It was Prince Harry’s birthday surprise for his girlfriend Meghan Markle – a romantic trip to a secret hideaway with a stunning view of the African bush, overlooking the sparkling Boteti river.
On Meghan’s first-ever wildlife safari, the couple watched the sun set behind a spectacular vista of acacia thorn trees and green-backed herons fishing in the river.
The pair were photographed last month as they arrived at Maun airport in Botswana, smiling excitedly as they crossed the tarmac, Harry’s arm affectionately around his girlfriend’s shoulder.
After that the lovebirds disappeared from the public gaze, but The Mail on Sunday can reveal they headed straight for the exclusive Meno a Kwena tented bush camp, a two-hour drive east of the airport.
Harry, 32, had chosen his beloved Botswana for this special visit, not only to celebrate Meghan’s 36th birthday but also to mark their first year together. The fact that he chose a country which holds such a special place in his heart will fuel speculation that he may have decided to propose to Meghan on the trip.
After confirming the couple had stayed there, we booked in to the £650-a-night camp, to see what it was like.
There are few more romantic destinations in the world. We were told that one of the first sights that greeted Harry & Meghan was a herd of dozens of zebra appearing in front of their luxury tent, cooling themselves in the water.
Bush camps such as Meno a Kwena around the Maun area are popular with ‘glamping’ tourists en route to the Okovango Delta region, rich in wildlife. Driving Meghan from the airport with his bodyguard on the eve of her August 4 birthday, Harry kept their destination a mystery to the end, promising only that it would be ‘unforgettable’.
Meghan would have had her first surprise at a roadblock where all travellers must get out of their vehicles and walk across a disinfectant mat to protect the area from foot-and-mouth disease.
At Meno a Kwena, where the Prince is known so well that all the African staff call him by his first name, the pair had a light lunch on arrival, then headed to their tent.
From their luxury accommodation they were able to watch the wildlife at close quarters. They called for room-service dinner and drinks to enjoy under the stars, away from the other guests at the camp, and also breakfasted in their quarters, soon after sunrise.
Harry was widely expected to propose during their three-week holiday in Africa, but it is not yet known if that happened, or if he has sought consent from the Queen.
Harry brought his first love, Chelsy Davy, to the same camp in 2007 when they slept under the stars and took game drives through the Central Kalahari reserve.
On this latest trip, Harry did not take advantage of the sunset river cruises, game drives, or sessions on the camp’s floating hide, all of which are all on offer to guests in the nine tents.
The staff had arranged for Harry and Meghan to stay in safari tent 5, with its king-size bed, open-air shower and hand-carved furniture. Teak chests and explorers’ trunks dotted the bedroom, with kilim rugs on the floor.
But its biggest attraction is the spectacular veranda offering a breathtaking view of a broad bend in the Boteti river where elephant, zebra and wild buck come to drink each evening.
The river had been dry for more than 20 years, but came teeming back to life in 2008 when millions of gallons of water came gushing through from the Okovango Delta due to a shift in tectonic plates.
Harry has witnessed the extraordinary change for himself. On his earlier visits to Meno a Kwena – the name means ‘teeth of the ‘crocodile – he was told how water pumps had been installed to help keep wildlife alive.
The couple stayed only one night at Meno a Kwena, leaving mid-morning for the Okavango Delta.