If you imagine taking all the hippos you'd see at any famous East African park and cramming them together into a muddy trickle of water that you could almost jump across you'd have a good sense of what it's like during the dry season at Katavi National Park, 40km south of Mpanda in Tanzania.
The best feature of this scarcely known and rarely visited national park is the series of mud baths along the Katuma River, where Katavi's 4000 hippos pack together like seal colonies during the height of the dry season. There's a lot of action under such crowded conditions, including territorial males engaging in dramatic bloody battles on a daily basis.
Too remote to be included on a typical vacation safari, Tanzania's third-largest park remains unknown despite having what may be the greatest game concentrations in the country. One visitor in 1992 was amazed to discover that he was the 18th party to visit the park in 2 years, and it’s only gotten slightly busier in a place that feels more like wilderness than a national park. This leaves plenty of room for the park's 20,000 zebras, 17,000 topis, 15,000 buffaloes, 4000 giraffes, 200 lions and large herds of impalas, reedbucks, duikers, elands, and many other animals.
When combined with adjacent game reserves, the 4500 sq km Katavi National Park is part of an astounding 25,000 sq km natural area of immense importance for wildlife preservation.
A number of lodging options are now available within the park, which can be accessed by train or public bus to nearby communities, or by plane to airstrips within the park. More info can be found at www.katavipark.org
If you're not going to Tanzania any time soon, it is always wildlife-watching season somewhere else in the world - and with our new full-colour guide, A Year of Watching Wildlife, you'll have a front-row seat every time.