Desert Dreaming


By Richard Holmes

As the roar of the Cessna Grand Caravan winging its way back to Maun faded into the distance, the void was filled by the perfect silence that only a desert can bring. We’d been delivered to the fringes of the Makgadikgadi Pans of central Botswana, and I couldn’t have been happier. Because appearing through the shimmering heat haze, as if little more than a mirage, I could clearly make out the scalloped canvas roofs and waving palm trees that marked our desert hideaway for the next few days: Jack’s Camp. For more than 30 years, this luxury tented camp has been an icon in the world of African safaris; an outpost of opulence and glamour in one of the most remote locations in Southern Africa. A place where extra-large suites offer inimitable style and indulgent amounts of personal space – not to mention private plunge pools (in the desert!) and expansive decks gazing out across the Pans.

In the main ‘mess’ tent, the communal dining table is laid with crystal and silver each evening, while the lounge of wingback chairs and deep-buttoned couches segues through canvas doorways to a billiards room with a well-stocked bar. Afternoon tea before your evening drive? Kick off your shoes and take a seat in the Bedouin-style tea tent, if you please. From the leather-and-wood campaignstyle furniture – much of which is handcrafted in Botswana – to the abundance of burnished brass and plush furnishings, it all combines to create a sense of vintage safari glamour.

An aesthetic that revels in an ethos of more is more without ever lapsing into pastiche. It’s all the creation of Ralph Bousfield, who established Jack’s in 1992 and named it in honour of his father. Jack Bousfield was a swashbuckling crocodilehunter-turned-safari-pioneer, a visionary who saw the potential for photographic tourism in the region and pitched his rustic tents in this enigmatic corner of the Makgadikgadi. Today Jack’s Camp enjoys traversing rights over a staggering 4 000-square-kilometre private concession, and with just nine tents hosting around 18 guests at a time, you’ll never feel crowded. And yet Ralph is nothing if not a savvy safari operator. As a guide, he’s rubbed shoulders with royalty and celebrities, and as a lodge owner, he knows exactly how they prize privacy above almost everything else.

Cue the opening in April 2024 of Jack’s Private Camp – an exclusive-use undercanvas villa tailored for small groups, families, and multi-generational travellers. And, perhaps, those seeking a safari holiday away from the limelight. Though Jack’s Private Camp is set just a short walk from the main lodge, it feels delightfully remote, gazing out across a shallow pan that will fill with rain and flamingos in the wet summer months. Happily, it’s also within the unobtrusive ring of electric fencing that (mostly) keeps elephants and big cats from wandering through camp.

You’ll find a standalone villa, with a spacious central lounge and dining area flanked by a pair of bedroom suites, with space for additional children’s beds if needed. The bedrooms give onto en-suite bathrooms that offer trademark levels of indulgence, whether it’s the siren song of the shimmering brass bathtub or the glorious outdoor bathroom. While the focus is on offering new levels of privacy and exclusivity, Private Camp shares the same aesthetic as the much loved original, with splashes of colour from North African rugs and luxurious hand-woven African textiles. The lounge – featuring Jack’s’ signature ‘cabinet of curiosities’ filled with natural history relics – leads out to a wide pool deck, where sun-drenched loungers offer the perfect excuse to while away your afternoon.

If Jack’s Camp offers decadent amounts of space, Private Camp is all about the abundance of time. Time to connect with friends and family. Time to linger over meals around the convivial dinner table prepared by your private chef to your individual dietary requirements. And, perhaps most importantly, time to make lifetime memories together out in the Makgadikgadi. The Camp has a dedicated 4×4 vehicle and guide, allowing guests to dictate the pace of each day. Those hours can be filled with game drives and sunset saunters, meerkat experiences, horseback safaris, or quad-biking adventures. Say the word and the skilled guides, trained by Bousfield himself, will make it happen. The landscapes surrounding Jack’s Private Camp are nothing short of remarkable.

While the Makgadikgadi appears bone dry for much of the year, it was once a lake fed by the rivers that flowed out of Angola and Zambia. It’s a history best discovered over sundowners out on the Pans. When the summer rains give life to a fleeting abundance of grass, this corner of the Makgadikgadi plays host to the world’s second-largest migration of zebra and wildebeest, drawn here from as far afield as the Okavango Delta and Chobe River by the promise of rain and fresh grazing. Flamingos also nest in their thousands, while jackals, cheetah, and black-maned Kalahari lions prowl the fringes seeking easy prey. When the rain dries up and the grass disappears, the mysterious Makgadikgadi Pans return to their ephemeral shimmer. It’s an otherworldly corner of Africa that’s now home to an utterly unique destination to call your own.


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