For true travel decadence, look no further than a trip through the magical African countryside by luxury rail. Not only is your every need taken care of, you can sit back and enjoy the scenery in a leisurely way that’s just not possible by car or plane. Journeying by rail adds a nostalgic sense of old-school glamour to your African holiday. To give you a sense of what’s in store for you on your rail odyssey, we’ve highlighted three luxurious trains that you can choose from.
Rovos Rail – the height of old-world glamour and style
Rovos Rail is often referred to as the “most luxurious train in the world” with its carriages being the epitome of grandeur and sophistication. The vintage wood-panelled coaches have been refurbished using period décor to capture the romance of days gone by.
Since its inaugural trip in 1989, Rovos Rail has been delighting travellers with long-distance journeys throughout Southern and East Africa. ‘The Pride of Africa’ has a fleet of 75 carriages, each with its own story. Some date back to 1911 and some have even carried royalty. Others ended up serving as restaurants or lying derelict and forgotten beside old train tracks before Rovos rescued them.
In the old days of rail travel, privileged travellers were lavished with attentive service and every imaginable comfort. Rovos Rail has recreated this experience for today, allowing you to step back in time to an era of sophistication and elegance.
You can choose from a variety of Edwardian-style suites to sleep in. The Royal Suites take up half a carriage and have their own private lounge area and Victorian bath. The Deluxe Suites have a smaller lounge area and en suite bathroom, while the smallest Pullman Suites have either a double bed or bunk beds which can be converted into a couch.
During the day you’ll unwind in the observation or lounge cars, where sweeping wing-backed chairs and deep sofas are perfect for observing the countryside. In the evenings you’ll dress for dinner in your finest evening clothes (jacket and tie for men required) before heading to a pre-1940’s dining car for first-class cuisine served by attentive waiters.
Important to note: To maintain the spirit of travel in a bygone era, there are no radios or tv sets on board and the use of mobile phones, laptops and anything that will disturb the other passengers is confined to the privacy of your suite.
Rovos Rail Journeys
Rovos Rail is not hop on-hop off in the style of the City Bus. The trains travel specific routes on set days at set times, and you have to stay on for the entire route. The ethos is about experiencing the journey rather than rushing to the destination, so it’s important that you’re on board for the whole enchanting Edwardian-style adventure.
- Cape Town Journey: a popular two-night trip between Pretoria and Cape Town. On arrival at Rovos’ private colonial-style station in Capital Park Pretoria, you’ll sip cocktails and enjoy canapés before climbing aboad to depart through Highveld grasslands, the semi-desert Karoo, dramatic mountain ranges and the vineyards of the Cape Winelands. There is also a Cape Town to Dar es Salaam journey available.
- Victoria Falls Journey: a three-night adventure that travels through Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand goldfields, enters Botswana at Mafikeng and continues to the Zimbabwe border at Plumtree. The train travels through the Hwange National Park, offering plenty of game-viewing opportunities, before finishing at the Victoria Falls.
- Durban Journey: a two-night safari between Pretoria and Durban that only operates during summer and includes a game drive and battlefields tour.
- Golf Journey: an eight-night golf safari that starts and ends in Pretoria taking you to some of the most famous golf courses in the country.
- Namibia Journey: an eight-night safari trip that only takes place once a year in April/May, travelling to Kimberley through the Northern Cape, and the Karoo to the Fish River Canyon. On arrival in Windhoek, you’ll take a short flight to the Sossusvlei pan in the Namib Desert and spend a night in Etosha National Park, before ending your journey in the beach resort of Swakopmund. Tip: this is very popular – you’ll need to book at least 2 years in advance.
- NEW Tanzania | Zambia | DRC | Angola Journey: a 15-day expedition traversing Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola. This will be an historical moment since it will be the first time that a passenger train will ever have travelled the famous east-to-west copper trail. Your voyage will set off from Dar es Salaam and will include highlights such as the Selous Game Reserve, Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and sightseeing tour of the city of Lubumbashi in DRC, before ending in Lobito, Angola. This journey will also be available in reverse.
Our top tip: Don’t arrive late for your journey, as with everything else, Rovos Rail pays exacting attention to detail and leaves promptly on time.
Contact our travel consultants to enquire about the 2020/2021 timetable.
The Blue Train: train travel for the modern era
The Blue Train’s heritage stems back to the 1920s, when it first steamed up to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. While Rovos is all about old-world style, the Blue Train is a more modern experience, although, like Rovos, the emphasis is on detailed attention to personal service. You may have an iPod docking station in your suite, but you’ll also have a butler to take care of your every need.
The De Luxe and bigger Luxury Suites include all the things you need for a comfortable and entertaining journey, including a full-length bathtub and Wifi connection. Once you’re done relaxing in your luxury pad, you can head to the elegant lounge car with its huge windows that are perfect for gazing at the passing scenery. Dining on The Blue Train is a 5-star experience with all signature dishes being made from the freshest local ingredients. The large menu gives you substantial choice for your evening meals.
One interesting thing to note is the sound of the train or rather, lack thereof. The ‘clickety-clack, clickety-clack’ that is synonymous with train journeys is missing on the Blue Train. Air cushion suspension and double-glazed windows block out all outside noise, so instead of stopping in sidings for quiet slumber a la Rovos, the Blue Train streaks on through the night as you sleep soundly in your sound-proofed suite.
The Blue Train has welcomed all kinds of people – kings, presidents and famous actor honeymooners, to name but a few. It’s also aimed at ordinary people like us, those who have dreamed of a life of spectacular luxury, but never been in quite the right place at the right time. On the Blue Train, for a few days and nights, you can live just like those movie star guests.
Blue Train Journeys
The Blue Train travels between Cape Town and Pretoria in 30 hours. The northern route includes an off-train stop in Matjiesfontein, a Karoo town that perfectly reflects the archaic charm of train travel. You can take a trip on the Old London Bus and be summoned to dinner by trumpet…yes, much like a royal subject.
The southbound trip includes an off-train stop in Kimberley, the mining town whose biggest claim to fame is the Big Hole, the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. The hole is a product of the fantasies and greed of thousands of diamond prospectors, who came in droves armed with picks, shovels and hope, and left – many of them – with their dreams in tatters.
Travelling with kids: Whereas Rovos does not accept children, The Blue Train does take bookings for children, but on request only and subject to T&Cs.
The Shongololo Express (owned by Rovos) is named after Africa’s millipede, known locally as the shongololo, thanks to its similar snake-like appearance and sinuous movement. The major difference between Shongololo and the other two trains is that Shongololo is a 3-Star rail experience, while Rovos and the Blue Train are aimed at high-end passengers seeking the ultimate in 5-Star luxury. Optional off-train extras can also be purchased, including visits to cultural, historical and heritage sites, as well as overnight stays at luxury safari lodges.
Shongololo can accommodate 72 guests in either Emerald or Gold cabins. Dine on modern and traditional local cuisine in the dining cars, accompanied by top South African wines. There is also bar car, small smoking lounge and an observation car with open-air balcony – perfect for taking in the beautiful scenery as it whizzes by.
Shongololo Express Journeys
Shongololo hosts 3 journeys:
- Southern Cross – Pretoria to Victoria Falls (12 days)
- Dune Express – Pretoria to Swakopmund (12 days)
- Good Hope Golf – Pretoria to Cape Town (15 days)
All journeys have golfing options attached for enthusiasts.
Fancy donning your glad rags for a glamorous rail journey? Get in touch with our Portfolio Journeys consultants and they’ll have you tooting away in no time. Make an enquiry and find out your options – our advice is free and we’d love to hear from you.