Africa’s 10 Best Star Beds
When visiting Africa, one feature that is hard to miss is the vast, endless sky.
It somehow appears bigger, more expansive and more encompassing than in our home destinations, wherever they may be.
Of course, the sky is the sky – it doesn’t change in size and, to a greater degree, it is the same clear, blue canopy seen all around the world. What does alter as we wander across the African continent is our perception. The landscapes are frequently flatter and more panoramic, mankind’s bruising imprint is vastly reduced, even erased in many places, and our awe and wonder of our surroundings transcend earth, water and air, creating intoxicating scenery in three dimensions.
Rarely does this phenomenon collide in more awe-inspiring magnitude than sleeping unfettered in the heart of nature. Sky beds, star beds, sleep-outs, treehouses – this open-air experience goes by several names and guises, but however it is enjoyed, it will irrevocably change one’s perception of the nocturnal heavens.
Free from human pollution, both atmospheric and light, the aperture of the onyx void opens even wider, revealing its secrets like a magical, distant firework display.
Across Africa, star beds are being incorporated into luxury properties and, where safe and possible, guests are even able to fully immerse themselves in the African landscape with an open-air sleep-out on the earth.
Less than one month into the new year, 2023 is already rapidly becoming the year of the star bed, with an abundance of clients requesting this breathtaking addition to their safari itinerary. The beauty is that numerous established properties already offer star beds, and many of our preferred partners are experts in this spectacular experience.
Though by no means comprehensive, we have compiled a diverse collection of some of our favourite star beds and sleep-outs across Africa:
- Jack’s Camp, Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
- Singita Lebombo, Kruger National Park, South Africa
- Mwiba lodge, Arugusinyai River, Tanzania
- Ol Donyo, Chyulu Hills, Kenya
- Chinzombo, South Luangwa, Zambia
- Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa
- Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei, Namibia
- Nay Palad Bird Nest, Laikipia, Kenya
- Xigera, Okavango Delta, Botswana
- Lion Sands, South Africa
📍Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
BEST FOR: Pure escapism & natural immersion
BEST SEASON: May – November
In some regards, Jack’s Camp could be regarded as the most authentic sleep-out experience. From Jack’s camp’s superb luxury tented safari lodge, guests venture with San guides across the expansive Makgadikgadi salt pans, themselves a marvel of nature. Far from the scrub-shrouded periphery of the pans, very few creatures make their way into this barren, salt-encrusted desert. Even mosquitoes are thankfully absent.
In this captivatingly desolate place, bed rolls, a campfire and refreshments await, comfortable mattresses, oil lamps and a discrete ensuite tent the only furnishings to speak of. Intrepid participants spend an evening around the fire hearing tales of the San who have lived in this inhospitable environment for many centuries.
As the last light of day fades, the heavens illuminate, casting a vibrant blanket of stars across the ink-black universe in a display more spectacular than almost anywhere else in the world.
Lebombo Luxury Lodge
📍N’wanetsi River, Kruger, South Africa
BEST FOR: Luxury & creature comforts
BEST SEASON: May – October
In stark contrast, Lebombo offers a truly luxurious sleep-out experience. Not a star bed in the most conventional sense – though star beds themselves defy convention – each suite at Lebombo Luxury Lodge features its own private external bed.
Provided in addition to the sumptuous suite bed, the outside mattress, complete with the same soft, white sheets and indulgent pillows as its internal counterpart, is swathed in a canopy of netting to protect against intruding nocturnal invertebrates.
The beauty of Lebombo’s sleep-outs is that they are both private and available at any time during your stay. And should the wonderful night air not soothe you into dreams of African wildlife, you can simply retire to your inside bed. With this, all conveniences of a private luxury suite are also on hand, providing the best of both worlds; a night under the stars without forgoing the slightest luxury.
📍Arugusinyai River, Southern Serengeti, Tanzania
BEST FOR: Connecting with nature
BEST SEASON: January – February & June – October
At Mwiba Lodge, star beds meet fly camps, and canvas-covered sleep-outs can be arranged on the high escarpments overlooking the Arugusinyai River gorge.
