San Camp

San Camp: Our full report

Rooms
6 Tented Rooms
Traveller's rating
Excellent (100%) From 8 reviews
Children
Best for aged 12+
Open
April to mid-October

San Camp is a strikingly beautiful tented camp with an Arabian Nights feel that seems well suited to its dramatic location on Botswana’s vast Makgadikgadi Pans. The camp is set on the edge of the Ntwetwe Pan, which covers an area about the size of Northern Island, and has spectacular views that stretch all the way to the horizon.

The Makgadikgadi Pans area is made up of a series of salt pans with sandy grasslands interspersed by palm-tree islands that are thought to have been created by elephants. It is a complete contrast from the landscapes of the Okavango Delta, and the wildlife is different too. Although the pans are not traditionally considered a game-viewing area, there is a surprising amount of wildlife around. Four artificial waterholes that were dug in 2014 have helped attract resident herds of zebra and wildebeest that are several hundred strong. Other hardy, desert-adapted wildlife that may be seen year round includes ostrich, black-backed jackal, African wildcat, bat-eared fox and playful meerkats. Some rare and elusive nocturnal creatures – brown hyena, aardvark and aardwolf – are also more easily spotted here than in the lusher areas of the Delta.

Big game is scarce, but elephant and lion are around and on average are seen every few months. On our two-night stay here in July 2016, we were extremely lucky to spot a cheetah – the last sighting of which was more than a year earlier!

The birdlife around the pans is a good contrast to the Delta too. The open grasslands are home to many typical Kalahari ground-nesting birds, such as the kori bustard, northern black korhaan, capped wheat-ear, chestnut-backed finch lark and ant-eating chat.

The environment around San Camp is similar to that around its sister camps – Jack's Camp and Camp Kalahari – as are the activities on offer, all with excellent guides. Despite these similarities, each of the three camps focuses on travellers with different budgets, with San Camp falling broadly into the middle of the three.

The tents that make up San Camp, including the central area, are, unusually, made from white canvas – a choice that complements the starkness of the environment. The main pavilion holds an elegant dining area along with a small museum housing an interesting collection of fossils, skeletons and tools found in the area, as well as old Africa maps. On one side of the dining area is a library and well-stocked bar, plus a charging station for electrical equipment. On the other side is a tea tent, which also serves as a lounge, its floor layered with oriental rugs and scattered with bright cushions. This central area is open sided and feels cool and breezy in the day, but at night heavy canvas curtains can be closed to keep out the chill.

A little distance from the main area is a tented yoga pavilion. Indeed this supremely remote and peaceful spot seems ideal for some yoga or meditation!

Behind the main area, San Camp’s six Meru-style tented rooms are nicely spaced out for privacy in a semicircle facing the shimmering Ntwetwe Pan. Four rooms are made up as twins and two as doubles. Inside, the rooms are furnished in a style that is faintly reminiscent of Edwardian times. The interior canvas walls are striped cream and pale green, the hardwood floor is covered with sisal matting, and the high four-poster beds are covered with rich paisley bedspreads. To the rear of each tent is an en-suite bathroom with a flushing commode-style toilet, a shower, and a brass sink set into a wooden vanity unit backed by a large mirror. In keeping with the feel of a bygone era, lighting is simple, using traditional old spirit lamps.

Activities at San Camp, as at its sister camps, aim to give an understanding of the area's geology, archaeology and anthropology, as well as an opportunity to observe its wildlife. Options include 4WD safaris in and around the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, often with spotlit night drives on the return to camp in the evenings. On our last visit we staked out a brown hyena den just before sunset, and waited patiently appreciating the absolute silence (and a glass of wine) for these shy creatures to emerge. We were duly rewarded when two hyenas streaked out in the semi-dark and loped off to start their nightly scavenging. This was a personal first! Other sightings included two elephant bulls, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, steenbok, striped ground squirrels, yellow mongoose and Cape hare.

The birdlife around the pans is a good contrast to the Delta too. The open grasslands are home to many typical Kalahari ground-nesting birds, such as the kori bustard, northern black korhan, capped wheat-ear, chestnut-backed finch lark and ant-eating chat.

Within reach of the three sister camps are four meerkat colonies that are semi-habituated to people so it’s possible to get very close to them. In fact, the meerkats generally ignore the presence of humans and carry on busying themselves with digging, playing and keeping watch for predators. If you visit in the afternoon, you may get a chance, as we did, to sit close to a burrow, and as the meerkats pop in and out scanning for danger while cleaning their night-time accommodation, you could be used as a convenient vantage point!

Another highlight for us on our recent trip was walking with the Bushmen, which provided many insights into their traditional way of life and use of the land. Typically, you will be accompanied by perhaps a dozen or so San villagers (men, women and children) on an exploratory walk in the bush. Interpreters amongst the group help explain what the various members discover and point out along the way – such as edible tubers, plants with a slew of medicinal and practical uses, numerous tracks, and how to dig up a scorpion! At some point in the walk, the group will stop, make fire in the traditional way, tell stories and demonstrate some traditional games. Our favourite was called lightning and steenbok – a complicated version of rock-paper-scissors. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience – it was both fun and eye opening.

During the dry season (generally late May to around October), it's also possible to do 4WD quadbikes trips to explore the surrounding saltpans without damaging their fragile crust. We ran out of time to try this activity on our last trip, but other team members have enthused about it in the past.
(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.)

