Katavi National Park is the third-largest national park in Tanzania and one of the most remote. Covering 4,500 sq km of grassland, Katavi is located in Mpanda District, Rukwa Region in Western Tanzania.
A game viewing jewel and one of East Africa’s best-kept secrets, Katavi is pure wilderness and home to teeming wildlife, exotic vegetation, and seasonal lakes. No wonder it is regarded as the ultimate safari park.
The park is primarily fed by the Katuma River, which in the rainy season – April and May – transforms the park into a wetland. Lake Chada and Lake Katavi are both seasonal lakes that are situated within the park boundaries. In terms of vegetation, the park hosts a varied mix of bushland, Miombo forests, riverine forests, and grasslands.
1. Katavi National Park Location
Located in the far west of Tanzania, Katavi is a park for the safari enthusiast. Often combined with nearby Mahale, Katavi receives very few travelers due to its relative inaccessibility and consequent high cost of flights. However, travelers who spend the time and money to get here are richly rewarded – Katavi is nothing short of magical.
2. How to Get to Katavi National Park
The best way to get to Katavi is by a flight from Arusha. A scheduled flight is the only public is the twice-weekly service between Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale, operated by Safari Air Link.
Zantasair works with its sister company Mbali Mbali lodges, to offer twice-weekly shared charter flights between northern Tanzania and western Tanzania, incorporating Katavi and Mahale National Parks.
Depending on your itinerary, your entry point to the country will either be Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), about 46km/29mi from Arusha, or Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam. In most cases, your tour operator will pick you up from the airport and make ongoing arrangements, including the charter flight to the park’s airstrip.
3. Wildlife in Katavi National Park
Katavi isn’t particularly known for unusual animals, but it is the numbers of them that are staggering. Buffalo herds numbering thousands can be seen. Hippo burst out of the remaining puddles of the seasonal rivers at the end of the Dry season. Beautiful sable antelope can sometimes be found in the miombo woodland.
The wildlife in Katavi hasn’t read the species behavioral rule book! Sizeable elephant herds and good numbers of zebra, giraffe, topi, leopard, waterbuck, hyena, and very occasionally wild dog make this a park to compete with the finest safari experiences the world.
Best time for Wildlife Viewing
Katavi is a classic Dry-season park. Wildlife viewing is best in the middle and end of the Dry season, from June to October. Wildlife is easier to spot because the vegetation is thinner, and animals gather around predictable water sources. The park is open throughout the year, but most roads become terrible in the Wet season, and most camps close.
4. Birds in Katavi National Park
Katavi is mainly visited in the Dry season, which isn’t the best time for birding, but the rivers harbor a large concentration of water-associated birds throughout the year.
Particularly common are herons, plovers, spoonbills, African openbills, and a stork group, including yellow-billed and saddle-billed stork. Raptors are well represented, with the fish eagle, bateleur, and white-backed vulture being widespread. Over 400 species have been recorded, and migratory birds are present from November to April.
Birding Specials in Katavi National Park
- African golden oriole
- African paradise flycatcher
- African spoonbill
- Black cuckoo-shrike
- Orange-breasted bush-shrike
- Crested barbet
- Little bee-eater
- Red-billed hornbill
- Saddle-billed stork
- White-backed vulture
- Yellow-throated sandgrouse
Best Time for Bird Watching
The birdlife in Katavi is good year-round, but at its 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 rains usually arrive in November and last until early June. For birding specifically, November to March is the best time. The problem, however, is that many roads become hard to travel to after continuous rain.
As a result, most camps are closed from March to May. For wildlife viewing, the middle and end of the Dry season (June-October) is considerably better.
5. Climate at Katavi National Park
- From January to april the climate is just OK. In average, on the morning it is 18°C and it rains about 152mm each month.
- From may to june the climate is good. the thermometer goes up to 23°C°C and you can expect to have 2mm of rainfall/month during this period.
- From july to september the climate is very good. At lunchtime, it’s 28°C in average.
- In the month of october the climate is beautiful. the thermometer goes up to 28°C°C and it rains about 28% of the time in october.
- Between november and december the climate is passable, but still OK. It is for example 23°C as maximum temperature in december.
- The best months for good weather in Katavi National Park are May, June, July, August, September, and October.
- On average, the warmest months are August, September, October, and November.
- Katavi National Park has dry periods in June, July, August, and September.
- The rainiest months are February, March, and December.
6. Katavi National Park Entrance Fee
When you plan a safari to Tanzania, it is important to know the Government Park entrance fees you need to pay before entering each Tanzania National Parks.
It is also important to know that if you plan to pay the Tanzania National park fees yourself, then you need to pay the Tanzania National park fees with a Visa or Master Card Only as no cash is accepted.
Entrance to Katavi is set at $30 per 24 hours for adults, while Entrance to Katavi is set at $10 per 24 hours for kids from 5 to 15 years old.
7. Things to do in Katavi National Park
The main activity in Katavi is daytime game driving; a night safari is not permitted. Some of the camps offer walking safaris, and Nomad Tanzania’s Chada Camp operates exceptional short fly camping trips with nights spent out under the stars.
