Whispers of the Delta: An unparalleled Wilderness Jao Camp Experience

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Words by Yvonne C Mtengwa

When the opportunity arises for you to experience Wilderness; you take it expeditiously! My friend Taku and I had long talked about one day travelling together, whether a part of my many adventures traversing Africa or in celebration of a special occasion. The former took shape in brilliant form, with an invitation for two and my well acknowledging that I could use some much needed “girl time” bonding with one that’s dear to my heart.

The call to experience the great Okavango Delta, a jewel of Botswana which shimmers in the heart of Southern Africa had finally come. And so, you can imagine the elation when Taku was able to carve out time from her incredibly busy schedule navigating the echelons of high-profile corporate corridors somewhere in Zimbabwe’s capital, to join me for what would be a life transforming 7 days through Botswana’s most prolific destination.

We met at the check-in desk at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport for our flight into Maun. Clad in neutral colours, as one would knowing they were headed into safari territory, we bore infectious smiles and carried bags filled with jokes, excitement and carefully paired outfits we felt were well suited to match the mood of what we had watched from the video-itinerary earlier shared by the Wilderness team. A little under two hours later we touched down at Maun International Airport, cleared immigration and were immediately met by our dedicated Wilderness representative. Swiftly thereafter, we were whisked away to yet another check-in desk for the soon-to-depart Wilderness Air charter that would take us into the Okavango. Yes, Taku and I’s adventure had officially moved from our chats and coffee meets over the years to loading up and heading to our first stay on our circuit – the impeccable Wilderness Jao Camp.

A Flight for Goddesses

For the discerning traveller seeking a luxurious escape unlike any other, the Okavango Delta in Botswana beckons, and who better to discover this incredible display of biodiversity than with Wilderness. Our charter took us first above the desert-like grasslands, with shrubs dotting the sandy landscape below. It was only a few minutes later that our pilot heralded our entry into the skies above the Okavango Delta. This UNESCO World Heritage Site he would share, isn’t just another safari destination. It is a pristine wilderness teeming with life, woven into a tapestry of permanent waterways, lush floodplains, and shimmering desert sands.

Earning its UNESCO designation in 2014, the Delta is recognized for its unparalleled animal, bird and plant life. This rare “inland delta,” never actually reaches the ocean, but instead creates a unique ecosystem where water nourishes the desert sands seasonally, fostering a remarkable diversity of life of a recorded over 1,000 plant species, and a staggering 482 species of birds.

A vital refuge for a multitude of threatened species, the Okavango Delta is home to hippos, giraffes, a wide variety of antelope, African wild dogs, elephants, buffalos, cheetahs, lions and more; all finding sanctuary within its lush haven. Having carried out our research and upon reading through the Wilderness pamphlet that was availed to us upon boarding our charter, we were well primed and ready to witness the seemingly unending list of magnificent creatures thriving in their natural habitat.

Design that Whispers with the Wild

A short drive from the airstrip with our guide Paul, took us into Jao, where the warm smiles of a young and energetic team welcomed us into camp. My first impression was one of effortless harmony; harmony between the team, the camp and us, the newest arrivals onto the lodge grounds. Jao camp itself is a masterpiece of sustainable design. Thatched roofs, echoing the traditional aesthetic, blend seamlessly with canvas, brick, wood and glass walls that disappear into the surrounding landscape. Locally sourced materials and muted tones ensure the camp feels like an organic extension of the Delta, not an intrusion upon it.

We arrived right in time for high tea. With a selection of cakes, pastries, hearty wraps and fruit platters to choose from, ours was an enthusiastic “Yes!” at the offer of a signature gin cocktail. A quick tour of the main area unveiled the distinctively welcoming library, with a wall that bears photography paying homage to the owning family’s history. Sleek wooden finishings and a winding staircase, lead you to a vast, raised lounge area, where one can simply immerse themselves in the compelling design and nature that surrounds. 

Stepping inside our suite, the sense of luxury truly unfolded. Imagine a spacious haven draped in soft linens, where plush couches and a delta facing bed are the suite’s centerpiece. Each corner of the suite, from the abundant seating spaces and vast deck that juts out onto the Delta, beckon you to sink in and lose yourself in a good book, or simply gaze out at the endless panorama. Our private plunge infinity pool was set to offer a refreshing escape after a day on safari, while the expansive decks blurred the lines between our room and the wilderness. Everything about our space was an inviting welcome into the Delta’s symphony of sights and sounds outside. 

Sustainable Indulgence: Luxury with a Conscience 

Sustainability isn’t just an afterthought at Jao; it’s the very foundation upon which this luxurious experience is built. The camp operates with a minimal environmental footprint. Solar power illuminates the camp, and water conservation practices are meticulously followed. Witnessing this commitment to preserving the pristine wilderness adds another layer of depth to your stay. It’s a luxury that feels good for the soul, knowing your indulgence isn’t coming at the expense of this extraordinary ecosystem.

