Did you know the African Dung Beetle uses the stars to navigate – something which we humans have also been doing for hundreds of years? Although maps, sat navs and geo-apps have long since replaced the stars for explorers and travellers, our fascination with the night sky remains. Few places offer such clear, vast skies as Southern Africa for budding – and professional – astronomers. In countries such as Namibia and Botswana, sparse populations, minimal urban development and frequent cloudless nights allow spectacular galactic views with no light pollution. South Africa, in particular, has embraced the concept of astronomy tourism, with facilities such as the largest telescope in Africa – S.A.L.T. (Southern African Large Telescope) – near Cape Town and many hotels now offering telescopes for star spotting from the comfort of your room.
However, much can also be enjoyed by the naked eye in the open air under immense skies. Observe the constellations from your campfire as night falls or perhaps from your star-bed, or maybe combine star-gazing with a night-time game drive. For those with internet connection you can download an app such as ‘Star Walk’ or ‘SkySafari 4’ to take the guesswork away.
Our Africa expert, Albee Yeend, has selected a handful of luxury camps in Southern Africa which offer some of the best opportunities for star-gazing:
The Observatory, South Africa- a four bedroom exclusive houseset within the Leobo Private Reserve close to the Waterberg Mountains. As well as boasting two telescopes in its own observatory, you can also enjoy a night sky tour or book the renowned local astronomer, Dr Phil Calcot to guide you through the constellations.
Wolwedans Dune Camp, Namibia – as the name suggests this camp, sleeping a maximum of twelve guests, is located in the sand dunes of the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Each tent is equipped with a spacious platform perfect for sleep-outs under the stars.
Samara Mountain Retreat, South Africa – a remote family-friendly five bedroom former wagon house in the Samara Private Game Reserve. Lit by the warm glow of oil lamps in the evenings the light pollution is minimal, ideal for watching shooting stars with the whole family.
Jack’s Camp, Botswana – this 1940s styled camp with ten canvas tents is located in the heart of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. An awe-inspiring calm descends on the camp at night and the stars seem endless. You might also be lucky enough to witness a full moon during your stay and see how the moonlight is reflected by the salt imitating the effect of daylight. During a full moon, you can also witness the sun setting, whilst the moon is rising from the middle of the Pans, an unforgettable sight.
Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa – nine traditionally-built suites in clay and thatch with relaxed-chic interiors set in the country’s largest game reserve. For the ultimate romantic experience you can enjoy dinner served on your private deck. Telescopes can be provided and the camp also offers an introductory talk on astronomy for beginners.
Albee Yeend is Red Savannah’s African safari expert and a Safari Awards judge. Her career in travel began accidently after she fell in love with Africa on safari in Zambia. Since then she has travelled extensively in Africa, running luxury safari camps in Zambia and Botswana before returning to the UK.
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