Jao Camp is one of the Okavango's smartest camps; it has a very tropical, luxuriant feel.
Jao Camp: Our full report
Jao Camp is one of the original "premier " camps of Botswana; designed to make it a cut above most others. Situated on a remote island in the middle of the large private Jao Reserve in the Okavango Delta, the camp is surrounded by open seasonal floodplains dotted with small islands. With a fusion style of Balinese and African décor, Jao is an imposing and luxurious camp which sprawls over roughly a kilometre among tall shady leadwood, African wild mangosteen and ebony trees.
Yet despite it’s opulence and grandeur, and its sometimes rather ‘stiff’ feel on arrival, once settled in the very friendly team here create a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
Note that Jao Camp commands a supplement over the cost of most of the Okavango's camps. At time of writing (2013) this is typically around £286–452 per person per night extra (depending on the season).
Jao's central area is arranged over two levels. On the lower level are an intimate and tucked away sitting area, a small library and a richly stocked curio shop. This opens out onto a large deck surrounding the firepit – a traditional gathering spot to swap stories after dinner – and decorated with quite probably the biggest wind chimes we've seen. From here, wooden walkways lead to not one but two separate plunge pools.
From the centre of this lower level, a large polished rosewood staircase leads to the upper deck. To one side are a large bar and lounge; to the other, a dining area, complete with cappuccino machine. We thought the original artworks and African wood sculptures (some by local carvers) were a real feature.
A winding, high-level (about 3m off the ground), wooden walkway connects to Jao's nine luxury suites, which are spread out on either side of the main building. (Read more about Jao's suites here … )
There is also a sleep-out platform in the ‘bush’, not too far from camp. This is a pretty rustic experience and really does put you close to nature. It is a wonderful contrast to a night in the suites, however it is not for everyone! Accessible when water levels are low enough (generally from September to May), it is advisable to book this in advance and preferably if you have a three-night stay at Jao.
Separate from the central area and along a shady walkway, is Jao's dedicated wellbeing spa. On offer is a surprisingly comprehensive – but expensive – array of treatments including massages, facials, manicures, pedicures and other beauty treatments. Jao prides itself on using naturally inspired, chemical free and eco-friendly products. And as we discovered on a visit in November 2011, there's nothing quite like listening to the sounds of the bush (not recorded!), while having a relaxing massage. Link straight to Jao Spa's own homepage here… The weather was inclement during this visit, and then we found that the spa was particularly valuable, and we didn't mind spending time indulging in a spa treatment and staying in the camp.
There is also a small gym with a rowing machine, stationary bike, cross trainer, yoga mats, exercise ball and free weights.
Jao Camp's activities, include day and night 4WD safari drives. On our most recent visit, in April 2013, we were astounded by the tremendous numbers of red lechwe grazing on a very pretty part of the Jao Flats (seasonal floodplains). However, other than some elephants and several species of antelope, we didn't see much else in the way of game in the area close by. For the best game viewing whilst staying at Jao, we advise taking the longer game drive to Hunda Island (you boat to the island and then hop into a 4WD vehicle). This is the largest swathe of dry land in the area and hence attracts giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, kuku, as well as leopard.
Most notable are the fantastic water-based activities at Jao, such as mokoro trips and motorised boat cruises. This is were Jao comes into it’s own! Fishing is also offered, seasonally, on a catch-and-release basis, and the camp has a limited amount of fishing tackle for guests to borrow.
Guiding here is, in our experience, usually very good. On our last visit in April 2013, we had an excellent guide who’s expansive knowledge of birds, animal behaviour and flora made all activities extremely interesting despite the lack of big game. He even managed to make grasses a fascinating topic!
Whilst our team has had some good game sightings here over the years – this isn't a camp that majors on big game. We'd suggest that visitors come, instead, to stay in one of the prettiest parts of the Delta, for the trips out into the floodplains and channels, and for some wonderful birds. On this last trip our highlights included various kingfishers (woodland, pied and malachite), wattled cranes, an African marsh harrier, and a vast array of waterbirds.
Our viewJao is a well-established and very luxurious camp – even by Botswana's high standards – and has a price tag to match. It's a camp that can be enjoyed and experienced for itself, as much as for its beautiful surroundings. The food and spa are very good, the levels of service are very high, and they seem to succeed at providing a more individual and adaptable experience than in many other Okavango camps. Jao is unlikely to appeal to the safari 'purist', unless they're keen birders. But for a couple of nights at the start or end of a trip, to relax and enjoy the best of the Okavango Delta's water-based activities, it's a great choice.
Ideal length of stay: 2-3 nights
Directions: Access is by light aircraft transfer to Jao Airstrip, and then a short drive by 4WD vehicle to Jao.