Epic Food Safaris at Wilderness Jao

Fine dining in the bush? At Jao, it’s an everyday reality. The talented chefs weave magic with fresh, locally sourced ingredients, transforming each meal into a culinary adventure. Each morning began with a tower of fresh fruit, cheeses and cold meat cuts. cereals and yogurt laid before you, all for your enjoyment as you think through what you would like your hot breakfast to deliver. And of course, beyond the cappuccino and fresh juices was the option to add a glass of Bubbly. Always a “Yes, please!” for Taku and me. After all, we carried great intent to truly bask in sheer indulgence and to savour every moment enriched with only the finest experiences.

Lunch and dinner were bountiful, if in fact there was any place to put it after the snacks from our game drives and boating adventures in the marshes beyond Jao. From succulent grilled meats, paired with a South African wines and cocktails, to a freshly made Tuna steak salad under the shade of foliage lining the dining areas deck, all our meals were at best, leisurely affairs, with an array of options to fuel our day’s explorations.

An Unforgettable Safari Paradise Awaits 

The true magic of Jao lies in its setting. The Okavango Delta is a photographer’s dream, and for us amateurs behind the lens, a wildlife wonderland where every turn unveiled a new spectacle granted us ample practice with our cameras. On our first afternoon in camp, we embarked on an exhilarating game drive led by our expert guide Paul. Within a few minutes we spotted a cheetah and her cub traversing the wooden bridge that guests take into and out of the camp. From elephants to buffalos, zebras, hippos and lechwes, there were plenty of animals to see under the fiery setting sun, with Paul sharing a cocktail of jokes, his knowledge and passion for the Delta’s inhabitants during our sundowner stop. 

After breakfast on our first full morning at Jao, we opted for an activity beyond the traditional game drives; cruising through the waterways and marshes on a highspeed jetboat. Jao offers a diverse range of activities that bring you closer to the heart of the Delta. From gliding silently through the waterways in a mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe, you can soak up the gentle lapping of water against the hull, it being the only sound that breaks the stillness. This unique perspective allows you to observe a plethora of aquatic life, from the majestic hippo basking in the shallows to the shy yet curious flocks of birds flitting between reeds. 

Because we were totally in love with the beauty of our suite, we opted to take in the sun dipping below the horizon from our deck, painting the sky in vibrant hues. A different kind of magic unfolds at Jao by night, as guests gather around the crackling campfire after dinner, sharing stories and exchanging whispers of the day’s adventures. The night sky, unmarred by light pollution, is a breathtaking spectacle, with the atmosphere interrupted only by the haunting calls of nocturnal animals, including the grunting and munching of hippos as they emerge from the waters for their night feed. 

Reflections from Wilderness Jao

Wilderness Jao isn’t just about ticking off safari goals; it’s about creating memories that linger long after you depart. It’s about the hushed whispers of the wind through the reeds, the electrifying energy of a lion’s roar, and the gentle caress of the Delta breeze on your skin. It’s about savouring a gourmet meal under a canopy of stars and the camaraderie forged with the teams and fellow travellers over shared glasses or at random intersections while in camp

Taku and I met many years ago as struggling creatives with a desire to discover our point of impact within our respective industries. A friendship born from finding commonality to a sisterhood characterised by connecting authentically through work and play, this trip was more than just an opportunity to press the reset button. With Taku being a jewellery designer that uses upcycled materials for her creations, and me having an innate love for interior design, use of space and the intersection between people and nature through sustainable practices, Jao to us proved to be a place where luxury meets sustainability, where adventure awaits around every corner, where the whispers of the Delta become a symphony for the senses and where our passions for writing and creativity were further reinforced.  It’s a place that reignites your connection with self and with nature, leaving you with a renewed appreciation for the wild world and how you can live life more consciously moving forward. 

Discerning travelers today demand experiences that are both luxurious and sustainable. The Okavango Delta delivers on both fronts. Luxury camps are designed to blend seamlessly with the environment, minimizing their footprint while offering exceptional comfort and amenities. Additionally, responsible tourism initiatives ensure the Delta’s delicate ecosystem is protected for generations to come.

The Okavango Delta is a jewel waiting to be explored. For the discerning traveller seeking a luxurious escape into a pristine wilderness teeming with life, Wilderness Jao ticks all the boxes and more. It’s a place where luxury, conservation and design intertwine, creating an unforgettable adventure that will leave you forever captivated by the whispers of the Delta.

To plan your journey to Wilderness Jao, visit https://www.wildernessdestinations.com/africa/botswana/okavango-delta/jao-camp

Yvonne C Mtengwa is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning Travel Essence Magazine, a Communications Strategist by profession, with an avid passion for discovering Africa and the Middle East’s iconic landscapes through her travels. Connect with and follow her travel, tourism, and lifestyle experiences on: IG @Quintessentially_yvonne.

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Jao Camp

Johannesburg

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