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Back to basics: Safari Sleep-outs & Fly Camping

Sleep under a canopy of stars and wake up to simplicity: a basin of hot water and fresh coffee. The rising African sun floods the landscape with golden light, and your guide and vehicle are ready for the new day’s adventure.

Safari sleep-outs and fly camping are ways to experience the simpler side of a safari. You can enjoy them as part of your stay at a lodge or spend the entire safari under canvas. And despite their basic appearance, there’s very little sacrifice of comfort or cuisine. You’ll toast the sunset with chilled drinks, eat a three-course dinner and sleep on camp beds or plush bed rolls; bathroom facilities are available and a hosting team and guide stay with you all the time.

There are three kinds of experiences:

Starbed sleepout experience in Sossusvlei Namibia

With all the comforts of your suite on hand, star beds are an easy way to experience a safari sleep out.

Star beds are the easiest way to sleep out. These are an additional feature to your lodge accommodation: perhaps your double bed is designed to be taken outside onto your private deck or maybe your suite has an extra floor – uncovered and under the stars – with a bed already there. Read more about star beds here.

Now we move away from the lodge:

Sleepout on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan

Safari sleep outs are all about keeping it basic but with everything you need for an unforgettable night.

Safari sleep-outs are what they say they are. Offered as part of your lodge accommodation (usually on a 3-night booking), it is a chance for you to de-clutter for a night. A temporary camp is set up away from the main lodge – perhaps on a small island or a dry river bed – and you arrive there after your afternoon activity, sitting down to sundowners and a campfire.

Safari sleep-outs are a dry season activity but you’ll still have a tent or mosquito net. In some places, however, conditions are such that you can simply go to sleep under the stars.

Dinner set up on a camping safari

Fly-camping safaris in Africa are often a lot more comfortable than people expect.

Fly camping is the same concept as a sleep-out – simpler accommodation in wilder setting – but implies that a tent is always used. The experience ranges from a single night offered at a lodge (like a sleep-out) to spending the entire safari under canvas, moving every day or two to a new location.

Generally using a more robust camp that a sleep-out, fly camping safaris are able to operate throughout the year and have an additional advantage: the multi-day versions are excellent ways to explore Africa’s top safari destinations at a greatly reduced price compared to lodge accommodation. Add to that the flexibility of fly camping safaris to access remote and exciting destinations and you have the ingredients for a memorable under-canvas experience.

Here’s where to go:


The famous Khwai region of the Okavango provides the backdrop to an overnight fly camping experience; it’s a beautiful, wildlife-rich landscape of forest and floodplain, and your camp – complete with starched linen tablecloths and silverware – is set up on an island overlooking it all. Available as part of your stay at selected lodges.


Explore some of Africa’s last wilderness areas on a multi-day fly-camping adventure. From the vantage of a built-for-purpose 4X4, you’ll visit Liuwa Plains, home to the continent’s second biggest wildebeest migration, plus Kasanka and the Bangweulu wetlands. Amazing wildlife and birds, top guiding and authentic safari camping with plenty of comfort. Recommended for photographers.


Sleep out on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan

Pure, elemental exclusivity in Botswana’s big-sky Makgadikgadi Pans.

Book three nights or more at certain Kalahari lodges and you’ll be offered to opportunity to sleep-out under the stars. And they really mean under the stars! Your destination is the middle of a vast dry salt pan where dinner and a luxurious bed roll awaits. There is no tent – you don’t need one out here and you certainly won’t want one once the stars come out. It’s an awe-inspiring night under the silent, mighty cosmos.


Fly camping in Zambia

Leaving behind just the faintest footprint on a South Luangwa sleep out.

Available during the dry season from one of our favourite Zambian lodges, this safari sleep-out uses just a mosquito net as your accommodation for the night. The camp is set up in a dry river bed and your guide, an armed ranger and chef make up your experienced hosting team. It’ll be a night of lion roars and hyena whoops but you have the advantage of being able to return to your suite back at camp if you feel like it.


Fly camping safari in the Lower Zambezi

Riverside views at a Lower Zambezi fly camp in Zambia.

Three fly camps in different locations within the Lower Zambezi National Park means a highly diverse experience for the traveller. The camps come with a well-stocked bar and your accommodation has a double bed under canvas with solar lights and bathroom. They are perfect for an extended stay and can also be booked as a private camp – great for groups – and come with guides, vehicles, motor boats and canoes.


Mobile tents for a sleepout experience on a canoe-trip on the Zambezi River

Multi-day canoe safaris combine with fly camping for a classic Zambezi River adventure.

Combine a visit to Victoria Falls with an overnight canoe adventure on the enigmatic Zambezi River. The day will be spent drifting downstream, watching wildlife at the water’s edge, and then you’ll pull over onto the river bank and fly camp for the night. You’ll be in the safe hands of some of the best trained guides in the business and your tent has everything you need for comfort.


Tour Tanzania the traditional way on a mobile camping safari. With a range of itineraries taking in classic destinations from the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater, this also is your chance to see Tanzania’s highlights – including the wildebeest migration – in an affordable way. You’ll sleep on comfortable camp beds and have a bathroom with bush shower and toilet; private campsites means exclusivity too.


Fly camping in North Luangwa

Watching moonrise during an overnight sleep out in Zambia’s North Luangwa.

A mosquito net is all that lies between you and the Luangwa wilderness on this sleep-out experience. Available from one of the few lodges in the area, the setting is the sandy bank above a dry-season river where elephants and hippo wallow. An armed ranger stands guard all night and the night sky glows with stars. It’s a great way to augment your lodge experience.

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