Littered with fossils and Stone Age artifacts, Botswana’s Makgadikgadi salt pans are the remains of an ancient super-lake—a salt-encrusted expanse covering more than 6,200 square miles of the Kalahari Desert. Fifth-generation safari operator and naturalist Ralph Bousfield put the harsh yet hypnotically beautiful pans on the safari map 25 years ago when he opened Jack’s Camp, named for his father, who first set up camp here in the 1960s.
Marooned on a grassy island on the edge of the pans, it’s still the only safari operation for almost 100 miles. Over the years, royalty and rock stars have been humbled by the landscape and enchanted by the 1940s campaign-style furniture, Bousfield family heirlooms, and Persian-carpeted Rajasthani tents.
In May 2020, Jack’s will celebrate its 25th anniversary with the reopening of a smarter, greener version of the original camp, run exclusively on Tesla solar power. (During the seven-month renovation, a temporary camp was set up nearby for guests.
) The new Jack’s will still have only 10 tents, but they’ll be double the size at 1,400 square feet. While the romantic interiors will remain, each tent now has Wi-Fi, a plunge pool, a wood-burning stove, an indoor-outdoor shower, and solar-powered lighting and air-conditioning.
Despite the souped-up amenities, it’s the twice-daily guided excursions that will continue to thrill guests the most.
In the dry winter season, zoom across the pans on quad bikes or camp under the stars near boulder-covered Kubu Island. In the rainy summer months, lush grasses are a magnet for migrating zebras and flamingos.
Instead of the Big Five, meerkat interactions and brown hyena sightings are prized here. The guides are experts in zoology, botany, and paleontology, and you can learn about the bushmen’s ancient survival skills by walking through the veld with the resident clan.
Elsewhere, the opening of the luxe Xigera Safari Lodge (Red Carnation’s safari flagship) in the Okavango Delta and the upgrade of DumaTau in the Linyanti region by Wilderness Safaris will further boost Botswana’s reputation for having the most sustainable, sophisticated camps in southern Africa. —Jane Broughton