their Tanzania wildlife tours. The Must-Do Adventures in the park include game drives in Katavi National Park Tanzania, walking Safaris in Katavi National Park, birding in Katavi National Park Tanzania, camping in Katavi National Park.

All these Tanzania safari tour activities in Katavi National Park are done after paying a park entry fee which is US$ 30 for Non-East African citizens of or above the age of 16 years and US$ 10 for children between the age of 5 and 15 years. Expatriates/ East African residents of or above the age of 16 years pay US$ 15 while children between the age of 5 and 15 years pay US$ 5. This makes it a great park for budget travellers.

1) Game drives in Katavi National Park Tanzania

Katavi supports a wide cover of tangled miombo woodland that is home to substantial but elusive populations of the localized eland, sable and roan antelopes. Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada creates the best sites for game viewing to travellers while on their Tanzania tours. During the rainy season, these marshy lakes are a haven for a myriad of waterbirds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippos and crocodiles.

During the dry season, the floodwaters retreat and Katavi truly becomes a wildlife-watching destination for travellers while on their trips to Tanzania. The Katuma gets reduced to a shallow, muddy trickle and remains the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffe, zebra, impala, and reedbuck provide easy pickings for the numerous lion pride and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.

Day Game Drive in Katavi National Park Tanzania

These may be a self-drive or a guided day drive. This activity is conducted from 06:30 – 18:30 HRS, with no additional fee for this activity. Four-wheel (4X4) drive vehicles are recommended. The park no longer hires out vehicles, but Riverside Camp in Sitalike charges US$200 per day for a 4WD, some with a pop-up roof. A guide or driver (US$20) is highly recommended, both for safety and to make the most of your viewing experience.

Guided Night Game Drives in Katavi National Park Tanzania

Experience the thrilling Tanzania adventure safaris of a night game drive in Katavi National Park! Night drives are conducted using open vehicles and special spotlights to observe nocturnal animals and their behaviour. The night drives take about 2-3 hours starting at around 8 pm to 11 pm. Guests are supposed to give maximum cooperation during this night game drives since it is the calmest time of nature.

This game drive is much rewarding as there is a lot of action at night which can be experienced when these animals go for hunting. You may as well get an opportunity to see the elusive leopards. You will also be hearing songs of night birds as they compete from different angles. The night drives are led by a team of expert rangers of the park who have the experience, they know all the corners of the park and where to find animals.

Night Game Drives fees

Per person (Adult) – US$ 50

Per person (Children)- US$ 25

For those interested in game viewing; from the middle to the end of the dry season (which is from June to October) is the best time to visit.

2) Walking/hiking Safaris in Katavi National Park

Walking safaris are permitted throughout the park. It is a unique way in which travellers in the company of a ranger guide can explore this spectacular wilderness area on foot during their Tanzania holiday.

The road to Lake Katavi, a seasonal lake, is a good walking route. It begins at the headquarters so a vehicle is not needed. There are both short and long walking safaris in the park. Long walking safaris follows the Chorangwa Hiking Trail. This trail takes more than five hours walking and it is a 17 Kms walking Trails to an elevated point where it will be easy to view Chorangwa, Lukima and Ndido waterfalls within the parks. Short walking safari follows the Sitalike Walking Trail that range from 1-9kms Long, it takes more than three hours.

Walking Safaris fees in Katavi National Park

Short walks (1 – 4 hours) for adults-US$ 20

Short walks for children of or above 12 years-US$ 10

Long walks (above 4 hours) for adults US$ 25

Long walks for children of or above 12 years US$ 15

3) Birding in Katavi National Park Tanzania

A Tanzania bird watching tour is one of the most prominent activities in Katavi National Park. Katavi offers an outstanding diversity of birdlife, it has more than 450 species of birds, ranging from turkey-sized group hornbill to the tiny sunbirds. The birdlife within Katavi is excellent throughout the year, however, for the finest views its best starting in November up to April as the migratory birds come from Europe as well as Northern Africa into the park. During this time, most of the resident birds are nesting and are in breeding plumage.  In November it begins to rain all the way to the start of June. For those specifically interested in Birding, we recommend you visit from November up to March.

Among the Birding specials are; the African golden oriole, Bateleur, Black cuckoo-shrike, Crested Barbets, Little bee-eaters, Paradise flycatchers, Red-billed Hornbills, Saddle-billed storks, open billed storks, yellow-billed storks Spoonbills, Sulphur-breasted bush shrikes, White-backed vultures, Yellow-throated sandgrouses, fish eagles, bateleur plus white-backed vultures and Pink-backed pelican.

