Katavi National Park {Pt.I}

or: How to see amazing African animals without the normal crowding and cost.

{PART OF THE MEA CULPA SERIES OF POSTS _ where I post things I should have written a long time ago… yeah…that’s on me.}

In August we decided to take a road trip that we’ve been talking about for a few years. Katavi National Park in Tanzania. We took two extra passengers along – Kayla our teacher and Lauren our intern.

Katavi is about 560km south of us – according to a map. Now, if you are more familiar with the TransCanada Highway, US-Interstates, or les Autoroutes Français (like we were when we moved here) that doesn’t sound so bad. Maybe 6 hours tops, depending on how much you stop.

The boys getting the truck ready for the journey
Adding on what we think we might need: heavy-duty jack, sand tracks, tools, etc.

It takes a few hours to get to the Tanzanian border, which is maybe 130km (but that’s not bad since the 130km to Buja takes closer to 3 hours). It then takes 2 hours to cross the border. {insert lesson in patience}

lining up for Ebola screening at the border. Step 4 of 7.

Then we’re close to Kigoma, down on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. By that time we’re already too far into the day to make it to Katavi, so we camp for the night.

made it to Tanzania… {it may be a bit warm here}

The next day we start off on the beautiful paved highway, but at one point, we turn south and are on a dirt road for the rest of the trip.

The road actually is not that bad, but what is more concerning is the absolute lack of people. Especially coming from Burundi where there is a constant stream of people, bicycles, animals on the highway, and little clusters of homes every few kilometres…it was almost a bit spooky.

We knew this – so we did try to prepare the truck as best we could.

About 30 min into what we were told might be an 8-hour drive – we got a flat tire.

YAY for Matea’s good ear that could hear the flat over the noise of a Land Cruiser full of people bouncing over a dirt road with the windows open
yeah…that will do it

So…that was a bit concerning.

However, we got it changed, put on the spare, and then prayed that this would be our only flat as we now were hours from our destination, and without a spare.

We got to the village that sits just outside the park and checked out the first of the two lodging options available. Not exactly overwhelmingly nice. So we drove across a small bridge to the other place. After a long wait, and asking multiple people, they told us they don’t have any room. Well, they have room, it was essentially empty, but some people had just left, and they wouldn’t be able to have those rooms ready for a few days.


view of our ‘hotel’ from the river….by the hippos and crocs.

SO back to the first place. By this time, apparently the only other tourists had arrived and had taken the available rooms they had shown us 30 minutes earlier. However, after some back and forth, they cleared out some other rooms, found some keys, and we were set.

This ‘hotel/campground’ had….shall we say…character. We needed three rooms for all of us: the toilet didn’t work in one, the shower didn’t work in another. There was some running cold water. Power was only on during the day…and then only for a few low wattage lights, no plugins. They were able to scrounge up some plastic chairs and a table so we could set up a place to eat outside, looking over our truck to at least 2 dozen hippos. We got some veggies and fruit and bottled water from some stands in the village, and it worked out great.

Fun Fact: hippos make INCREDIBLY loud grunting noises. All night long.

Katavi is an enormous park, the biggest in Tanzania at 4,500km2! (so driving around aimlessly by yourself is not a great solution) However, due to how incredibly remote it is, it gets fewer visitors in an entire year than Serengeti Park in Tanzania does….in a single day.

Now, the next day actually started out pretty frustratingly. We found the main Park office, paid the fees and paid for a guide since it’s a HUGE park. What they didn’t tell us was: our guide had started a day or two before we got there, he knew essentially nothing about where animals were in the park. After SIX HOURS of driving in incredibly hot, incredibly dusty terrain, where we HAD to keep all the windows shut since the swarms of Tse-tse flies were unlike anything I’d seen before, turning around many times, missing turns, going down wrong paths….we essentially were done. We went back to the office, where the main guy asked us if we saw lions.


OK, but lots of buffalo. nope

Giraffes and lots of elephants for sure? nope

OK -but at least the hippos and the crocks?

Actually we saw more hippos at our campsite.

hippos shared our sleeping quarters

He immediately got us a new guide and said we had to head back out. There was a lot of skepticism in the Land Cruiser. So we went back, got lunch, took a break from sitting in the truck. Then I went back and picked up the new guide and we headed out very late in the afternoon.

regrouping back at the ‘hotel’

What a difference a good guide makes.

In the first 6 hours, we saw almost nothing. Then from 4-7 pm we saw the following:

[essentally all of these pictures were taken by Jonah…]

end of a good day
game of cards while supper cooks
supper at the end of a long, great, day