Jacana Camp was the first of four stops in the Okavango Delta during our recent photo safari in Botswana. Jacana is located in the 150,000-acre Jao Concession, in the northwestern part of the Delta, south of the panhandle. The camp is located on an island of trees in the midst of a large floodplain and papyrus swamps.
The main lodge is built above a large, raised deck with a fire pit and outdoor seating. Additional seating and a curio shop are located directly below the lodge. One level up is the bar and then the dining room with additional seating. The main lodge looks out over a broad plain that, though dry this time of year, fills with water in the wet season.
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Our tented room, which was described to us as the honeymoon suite, is built on a platform and connected to the main dining area by a raised walkway. It wasn’t exactly built in the treetops, but it sure felt that way; in fact, it felt very much like a treehouse — a very comfortable treehouse.
One of the best things about our tented room was that it let in the sounds around us. Birdsong in the early morning and during the day were magical. And night sounds in Africa are something I always look forward to; we heard lions and hyena almost every night.
Four other tented rooms are built among the trees around the other side of the main lodge. Each has a different view of the floodplain and is well separated from other tents by dense vegetation.
Our wakeup call came at 5:30 every morning with a tap, tap, tap and call of, “Good morning!” Breakfast was served at 6 along with a spectacular sunrise; our reward for rising early. By 6:30 we departed for the morning game drive and generally stopped for coffee and a biscuit midway before returning for lunch by 11:30. High tea was served at 4 pm and we departed for the evening game drive after that. Our guide, Gora, always found a beautiful spot before sunset to enjoy the view and a gin & tonic. We always look forward to sundowners when in Africa for both the view and the sounds of the wild, even if its only silence. We were generally back in camp by 7 pm or so with time to relax before dinner.
One day we were treated to lunch on a sandy beach alongside a channel near camp. It was a warm afternoon and the lunch and wine were delicious. We so appreciate the experience.
Two evenings we enjoyed dinner outside. We returned from our mokoro sundowner (see below) before dark and were surprised with dinner on the deck followed by time sitting around the campfire. It was the perfect end to an enjoyable day. On another evening we returned to camp after dark to find our table set beside the pool. Everything was perfect.
Every day took us in a different direction and we never knew what we might see. The landscape changes significantly throughout the concession and all of it is beautiful.
In spite of the low water, we were able to take a mokoro tour through a water channel directly from camp. Gora took the lead mokoro, with the ingredients for our gin & tonic sundowners. Peter and I followed in a second mokoro with B.I.G., a guide who grew up using a mokoro to cross a river to get to school. Mokoro races are common at the New Year where B.I.G. grew up, and he was a champion for many years.
We had many very memorable animal sightings. For the first time we saw lions do more than just sleep.
We saw many red lechwe, antelopes that are specialists of swamplands and wetlands. They have a awkward gait on dry land, sturdy legs and very large hooves, but are very nimble in water. Tsessebe are larger antelopes, also somewhat awkward looking, that prefer grassland, open plains and wooded savannas. In contrast, impala are delicate and fine boned, more like ballet dancers, and frequent drier savannas and light woodlands.
I’m always thrilled to see giraffe and elephants even if we don’t see them up close. Happily we saw both.
As you might expect the channels and swamps home to many birds, big and small. All of them were fun to watch and a challenge to photograph.
Hippos are fairly numerous, and amusing to watch. A highlight of our game viewing came on our last morning in Jacana: a newborn hippo. Mother and newborn were in a small channel separated from the rest of the pod, as is usual when hippos give birth.
Open plains are also home to some beautiful birds, among them the lilac-breasted roller. We watched several catching insects. Dung beetles seem to be a favorite meal and it takes the roller several tosses of the insect to crush it and eat it.
We visited during the month of October because the weather is generally very warm, though we seemed to bring a break in the hot weather to each camp we visited. Days were mostly warm and breezy, but some mornings were very chilly and we needed an extra blanket on our bed.
Some parts of the Delta are permanently flooded and others only flood on a seasonal basis. Water levels are generally the highest in July. October is also a great time to visit because waterholes surrounding the Delta begin to dry up and force wildlife into the Delta for water, making for better game viewing.
We were the only guests at Jacana Camp for our entire stay. It was a very personal visit I can’t imagine we will ever have the opportunity to duplicate. Beyond the sounds of nature, the only other sound we heard was the periodic laughter of camp staff; I attribute that to Abu, the camp manager, who has a delightful sense of humor. Jacana was a happy camp and we felt very welcome.
Daily game drives were unhurried and we were able to spend significant time just watching animals, enjoying the landscape and listening. This was in part because we were the only guests in the safari vehicle. It was our first time essentially having a private guide and we enjoyed it tremendously.
Jacana Camp is a Wilderness Safaris camp. We have always found Wilderness camps to be comfortable and well managed with an emphasis on sustainability. As you might expect, the COVID pandemic has financially impacted the company and camp staff. Some camps remain closed temporarily as travelers are just beginning to return to Africa. And camp staff were home without income for more than a year. Tourism is essential for many people in the region and helps safeguard the wild animals.
This was a trip deferred from 2020 due to the pandemic, but it was worth the wait. We booked our trip through Expert Africa who worked patiently with us for over two years of planning and re-planning. Our trip went off without a hitch.
Our next stop in the Okavango Delta was Little Vumbura. Stay tuned.