If you’re after more than soft sheets and a great bottle of wine when you travel (and trust us, we love both of those too), and you’re looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind Out of Africa experience above all else, look no further than a trip to Botswana’s desert camps.
Below we’ve selected four camps that take you to where the wild things are. They are full of soul and character, romance and nostalgia, and aims to provide guests with unique and exceptional safari experiences while also being a part of the conservation solution for Africa’s wildlife.
We wouldn’t be surprised if you’d heard the name ‘Jack’s Camp’ before, for it truly is one of the most legendary and iconic camps in Southern Africa. The legacy of the colonial explorers of Africa lives on at Jack’s Camp: a unique encampment that combines the gracious living of the past and the high-speed thrill of modern quad bikes with the natural splendour of the endless Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana.
The camp sits in a striking spot on the edge of the Pans, gazing over the glittering salt pans and shimmering expanses of sun-scorched earth. It’s an oasis of style and old-world glamour in a landscape of savage beauty.
The camp, with its quirky, Forties-style interiors, decadent furnishings, and sleek swimming pool pavilion is far more elegant and enchanting than you would ever imagine in such a remote landscape. And then, there’s the activities. If walking with San bushmen, getting up close and personal to a group of wild meerkats, and game drives in search of intriguing desert-adapted species don’t set your heart racing, we’re not sure what will!
The Makgadigadi Pans, which were once a pre-historic lake roughly the size of Switzerland, are today among the largest salt flats in the world. Despite being both remote and unforgiving, the area teems with life: genets, Cape hares, honey badgers, brown hyena, Kalahari lions and porcupines can all be spotted. Jack’s Camp has a family of habituated meerkats who enjoy interacting with humans.
If it’s utter romance you’re after, look no further than San Camp in Botswana’s Kalahari. Imagine a smattering of billowing white tents, shaded by desert palms and surrounded by a thousand acres of the shimmering, sparkling nothingness of Nwetwe Pan, in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi region.
San Camp is a seven-bedroom camp where the magic is in the minimalism, both at the camp and in the mysterious desert landscape. Here it’s just you and the wildlife, and a handful of local San Bushmen, waiting to share their secrets with you.
Of all the Makgadikgadi pans, we think Nwetwe is the most iconic. Meerkats pop up from the desert dust, brown hyaena hide in the grass, and you’ll see red hartebeest, springbok and gemsbok scurrying between them. But San Camp isn’t just about wildlife-watching – it’s also about the experience, atmosphere and the other-worldly surroundings.
The resident guides at San Camp are superlative and focus on species unique to the area such as gemsbok, brown hyena and springbok as well as the geology, archaeology and anthropology of the Kalahari and Makgadikgadi Pans. Explore the area on quad bikes, 4X4 game drives, or on foot where the chances are good that you’ll meet meerkats along the way – these feisty characters have a tendency to climb on visitors to use them as lookout points.
Meno a Kwena
The safari never stops at Meno a Kwena, a hidden gem of a camp perched on a rocky clifftop above the Boteti River in Botswana. The eco-friendly and intimate safari camp is set at the confluence of two contrasting but equally beautiful of Botswana’s worlds – the lush Okavango Delta and the rugged Kalahari Desert. This diverse landscape means that you’ll see a much greater variety of wildlife than you might find in either one of the two ecosystems alone, so expect savannah animals like cheetah and wild dog, as well as desert specialists like meerkat and the regal black-maned Kalahari lion.
Family-friendly and with a glittering array of activities, including day trips to the Makgadikgadi Pans, guided walks with the San bushmen, and wildlife-watching boat trips, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. But sometimes, the best game viewing is where you least expect it, and at Meno, it’s often right from your tent. From their lofty position, the ten tents look down on a plethora of animals at the water below, from herds of majestic elephant, to dazzles of nomadic zebra – all you need to do is sit back, and take it all in.
At just 90 minutes by road from Maun, Meno is a good option if you’re travelling as a group, or with little ones. The camp was originally used by Southern Africa’s legendary explorers, and it’s refreshingly and stylishly simple.
Daily safari activities take you into the heart of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, where masses of zebra arrive to enjoy fresh grazing after the summer rains in December and January. The Kalahari springs to life and if the rains are especially good then the region’s vast salt pans fill up and attract myriad bird life including flamingos, waders and wild fowls. Dry season – from about May to August – is equally thrilling as big game are easily found close to water sources.
The relaxed little sister of Jack’s and San Camp, Camp Kalahari is an understated and affordable base in the heart of the great Kalahari. Set amongst the waving palms and acacia trees of Brown Hyaena Island, the 12 Meru tents are perfect for families, groups and couples, and are an ideal base for discovering the charms of the desert and the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, a landscape that is as surreal as it is sublime, and as mysterious as it is magical.
And if you’re looking for adventure, then look no further! There’s never a dull moment at Camp Kalahari, whether it’s the wet or dry season. The summer rains trigger a local zebra and wildebeest migration as well as amazing bird watching – keep your eyes peeled for flamingos. The dry winter season offers comfortable conditions and great game viewing as well as adventure activities – take an exhilarating quad bike ride across the Makgadikgadi Pans and soak up the vastness of the Kalahari Desert.
Go for a day, and you’ll be wowed by the landscape and the people; stay for a few days and you might never want to leave.