Jack’s Camp and San Camp review: Botswana at its best

Few places on earth are as seductive as these tented safari camps on the mysterious Makgadikgadi salt pans

Jack’s Camp and San Camp, on the Makgadikgadi salt pans in Botswana, must rank among the most alluring safari destinations in all of Africa.

Guests are invited to step back in time to a more glamorous era of travel, leaving behind such modern trappings as electricity and Wi-Fi for a world of oil lamps, copper basins and antique four-poster beds.

Named after Jack Bousfield, a crocodile hunter and safari pioneer who spent much of his life on the salt pans, Jack’s Camp was founded in 1993 by his son Ralph. Set in a spectacular desert landscape, it offers a distinctive blend of luxury and simplicity.

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Sunrise at San Camp and Jack’s Camp

Where is it?

Jack’s Camp and San Camp, about eight miles apart, are in northern Botswana, about 150 miles from Maun, the main tourist town and the gateway to the Okavango. You can drive from Maun in about three hours, but most guests arrive by light aircraft. Air Botswana and South African Airways fly to Maun from Johannesburg.

The landscape

The Makgadikgadi pans consist of an unusual diversity of habitats, ranging from barren salt pans to grassland to “islands” of dense vegetation (which in the wet season are surrounded by water). Strings of palm trees punctuate the horizon, imported on to the pans by elephants, which munch on palm nuts and propagate the seeds in their dung.

The game

Two classes of species are found in the Makgadikgadi pans: the desert specialists, which live here all year round, and the opportunists, which arrive with the rains. Among the former are meerkats, which have grown so accustomed to their human visitors that the sentries will sometimes climb on to their heads to get a better view of the surrounding area. The latter includes zebras and wildebeest, seen in vast numbers during the wet season, as well as elephants, cheetahs, lions, hyenas and jackals.

The presence of permanent waterholes near Jack’s Camp and San Camp, and a reduction in commercial cattle ranching, hunting and poaching, is encouraging more game to stay in the area during the dry season too.

Meerkats at Jack's Camp and San Camp

Accommodation and food

Jack’s Camp consists of ten luxurious tents, furnished with dark wooden furniture and evocative photographs of Jack and his family. All of them have indoor and outdoor showers, with solar-heated water, but there is no electricity. Oil lamps are lit for you in the morning and evening, and flasks of hot tea and coffee provided throughout the day.

The whole camp comes together for meals at a long dining table overlooking the grassland in front of the camp. Stories of adventures and sightings are swapped over three-course meals, mostly European in style, and a selection of wines. A bar, consisting of a vast wooden chest stocked with copious spirits, fuels further revelries.

San Camp, Kalahari

The routine is similar at San Camp, but the location and aesthetics are subtly different. Whereas the tents at Jack’s are dark green, to blend in with the surrounding bush, San Camp is pitched on the pan itself, and its white canvas perfectly complements the baked salt (above). Low, ornately carved chairs and tables add a Moorish flavour to the tea tent.

When to go

San Camp is open only during the dry season (April to October) for the good reason that it’s under water for the rest of the year. Jack’s Camp, on slightly higher ground, is open all year round – and offers different reasons to visit in each season. While game is most plentiful after the summer rains – and the saturated salt pan is a spectacular sight – there’s plenty of life in the Makgadikgadi even when it’s dry.

Walking safaris with San people (above), the original inhabitants of the Kalahari, who describe and demonstrate some of their skills and customs, are offered throughout the year. And when the salt pan is dry, guests can join a quad bike expedition out on to the heart of it, experiencing the beauty and silence of it first hand.

October is the hottest month, with daytime temperatures reaching 45C and nights a balmy 18C. You can expect highs of 30C throughout the summer until March, when it begins to cool. During June and July, overnight lows dip to 6C, but daytime temperatures climb to 26C.

Price and booking

A night at San Camp costs from £1,000pp, full board, including all activities, and Jack’s Camp is from £1,100. The Luxury Safari Company can incorporate either or both into a tailor-made safari itinerary: for more information, phone 01666 880 111, email info@theluxurysafaricompany.com or visit theluxurysafaricompany.com

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