Makgadikgadi Pans, Ntetwe Pan Private Concession
Romance in the Kalahari
Imagine a smattering of billowing white tents, shaded by desert palms and surrounded by a thousand acres of shimmering, sparkling nothingness. You’ve just dreamt up San Camp, our impossibly romantic, seven-bedroom camp on the edge of the Nwetwe Pan in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi. San isn’t a place for frills and fluffiness. The magic is in the minimalism, both at the camp and in the mysterious desert landscape. You can forget the tourist crowds and over-stuffed 4x4s too; it’s just you, the wildlife, and a handful of local San Bushmen, waiting to share their secrets with you.
Of all the Makgadikgadi pans, we think Nwetwe is the most iconic. Meerkats pop up from the desert dust, brown hyaena hide in the grass, and you’ll see red hartebeest, springbok and gemsbok scurrying between them. But San Camp isn’t just about wildlife-watching – it’s about the atmosphere and the ethereal surroundings. Disappear into a remote world, a million miles from glowing screens and fruit-themed devices, where the 360-degree panoramas are so vast, you can see the curvature of the earth…
We’ve already mentioned those beautiful, billowing tents, but what’s in store inside the canvas walls? Think enormous four-posters, draped in crisp cotton and feather-soft blankets, raised high above Persian rugs. Mahogany writing desks and leather armchairs contrast the rugged surroundings, and there’s a lazy day bed just outside, perfect for an afternoon of view-gazing. Ensuite bathrooms have hot, running water showers and flush loos, and there’s plenty of water in the elegant copper jugs and basins. The entire camp runs on solar-power and when darkness falls, you’ll find lanterns scattered around to light the way.
At the main area, the open-sided pavilions are bright and breezy – and let that view do the talking! Gather in the splendid mess tent for a three-course feast, accompanied by white linen and crystal glasses, or sink into a cushion in the tea tent and treat yourself to one of the best brownies in the desert. If you can drag your eyes away from the surroundings, take a peek at our natural history cabinets with their eclectic collections of old maps, fossils and artefacts, and then, it’s time to let your mind unwind in the sanctuary of the yoga pavilion. We couldn’t think of a better place to end the day.
San Camp is seasonal, and operates during Botswana’s dry season from mid-April to mid-October. These months are the only time that the Nwetwe Pan is accessible. When the rains begin to fall, the pans morph in to a totally different place, and although they are magnificent to look at, the rain makes for rather a dangerous adventure! If you would like to travel during the green season (November to March), consider Jack’s Camp, a year-round property also on the Makgadikgadi Pans.
Nwetwe Pan changes softly and subtly as the dry season rolls on. Pools evaporate, whiteness dominates, and the baobabs seem even more striking. The predictable weather allows us to offer our activities on an unpredictable land, and you can quad bike across the lunar-like expanse, meet the meerkats, interact with a group of Zu/’hoasi Bushmen, and lie out on the pans and count the stars from horizon to horizon. As the land becomes drier, the permanent water sources and waterholes around San Camp are an important refuge for wildlife and although it can seem like a landscape of nothingness, the wildlife is never far away.
The real allure of San Camp is in its minimalism, and this extends to the surroundings. San sits at the edge of the mysterious Makgadikgadi Salt Pans (overlooking Nwetwe Pan to be precise), in the heart of the Kalahari Desert and adjoining the Makgadikgadi National Park. The pans were once a super lake covering most of Botswana, and they shimmer seemingly never-ending all the way to the horizon, interrupted only by scattering of desert palms and baobabs. The beautiful nothingness brings with it a cathartic sense of silence, and there is truly nowhere on earth like this magical corner of Botswana.
San Camp’s great appeal is the nothingness, but that certainly doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see. You’ll find wildebeest and zebra roaming in straggled herds, standing out like sore thumbs against the pristine whiteness of the earth, and ostrich bobbing on the horizon. Stay for a few days and there’s a good chance of spotting lion and elephant on a game drive, and even brown hyena, one of the continent’s most rare and elusive mammals that’s pretty much impossible to see anywhere else. If you’re looking to tick a few species off your bird list, then sharpen your pencil for the pan is home to Kori bustards and northern black korhaan, chestnut-backed finch larks and capped wheatears. And we couldn’t talk about the Makgadikgadi without mention of our meerkats. We’ve worked with researchers to habituate a whole mob of them, and the cheeky fellows aren’t afraid to come and find out exactly who you are.
A long time ago, there was a dream to create an oasis of civilisation in one of the world’s most bizarre landscapes. The dream wasn’t about conquering or taming, but rather about finding a way to connect with the pans. Memories should come from the excesses of nature, not from modern frills and furnishings. And, most importantly, the beautifully austere desert setting should be left just the way it was. The result of this dream? San Camp: the embodiment of timeless elegance and romantic style, and an uninterrupted window onto the shimmering pans.
San Camp wouldn’t (couldn’t!) have happened without the knowledge passed down by the local Zu/’hoasi Bushmen. Now part of the family at San, the bushmen will take you into the wild for a morning of culture, history and insight. And who could forget the wildlife. Without disturbing the ecosystems, we’ve constructed artificial waterholes for our four-legged companions (the water comes from below the pans, we’ve just helped it emerge). Nothing is permanent and the camp can be completely dismantled, leaving Nwetwe almost exactly as it was before we arrived.
Natural Selection Safaris
Seasonal Tented Camp
Max. clients in vehicle
Game Drives, Meerkat Visits, Village Visit, Traditional Lunch, Baobab Walk, Quad Biking, Overnight Pan Sleepouts, Horse Safaris