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Hidden away in southwestern Tanzania lies a secret: Katavi National Park.

Far from the tourist trail and wild beyond the imagination, this park offers African safari at its untamed and untouched best.

Here is the essential information for planning a trip.

Getting to Katavi National Park

Hippo pool during the dry season in Katavi

Inaccessibility is keeping Katavi pristine. Ruaha is difficult enough to get to. Well, Katavi is even further away, close to Lake Tanganyika and the Congo. The roads are in horrendous condition in this part of the country.

Coming from Dar es Salaam you’re looking at 24 hours on the road, or at least three days by public transport. It’s a good 16-hour drive to the Serengeti. South Luangwa in Zambia is actually closer.

Realistically you have two options. An overland safari through Southern Tanzania, spending a few days in Ruaha National Park before visiting Katavi. Or a safari flight that reduces a three day journey to less than three hours.

Camps and Lodges in Katavi

Vervet monkey relaxing in a tree in Katavi National Park

The challenge of getting to Katavi has kept away the crowds. While this will be either time consuming or expensive, you will be rewarded on arrival. The lodges and camps in Katavi are far more reasonably priced than in the Serengeti or elsewhere in Tanzania.

Mobile camping is really affordable and a good way to explore all around the park.

The Safari Experience in Katavi National Park

Lion and cubs with buffalo kill in Katavi

Habitat

Katsunga Plain is second only to the Serengeti in size and forms the heart of the park. Scrub bush 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!

Like everywhere else in Tanzania the atmosphere changes with the seasons. Expect lots of newborns in green season and plenty of tense battles during dry season. Read our complete Tanzania safari guide here.

Animals

Hippo fighting in Katavi

The Katavi wildlife experience is all about size. Large elephant herds patrol the park. Buffalo gather in herds of more than 100 strong and these have daily battles with lion prides.

Giraffe and zebra are abundant, along with topi and waterbuck. Leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog sightings are very common. There are various other big species and in general the animal population can rival any other park in East Africa.

Natural animal behaviour

The animals are not accustomed to visitors and vehicles here. So few people actually visit Katavi that some of the animals may never have seen a safari truck. This means the animals react in a very natural way and haven’t been habituated in any way.

Smaller animals typically run away from you in Katavi as they sense danger. Larger animals are aggressive and are known to attack people and vehicle. So the game drives can be volatile, sometimes exploding into life as a herd charges the vehicle.

Buffalo and lion duels are emblematic of the drama that occurs here. You don’t see a few animals but encounter these animals at their wild and unruly best.

Superb intimacy

Elephant family walking across the Katavi plains

Wildlife writes the rules in Katavi National Park. No person will stop you doing anything. You can drive off the trails and walk across the plains. Except you will probably be killed.

The animals are aggressive and they don’t take too kindly to obnoxious visitors. This does lead to some incredible intimacy. It also means you need a good safari guide and must stick to the unwritten wildlife rules.

Planning a Safari in Katavi National Park

Giraffe silhouette at sunset in Katavi National Park

Not everyone has the time or money for a safari here. It’s more a destination for the aficionados returning to Africa for a second or third time safari.

Katavi is very wild, but hey, you want to connect with your wild side right?