The ideal birding sites in the park is lake Katavi and Katuma river. During the rainy season, their lush, marshy of lake Katavi and Katuma river become a haven waterbirds.

4) Camping in Katavi National Park

Special campsites: Places that are identified as potential with maximum exclusivity for visitors to stay for a night, usually these places don’t have facilities; ensure everything inn should be taken out. Pre-booking through park contacts is required.

Public campsites: These are places with all important facilities available like Toilets, Bathrooms, Kitchen, Dining, and water.

Flying Camping: A very prominent model of special camping where visitors maximize privacy, the adventurous and unique experience offered as moving safari, by stop and move.

Camping fees in Katavi National Park

Special Campsites (prior booking is required)

Adults (of or above the age of 16 years) US$ 50

Children (between the age of 5 and 15 years) US$ 10

Public Campsite fees

Adults o (for above the age of 16 years) US$ 30

Children (between the age of 5 and 15 years) US$ 5

Fly Camping fees

Adults (Of and above 16 years) US$ 50

Children (between the age of 12 and 15 years) US$10

Tanzania Safari Accommodation in Katavi National Park Tanzania

In Katavi National Park, there is a number of safari lodges and camps that ranges from luxury lodges, midrange lodges to budget.

1) Katavi Wildlife Camp-Luxury

The camp is set amongst the trees that fringe the Katsunga plain. From your vantage point either on your tent veranda or from the upper viewing lounge, you can join the predators watching the plains game during the day and then anticipate the excitement of the predators hunting their dinners as the game move back to the trees in the evenings.

Accommodation at Katavi Wildlife Camp comprises;

Six (6) large Meru style tents, overlooking the plain, each build on a raised wooden platform and sheltered from the midday sun by a traditionally thatched roof.

Each tent is ensuite and has its own large veranda with hammock and chairs. There are double tents and two twin tents and all have a safe.

Facilities and services at Katavi Wildlife Camp comprises;

The camp is located where Katuma River drains the Katisunga plains the two-story main banda is perfectly located to maximize viewing of the daily movement of the game between grazing and drinking from the Katuma River.

Downstairs consists of a bar, a few sitting areas with comfortable armchairs and a cozy dining area at the front of banda overlooking the Katisunga plains.

Upstairs is a sitting area where guests can relax in the heart of the day, with stunning and far-reaching views overlooking the Katisunga plains. There is a small selection of books and magazines to browse.

2) Nomad Tented Camp-Luxury

The  Normal Tented Camp is found within the park, close to Chad plain in the dry season and Seasonal lake during rainy seasonal.


  • Well stocked library
  • Officer’s mess style dining tent
  • Outside fire pit
  • Observation decks


  • Six canvas tents
  • Double or twin beds
  • En-suite shower rooms
  • Panoramic views


  • En-suite
  • Outdoor (safari-style) bucket showers
  • Flushable eco-toilets
  • Hot water on demand

Dining & Reclining

  • Both indoor and outdoor dining
  • Picnic breakfasts in the bush
  • Sundowners around the campfire
  • Maps, science books, and game journals

3) Mbali Mbali Katavi lodge -Midrange

Mbali Mbali Katavi lodge is located in the centre of Katavi National Park. The lodge Katavi offers an exciting bush experience with breathtaking views over the vast plains of Katisunga. Mbali Mbali has untapped this national secret and created a highly exclusive experience at the heart of the park. Mbali Mbali Katavi is ideal for the traveller looking for a truly remote experience away from regular tourist routes. The lodge has been designed to blend in with its surroundings to avoid distracting from the beauty of Katavi, and herds of animals can be seen right from your tent.

Accommodation at Mbali Mbali lodge include;

10 Safari Tents with a combination of twin or double room configurations. All rooms were constructed for exclusivity, with complete furnishings including writing desks, fine linen, and en suite facilities. Designed specifically for subtlety, the lodge is well frequented by wildlife that makes for spectacular viewing. The main deck houses a swimming pool, lounge and dining facilities to complement the breathtaking views of the Katisunga Plains.

Room Facilities

  • Balcony / Deck
  • En-Suite
  • Laundry Service (Complimentary)
  • Lounge Area
  • Mosquito Nets
  • Pure Cotton Linen
  • Shower
  • Tea / Coffee
  • Verandah

Facilities and services at Mbali Mbali lodge include;

  • 24-hour Security
  • Bar
  • Battery Charging Facilities
  • Communal Dining
  • Eco-Friendly
  • Internet Access (Complimentary)
  • Laundry Service (Complimentary)
  • Library
  • Mobile Connectivity
  • Private Vehicle Available
  • Restaurant
  • Secure Parking

4) Chada Katavi Camp-Midrange

Located inside Katavi National Park, Chada Camp looks out across the Chada plains, towards the Mlele escarpment. Lauded by, among others, Conde Nast, this small, remote camp is a beautiful example of how, when it comes to a genuinely fine safari experience, the luxurious and the authentic are by no means exclusive terms.

