Jack's Camp

Jack's Camp: Our full report

Rooms
10 tents
Traveller's rating
Good (90%) From 21 reviews
Children
Best for 8+
Open
All year

Jack's Camp is spread out beneath a grove of mokolwane palm trees with vast views across open expanses of Botswana’s immense Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, complete with patches of grassy savannah and photogenic palm islands. It’s one of Africa’s costlier camps, and takes pride in its motto: ‘Give them what they never knew they wanted.’

The Makgadikgadi Pans is arid for much of the year and consequently big game is usually scarce. Indeed, guests should note that game in this area is usually very limited so rather than coming for a big-game safari, be prepared for unusual surprises!

That said, during the wet season (November–April), the landscape transforms as the pans fill with rain, attracting clouds of flamingo and other migratory birds, whilst migrating herds of zebra and wildebeest wheel around the grasslands, followed closely by opportunistic predators.

Desert-adapted wildlife that may be seen here year round include ostrich, springbok, steenbok, black-backed jackal, while nocturnal creatures such as brown hyena, aardwolf, porcupine, bat-eared fox, honey badger and scrub hare are rarely seen. Kalahari lion, cheetah and leopard also roam this area, and though they are more elusive they are spotted occasionally. On a previous visit we were lucky enough to see two Kalahari black-maned lions pursuing a lioness and her cub, and during our most recent visit in September 2016 we spotted elephant, jackal, scrub hare, springbok, steenbok, and loads of wildebeest and zebra. But perhaps the stars of the show are the meerkats: an encounter with these playful creatures can almost be guaranteed as there are a few habituated colonies near the camp.

Jack’s Camp itself has been beautifully constructed in a very classical safari style, providing an inviting and quite romantic oasis in this harsh environment. The early settler décor throughout the camp features a mix of old mahogany furniture, Persian rugs, Moroccan and Ethiopian artefacts and natural objects such as ostrich eggs and feathers.

Large custom-made marquee tents built on low, raised wooden platforms house the main areas. The dining and lounge tent is adorned with a variety of photos, maps, diagrams and natural history objects, and houses an extensive library of informative books, adding up to an impressive collection that is registered as a national museum. A large table occupies the dining room and a variety of comfy seating areas fill the remaining spaces.

Steps from the main area lead down to a firepit where guests can enjoy social evening drinks under the stars. A short stroll away there’s another enormous open-sided tent which shelters the swimming pool, built into a wooden platform and surrounded by loungers.

Pathways lead to the ten tents at Jack’s – three doubles and seven twins of khaki-green canvas with a soft lining of colourful patterned material. The furthest is about five minutes’ walk from the main area. Each of these large, walk-in tents is raised on a wooden platform with a private wooden deck where the expansive views can be enjoyed from outdoor seating. A zippered entrance leads into the bedroom, which is furnished with a double or twin custom-made four-poster beds, a desk, seating area, chest of drawers, a small library of natural history books and an open canvas shelving and wardrobe space.

A canvas and cloth partition separates the bedroom from the en-suite bathroom, with a shower, washstand with copper basin and mirror, canvas shelves and a quirky flush toilet fashioned into a wooden throne. A zipped door leads to a wood-screened outdoor shower. Toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, shower gel, cotton wool buds and laundry liquid for washing underwear are provided.

There are no electric lights or plug points in the tents at Jack’s, but paraffin lanterns provide ambient lighting after dark and there is a charging station for batteries and electrical equipment in the main area (which works when the generator is on between 7.00am and 5.00pm). Each tent has a standing fan which operates only when the generator is on; there is no other heating or air conditioning. Hot water bottles are used to warm the beds on cold winter nights.

Guided activities from Jack's Camp focus on the unusual aspects of this area. The guides are well versed, and sometimes real experts, in aspects of this environment and aim to give you an understanding of its fascinating geology, archaeology and anthropology, as well as a chance to observe its scarce wildlife.

Jack’s vehicles have two rows of seats for up to six guests, so those who wish to guarantee an outside seat on drives will need to book a private vehicle at additional cost.

Activities include:

  • Nature drives in and around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, sometimes including notable sites like Chapman’s Baobab. Although the ancient tree tragically collapsed in June 2016, you can still see the enormous fallen trunk, which is split into two relatively even masses;
  • Spotlit night drives on the return to camp in the evenings;
  • Informative nature walks, concentrating on the plants and smaller animals. These are usually led by Bushmen trackers, and translated by your guide, and while they are interesting, as an interaction with any form of Bushman culture they tend to be very superficial;
  • Visits to a habituated meerkat colony, which will offer visitors a very close encounter with these cute little foragers;
  • Visits to sites of archaeological interest, including areas where Stone-Age implements can be found.

During the dry season (May to October), 4WD quadbikes can be used to venture onto the saltpans without damaging its fragile crust. (NB: It’s essential that you read the Quadbike warning in the ‘Health & Safety’ section below for our comments on the absence of bike helmets on this activity.)

With considerable advance notice, there is a further option, between December and May, for a full-day trip to try to see flamingoes, which often have a breeding colony in the nearby Sua Pan.

Given the range of activities at Jack’s, we strongly recommend that travellers come for no less than three nights. This generally also gives enough time to experience the Bushmen trance dance one evening. Those who are keen to see the flamingoes should allow a minimum of four to five nights.

Our view

Jack’s Camp is a high-quality camp offering a unique experience in a captivating and unusual landscape. Do expect some luxury, romance and remoteness; don’t expect electric lights or lots of big game. The close meerkat encounters, the archaeology (yes, really!) and the odd surprise were the highlights for us, and it contrasts strongly with Botswana’s lush Okavango – so can really add to a trip. That said, Jack’s is expensive, as are the transfer flights to reach it, so many question its value. Given how unique it is, we find it an impossible question to answer.

