Forget air-conditioning, walls and windows – al-fresco is the way to go when it comes to experiencing Africa’s nocturnal delights. From adventurous treehouse platforms to luxurious decks and bedrolls with nothing but a fluttering mosquito net around you, there’s a variety of ways to spend the night in the bush and we’ve rounded up the very best below…
1. Little Kulala
In the heart of the infinite Namibian desert you’ll find Sossusvlei, a place where light pollution hasn’t yet been invented and the stars sparkle like diamonds. To make the most of the spectacular skies, book into Little Kulala for each room has a private rooftop starbed that offers completely undisturbed views of the landscape and what’s above. Spotting scopes are provided, but actually, your own eyes are all you need to view the heavens in their glory.
2. Tswalu Motse Lodge
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
Every last detail has been thought of at Tswalu’s Malori Sleepout Deck, from the hot water bottles waiting in the king-size bed, to the thoughtfully placed robes and slippers. There’s an even a protective thatched overhang should you get caught out by the weather. We suggest arriving at your private platform in time for sunset drinks and nibbles, before dinner and a magical night in front of the star-spangled desert sky.
3. Jao Camp
Okavango Delta, Botswana
A mention of Jao, located on the border of the Moremi Reserve in the Okavango Delta, is normally accompanied by mutterings of brilliant architecture and exquisite interiors – but the real gem is the sleepout deck. With billowing mosquito nets, and polished wood floors, the deck is beautifully simple and views of the beautiful surroundings take centre stage. There’s also the bonus of a sharp-eyed, watchman-cum-butler who is as ready with the champagne as he is to scare away any marauding wildlife. The perfect place to bed down and relish your own private star show.
The original, and, dare we say, the best, Loisaba’s ‘Mukokoteni’ are brilliantly creative beds-on-wheels made from old Landrover axles. The views are so vast you can almost see the curvature of the earth up here and with an occasional nomadic giraffe the only neighbours, you’re free to keep both eyes on the all the astronomic action above. For maximum galaxy-watching time, hike between the two different star beds sites (or even journey by camel or horseback) and stay for two nights in your celestial heaven.
5. Return to the Wild
South Luangwa, Zambia
Forget rose petals and four-poster beds; sleepouts in the sandy Luwi riverbed are all about the bush. First up is a wildlife lesson on an intrepid afternoon walk through the acacia woodland with legendary guide Shaddy Nkhoma, followed by sundowners against the endless Zambian sky. When darkness falls, hunker down with your bedroll at the sleep-spot (quite literally in the middle of nowhere) for dinner, campfire tales and a spot of stargazing.
Design your own walking adventure in Zambia using the ‘Best of the South Luangwa’ route as a template and combining a mix of bush camps and sleep outs.
Lake Niassa, Mozambique
Named after the sound of the sand underfoot – it really is that perfectly squeaky – Nkwichi is the Robinson Crusoe-esque lodge of dreams on the Mozambique shores of Lake Niassa. For sleeping, there are six traditional chalets, but we rather like the idea of transporting our ‘bedroom’ to the sugary-white sands on the shore. There are no walls or ceilings; just a bed, lapping waves, and uninterrupted views of the inky sky with stars so bright you could reach out and touch them.
Take a closer look at all Nkwichi has to offer, then add the lodge to any Mozambique, Zambia or Zimbabwe route for the perfect end to your trip.
7. Sand Rivers Selous
Pioneered by explorer Richard Bonham in the 1980s, sleeping out in the Selous is the real-deal – we’re talking traditional bucket-showers, flickering hurricane lanterns and bedrolls under the finest of mosquito nets. Walk to your chosen site in the late afternoon glow, settle down for a spot of campfire cuisine as darkness falls and then crawl into bed under a ceiling of whirling, twirling stars. Magic.
8. Lion Sands
Kruger, South Africa
Views of the solar system from Lion Sands’ three treehouses, The Kingston, Chalkley’s and Tinyeleti are unreal. Built on raised platforms, big beasties can prowl underneath the ingenious rooms whilst glass walls and roof hatches allow you to cuddle down and stargaze from the comfort of your bed. There’s also an open-air shower from which to count the streaking, shooting stars and plenty of outdoor seating areas for a glass of wine under the night skies.
Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
At the sleepout deck at Ruckomechi, you’re a mere lion’s roar from the wildlife of Mana Pools and all the shufflings and rustlings of nearby Parachute Pan. After a picnic dinner on the deck, curl up under the feather duvet and watch the stars whilst keeping an ear out for noisy predators – there are plenty of them around…
10. Jack’s Camp
At night, the lunar landscape of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans transforms into an otherworldly spectacle in which millions upon millions of stars glitter in the complete blackness. For the best seats in the house, hop on a quad bike from Jack’s Camp and spend the night at Kubu Island, complete with G&Ts in crystal glasses, a three-course dinner and a bed draped in the finest Egyptian cotton. You won’t believe that there’s anyone else on earth but you and the stars.