Luxury Train Travel in Africa
Luxury train travel in Africa makes different demands on safari travellers. You’ll need to sit down, relax, take your time – and indulge your senses. Unfolding African landscapes pass by, clouds mass on distant horizons, silver cutlery gleams on white linen.
Train travel is truly about the journey. Step aboard and the experience begins: you’ll enjoy top service, fine dining and great South African wine plus all the fineries of luxury travel like air-conditioned suites and room service. There are no radios or televisions on board, and to preserve the old-world ambience, the use of electronic devices is limited to one’s suite.
And then there are the excursions. Luxury train travellers enjoy the same sights and sounds as those on lodge-based safaris. Visits to classic wildlife destinations such as the Kruger Park, Victoria Falls and the Selous Reserve are included in the itineraries as are iconic African destinations ranging from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam.
How to do it? There are only two luxury trains in Africa that will deliver on expectations: All aboard!
THE WORLD’S NUMBER ONE – ROVOS RAIL
If they say they are the world’s most luxurious train operators, then it’s worth taking them at their word. Launched in 1989, Rovos Rail seeks to recreate the golden age of train travel, combining simple elegance with unabashed luxury. It’s what you’d expect: wood-panelled coaches, your drink made just the way you like it, and a formal dress code for dinner. There are three types of suite on offer, accommodating one or two passengers in double or twin beds. All are air-conditioned and have private bathrooms with shower, toilet and basin; the largest suite – the 16m² (170 ft²) Royal – comes with a bath as well as its own lounge.
Rovos Rail itineraries are varied and include journeys focussed on golf and big game viewing, or tours with an accent on culture and history. Our favourites are:
Trail of Two Oceans
A trail-blazing route from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, this 15-day odyssey embarks from Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam and finishes across the continent in Luanda, the capital of Angola. It’s a journey with an emphasis on wildlife – there are safaris into the Selous Reserve and Zambia’s South Luangwa – as well as culture and history with walking tours in the Congo and Angola.
Cape Town to Dar es Salaam
Like it says, this itinerary begins with the unique culture and landscapes of South Africa’s Cape before delivering a montage of classic Africa – the Kalahari, Victoria Falls, the Selous Game Reserve – and ending in the bustle of Dar es Salaam. You’ll enjoy 15 days of ever-changing landscapes – from the Cape Winelands to the East African savannahs – with plenty of history in the mix too.
Staying within the borders of South Africa, this journey wends its way in a big lazy ‘S’ from Pretoria to Cape Town and has both a golfing and a non-golfing itinerary. There are three excellent game reserves to visit – including the Kruger – a boat cruise on the Garden Route, lots of historical tours and if you are keen to play a few holes, then the golf courses on offer include some of the best in the country.
ICONIC REINVENTION – THE SHONGOLOLO EXPRESS
If Rovos Rail is the Five Star train then the Shongololo Express is the Three Star alternative. And since the Shongololo has been in the care of Rovos Rail since 2016, it means that those three stars are gilt-edged. The Shongololo Express still delivers the luxury train experience you’d expect but at a more affordable rate. Service is great, the food and wine excellent and you’ll need to dress smartly for dinner; bring some 1920s finery for one of their themed suppers.
Operating within the ambit of Southern Africa, the Shongololo offers journeys of between 12 and 15 days, taking in classic destinations such as the Kruger Park and Victoria Falls as well as Namibia’s must-see giant sand dunes and the Fish River Canyon, second in size only to the Grand Canyon. Our favourite itineraries are:
Spanning South Africa, eSwatini (Swaziland) and Namibia, this 15-day journey delivers wildlife viewing, cultural excursions and some of the most dramatic landscapes you’ll have ever seen. From the tangled bushveld of the Kruger Park to the rippling oceans of red sand in Namibia, this luxury train journey is big on experience.
Beginning in Pretoria, this itinerary opens with panoramic views and big game viewing in the Kruger Park. Dramatic landscapes and wildlife remain the theme as you travel north from South Africa and eSwatini and into Zimbabwe. There are historical excursions and further game viewing to look forward to and the journey ends at Victoria Falls with a village tour and a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.
Focussing on the dry areas of Southern Africa, the Dune Express rolls over South Africa’s arid diamond country before crossing into Namibia. Highlights include the Fish River Canyon and the dunes of Sossusvlei – the world’s highest – as well as walking tours of sand-filled ghost towns and historical excursions. Finish with wildlife watching at Namibia’s flagship Etosha Park and the coastal town of Walvis Bay, one of the country’s top birding spots.