Western Circuit Safari

The Katavi, Gombe and Mahale safari


Discover outstanding game in the wild Katavi and chimpanzees in Mahale’s remote forests on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. This safari to Tanzania’s remote west must be one of the best wildlife and wilderness experiences in Africa.

Highlights of Katavi and Mahale

The extreme wilderness conditions and wildlife you’ll encounter in Katavi are a stark contrast with the almost surreal forest encounters in Mahale.

· Outstanding game in Africa’s top parks

· diverse habitats

· extreme wildlife experiences


Katavi National Park

Katavi – Tanzanian wetlands and woodlands, home to leopard, zebra, elephant, lion and buffalo and large populations of hippo and crocodile. Good for bird watching

It offers un-spoilt wildlife viewing in the country’s third-largest national park, in a remote location far off the beaten track. The national park is Africa at its most wild — unadulterated bush settings, spectacular views, and rich wildlife. The wilderness of Katavi National Park, located in the western area of Tanzania, is one of the most untouched areas in the entire country. Katavi’s dramatic scenery is as varied as it is pristine. Flood plains of thick reeds and dense waterways are home to a huge population of hippo and varied birdlife. In the woodlands to the west, forest canopies shroud herds of buffaloes and elephants. Seasonal lakes fill with dirty coloured water after the rains and animals from all corners of the park descend in them to drink. The park is also home to the rare roan and sable antelope species, and it is a must-see for the visitors intending to explore the wilds of the continent.

Isolated, untrammelled and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as if it must have been a century ago.

Tanzania’s third-largest national park; it lies in the remote area southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa.

The bulk of Katavi supports a hypnotically featureless cover of tangled Brachystegia woodland, home to substantial but elusive populations of the localised eland, sable and roan antelopes. Nevertheless, the main focus for game viewing within the park is the Katuma River and associated floodplains such as the seasonal Lakes Katavi and Chada. During the rainy season, these lush, marshy lakes are a haven for myriad waterbirds, and they also support Tanzania’s densest concentrations of hippos and crocodiles.

It is during the dry season, when the floodwaters retreat, that Katavi truly comes into life. The Katuma, reduced to a shallow muddy trickle, forms the only source of drinking water for miles around, and the flanking floodplains support game concentrations that defy belief. An estimated 4,000 elephants might converge on the area, together with several herds of 1,000-plus buffalo, while an abundance of giraffes, zebras, impalas and reedbucks provide easy pickings for the numerous lion's pride and spotted hyena clans whose territories converge on the floodplains.

Katavi’s most singular wildlife spectacle is provided by its hippos. Towards the end of the dry season, up to 200 individuals might flop together in any riverine pool of sufficient depth. And as more hippos gather in one place, so does male rivalry heat up – bloody territorial fights are an everyday incident, with the vanquished male forced to lurk hapless on the open plains until it gathers sufficient confidence to mount another challenge.

Location; Southwest Tanzania, east of Lake Tanganyika.

The headquarters at Sitalike lie 40km (25 miles) south of Mpanda town.

Getting there

Charter flights from Dar or Arusha.

A tough but spectacular day’s drive from Mbeya (550 km/340 miles), or in the dry season only from Kigoma (390 km/240 miles).

It is possible to reach Mpanda by rail from Dar via Tabora, then to get public transport to Sitalike, where game drives can be arranged. If travelling overland, allow plenty of time to get there and back.

What to do

Walking, driving and camping safaris.

Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the legendary hunter Katabi (for whom the park is named) – Offerings are still left here by locals seeking the spirit’s blessing.

Accommodation

Two seasonal luxury tented camps overlooking Lake Chada, A Resthouse at Sitalike and campsites inside the park; Basic but clean hotels at Mpanda.

Lake Tanganyikasecond largest lake in the world with gin-clear waters supporting around 500 species of endemic cichlids. The Great Rift Valley Mountains surround the lake. Chimpanzees live in the Mahale Mountains National Park.

Both destinations share an extreme sense of uninhabited remoteness – Katavi is a 4-hour flight from Arusha. Mahale is a further 1-hour flight and 2 hours by dhow. We’re now 100 km from the nearest road!

Best time to go on safari in Tanzania’s wild

· July/August/September – the best time to travel but also the busiest time of year in East Africa. Camps are small and available on a first-come-first-served basis. Book early.

· Katavi is closed between 19 December to 1st June for the rainy season.

· Mahale is closed from 3rd week of March to end of May.


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Mahale Mountains National Park

The park-like its northerly neighbour Gombe is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees, a population of roughly 900, they are habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s.

Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience.

Mahale is located in Western Tanzania to the South of Kigoma town, it is bordering Lake Tanganyika-the World’s longest, second deepest and least polluted freshwater lake-harbouring an estimated 1000 fish species.

Best time to visit the park

the dry season (May -October) is the best period. During this period, chimpanzees are likely to be seen in big groups, the sunshine illuminates the fish in the Lake and the beach is an inviting place to relax. However, Mahale Mountains National Park is accessible all year round. A visit in the rainy season can also be a memorable experience, made remarkable by views of the neighbouring country DR Congo across the water and by incredible lightning storms that light up the lake at night.

Tourist Attractions

- The Chimpanzees

- Chain of Mountains (Mahale range)

- Forest fauna and flora (Angola colobus, red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, forest birds, alpine bamboo, montane rain forest etc).

- Beach along Lake Tanganyika

- Local fishermen

- Sunset on the Lake horizon

What to do

- Chimp tracking (allow two days)

- Hiking to the Park’s highest point “Nkungwe” (8,069ft) held sacred by the local Tongwe people.

- Camping safaris

- Snorkeling

- Sports fishing and many more water sports activities

Park Accessibility

Mahale is accessible by air, road and boat. There are several flights, car and boat options to suit most travellers and chimps lovers:

Direct flights to Mahale

This is the easiest way to reach Mahale. During the peak tourist season (June to October) the three tour operators with camps in Mahale schedule regular flights between the park and Arusha town. Between October and March flights arrive and leave twice each week. Between March, April and the first half of May Camps close therefore there are no scheduled flights.

However, it is also possible for visitors to arrange their own charter flights. Tanzania has a large number of charter flight companies such as Air Excel, Northern Air and Regional Air to mention a few. Private charters can be arranged from major cities of Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza or Zanzibar.

The airstrip at Mahale is suitable for light aircraft only with the capacity of up to 12 passengers.


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Gombe National Park

Gombe Stream National Park, located on the western border of Tanzania and the Congo, is most famous for Jane Goodall, the resident primatologist who spent many years in its forests studying the behaviour of the endangered chimpanzees.

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.

An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylizations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream becomes a spine-chilling outburst which is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.

Gombe is the smallest of all the Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, whom in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community – that was only three-years-old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe – is still regularly seen by visitors.

Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp’s eyes, assessing you in return – a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.

The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, understudy since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, whereas the red-tailed and red colobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.

The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre.

After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.

About Gombe Stream National Park

Size: 52 sq km (20 sq miles), Tanzania’s smallest national park.

Location: 16 km (10 miles) north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.

What to do

Chimpanzee trekking, hiking, swimming and snorkelling;

Visit the site of Henry Stanley’s famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work.

NOTE

Strict rules are in place to safeguard you and the chimps. Allow at least 2 days to at least see them – this is not a zoo so there are no guarantees where they’ll be each day.


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