Sophie and Jonathan visit this historic luxury camp, perched on the fringes of Botswana’s vast Makgadikgadi Pans
Bigger than Denmark, the remnant of vast lakes thousands of years of ago, the Makgadikgadi Pans are one of Botswana’s most striking, and fascinating natural features. High salt concentrations on the pans themselves limit vegetation to grass cover, which turns a lush green after rains, attracting thousands of antelope and other game. The fringes support a diversity of woodland; together they combine into a mesmerising landscape unlike anything you’re likely to have seen before.
The scale is vast – distant palm trees shimmer in the heat haze and the sky swallows you up. And right here is Jack’s camp, a collection of dark green tents so unobtrusive they’re almost invisible.
Most guests fly the short distance from Maun to Jack’s but as always we drove in – usually a simple affair but as luck would have it, when we visited, half a year’s worth of rainfall had fallen in just three days, so much of the route was under water. March/April is a fantastic time to visit the pans, which are often filled with a thin layer of water, attracting yet more wildlife.
Jack’s Camp is unusual in a lot of ways. One of Botswana’s (and Africa’s) most expensive safari lodges, it combines elements that range from quaint (wooden toilet thrones) to bizarre (a vast, macabre collection of animal skulls displayed in the dining/lounge tent).
Jack’s attempts to fuse rustic, 1920s Campaign-era décor with a sense of family history that ultimately defines the camp. The philosophy is unashamedly old-school. There’s no electricity (except for a charging station) and no wi-fi. All meals are communal, and while the food is not the main highlight here, a lively dinner in this remote place, in a museum tent of skulls lit with hurricane lamps to the sound of jackals howling is not something you’ll ever experience again!
The Makgadikgadi is not about the Big 5. The camp itself is not inside a national park and with a number of cattle posts nearby, don’t be surprised to see the odd cow or dog interspersed with the antelope on your game drive. Makgadikgadi National Park is nearby however and depending on the time of year you may see large antelope herds, lion, jackal and many of the small things that make the Makgadikgadi, and the Kalahari such a special place. This is a good place to see bat-eared fox and aardwolf, and we had a fantastic African Wild Cat sighting under the spotlight one night.
Jack’s offers a number of unusual activities. Several colonies of meerkats have been painstakingly habituated, allowing guests spectacular close-up encounters with these fascinating animals. We followed them as they foraged, scouted for danger and fed their young, just centimetres away. It’s not uncommon to even have them climb on you. Needless to say, the photographic opportunities here are incredible.
Walks with a resident group of Bushmen, clad in traditional gear, are another popular activity where you can tap into their vast knowledge of the bush and see demonstrations of making traps and fire. Although these events can at first appear patronizing, with the Bushmen as exhibits, once you get over this it’s a genuinely rare opportunity to learn from them and understand the challenges facing their communities. It’s also a mechanism for skills to be passed on to a new generation – skills that may otherwise be lost forever.
In the dry season, quad biking on the Pans is also offered.
Two nearby, less expensive camps – San Camp and Camp Kalahari complete the Uncharted Africa collection here and enjoy the same activities and share guides with Jack’s. All three camps are best combined with more ‘traditional’ game viewing destinations in Botswana – the Okavango for example. For a different face of Botswana, and to better understand it – this is a good place to come.
Jack’s gave us a fantastic welcome – hospitality staff Sheila and O’Girl as well as the rest of the team really make you feel at home. If you’re looking for something truly different and unique, Jack’s is it.
Note: Jack’s Camp is due for major refurbishment in 2016