These wonderfully luxurious temporary camps echo the extravagant days of colonial Africa, and include a private dining service, comfortable open-air lounging and a secure tented bed.
Despite being entirely enclosed, the beds offer just the right balance of reassuring security and immersive exposure in the African wilderness. Surrounded by oil lamps, one can enjoy a gourmet dinner as the sun’s last light fills the valley and the sky ripples through myriad hues of orange, red and violet before succumbing to the night.
Safe on the mountainside, the sounds of the bush echo up from the riverbed, and in the silence of night, the senses piqued, one might detect the snorting of hippos, the conversational trumpets of elephant or even the thankfully distant rumblings of lion.
Ol Donyo Lodge
📍Chyulu Hills, Kenya
BEST FOR: Wildlife spotting
BEST SEASON: January – February & June – October
Photographic hides nestle into the undergrowth alongside watering holes, allowing for eye-level viewing of elephant herds, zebra and even the occasional predator.
Like South Africa’s Lebombo Lodge, each suite at ol Donyo offers its own star bed, but rather than a feature of the room, it is a fully-furnished rooftop terrace overlooking the bushland, pools and landscapes of Chyulu Hills. While all properties diligently assure guest safety, ol Donyo feels somewhat more comfortingly enclosed than some other star beds. Secure in traditionally-fashioned terracotta walls, the starscape as your ceiling, you will be able to drift away in complete comfort and contentedness, the sounds of the very animals you watched earlier in the day serenading you to sleep.
📍South Luangwa, Zambia
BEST FOR: Wilderness adventures
BEST SEASON: July – October
It is only natural that the home of the walking safari also offers remote sleep-outs, and Chinzombo’s star beds are second to none in that regard.
Only available for a portion of the year, Chinzombo’s star beds are erected in a sandy dry river bed, each comfortable bed roll neatly contained within its own netted enclosure. With no more than eight guests sharing the experience at any one time, and privately booked by families, couples or groups, the camp is wonderfully intimate, the tents formed in a crescent around a roaring fire at its heart.
Each excursion is supplied with a guide, a scout and a chef, ensuring that you are well-informed, well-protected and well-fed at all times. For those wishing to discover escapism in the absolute but who may be somewhat reluctant to relinquish the benefits of a luxury safari, Chinzombo is the perfectly-balanced compromise.
📍Green Kalahari, Northern South Africa
BEST FOR: Families
BEST SEASON: Year-round, though better to avoid June & July
For the purist, Naledi – the word for ‘star’ in the Tswana language – is an open sleeping platform. Divinely romantic, it can also be organised for a small family of four and features camping stretchers layered with luxurious bed linen and extra throws and blankets should the night turn chilly.
An enclosed open-air bathroom and toilet is located a few steps away, and cold, picnic-style dinner is provided. When you wake, a quick chat on the two-way radio will deliver hot coffee and fresh breakfast to your doorstep.
Alternatively, Malori is more of a traditional sleep-out under canvas. A tented platform has a comfortable sleep area enclosed by fly nets from which a dining deck extends, giving ample space for dinner, sundowners and a spot of stargazing. Though canopied in canvas, this cosy camp-out is superbly immersive.
Little Kulala Lodge
BEST FOR: Stargazing & astronomy
BEST SEASON: Year-round
Few places can surpass the night skies of Namibia. Remoteness, impressive plains, the starkly-defined silhouettes of the mountainous sand dunes and almost no human impact make it one of the best destinations from which to gaze at the heavens.
Set in a private 37,000-hectare (91,400-acre) reserve, Little Kulala features eleven thatched villas that merge impeccably into the astonishing desert landscape. Each unit boasts an exquisite, fully-furnished interior, private plunge pool and rooftop star beds, accessed by an internal staircase and simply magnificent for romantic stargazing.
Whether from communal areas, your villa balcony or very own private star bed, the Namibian starfield is hypnotising, and you will be stopped in your tracks, mouth agape, the moment the sun has shone its last for the day.
Like so much of this region, Little Kulala’s star beds are unreservedly sublime. The only drawback of this stunning experience is that one will be so entirely captivated by the astral display that sleep may remain somewhat elusive.
