Oozing old world charm, steeped in elegance and complete with all of the modern comforts a traveller needs, luxury train travel in Southern Africa has recently made a comeback.
Gone are the days of railway being the preferred means of travel of only the upper class, these days, it is fast becoming popular with travellers of all ages and budgets and is a great way to see a number of countries in a relatively short space of time while having all your needs and catered to.
Jump aboard and take a trip with along some of South Africa’s best long-distance luxury train journeys.
The History of Luxury Train Travel in South Africa
In South Africa, the first track for steam-powered locomotives was launched in 1860 and linked Market Square and the Customs Point in Durban, with more than 800 passengers transported that very same day. Several other railway lines were soon developed around other parts of the country and it wasn’t long before a national “link up” was established in 1898, joining the railway lines for easier freight transportation. Long-distance passenger travel in the country didn’t really get going until the 1920s when the iconic Blue Train was launched, but its services were sadly only available to the privileged wealthy.
These days, however, many travellers have a set budget and timeframe in which to travel, making the task of narrowing down what to do and see on their vacation a challenging on. It’s no surprise that many travellers are choosing railway journeys as their means of seeing more than one country on their travels. Besides the obvious perks of being able to sit back and soak up sweeping vistas of the countryside, or stop at quirky little towns along the way to meet real country folk, doing it all from the comfort of a luxury train with modern comforts, exquisite cuisine and some of the world’s finest wines is hard to compete with.
From national routes across South Africa to more extensive itineraries that traverse across borderlines, the Rovos Rail, Blue Train and Shongololo Express all promise fabulous accommodation, exceptional cuisine and impeccable service. It all depends on where you’re going and what type of luxury you’re after.
Hailed as the cream of the crop when it comes to luxury railway travel in Southern Africa, Rovos Rail was established in 1989 and has become synonymous with old-world railway travel, complete with all the bells and whistles. The fully-restored wood-panelled coaches with Edwardian finishes provide guests with a glimpse into a romantic bygone era.
A gong signals lunch and dinner in the dining cars, where guests can dine on sumptuous cuisine in five-star luxury and soak up the magic of Africa, whilst sipping on South Africa’s finest wines. Each coach features two lounges, two restaurant cars, private sleeping compartments with ensuite facilities, and can carry a maximum of 72 passengers.
The Pullman Suites are equipped with a sofa during the day which converts into a bed, while the deluxe suites feature a bed, small lounge area and en-suite shower room. The Royal Suites are perfect for that special occasion and feature full en-suite bathrooms complete with a bath for those seeking the ultimate in a luxury railway experience.
Travel in elegance from South Africa to Namibia, Victoria Falls and even as far as Tanzania, while the vintage coaches are also available for private golf and safari charters. When embarking on the 14-day Southern African Adventure, travellers can board the exquisite Rovos Rail where they will sit back and relax, soaking up the glamour and luxury of the journey from Pretoria to the iconic Victoria Falls, enjoying stops along the way, such as a safari game drive.
The Blue Train steamrolled its way into this history books in the 1920s and travelled along the Great African Railway to the famous Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. After a stint in the military during World War II, the train was reincarnated and has undergone many refurbishments since then to become a household name when it comes to luxury railway travel in South Africa. It takes travellers from Cape Town to Pretoria or from Pretoria to Hoedspruit, but can also be chartered for private trips to Gaborone and Francistown in Botswana.
Complete with luxury and deluxe suites, guests can relax and unwind in old-world style while enjoying fine dining with a difference, accompanied by the ever-changing landscape of the undulating hills and valleys of South Africa’s countryside.
Named after the shongololo, the name given to the millipede by the indigenous people of Africa, the 4-star Shongololo Express takes travellers on a variety of 12 or 15-day rail journeys throughout Southern Africa, including Swaziland, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia. Guests can dine on meals with Cape Dutch and Malay influences, as well as authentic African dishes, all paired with local wines.
The train departs from either Cape Town, Pretoria or the Victoria Falls and explores some of the most breathtaking scenery, treating travellers to the exquisite sights of Southern Africa. Embark on an unforgettable rail journey and enjoy stops along the way such as the iconic Kruger National Park, the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, Great Zimbabwe ruins, or the contrasts of Namibia where the giant red dunes are juxtaposed by cobalt blue skies.
Book your luxury train travel with us
With these three railways taking travellers on a variety of different trips and itineraries throughout Southern Africa, an epic railway journey is one for the memory books and is something every avid world traveller should do at least once in their lifetime.
Read more about our luxury railway journeys and contact us to start planning!