Reviews of Jack's Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Jack's Camp review
Jack's Camp is a special camp in a remote and very special place.
We enjoyed the laid-back and somewhat historic athmosphere. However, we felt that when the camp is fully booked (as it was during our stay), the number of guests (more than 20) does impact the remoteness and silence of the desert feeling, especially if 7 of the guests are children.
This having been said, we did love our experience at Jack's, especially with the meerkats. Chapman's baobab, the bushman walk as well as the sundowners at the salt pans were highlights, too. We would like to return some day, but that would most probably be during low season when the camp is more quiet.
Jack's Camp is unique
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Jack's Camp with one exception (see below). The location and surrounds are unique in our experience with amazing scenery and wildlife. The guiding was excellent as was the food. However the management was inexperienced, far too young and sometimes invisible. The tents are in need of a refresh in order to make them comparable to the best Botswana has to offer.
The Kalahari is an amazing place truly different from anything we have seen before. The camp is very well situated for the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
They are comfortable but somewhat dated. While the loo was very quaint (throne type) the fact that the seat could not be fully lifted caused some hygiene problems. The room was also rather dark even during the day with no electricity after 5 pm. Hot water supply was sometimes a problem.
The staff were very friendly and helpful and we would especially single out our guide, Shabah, who was first class and also accompanied us at meal times. Unfortunately senior management at the camp was almost invisible and front of the house was left to temporary and volunteer staff who were either just about to leave or straight out of school in the UK and had only been there for 2 days! This got reflected in the way the camp was run: our hot water was not switched on before we arrived; drink facilities that we were told would be open were locked and it was impossible to find anyone to open them even for water; flight times were changed at VERY short notice with no explanation; no one from management was there to say goodbye to us when we left.
Was excellent - probably the best of our whole trip - good quality and very nicely presented.
Very good. Although being a desert, game is sparse but we saw magnificent Kalahari Lions, Ostrich, Meerkats and a variety of birdlife including a huge flock of vultures. The quad bike ride into the salt pan was unforgettable as was the walk with the Bushmen.
Very good - especially the pool area and the library.
Our final two days at Jack's Camp
Let us start with the best first. For health reasons we could not take part in all the activities. However,, our guide and the organising staff really put themselves out to make our stay as enjoyable as possible - and succeeded admirably. For example, my wife didn't feel up to the quad-biking on the pan one afternoon, but the manager drove her out there later in his Land Cruiser for the sundowner. Another example, I had been particularly looking forward to the walk with the San. This was not in fact on the schedule for the two days we were there. However, it was arranged for my final morning - just for me!
Jack's Camp has echoes of Great White Hunters of the past. This is reflected in both its management policies and in the decor. Our most disconcerting moment was to find, on arrival, that all the front line staff were young Europeans and that the numerous African staff were working mainly behind the scenes. This was in marked contrast to the two previous camps we had been to, where we were introduced to all staff. That said, the staff here could not have been more helpful. Also, the service unit here is much larger than most, serving two other camps as well. In the main communal area there were hunting memorabilia, period furniture, old photographs, maps, and books which were fascinating for those interested in such things, although appreciating them fully would require more time than the average visitor has. Period furniture also filled the sleeping rooms which didn't necessarily contribute to room comfort. Our room was in fact fairly comfortable, especially the beds, but the room was too cluttered to lay out our belongings. The flow of water was totally reliable but the bathroom/lavatory would have been more functional with modern furniture. However, these negatives pale beside the huge logistical difficulties of providing any sort of service in such a remote location. The food was nothing short of outstanding, although it had to be conveyed across 30 metres through rough grass from the kitchen to the dining area. The dining service was consequently a little haphazard, handicapped further by an insistence on Ladies First even when parties were arriving at different times.
