Jack's Camp is built on the edge of an island overlooking the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Jack's Camp: Our full report
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 for the experience that it aims to offer: “Give them what they never knew they wanted."
Desert-adapted wildlife that may be seen here year round include ostrich, springbok, steenbok, black-backed jackal and nocturnal creatures such as brown hyena, aardwolf, porcupine, bat-eared fox, honey badger and scrub hare. Kalahari lion, cheetah and leopard also roam this area and though they are more elusive to find they are spotted occasionally. On our most recent visit to Jack’s Camp, in June 2012, we were lucky enough to see two Kalahari black-maned lions pursuing a lioness and her cub. 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, it provides 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, 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 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.
- Nature drives in and around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, sometimes including notable sites like Chapman’s Baobab;
- Spotlit night drives on the return to camp in the evenings;
- Informative nature walks, concentrating on the plants and smaller animals. These are usually lead by Bushmen trackers, and translated by your guide; these are interesting, though as an interaction with any form of Bushman culture – they’re usually very superficial;
- Visits to a habituated meerkat colony, which will ofer give visitors a very, very close encounter with these cute little foragers;
- Visits to sites of archaeological interest, including areas with Stone-Age implements can be found.
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.
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 the 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 who opt to come here, do so for no less than three nights. This generally gives guests 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 viewJack’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 archeology (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 and its sister camps are, we find it an impossible question to answer.
Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend that if you’re coming to Jack’s Camp, then you come for 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.
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 Jack’s is 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: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Uncharted Africa
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 June 2012, we began each day with a breakfast buffet of cereals, yoghurt and fruit salad; tea and coffee, plus bacon and eggs cooked to order.
For lunch we were served delicious Moroccan kebabs with lentils, accompanied by home-made bread.
Afternoon tea is a selection of savoury and sweet treats. We were served mini sandwiches, parmesan cheese biscuits and a range of extravagant sweet biscuits one day, and sponge cake and mini savoury balls the next day.
Nibbles before each dinner comprised cheese triangles with dipping sauce and vegetable samosas with sweet chilli sauce.
For dinner the first night we enjoyed butternut soup to start; sirloin steak in red wine jus with fresh asparagus and potato wedges for the main; and an excellent chocolate tart for dessert. On the second night we had carrot, orange, ginger and coriander soup, followed by butter chicken curry with ginger and garlic paste, yoghurt, raita, home-made mango chutney, mint sambal and poppadoms. This was rounded off by lemon cream and shortbread cookies.
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 are included in the price (bottled water, soft drinks, local beers, spirits and a selection of (generally) South African wines). Any special or exotic drink requests can be ordered in with advance notice, at additional cost.
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).
Equipment: Camp staff are happy to provide child-minding services on request, though they are not qualified child-carers. Activities which 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.
Generally recommended for children: We would recommend Jack’s Camp for families with children aged eight and over. Families with younger children may prefer to consider Camp Kalahari where there is no requirement to book private activities at additional cost.
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.
Power supply: Generator
Power supply notes: The generator is on at set times during the day, usually from 7am to 5pm.
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.
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. Please note that it is only possible to fly out of camp during daylight hours as the bush airstrips do not have any lighting at night.
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 (August 2012) 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 there 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; 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 choose that you don't want to do this quadbike activity, then alternative arrangements may not be possible. Although, of course, you can always omit this activity, and relax around the camp and swimming pool instead! (Sadly, refunds aren't possible if you choose to miss activities like this at a camp.)
As with any activity, please check the details of your travel insurance to ensure that you are fully covered in the case of quad-biking accident. Be aware that some insurances will provide cover for bikes up to a certain engine power, but not beyond - so you need to check such clauses particularly carefully.
Dangerous animals: High Risk
Security measures: In case of potentially dangerous wildlife passing through this unfenced lodge, guests are escorted to their rooms after dark. An alarm is provided in each room for use in case of an emergency.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in each tent, in the common areas and in each safari vehicle.
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-exchanging facilities. There is a main safe in the camp office which 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 is not. Cash payments may be made in GB pounds, US dollars, euros, South African rand and Botswanan pula.