A Restorative Safari at Jao Camp


Megon Venter


While Jao Camp offers guests a myriad of serene experiences, the wonders already begin before you touch the ground. Flying over the floodplains of the Okavango Delta, you are overcome by a sense of calm as elephant wade through deep blue channels and red lechwe dot the landscape in their thousands.

Now in the dry winter season, Botswana has experienced plenty of rain over the last few months, resulting in a lot of greenery remaining around the camp. This is the most astounding sight when you step off the vehicle and look up at the maze of wooden walkways, shrouded by palm leaves. The warm smiles and greetings from the Jao staff are the cherry on top as they welcome you to this leafy haven.

There is something otherworldly about the way that Jao Camp has been created, with high ceilings and natural materials that drape to blend in with the wilderness. Owner Cathy Kays tells us that when the camp was first envisioned, there was an extensive mapping process to ensure that every tree on the land was accounted for. This is evident in the way that the walkways and buildings weave around the trees, and not the other way around.

180-Degree Views

Once inside the main camp area, a refreshing drink is served alongside 180-degree views of the floodplain in front of the camp. We are assured that there is no urgency to the day as meals are served to suit guests’ schedules, and activities are boundless in such rich surrounds. With the day open to adventure, we opt to settle into our rooms, the chatter of birds following along the walkways.

The two villas and four suites are designed with the wilderness in mind. No matter where you stand, there is birdsong or the thunder of red lechwe splashing through the floodplain, and greenery swaying along to the rhythm. In this space alone there is so much room to meditate on the sightings witnessed on your journey; from coffee in your reading nook to a surprise champagne breakfast, served on the swing bed that hangs from your deck. Out on the deck, a plunge pool faces views of the floodplain with birds and impala your only visitors, and inside, a lily-inspired bath is available for those cooler evenings.

Time for Reflection

Every part of the camp is designed to be your own private space with hidden nooks and two fireside circles that overlook the trees or the floodplain respectively. However, one of the most unique features of the camp must be the bird’s nest pool that sits at the end of a walkway bridge. Imitating the woven texture of a nest, the white dome sits on the floodplain, enclosing a circular pool area. Spend however long you like here, absorbing the last rays of the day or floating amongst the lilies before lunch.

Then of course, there is the Jao spa where more immersive therapy takes place. Split between two treatment rooms and a reception area, the spa incorporates nature into every experience. Walking inside requires stepping over stones laid in a lily pond that circles around the treatment room. Sunlight streams in from every direction, giving the room a glow. Your spa therapist is expert at creating a warm atmosphere that is sure to reinvigorate you, just in time for another life-changing wildlife encounter in the Jao Reserve.

A Rich History

One of the most treasured spaces in the camp is the gallery and wine cellar, hidden behind a nondescript door. A giraffe skeleton towers in the center of the double-volume room, just one of the many artifacts housed here. The Kays family is fifth-generation Batswana and has lovingly curated a history of their family’s journey, which lines the walls of the gallery. Read their own accounts, as well as newspaper articles detailing their conservation work, and the history of the Okavango Delta that has been loved by their family for hundreds of years.

After you’ve inspected the various birding, mammal, and reptile guides, sit down for a wine tasting; the kind found only at Jao Camp. A glass-enclosed cellar at the far end of the gallery holds some of the family’s favourite vintages. As if at a private museum showing, you have the space to curl up with a book and a glass of wine, or journal about your adventures at the safari-style desk, just as travellers have done for hundreds of years.

Our hearts break a little as our Jao exploration comes to an end. There is something intrinsically peaceful about Jao Camp, with its ability to restore a sense of oneself in relation to nature. Balancing the remoteness of the Delta with the comforts of a carefully composed safari lodge, this is one of Africa’s best places to reflect on the majesty of the wilderness.

Let’s plan your next journey


When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.