Katavi National Park Parks and Reserves
Known for its diverse landscapes and abundance of game, Katavi’s drawcard is its remoteness. This has ensured that the area has remained completely unspoilt, with few visitors, allowing a safari guaranteed to make you feel like the only people on earth! With large populations of elephant, lion, hippo and more, game-viewing is beyond spectacular, especially during the dry season, when water sources are few.
* Katavi National Park Highlights
- ∞Remote location with refreshingly low numbers of annual visitors
- ∞Varied habitats – from open grasslands to wooded areas to seasonal lakes and rivers
- ∞Wide array of large game, including impressive herds of 1000+ buffalo
- ∞Densest populations of hippo and crocodile in Tanzania
- ∞Walking safaris are allowed at Katavi for a real bush experience
- ∞Incredible birdlife with over 400 species
- ∞A number of cultural/historical sites, including the legendary Katabi Tree
At just under 4 500 km², Katavi National Park is Tanzania’s third largest park. Situated in the remote south-west of Tanzania, access to the park is not easy and there are few camps, ensuring that the park is not overrun with visitors and safari vehicles.
The park is named after the Wabende spirit, Katabi, who according to local legend lives in a tamarind tree near Lake Katavi. Locals looking for blessings from his spirit still leave offerings at the foot of the tree.
The area was first protected in 1911, during German occupation and was later named Rukwa Game Reserve under British occupation until 1932. In 1974, an area of just over 2 200 km² was declared a National Park and the larger area was finally gazetted in 1996 and opened officially with the name Katavi National Park in 1998.
Located in the Rukwa Rift Basin, which forms part of the Central African Rift Valley, Katavi boasts steep highland cliffs and escarpments, floodplains, vast grasslands and seasonal lakes, interspersed with woodlands.
Game in the park is plentiful, with large populations of elephant, herds of buffalo, zebra, a wide variety of antelope and giraffe. There are plenty of predators here, including lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dogs. The main river through the park – the Katuma River – dries to a few, muddy pools during the dry season and it is here where you can see huge numbers of hippo crammed into small pools, with resultant terrifying fights between the males.
Things to See and Do in Katavi
The main activity, of course, is game-viewing, which can be done on both game drives and guided walking safaris. The bonus of game drives in Katavi, is that you’re unlikely to come across any other humans. Walking safaris are an experience not to be missed, to really get up close to the African bush – its sights, sounds and aromas.
Fly camping is offered. This is the definition of bush camping, where normal tents (so don’t expect luxury!) are set up in the bush at a temporary camp site – no fences, no flush toilets or showers. It's living in the wild: cooking food over a fire and spending evenings chatting around the campfire, staring up at the breath-taking African night sky and listening to the nocturnal calls of wild animals.
There are a number of places of cultural and historical interest in Katavi. These include Stone and Iron Age sites and sacred sites such as the Katabi Tree, where the Wabende spirit, Katabi, lives.
Best Time to Visit
Katavi National Park offers great game-viewing all year around, but reaches its peak during the dry season (June to November/December), when the animals gather in their thousands around the scarce water sources.
During the wet season, the floodplains turn to lakes and offer spectacular birdwatching opportunities.
By car: Katavi is a two- to three-day drive from Dar es Salaam and requires a definite level of adventure-seeking. The road from Arusha, even more so.
By air: By far the easiest way to get to Katavi, twice-weekly scheduled flights are offered from Dar es Salaam. Chartered flights can also be arranged.
Before you go to Katavi National Park Things you should know before you go!
Malaria is a consideration in Katavi National Park
Learn more about malaria areas and malaria prevention with our resource article.
Malaria Areas & Prevention