Nay Palad Bird Nest
BEST FOR: Daytime viewing & sundowners
BEST SEASON: January – February & June – October
Architecturally fascinating, it is, as its name would suggest, closely modelled on a bird’s nest, the three-storey tower adorned with a crown of sticks that form the perimeter of a timber rooftop terrace.
This exclusive sanctuary includes a fully-appointed bathroom on the ground floor, exquisite bedroom on the first, and at its summit, the platform provides incredible viewing of the surrounding, naturally-abundant countryside. Zebra, giraffe and elephant wander by unassumingly, birds circle high in the sky and, as the sun descends, darkness blankets the bird nest, casting diamonds across the heavens.
While one might quite comfortably sleep on the rooftop, it is not furnished to provide overnight comfort. Blankets, rugs and a generous scattering of cushions make it instead a relaxed venue for sundowners and dinner, a spot of astronomy and nightcaps before retiring to the luxuriant bedroom below.
📍Okavango Delta, Botswana
BEST FOR: Boutique luxury
BEST SEASON: June – October
Xigera’s Baobab Treehouse rises from the Okavango Delta like an industrial monolith. Its spectacular architectural design mimics the region’s rotund baobab trees, the stout trunk containing three levels of living quarters and towards its summit, branchlike limbs protrude, somehow making this steel structure blend in, even belong in its purely natural surroundings.
Inside this arboreal interpretation lies a suite equaling any urban hotel, a pair of copper couples basins decorating a fully-appointed bathroom, the indulgent bedroom offering almost 360-degree views of the surrounding bushlands and waterways, and the upper sundeck providing the most superb viewing platform of the Xigera property, possibly even in the entire delta.
But that is its purpose by day only. At night, a fly-net canopy is erected and the lookout becomes a sleep-out. Baobab Treehouse defies its hyper-modern, almost mechanical construction, transcending the boundaries between safe, cosy, luxurious accommodation and the raw, unfettered wilderness of the Okavango.
📍Kruger Region, South Africa
BEST FOR: Colonial class & Instagram moments
BEST SEASON: May – October
Some of Africa’s finest, most spectacular, and certainly most celebrated star beds lie within Kruger National Park and its surrounding private reserves. Lion Sands Game Reserve covers 12,400 hectares (30,600 acres) of prime wilderness, under the protection of the More family since 1933 and extraordinarily abundant in wildlife.
Three star beds grace this incredible stretch of bushland: Tinyeleti Treehouse, Kingston Treehouse, and the remarkable Chalkley Treehouse. Named after the current generation’s great-grandfather and founder of Lion Sands, Guy Aubrey Chalkley, the stunning creation sits atop an ancient leadwood tree.
Situated almost three miles (4.3km) from the main property, the overnight suite features an enclosed couples bathroom halfway up the securable timber stairway leading up from the ground. Ascending further, 26 feet (8m) above the ground and into the embracing skeletal limbs of the old tree, one arrives on the sleeping platform.
Distinct colonial flavours hark back to the days of the early 1900s when, as the rumour goes, Guy Chalkley himself once took refuge in this very same tree. A four-poster bed is festooned in crisp white fly netting, voluminous bean bags create relaxed seating, and a more formal table awaits a gourmet candlelit dinner or the following morning’s delicious picnic breakfast.
Even in the most mundane of countryside, Chalkley Treehouse would be staggeringly beautiful. Here in the heart of Lion Sands, with nature surrounding you and the expansive African sky bathing you in the golden light of sundown, it begs the question of whether you have, perhaps, already drifted off into a magical dream.
By night, the view is utterly spectacular, the bare limbs of the leadwood starkly transposed upon midnight blue ocean of stars. Concluding our list for good reason, Chalkley is the very definition of the ultimate safari star bed.
There is a wonderful romance to sleeping beneath a star-studded night sky, and star beds certainly encapsulate this, but some are also more family-friendly, providing a breathtaking experience for parents and children alike.
Wherever you may travel across Africa, selecting properties that offer star beds is highly worthwhile. From the rustic to the luxurious, a night in nature adds a captivating chapter to your extended adventures, giving you a greater connection to the wilderness and memories that will last a lifetime.
Talk to your travel designer about a star bed experience.