Geographics

Location: Kalahari's Salt Pans, Botswana

Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a three-night stay; two nights really is too short, and four would, we think, probably be too long unless you’re planning to factor in time on whole-day expeditions out of camp, such as visiting Sua Pan.

Directions: Jack’s Camp is a 50-minute flight by light aircraft from Maun, followed by a 4WD transfer to camp of roughly 15 minutes. Alternatively it’s approximately four hours’ drive from Maun, with the last part of the journey requiring a 4WD. Note that getting there by road doesn’t end up being a cheaper option, even if you’ve got a hired car!

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Uncharted Africa and Natural Selection

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Particularly given its remote location, we’ve typically been very impressed with the excellent quality, variety and presentation of food at Jack’s Camp. With advance notice, dietary requirements and private dinners can be catered for.

On our most recent visit to Jack’s Camp, in September 2016, we began each day with a breakfast buffet of cereals, yoghurt and fruit salad; tea and coffee, plus bacon and eggs cooked to order, along with sautéed spinach served with red and yellow bell peppers.

For lunch we were served delicious Moroccan kebabs with lentils, accompanied by home-made bread. On our second day, we enjoyed simple, but tasty sandwiches of roast beef, turkey, or cucumber.

Afternoon tea is a selection of savoury and sweet treats. We were offered cheese quiche, vegetable kebabs with a delightful Thai-style peanut sauce, cucumber sandwiches, and chocolate cupcakes.

Nibbles before each dinner comprised cheese triangles with dipping sauce and vegetable samosas with a sweet chilli sauce.

For dinner our first night we enjoyed butternut soup to start; lamb shank with grilled spinach and potatoes for the main course; and sticky date pudding for dessert. On the second evening we tucked into carrot, orange, and ginger soup, followed by chicken curry with rice, potatoes, chutney and cucumber; and rounded off by a gooey chocolate pudding.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: There is a well-stocked bar from which all the drinks – bottled water, soft drinks, local beers, spirits and a selection of (generally) South African wines – are included in the rates. Special or exotic drinks can be ordered in with advance notice, at additional cost.

Special interests

Riding holidays: During the dry season guests at Jack’s Camp can roam across the vast Makgadikgadi salt pans by quadbike without damaging their fragile crust: it’s riding in Botswana, but perhaps not as you expected it! (Five-night horseback trips are run by its sister-camp: Camp Kalahari.)

See more ideas for Riding holidays in Botswana

Wildlife safaris: Visitors can get amazingly close to the habituated meerkats near Jack’s – and for many this is one of the most amazing wildlife safari experiences in Botswana. Otherwise wildlife densities here are low; only the lucky may glimpse a black-maned lion or a brown hyena.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in Botswana

Children

Attitude towards children: In principle, children of all ages are welcome at Jack’s Camp. However, families with children aged under eight are required to book a private guide and vehicle at substantial additional cost. There is no family tent at Jack’s Camp, and so parents with younger children must share a tent with each child (one parent and one child per tent).

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: None

Equipment: Camp staff are happy to provide childminding services on request, though they are not qualified in child care. Activities that are popular with children, such as visiting the meerkats, can be repeated on request. There is a kids’ menu available and meals can be served earlier if required.

Notes: Lion, leopard and other potentially dangerous animals can and do sometimes pass through the unfenced camp, so children should always be closely supervised by their parents.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Generator

Power supply notes: The generator is on at set times during the day, usually from 7.00am to 5.00pm.

Communications: There is no internet, telephone or cellphone coverage at Jack’s Camp. There is a satellite phone and VHF radio to contact Maun in the case of an emergency.

TV & radio: None

Water supply: Borehole

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: Guides carry field kits in their vehicles and a comprehensive trauma first-aid kit is kept at the camp. Both camp managers and guides are first-aid trained. Medical evacuation to Maun can be arranged in case of an emergency.

Quadbike warning: with an abundance of caution, we feel that it's important to let prospective visitors know that no safety helmets are provided for any quadbike activities here, either at Jack’s Camp or at its sister camps, San Camp or Camp Kalahari.

We understand that the camps have operated quadbikes regularly here since 1992, and that at time of writing (October 2016) there has never been a serious accident. The camp’s team comments that they regard this activity to be safe even without helmets, especially as they generally keep to specific tracks and don't speed; and that the area is largely flat and free of other traffic. We're not aware of any of our travellers having any problems over the years, and all of our team members who have visited have enjoyed quadbiking activities without any problems or concerns.

If you are concerned about the safety aspects of this activity, please tell us very clearly and specifically in writing, before you travel, and request that we confirm to you in writing that we have arranged for you to be driven across the pans in a vehicle instead of using a quadbike. If you leave this decision until you're at camp, and then elect not to do the quadbike activity, alternative arrangements may not be possible, although, of course, you could always relax around the camp and swimming pool instead. (Sadly, refunds aren't possible if you choose to miss activities like this at a camp.)

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: In case of potentially dangerous wildlife passing through this unfenced lodge, guests are escorted to their tents after dark. An alarm is provided in each tent to summon attention in case of an emergency.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in each tent, in the common areas and in each safari vehicle.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: A laundry service is included – excluding underwear for which washing liquid is provided in each tent.

Money: The camp does not offer any money-exchange facilities. There is a safe in the camp office that guests are welcome to use, but there are no safes in the tents.

Accepted payment on location: MasterCard and Visa credit cards are accepted; Amex and Diners are not. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswana pula.

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