My wife, whose main interest was in wildlife, did wonder before we went whether this was a good choice of location for the final two days of our holiday in Botswana, but my reason for choosing it was precisely because it was so different from the Moremi/Okavango area where we had spent the previous six days. This location gives a real feel for the Kalahari and is located right next to the extraordinary salt pans. There is wildlife here, though not so much at the time of year we went (August) but it tends to be either smaller or big but more distant. The highlights on our first evening/night game drive were a brown hyena, honey badger, genet and porcupine - pretty thin perhaps for a Kruger Hoover but fascinating nonetheless. If you like meerkats, this is certainly the place to come, for you can walk with a human-habituated colony and see them wake up, warm up, and hunt, all at close quarters. However, no one comes in August primarily to see the game. There is in fact a good deal to see and do. In our two days we had the game drive just mentioned, a visit to Chapman's baobab, hunting with meerkats, quad-biking out to the Makgadikgadi salt pan, sundowner on the pan (strictly non-alcoholic this time) and, most wonderfully for me, a walk through the Kalahari with a family of six San. The activity program at Jack's Camp is astonishingly wide and adventurous for such a remote location. I am lost in admiration for the sheer organisational prowess of the manager and his staff. This extends to the running of the camp as well.
Different, but yes I would certainly recommend a short stay of two, perhaps three days, here.
Jack's Camp review
We had an excellent time at this camp - fantastic combination of activities, scenery, relaxation and offbeat wildlife (including aardwolf, bat-eared fox, porcupine and elephant in one evening, not to mention the meerkats).
The only trouble is that it ups the ante for the next trip, and it is hard to believe that there are places that are overall more enjoyable. So we may have to return... Rich was a top class guide as well as being a lot of fun.
Different to Anywhere Else
The tent was quite dark and it was unbearably hot during the middle of the day, we really couldn't have a siesta after lunch but had to sit on the deck. Conversely, getting dressed first thing in the morning was freezing! We didn't like the kerosene lamps they put in the tent at night and after the 1st night we asked not to have them again and we managed just as well with the good solar powered torches they provide.
I would have liked to have gone back to our tent after arriving back from the evening activity to wash and maybe change out of dusty clothes, but they encourage you to sit immediately by the fire for a drink, then dinner, and as our tent was a long walk away and we would have had to be accompanied, we went with the flow.
Otherwise, we loved it, it was so different which suited the quite different habitat to the Okavango and the Caprivi. We liked the "out of Africa" style decor and I loved the shower room with its armchair style loo (though my husband said it wasn't so good for chaps as the seat didn't lift up properly!) and old fashioned style shower. The outdoor shower was fun too.
The activities were wonderful and so different, especially being with the meerkats which was a huge highlight for me. The quad biking was fun on the amazing salt pan under the stars in total isolation. Also looking for ancient artifacts on the salt pan. Visiting the huge, old baobab tree was interesting. Our guide was excellent, so knowledgeable about so many things.
The food was the best we ate on our trip, really delicious (apart from dinner the 1st night which was some sort of aberration), with good quality wines and lovely home made lemonade. We felt very well looked after.
Jack's Camp review
Everyone was very friendly and welcoming..... as it was our first camp we rushed into doing things and I did feel a bit exhausted, dirty and wound up to start with but then we relaxed into the experience which of course is different from other camps due to location.
We asked to go to Chapman's Baobab and had a great time there and also with the meerkats.
There was much excitement after the first night when fellow visitors had a visit from a genet in their room in the middle of the night. The animals had learned to work the velcro fixing of the canvas bedroom door!
Jack's Camp review
We were a bit wary of Jack's Camp after reading other reviews but we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Maybe it was the time of year (early rainy season) but there were no "surprises" and our guide, Chabba, was flexible in accomodating what we wanted to do. In particular he took us out to meet the oncoming migration of large numbers of zebra, wildebeest and springbok which was an incredible experience and also allowed us a second trip to the meerkats !
Spending time with the meerkat family was the highlight but we also enjoyed excellent views of Brown Hyenas at 2 dens as well as numerous other mammal, bird and reptile sightings. The landscape is completely different to the Okovango etc and it was a nice contrast to visit the Kalahari.
We also enjoyed our time with the Kalahari bushmen and it was a real experience to see and understand a bit about their way of life and how they survive in the Kalahari. We were also able to join and witness a "Trance Dance" by a group of bush people which was a real experience but a one off I'm afraid as specially arranged for a photographer.
The food was easily the best of our holiday and the accomodation is absolutely unique, period and atmospheric as trailed but very comfortable. I am not small and the dimensions of my bed were fine !
Jack's Camp review
Like a return to colonial Africa. Jack's is very stylish and a very different safari experience. The meerkats were the main attraction for us but we also enjoyed the Bush Walk, and saw ostrich and Aardwolf. No game on the menu :-(.Read more about the whole safari
Expert Africa comments
Just to clarify, this traveller likes to eat game meat, and the comment about ‘no game on the menu’ is a literal one. See their review of Chobe Game Lodge, where they did eventually find some on the menu!
