Katavi Travel Guide | Tanzania Guide
Home to the largest herds of buffalo on the planet, Katavi National Park is a relatively untouched wilderness paradise, situated in the western 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 Region is one of Tanzania’s 31 administrative regions with a postcode number 50000. The regional capital is Mpanda. In March 2012, shortly after the Katavi Region was created, Dr. Rajab Mtumwa Rutengwe was appointed Katavi Regional Commissioner. He was formerly the Mpanda District Commissioner.
Best Safari tours from Katavi
The western safari parks of Katavi and Mahale are the “road less travelled” in safari circles. Due to the relative costs and inaccessibility of the region (a 4hour flight from Arusha or a night stop over from the south), only those both rich in funds and time tend to be able to get out here…but this is a huge shame as this really is an outstanding region of Africa and, in our opinion, really deserves to be ranked in the all time great trips on the continent. Moreover, with camps such as Katavi Wildlife offering great value for money, we would highly recommend spending a week here in season and defy you not to see at least three things that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in Africa! It is that good!
Gombe National Park:
Situated on the wild shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream is an untamed place of lush forests and clear lake views. Hiking and swimming are also popular activities here, once the day’s expedition to see the chimpanzees is over.Gombe Stream’s main attraction is obviously the chimpanzee families that live protected in the park’s boundaries. Guided walks are available that take visitors deep into the forest to observe and sit with the extraordinary primates for an entire morning — an incredible experience and one that is the highlight of many visitors’ trips to Africa. Besides chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream’s tropical forests. Vervet and colobus monkeys, baboons, forest pigs and small antelopes inhabit the dense forest, in addition to a wide variety of tropical birdlife.
Mahale National Park:
Covering about 1,600km² of the Mahale Mountains, this national park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks – which will be provided for you.
Katavi National Park
Created in 1974, Katavi National Park is situated in the Katavi Region in southwestern Tanzania. It is located north of the ‘Rukwa Rift’, an extension of the Western Rift Valley.
With an area of roughly 4,471km², Katavi is the third-largest national park in Tanzania. The park is home to the Katuma River, Lake Chada floodplains, and the seasonal Lake Katavi.
There are only 3 permanent camps in Katavi National Park: Mbali Mbali Katavi Lodge, Chada on the Chada Plain, and the Foxes on the Katuma Plain. Each camp has the capacity to host 12 visitors, a limit which adds to the sense of exclusivity.
Katavi National Park is home to an abundance of wildlife, including wildebeest, giraffes, elephants, zebras, African buffaloes, lions, leopards, and cheetahs.
Crocodiles and hippos are frequently spotted on the banks of the Katuma River. During the dry season, hippos relax in mud-holes and cover themselves in mud sunscreen to protect their sensitive skin. Katavi is also a refuge for wild dogs, a critically endangered species.
Katavi National Park lies on the western safari circuit, alongside Lake Tanganyika, the Mahale Mountains, and Gombe Stream National Park. The western safari circuit is rarely visited due to the high cost of travelling to this secluded location.
However, the circuit is renowned for offering excellent wildlife viewing opportunities in its untarnished wilderness. The western safari circuit is primarily accessed from Arusha and Dar es Salaam via plane or boat.
You cannot reach Katavi National Park by road as the western circuit is too far from major cities and inaccessible due to its forest terrain.
Walking safari experiences involve treks with an armed ranger and bush camping.
The walking safari route takes you along Lake Katavi, a seasonal floodplain where you can expect to see grazing hippos and crocodiles.
For travellers who cannot walk long distances, game drives can be organised through your accommodation.
Katavi is also a great destination for birdwatching, and it is home to over 400 bird species. Prices are around $59 per person at the time of writing, and there is an additional guided walking fee per group which is $23.60 for a short work or $29.50 for a longer one.
Visit historical sights
Katavi National Park has an interesting history. You can visit the Kabora-Lyonga-slave route which passed through this area during the slave trade. Visitors can also view the famous tamarind tree which gave the park its name according to local tradition. In Katavi customs, the tree is the home of the famous hunter, Kataviwhom, and locals offer food to its roots to gain luck when hunting.
The most convenient way to reach Katavi is via a 4-5 hour-chartered flight from Arusha or Dar es Salaam. Depending on your itinerary, your entry point to Katavi will be through Kilimanjaro International Airport (46 km from Arusha) or the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar.
By car, Katavi is a 2–3-day drive from Dar and the road journey from Arusha takes 22 hours. We recommend that you fly to save you from a long road journey.
The only commercial flight is the bi-weekly service between Uaha, Katavi and Mahale which is operated by Safari Air Link. However, most campsites have links with airlines, and
If you book with us, we will organise your transport and accommodation for you.
The best time to visit Katavi National Park is during the annual dry season from June to December. During the dry season, the Katuma River is one of the only water sources within the surrounding area, and you will have spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities around the river.
Hundreds of hippos and crocodiles gather around the scarce waterholes, and thousands of topis, impalas, and zebras pass through the plains.
Despite the increase in visitor numbers during the peak season, you will virtually have the park to yourself.
Operated by Nomad Tanzania, Chada Camp is located 50 km east of Lake Tanganyika. Chada Camp offers six safari tents which are surrounded by trees and offer sweeping views of the surrounding plains. The tents are dispersed to maximise your privacy, and the camping experience is suitable for children 12+.
Each tent has a comfortable bed, a writing desk, and gauze windows which allow natural light to shine through. The accommodation is decorated with homely natural fabrics and palm matting. Each tent has an en-suite bathroom with a flush toilet.
Outside your tent, you will find a bucket shower. You can cool off after a day of activities whilst enjoying the scenic views, and you may even see a herd of elephants. There is a large communal tent where guests can relax, read, or watch the elephants, giraffes, and buffaloes wander past. Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining tent.
Guests can choose between dining indoors and al fresco dining under the stars. Before dinner, guests gather at the campfire for snacks and drinks. Chada Camp offers safari activities, including 4WD game drives, picnics surrounded by the animals, bird watching, and guided walking safaris.
Mbali Mbali Katavi Lodge
Mbali Mbali Camp offers 8 comfortable tents, and it was completely refurbished in 2018, giving it a minimalist and contemporary design. The communal areas are two tiered, open-sided structures which are built from wood and thatch.
Each canvas tent is built on a raised wooden platform and covered by a thatched roof. Each room has a sofa, a veranda, and a traditional Zanzibari bed. The site offers one family room which has a conjoined double and twin tent on a shared platform.
The en-suite bathrooms are modern, and they have double sinks, flushing toilets, and glass showers. The camp offers a delicious menu of local dishes and western favourites. You can have a bush breakfast on safari and dine with sweeping views of the park or enjoy a buffet breakfast on the campsite.
A three-course meal is served for dinner and there are bi-weekly outdoor BBQ buffets.
The lodge offers a range of activities, including 4WD safaris and birdwatching.