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Katavi National Park
Thirty-five km southwest of Mpanda, Katavi National Park is Tanzania’s third-largest national park (together with two contiguous game reserves the conservation area encompasses 12,500 sq km) and one of its most unspoiled wilderness areas. Though it’s an isolated alternative to more popular destinations elsewhere in Tanzania (Serengeti National Park receives more visitors per day than Katavi does all year), the lodges are just as luxurious as anywhere else. For backpackers it’s one of the cheapest and easiest parks to visit, if you’re willing to take the time and effort to get there.
Katavi’s dominant feature is the 425-sq- km Katisunga Plain, a vast grassy expanse at the heart of the park. This and other floodplains yield to vast tracts of brush and woodland (more Southern African than Eastern), which are the best areas for sighting roan and sable antelopes: together with Ruaha National Park, Katavi is one of the few places you have a decent chance of spotting both. Small rivers and large swamps support huge populations of hippos and crocodiles and Katavi has more than 400 bird species. The park really comes to life in the dry season, when the floodplains dry up and elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, elands, topis and many more gather at the remaining waters. The park’s hippos are the standout; up to a thousand at a time can gather in a single, muddy pool at the end of the dry season (late September to early October is the best time) and its buffaloes. Katavi is home to some of the largest remaining buffalo herds in Africa and it’s not unusual to see over a thousand of these steroid-fuelled bovines at any one time.
The road to Lake Katavi, another seasonal floodplain, is a good walking destination. The road begins at the headquarters so a vehicle is not needed. Some top-end camps no longer allow their guests to go on walking safaris. There have been reports of some serious incidents involving undertrained park staff leading walking safaris resulting in injury to the tourists. This is also one of the most tsetse-fly-infested parks in Africa.