Renowned safari journalist and expert Lisa Grainger recommends her favourite African camps, from savannahs teeming with Big Five, to star-lit desert wildernesses.
Recommended place to stay:
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Kalahari Desert, Botswana|naturalselection.travel|
Official star rating:
Jack’s Camp is the most glamorous desert camp in Africa, offering colonial-style luxuries in the middle of a 4,000sq km private concession.
Safaris here are not about the Big Five, but rather the vast, extraordinary desert landscapes; experiences include tracking the enormous black-maned lion, sitting with meerkat, and desert quad-biking.
Once the bed of Africa’s biggest lake, the area is now littered with Stone Age tools – so its geology and archaeology is as fascinating as its fauna and flora.
Tents are spacious, furnished with antiques and four-poster beds, are upholstered in rich desert colours; they’re set far apart and overlook the Makgadikgadi Pans. Bathrooms have both an indoor and outdoor shower and handmade WC disguised as an armchair.
Food here is extremely good. Extra treats include a tea tent, floored with Persian carpets and cushions; delicious sweet and savoury treats for tea; and a tea tray delivered right to your bed in the morning.
You have to like desert landscapes: the camp looks out over golden savannah grass, and salt pans, but not much else. It’s splendid isolation, and space so vast you can see the Earth’s curvature.
Game & game viewing
This isn’t a place to see the Big Five, other than the desert lion; game viewing is about appreciating the environment. However, Jack’s offers compelling desert fauna – including black-maned desert lion, brown hyena, ostrich, families of habituated meercat, and at night, aardvark and the rare aardwolf.
In the desert, everything happens at night. You need three days at least to go to a Bushman walk (and if you’re lucky to time it right, a Bushman trans-dance), take in the stars over dinner (lamplight dinners can be arranged in the desert), and go out on a nocturnal game safari.
Zu’hoasi bushmen take guests for guided walks into the desert to learn about medicinal use of plants, firemaking and animal-trapping. Jack’s employs guides to sit with meercat colonies so they’re habituated. Guests can sit with them, follow them hunting, and be photographed with them sitting on their heads.
There’s quad-biking, which is great fun. It’s the easiest place to learn, with no roads, no other cars, and just a desert to explore. Trips last about 3 hours, but adventures up to a week-long can be arranged.
For quad biking and walking, go from April to October when the salt pans are dry. Twitchers should visit from November to March when the salt pans are flooded – and teeming with birdlife.
Taking the kids
Children of all ages are welcome, but families with kids under 10 are required to book a private game vehicle. Children can interact with Bushman families in the local village and learn games.
The meercat visits are always a favourite with children, as the creatures can sometimes be tempted onto their heads!
It’s a one-hour flight from Maun (which is a two-hour international flight from Johannesburg). They’ll pick you up from the airport.
Food & drink
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