Accommodation at Chada Katavi Camp include;

Situated in a raised and mixed grove of acacias, kigelias, and tamarinds, and consisting of just a mess tent and 6 luxury safari tents, Chada Katavi makes no concessions to the unnecessary. Largely a brown canvas build, with black netting used to create the illusion of walls and zones, the mess tent contains a bar, seating area, a dining area, and veranda. Open and airy during the day, it is cosy and warm at night.

The en-suite sleeping tents are large and well equipped. Twin or double, the beds are comfortable, the sheets Egyptian cotton, and the furniture and soft furnishings are limited to clothes stand, hand-woven rugs and sensible camping chairs and tables. The bathrooms of Chada Katavi contain long-drop toilets and bucket showers, which – quite rightly – retain the thrill of a classic safari.

Food and Service

Meals are taken – weather permitting, outside – or in the evening at a silver service set table. The food is excellent, and so is the service.

5) Palahala Luxury Camp-Midrange

Palahala’s eight tents are all octagonal in shape and have private verandahs that overlook the bush and river, providing constant wildlife viewing throughout the day and night. Old fashioned hurricane lamps create a romantic atmosphere, and the quirky décor of the camp is both traditional safari and modern African. There is a fantastic sundowner spot, often visited by herds of hippo, eland, sable and roan antelope.

8 spacious and amazingly beautiful octagonal tents on timber decks overlook the river and the bush-land. They are superbly designed with sophisticated zebra motifs, king-sized beds with quilts of goose down to ward off evening chills, ethnic patterned rugs, safari chairs, a writing desk, and raw wood trunks.

Netted open sides afford stunning views of river, plain and woodland, whilst at night the soothing river sounds blend with the chorus of frogs and crickets, the rumble of sleepy elephants and the gurgle of hippos in an entrancing lullaby. En-suite bathrooms feature showers and hand washbasins with constant hot water and flush toilets, but since water arrives by bowser over difficult roads, it is essential to use it with care, reminding yourself that although a miraculous standard of luxury comfort is maintained in this remote wilderness, you are still on a tour in Africa, far from 21st-century civilization. Solar generated power gives limited electricity, but there is no phone signal, and internet connection in the office is for emergency use only (view Katavi map to appreciate its remoteness). Candle lanterns provide fairy-tale light at night in the tents and in the dining room, with kerosene lamps along the paths and hanging in the trees. Children are welcome on a Palahala Luxury Camp safari but are not allowed to wander unescorted. There are attentive butler service and daily laundry. The camp closes during the rains from early March to early June and November to mid-December.

6) Campsites-Budget

Ikuu Public campsite

Ikuu Public campsite, popular for visitors, it has all the important facilities, it’s an all-weather Campsite.

HQ Public Campsite

HQ Public Campsite is found inside the park and booking can be done through online services.

Katavi Picnic site

The best place for outing or excursion in which participants carry food with them, and share the meal in the open air.

Chada Special Campsite

A fragile place with no facilities but it offers maximum experience and exclusivity for visitors’ enjoyment.

Kapilula Special Campsite

A Special Campsite close to Nairobi forestry, and Katuma river.

Kapilula 1 Special Campsite

A Special Campsite close to Katsunga Plain, and Katuma River.

Kapimbye Special Campsite

A place that offers maximum exclusivity for visitors to stay for a night, it doesn’t have facilities; ensure everything inn should be taken out. Pre-booking through park contacts is required.

Dining: Dining in a different place each night, or on your own verandah

How to get to Katavi National Park Tanzania

By Air: Several companies like zantas air, Safari air link (SAL) arrange charter flight from Dar es Salam, Mwanza or Arusha cities to either Mpanda airport which is located in Mpanda town or to Sitalike and Ikuu airstrips inside the park. Usually every Monday and Thursday. Coastal Aviation Charted flight within the park Ikuu airstrips.

By Road: From either Dar es Salaam via Mbeya (1513Km), Dar es Salaam via Tabora (1392km), Arusha via Tabora (1015.7km) or Mwanza via Tabora-Inyonga (741 km).

By Rail: It is also possible to reach Mpanda by train from Dar es Salaam via Tabora then catch public transport to Sitalike, where game drives can be arranged.











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