Imagine what Tarzan would have built if he’d had a few million dollars and some chic Italian designers, and you’re close to imagining Jao Camp. Standing on the southeast side of the Jao Reserve (GPS: JOACAM 19°18.431’S, 22°36.071’E), Jao is one of Wilderness Safaris’ flagship ‘platinum’ camps (the other being Mombo, which was designed by the same architect).
Arriving at Jao, you walk through a profusion of lush wild date palms before eventually finding the large, two-storey main building. It’s about 30m long and 8-10m wide, with designer-inspired scraggy thatch and hints of an Indonesian longhouse. Upstairs here is the dining room, where everybody usually eats around a long elegant table (handcrafted on site, apparently, using Zimbabwean rosewood!); a spacious lounge with comfy leather sofas, a chess table, and stylish lamps; there’s a long outside balcony where breakfast is sometimes served.
Down a magnificent set of stairs there’s a small library, a snug and a curio shop. A few paces away from this you’ll find a round swimming pool and a few sun-loungers amidst the palms.
The rooms at Jao are probably the most luxurious and spacious in the Okavango region. All are on stilts, accessed by raised wooden walkways. They have one long side, facing the nearby channel, and equally scraggy thatch to match the central longhouse. Their position gives lots of privacy, though also makes the walk from the farthest rooms as much as 600m from the centre. (Less fit visitors can request chalets closer to the centre!)
Entering at the side of the chalet, through a large, swivelling door, you find a lounge with huge coffee table, big comfy settee and a lockable safe for valuables. This is only half of the open-plan room, which also has twin (or double) bed(s) under a walk-in mosquito net, complete with a fan underneath. The chalets are effectively insect-proofed, though one long side of the room is made of gauzed or glass doors which can all be opened and folded back, concertina-style. This opens up the front of the chalet onto the wide balcony outside. All of the floors are held together with wooden dowels and studs rather than nails or screws and beautifully finished with ‘adzed’ edges to the light, wooden floorboards.
A slight partition divides the main bedroom and lounge from a dressing area with a wardrobe, an old-style claw-footed bath, and two conical sinks placed centrally; a stylish use of space. Another partition separates this from a toilet, then outside is an open-air shower, surrounded by circular clay walls (with a view over the channel).
Set a few metres away from each room is a ‘sala’, a small outside gazebo, with a mattress and cushions, under a shady thatched roof. This makes a lovely perch for relaxing in the afternoon, raised far off the ground in the heart of the date-palm forest, overlooking the channel.
In short, Jao is visually stunning and exceedingly comfortable; if you want private luxury in the Delta then it’s superb. It’s an obvious choice for honeymoon couples. However, it’s a large camp where guests will stay in their rooms rather than mix socially, so doesn’t have quite such an intimate atmosphere or sociable feel that you may find at some of the smaller camps.