Chada Katavi: Tanzania’s wild west
In the million-acre Katavi National Park, you may well meet more lions than people
Katavi National Park, in western Tanzania, had been all but abandoned when Chada was established as a primitive bush camp. Thirty years on, it is considerably more comfortable, but it still has the feel of an outpost.
Tents are zipped canvas, hot showers come in buckets (ordered in advance and hung from a nearby tree) and for seven months a year, when the tracks through the park are rendered impassable by rain and mud, the whole camp closes down.Despite the challenging environment, it’s not hard to see what attracted the pioneer campers. Wildlife is plentiful, and not in the least bit shy. And it’s still an empty place: sightings of other 4x4s are rare enough to foster a pleasant sense of kinship and camaraderie among fellow adventurers.
Where is it?
Katavi National Park is in central western Tanzania, about 30 miles east of Lake Tanganyika. Remote, even by African standards, it is reached by a three-hour light aircraft flight from Kilimanjaro airport, including a refuelling stop somewhere in between. Several daily flights connect Kilimanjaro with Dar es Salaam, or you can fly to Kilimanjaro from the UK with KLM (via Amsterdam), Qatar Airways (via Doha) or Kenya Airways (via Nairobi).
Katavi feels instantly different from the dry plains of northern Tanzania. The 45-minute drive from the airstrip to the lodge passes through forest as well as grassland, framed by a distant range of mountains. Other parts of the park have a Jurassic atmosphere, with swampy lowlands fringed by groves of palm trees.
Wide open and undisturbed, Katavi is a superb park for game-spotting. Huge numbers of zebras, buffaloes, giraffes and antelopes attract leopards, lions - 13 of them in one pride alone, often seen around the camp - and other predators, which wait in thickets of bush on the edge of the great plains. Hippos are also in abundance: one pool near Chada camp is home to 600 of them at the end of the dry season.
Accommodation and food
Chada Katavi is one for the traditionalist - a romantic tented camp which lives up to the mantra of its parent company, Nomad Tanzania: “everything you need and nothing you don’t”. That means no WiFi, no power outlets in the tents and no water heaters. instead,six gallons of hot water is brought on demand and poured into bucket showers.
There are just six guest tents, all with views of the surrounding plains. The canvas sides can be rolled back for a better view - and to let in a cool breeze. Furnishings are simple, but the beds are soft and comfortable.
Food is delicious and eclectic, ranging from lamb stew with vegetables to bobotie (a moussaka-like South African dish) and plantain salad. Tasty soups to start are a highlight. All meals are served at a communal table.
When to go
Chada Katavi opens in June each year, after the end of the wet season, and as the ground dries out animals congregate around just two reliable sources of water in the area. The best game sightings are therefore usually in October, before the rains return the following month, but are good throughout the season. The camp closes in mid-November. Katavi is hot all year, but coolest in July (high 30C, low 16C) and hottest in October (high 34C, low 21C).
Price and booking
Rates for Chada Katavi start at about £600 per person per night in low season, including full board and most activities, but excluding flights and transfers. For more information and suggested itineraries, see the Nomad Tanzania website, and to book contact Yellow Zebra Safaris