What is a sleep out deck or star bed?
A 2019 travel trend report found that 80% of Earth’s land mass suffers from light pollution, while for 99% of people in Europe and the USA the night sky is obscured by artificial lighting. More people are travelling solely to see the night sky in all its starry splendour.
This recent rise in astrotourism has seen some star-savvy destinations set up outdoor decks and snazzy open-air bedrooms that allow guests to savour the Milky Way. Often, these are set in wilderness areas away from main lodge buildings and their bright lights.
Here in Southern Africa, we’re blessed with crazy constellations and soaring stars that flood our skies once the sun dances back down below the horizon every evening. Whether you’re after starry-eyed romance or an off-the-grid adventure, these epic overnight stays are sure to seduce.
South Africa’s best star beds
1. Jaci’s Safari Lodge Starbed Suites. Madikwe Game Reserve, North West Province
Far in the old Kalahari, you’ll find a sassy safari stay with colourful interiors and an equally sensational night sky. Two rooms at Jaci’s Safari Lodge have rooftop extensions that afford guests the unique opportunity of sleeping under the African stars on luxurious four-poster beds. Jaci’s is also an eco-friendly stay. You’ll get a reusable water bottle on arrival, waste is recycled and Jaci’s staff trust empowers the local community plus staff, who get a shareholding in the business.
The details: Only two of the suites at Jaci’s Safari Lodge have the upstairs starbeds. Spoil your significant other and plan a romantic winter retreat using the special SADC rate between 1 May and 30 July 2019.
2. Samara Private Game Reserve Milky Way Star Bed, Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape
It’s no coincidence that this starry sky bed is set on the Milky River. With the Milky Way splayed across the sky, it might seem like you’re swimming in stars. An evening on this pretty sleep-out deck starts with a sunset arrival, followed by picnic dinner and drinks. Then it’s just you and the Great Karoo. Samara has been successful in rehabilitating these once plentiful plains of South Africa’s interior. Both elephants and lions have been returned to Camdeboo. A herd of six was introduced at the end of 2017 – said to be the first time elephants have roamed here in roughly 200 years.
The details: The Samara star bed is weather-dependent and available to Samara guests in addition to booking a suite in one of Samara’s lodges for a minimum of two nights. Only available during the following months: October, November, December, January, February, March, April.
3. Kagga Kamma Sky Suite. Cederberg, Western Cape
Nestled in a rocky outcrop (the boulders here are famed for their incredible San rock art paintings) on one of the highest peaks of Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve, this open-air bedroom has a ceiling of stars. Romantics will love the wood-fired hot tub and set up high, the suite hosts incredible views for a sunset across the surrounding mountain ranges and fetching Fynbos valleys.
The details: The Sky Suite is only available during the warmer months (September- April) and always weather permitting. Guests who stay at the Sky Suite have to be booked in at the Lodge in either a Hut or Cave Suite and can then add on to their stay by choosing the Sky Suite at an additional cost.
4. Sable Hide. Kruger National Park, Limpopo Province
Ok, it’s not technically a starbed but it’s certainly an exciting sleep out that’s safe from the wildlife of Kruger (and it’s easy on the bank balance). What is usually a public birdwatching hide during the day can be transformed into your own personal wilderness cabin. Enclosed by a fence, beds fold out from the walls within the hide and have views over the sprawling Sable Dam – and of the sky too. This off-the-grid bush camp has no electricity or luxuries and elephants are known to slurp from the water just metres away from your bed.
The details: Check-in to the Sable Hide happens at the nearby Phalaborwa Gate. No cooking utensils such as cutlery, crockery or any other cooking equipment are provided. The hide is fully self-catering and guests are advised to bring their own food, wood and water. There are ablutions and a fire pit within the premises though.
Can’t afford a sky bed? Camping is another easy way to set up under the sky. Here are 25 Of the Best South African Campsites
5. The Lantern. Hogsback, Eastern Cape
Although it’s not open to the elements, plenty of glasswork and wide windowing lets the night sky in. Even on a cloudy evening, the twinkling fairy lights draped above the king-size bed will make it feel like an evening spent below Scorpio. The Lantern is a unique double story, double glazed cottage converted from an old reservoir.
The details: The Lantern is a wonderful romantic retreat for two. There’s a copper bathtub, champagne flutes and cosy fireplaces.
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Botswana’s Best Star Beds
6. Tau Pan Sleep-Out Deck. Central Kalahari Game Reserve
The clean, dry air of the sprawling Central Kalahari makes for an unbeatable evening below the stars. It’s even better when jackals cry and lions roar across the wide open sandy plains. Don’t fret though, the height of the sleep-out deck keeps safely you out of harm’s way. Thanks to the remote and isolated whereabouts of this eco-friendly stay, Tau Pan has minimal light pollution so the stars almost outshine the incredible wildlife sightings of this rugged park. Perfect for a digital detox, this entire camp is off-the-grid (solar power is used for electricity, hot showers and pumping water) and there’s no Wi-Fi to distract you from those sensational skies.
The details: The Tau Pan sleep-out deck consists of a double bed, and a bathroom. This experience is available on a ‘first come first serve’ basis, however, guests staying three nights or more can reserve this beforehand.
7. Ntwetwe Pan sleep out. Makgadikgadi Salt Pans
Not only can you sleep wild among the stars with nothing but a mattress on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, this adventure also includes a meeting with meerkats. Using quad bikes, guides will help you navigate to Ntwetwe Pan for a brilliant braai and starlit slumber on old school bedrolls.
The details: This overnight trip departs from Planet Baobab near Gweta. The trip includes a guided drive, walking with a habituated meerkat colony, dinner and full breakfast back at the lodge.
Starstruck yet? Book your next dream holiday to Botswana
Namibia’s Best Star Beds
8. Namib Dune Star Camp. Solitaire
Star-studded skies aren’t hard to find in the Namib Desert. With a bed built onto wheels designed to roll out beneath the Southern Cross, these simple suites definitely do not distract from the night sky. Situated on the crest of ancient sand dunes, Namib Dune Star Camp consists of just nine cabins that each face out into the delicate desert environment. Oryx often trot across the view and an early morning stroll will deliver countless desert delights, such as the scurrying sand-coloured lizards.
The details: Namib Dune Star Camp is an eco-friendly camp situated in the same area as Sossusvlei. Solar panels on the cabins provide hot water and lights, and water is pumped from a nearby borehole. Get the Gondwana Card to qualify for SADC discounts.
9. Tok Tokkie Trail. NamibRand Nature Reserve
Ok, this one requires some legwork, but the rewards are all worth it. This two-night slackpacking trail will have you sleeping out in one of just 11 Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Sleep out among the stars on cosy stretchers brimming with soft linen and experience the different faces of the Namib up close. Feel the rugged mountainous terrain and soft sandy dunes, and discover the unusual Fog-basking Tok Tokkie beetle, after which the hike is named.
The details: The three-day, two-night Tok Tokkie Trail will have you sleeping under the stars on stretcher beds in a bedroll. Bathroom facilities comprise a long-drop toilet, hand basin and bucket shower. Don’t let that fool you though. This is a luxurious hike with three-course dinners, luggage transfers and great guides. Again, more affordable SADC rates apply.
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All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.