Pluses and Minuses
We have mixed feelings about this place, some things we really liked, others we hated.
We liked: The activities are all very interesting and very different from the other camps. The landscape is beautiful and out of this world, so vast and quiet, it's worth the visit just for this. The food, excellent, without a doubt the best of the 5 camps we stayed at.
We disliked: the somewhat snobbish and arrogant attitude. They treat guests in a condescending way, was the only place where a manager or guide didn't sit down with us upon arrival to inform us of the activities and make a tentative plan. They make the plan for you, don't tell you about it -the place is all about surprises, a bit childish-, expect you to love it and get defensive if you suggest changes. Also, it was the only camp that didn't give us a feed-back form upon departure.
The tent was spacious but uncomfortable. We didn't like the decoration, too stuffy, the 1930-40s style feels completely out of place. There is really nowhere to put your clothes (eg, 2 hooks were the only hangers). The beds are very short: I'm not a tall person (1.8 m) and didn't fit in the bed, which is a pain because at night it gets so cold you really have to tuck yourself in completely, so I couldn't really sleep much.
Not having electricity in the tent was more of a problem than I expected. Thankfully, I brought a flashlight from home (strongly recommended if you come here), which came in handy to find things in the semi-darkness. Also this no-electricity thing is a bit phoney, because they do have a generator for the water pump and the kitchen, they just choose not to put lights in the tents for “a more authentic experience”. By the way, the first morning there was no water in the tent because the pump broke down during the night. No light, no water, no good.
I recommend a 2-night stay here, which gives you plenty of time to do the key excursions: meerkats, walk with the bushmen, quadbiking, walking in the pan. There's not much more to do, but if you stay a third night they guarantee a suprise activity. More on that later. There used to be another interesting activity: visiting the brown hyena, but apparently these animals disappeared 3 weeks before our arrival so we couldn't do it, maybe they'll come back... ask before you go if this interests you.
(Now comes the spoiler, so don't read on if you like surprises)
At Jack's they make a huge deal about their “surprise activity”, which consists in sleeping out on the pan. Looks like they do it every 3 nights, so you are only guaranteed to do it if you stay 3 nights. We only stayed 2 nights but were lucky and had the surprise. Too bad it was a surprise, because we weren't prepared for a night out and had to go back to camp. If they had told us instead of making this big secret about it, then we would have stayed. Again, this is all a bit childish. But it was very nice having dinner in the pan, it was a beautiful night (with a lunar eclipse!).
Honestly, I think the “3rd night surprise” is just a marketing gimmick to make people book for 3 nights, otherwise no one would, given that the camp is so expensive and you can cover the key things in 2 days. There are other places in Africa where they give you the chance to sleep under the stars and don't make such a big fuss about it.
Not to be missed
We would love to return to Jack's camp. Such luxury, and such amazing food. We were very well looked after, the tents and communal areas delightful and the oil lamps gave an amazing ambience to the accomodation.
The activities were unusual and varied. Our guide, Super, had an amazing knowledge and enthusiasm for the area, and we had very intereting drives. We were able to see the tail end of the migration, with large herds of widebeest and zebra, and we also saw a large herd of the resident oryx. We also saw many smaller mammals, including bat eared foxes, a honey badger, mongoose and various colonies of meercats.
Bird life was good, including good views of secretary birds. These trips were complemented by a leisurely walk with bushmen who could show us how even the most unlikely grassland could provide food for man and beast.
The experience of the quad biking on the salt pans, and experiencing the sunset in such emptiness, was a unique and amazing. I am not allowed to talk about what followed, BUT IT WAS GREAT.
We all felt priviledged to experience meercats at very close quarters, it was fun to have them sitting on us, but I think our group all agreed that the best part was walking with these animals as they moved from one area to another.
There is always one, and surprisingly there was one guest, unfortunaltely English, who didn't enjoy the camp. The rest of the guests found her rather self centred and didn't want to share acitivites with her. The staff coped admirably. keeping all happy, and are to be commended on that.
I am so glad that you recommended a three night stay in this area, rather than the two nights we had originally intended.