Our view

San Camp's tasteful classic style may appeal to the traveller looking for a slightly romantic set-up. Equally, the intimate size of the camp may suit small groups or families with older children looking to get acquainted with this unique area. It offers a refined remote camping experience where you can expect to be graciously hosted, very well looked after, and to enjoy excellent guiding.

Geographics

Location: Kalahari's Salt Pans, Botswana

Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a stay of at least three nights at San Camp.

Directions: San Camp is a 50-minute flight by light aircraft from Maun to Tsigaro Airstrip, followed by a 4WD transfer to camp of roughly 20 minutes. Alternatively Can Camp 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: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: Uncharted Africa

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: When we last stayed at San Camp in July 2016, the food was superb – fresh, healthy and really delicious.

A light breakfast is served prior to the early-morning activity and consists of cereals, freshly baked muffins, a fresh fruit platter, and plain yoghurt. A cooked option is also available – and the chef does a mean omelette…

Brunch is usually a plated dish, served on returning from your first activity or a little later – generally between 11.00am and midday. We had an avocado and chicken stack with a small salad, sesame-seed tacos and peeled cherry tomatoes.

Afternoon tea is offered before the afternoon activity. We couldn't resist trying the delicate mini lemon meringue tarts and mini sandwiches; after all, they were so small – what harm could they do?!

Dinner is a plated meal enjoyed around a communal dining table. On one evening, to start we were treated to a tasty tomato bisque, followed by baked kingklip with caper-butter sauce served on creamy mashed potatoes with broccoli and butternut squash. The dessert of apple tarte tatin with cream was a perfect finish to a lovely meal.

Dining style: Group Meals

Dining locations: Indoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: Bottled water, soft drinks, local beers and spirits and a limited selection of (usually) South African red and white wines are included. Champagne and imported wines and spirits will cost extra and these may need to be requested in advance.

Special interests

Honeymoons: San Camp offers a hint of adventure, and the potential for a very special honeymoon in Botswana. Its romantic tents of billowing white canvas are spaced out on the edge of a vast saltpan, and the wide variety of activities include the option of sleeping out under the stars .

See more ideas for Honeymoons in Botswana

Riding holidays: Guests at San Camp have the chance to ride quadbikes out onto the vast Makgadikgadi Salt Pans and even to stay the evening on a 'sleep-out'. Expeditions of up to four days right to the centre of the pans are also possible.

See more ideas for Riding holidays in Botswana

Cultural experiences: Bushmen walks from San Camp offer a sensitive, authentic and really interesting experience in the bush. You'll learn about the vegetation, maybe dig up some roots and even taste some of them; it’s an excellent introduction to some of the traditional culture of Botswana.

See more ideas for Cultural experiences in Botswana

Luxury holidays: San Camp is an enchanting camp with magnificent views over the surrounding salt plains. There is superb attention to detail in the unusual Arabic design, and the refined quality of food, service and guiding is just what you’d expect on a deluxe safari holiday.

See more ideas for Luxury holidays in Botswana

Children

Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome at San Camp, but please take into account the restrictions below.

Property’s age restrictions: If travelling with children under the age of eight years, guests are required to book a private guide and vehicle (at extra cost). Children under the age of 12 years must share a tented room with an adult.

Special activities & services: There are no special activities or services for children at San Camp, but all reasonable special requests will be considered. One child under the age of 12 years may be accommodated on a bedroll in their parents’ room, but no more than this.

Equipment: There is no special equipment available for children.

Notes: San Camp is unfenced and dangerous wildlife – including lion and elephants – is known to move regularly through the area. Children must be under the constant supervision of their parents.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Solar Power

Communications: There is no mobile reception, no direct phone or fax and no email. Communication is maintained via radio between the camps and head office.

TV & radio: There is no television or radio.

Water supply: Borehole

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: The managers have first-aid training and there is a first-aid kit on site. The closest doctor is in Maun. In case of medical emergency, patients would be evacuated by air, but 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, either at San Camp or at its sister camps.

With an abundance of caution, we feel that it's important to let prospective visitors know that no safety helmets are provided for the quad-bike activity at San Camp. This camp, and its sister camps, advise us that they have been regularly operating quadbikes in this area since 1992, and at time of writing (July 2016) there has never been a serious accident here. The camp 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 as 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.

However, it is for each prospective guest to make up their own mind about the safety of quadbiking here without a helmet. If you aren't likely to be happy with the safety aspects of this activity, then please tell us in writing before you travel as, with advance notice, we can arrange for you to be driven across the pans in a vehicle instead. If you leave this decision until you're at camp, however, and then decide that you don't want to do this activity, such alternative arrangements may not be possible – although, of course, you could always omit this activity, and relax around the camp instead. (Sadly, refunds aren't possible if you choose to miss activities like this at camp.)

As with any activity, please check the details of your travel insurance to ensure that you are fully covered for quadbiking. Be aware, too, that some insurance policies 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: Moderate Risk

Security measures: Guests are escorted to and from their rooms after dark. There is a foghorn in each of the rooms to attract attention in case of emergency.

Fire safety: The rooms and the main area have fire extinguishers.

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Laundry is included but please bear in mind that water sources are particularly limited in this arid region.

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