Owner: Marketed by Wilderness Safaris.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Full Board
Food quality: Although the norm at Jao Camp is for meals to be more 'family' dining around one central table, guests have the option to dine individually if preferred. On our most recent visit in April 2013 we found the quality and variety of food was very good.
A light breakfast is laid out before guests depart on the morning activity. Expect a selection of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, muffins, and usually even a cooked option if you wish.
Brunch is usually served once guests have returned from the morning activity; there is no set time. You can help yourself to a selection of cheese and crackers, fruit patters and fresh bread, but the main plated main dish is brought to you. We had a choice of a warm Thai beef salad or a vegetable stack consisting of aubergine, sweet peppers, tomato and feta, all on a bed of green salad – both were very tasty. For pudding we enjoyed a sweet apple crumble with crème fraiche.
Afternoon tea is served just before heading out on the afternoon activity. In addition to fruit salad, chicken ‘lollipops with a selection of dips, milk tartlets and jam scones, we were offered homemade lemonade with a twist of ginger (very refreshing), iced tea and iced coffee.
Dinner is usually a three-course plated service. We had a choice of two starters – grilled mushrooms with brie or red pepper and pear soup; two main dishes – salmon with orange sauce or pork with a pepper sauce, both served on a bed of basmati rice, with patty pan (a type of squash) and beetroot. For pudding there is the choice of a fruit platter, a cheese platter or the speciality of the day, which we opted for – a custard slice. All were of a high standard.
The camp can cater to vegetarians and most other special dietary requirements, if notice is given.
Dining style: Group Meals
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included
Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits will cost extra. The camp has a bar that is stocked much more comprehensively than most, and can order in special requests if advance notice is given.
Honeymoons: Jao Camp is a lovely destination for inclusion in a honeymoon. The scenery is beautiful, the rooms are stunning, and without the pressure of intense game viewing (which features high on the agenda at many other Delta camps), this is an ideal place to relax and indulge yourselves. The slow pace of the camp and its flexibility; its tranquil mekoro activity and one of the best spas in the Delta make this a great choice.See more ideas for Honeymoons in Botswana
Birdwatching: Spectacular birding including possible sightings of yellow-billed storks, hadeda ibis, painted snipe, black egret, a variety of kingfishers including the pied, woodland and malachite, storks, stonechat, nightjars, quelea, spoonbills, slaty egret, sacred ibis, woolly-necked storks, carmine bee-eater, little bee-eater, wattled crane, oxpeckers, goliath heron, etc. Pels fishing owl have also been spotted during the dry (flood) season.See more ideas for Birdwatching in Botswana
Wellbeing: One of only three proper spas in the Okavango Delta, Jao Spa, even has its own dedicated website! There is a single and a double treatment room each offering a vast array of pampering experiences – massages, facials, manicures, pedicures and so on. All products are free of chemicals, eco-friendly and contain natural, indigenous plant extracts.See more ideas for Wellbeing in Botswana
Attitude towards children: Children over the age of 12 years are welcome. The camp may accept children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. However, private activities must be booked and this will be at an extra cost. Children younger than six may be accepted by special arrangement, and then only if the entire camp is reserved for exclusive use.
Equipment: There is no specific equipment but there is a separate entertainment room that is furnished as a lounge and dining area; suitable for family dining and children's entertainment. There is also a family unit which comprises 2 adjoining suites, each with their own bathroom.
Generally recommended for children: Despite the elevated building and walkways, we think that tin some ways Jao is one of the more welcoming camps for families with children. We particularly like the family-style accommodation, flexible dining options and additional craft activities designed for children.
Notes: Please be very aware of the elevated platforms and walkways – they have not been designed with young children in mind. These have open sides and can also be very slippery when wet! The camp is unfenced, and wildlife – including elephant – is known to wander through. The pools are unfenced and the camp is in close proximity to open water. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents. Note that minimum age requirements mean that children are allowed on boat trips from the age of six years, but sleep-outs and mekoro excursions only from the age of 13 years.
Communications: There is no cellphone reception, no direct phone or fax and no email. Communication is maintained with the head office in Maun via radio.
TV & radio: There is no TV and no radio.
Health & safety
Malarial area: Yes
Medical care: The camp managers are first-aid trained, and a first-aid kit is kept on site. In the event of an emergency, guests can be flown out to the nearest doctor in Maun. There is nurse in Maun who can be contacted for medical advice, and is on call 24 hours a day.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Fire safety: Fire extinguishers are kept in all suites and in the main area. There was also a bucket of sand on our balcony when we visited in April 2013.
Disabled access: Not Possible
Laundry facilities: A full laundry service is included and, wherever possible, will be returned to guests on the same day.
Money: All rooms are equipped with small electronic safes. There are no money exchange facilities.