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Best places in Africa to sleep beneath the stars

By Emma Gregg, for CNN
updated 10:44 PM EST, Tue February 25, 2014
A boon for photographers, this treehouse -- fully open to the elements -- is built around an ancient leadwood tree. A boon for photographers, this treehouse -- fully open to the elements -- is built around an ancient leadwood tree.
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Chalkley Treehouse (South Africa)
Kiboko and Koija star beds (Kenya)
Baines' Camp (Botswana)
Stilted Lodge (The Gambia)
The Tree House (Zambia)
Chole Mjini Lodge (Tanzania)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Can't sleep? A night on a "star bed" might help
  • At Baines' Camp in Botswana you can hear the chuckle of hippos at night
  • A Zambian riverside treehouse has a king-size bed and claw-footed bath
  • One Tanzanian hideaway is tucked among fig trees on a tiny island

(CNN) -- It's one of the best insomnia cures around.

A private platform in the African bush, soft bedding, starlight and nature's night-time noises.

Whether it's a raised star-bed or a treehouse kitted out for sleeping, each of these six retreats spread across Africa has the elevated experience just right.

Kiboko and Koija Star Beds, Loisaba Wilderness, Kenya

These "star beds" comprise wooden platforms with thatched roofs, open decks and big beds.

They're rolled out under the night sky when it's time to sleep, giving guests great views of the thick star clusters, unclouded by light pollution.

The mosquito net draping over the four-poster becomes invisible once you've climbed inside.

MORE: Africa's Stonehenge? The ruins of Great Zimbabwe

You can end up at your star bed after a game drive or other wildlife outing, when staff will be lighting the campfire and preparing pre-dinner sundowners.

Antelope and zebra may be drinking at the Kiboko waterhole in the valley below.

If you stay at one of Loisaba's two sets of star beds you'll have an extra reason to sleep comfortably -- they're part of a responsible tourism project that benefits the local Koija community.

Loisaba Wilderness, Laikipia, Kenya; + 254 62 20 31070; from $420 per person, per night, including full board, safari activities and transfers, through Cheli and Peacock (+254 20 600 3090)

The Stilted Lodge, Mandina Lodges, the Gambia

The ordinary rooms here, set in a mangrove forest, are impressive enough.

But the Stilted Lodge adds something extra -- a thatched two-story riverside tower with open sides, including a (discreet) open-air bathroom, separate bedroom and lounge room open to the skies.

READ: Malawi, Africa's next go-to destination?

Mandina Lodges, Makasutu, The Gambia; from $2,230 pp for seven nights, half board through The Gambia Experience (+44 845 330 8708)

Claw-footed bath included.
Claw-footed bath included.

The Tree House, Tongabezi, Zambia

You can't quite hear the roar of Victoria Falls from The Tree House but they're close.

The broad Zambezi River looks peaceful from the deck at the top of this three-tier treehouse, but a few bends away that all changes.

When it hits the lip of Batoka Gorge, the river hurls itself over at 3,000 cubic meters a second.

The spectacle has drawn visitors to the area since 1855, starting with the explorer David Livingstone.

There are multiple ways to experience the falls, from soaring through the spray in a microlight to rafting the rapids or bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls Bridge.

This riverside eyrie high up in an ebony tree, with king-size bed and claw-footed bath, provides a place to hide out after all that activity.

Tongabezi, Livingstone, Zambia; +260 213 327450; $620 pppn, incl. full board and safari activities

Chalkley Treehouse, Lion Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

Lion Sands has three luxury treehouses in wilderness rich in wildlife.

The Chalkley Treehouse, a timber deck built around an ancient leadwood tree, is particularly good for photographers.

MORE: 20 years of photographing Africa

It's high off the ground and exposed, with superb panoramic views.

Lion Sands Game Reserve, Sabi Sands, South Africa; +27 13 735 5000; from $250 pppn, incl. picnic dinner

Baines\' camp: Wetlands eyrie.
Baines' camp: Wetlands eyrie.

Baines' Camp, Botswana

Part of a small safari camp on a private concession in the Okavango Delta, the five suites here are built on stilts with decks looking out over wetlands.

On dry, warm nights, you can wheel your four-poster bed out to hear the throaty chuckling of hippos and the high-pitched chirrups of frogs.

Baines' Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana; +44 20 7190 7728; from $755 pppn incl. full board, safari activities and transfers, through Sanctuary Retreats

Chole Mjini Lodge, Tanzania

Some Swahili Coast aficionados have been to Zanzibar many times but never heard of its little cousin, the island of Mafia.

The name may sound ominous, but Mafia is a perfectly innocent island of sand and shimmering light, around 160 kilometers south of Zanzibar.

Of the few people who make it here, most are divers: in the surrounding waters whale sharks and turtles float above some of the best preserved coral reefs in Tanzania.

Mafia has an even tinier relative, Chole, an islet just over a kilometer long tucked off its southeastern shore.

Hidden among the dense mangroves, baobabs and tangled figs are half a dozen treehouses making up Chole Mjini, a simple off-grid eco-lodge.

Stay in Treehouse No.1, and you may have nesting fish eagles for neighbors.

Chole Mjini Lodge, Chole Island, Mafia, Tanzania; +255 784 520799; from $220 pppn, full board

READ: Dream destinations for 2014

Winner of several British travel journalism awards, Emma Gregg has written about Africa for The Independent newspaper, National Geographic Traveler and Travel Africa magazine.

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