Nowhere else showcases buffalo and lion duels as Katavi does. Game drives in the park can be seriously explosive. The lion, leopard, spotted hyena, cheetah, wild dog, wild cat, serval, and caracal are seen in the park.
Famous for its enormous crocodile and hippo populations, the wildlife in Katavi can compete with the finest safari experiences in the world. Other wildlife species include elephants, buffalo herds, hippos, zebras, giraffe, topi, and waterbuck.
With over 400 species of birds, Katavi is a great place for birdwatchers. Large flocks of storks, African fish eagles, Bateleurs, lilac-breasted rollers, crested barbets, and paradise flycatchers are but a few on the long list of birds in Katavi.
Soak in the incredible scenery of immense wetlands, roaring waterfalls, and original miombo woodlands with their huge variety of plant life.
With fewer visitors, Katavi is the ultimate safari experience of remoteness, isolation, and oneness with nature. A feel for raw and wild Africa is what the park gives.
Catch a glimpse of the roan, sable antelope among many wildlife animals attracted to the heart of the park.
The river is flanked by a grassy floodplain and the expansive but seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada supporting some of Africa’s most impressive buffalo, elephant, hippo, and crocodile concentrations.
With over 400 bird species, Katavi gives equal credit to birdwatchers. Pelicans, waterfowl, and open billed stork are best watched breeding around the swamps and lakes.
Go up close and personal with nature, take part in an African walking safari and truly experience the culture, wildlife, and landscape of Katavi.
Enjoy daytime game driving, walking safaris, and exceptional short fly-camping trips in groups with nights spent out under the stars in Katavi.
Dine out under the stars of the African night. Enjoy a silver service affair of traditional Tanzanian food and an unforgettable experience.
8. Best time to visit Katavi National Park
The best time to visit Katavi National Park in August, September, and October, and you may also visit. However, we do not recommend that you travel in November, December, January, February, March, and April.
Katavi is a typical dry rural reserve. In the wet season commences in November up to April, the wildlife scatters into the woodlands, and it is tough to see the wild animals. During the wet season, the heat plus humidity is harsh. Once the rains are finished, River Katuma is reduced in size into a narrow water stream, and the adjacent floodplains turn into an attraction for wildlife.
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This starts in May – October, and then the vegetation is not thick, so it is easier to see the wild animals. During this period, the skies are clear, and it is and sunny, so it hardly ever rains. There is a minimal rate of contracting Malaria. There is less Humidity, and heat is less oppressive. It is extremely dry and even dusty. A couple of lodges may be closed throughout May.
This starts in November up to April the scenery is verdant. From November to May, since it is a low season, the lodges offer better rates. Migratory birds can easily be seen at this time, making it the best time for watching birds.
However, some of the roads may be impassable. Unfortunately, most wildlife scatters into the woodland, so game-viewing may be rather challenging to see. The majority of the lodges are closed throughout the wet season, which is from March to May.
It becomes scorching and humid during this time, so there are several insects, including mosquitoes. For that reason, we recommend that you sleep under a mosquito net.
9. Accommodations in Katavi National Park
This park is truly wild, with few camps and very few visitors. Katavi is one of the few places left in Africa today where you genuinely feel that you could have slipped back a thousand years.
Many safari connoisseurs would argue that this is the quintessential Tanzania safari park; we certainly believe it to be the country’s best-kept secret. Combine this park with Mahale, specifically at Nomad Tanzania’s Greystoke, and there is a good argument that this is the finest week to be had in Africa!
The volume of game in Katavi is outstanding, with some researchers believing that the concentrations are even higher than in Ngorongoro. Huge herds of buffalo and vast lion prides duel daily, whilst hippos and crocodiles gather in pods and nests not found anywhere else in Africa.
The cost of getting here is undeniably high; however, this has protected the park from the crowds that have affected other areas. Once you get here, lodge prices are reasonable, and most of the camps are of a very high standard.
10. Safety and Security in Katavi Park
General Safety in Katavi National Park
Katavi National Park is a very safe destination, in our opinion. There is virtually no crime in Tanzania’s parks and reserves. Some crime occurs in urban centers, so normal precautions should be taken when visiting cities and towns during your trip (see ‘Cities & Urban Areas: Safety Precautions‘ below). The vast majority of people don’t have any crime-related issues on their safari.
Wildlife Viewing Safety in Katavi National Park
Wildlife viewing is very safe as long as you follow the advice and direction of your expert guide.
Malaria & Vaccinations in Katavi National Park
Several vaccinations are recommended for Tanzania – consult your travel clinic or local doctor before your trip to Africa. Guarding yourself against malaria in Katavi is also important. Antimalarial drugs and the use of a mosquito repellent (those including DEET are the most effective) are advisable, as well as covering up bare skin in the evenings.
Katavi National Park offers great game viewing all year round but reaches its peak during the dry season from June to November or December when the animals gather in their thousands around scarce water sources. During the wet season, the floodplains turn to lakes and offer spectacular birdwatching opportunities.