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From the rhythmic hum of metal wheels on welded rails to ever-changing panoramas beyond the window, few journeys evoke the glamour and elegance of a bygone era as deftly as luxury train travel in Africa does.
Trains remind us of the golden age of travel, of journeys packed with nostalgia, charming comforts and a little old-world sparkle. And luxury train travel in South Africa, in particular, has seen something of a revival over the past two decades.
Today, a few 5-star options confidently rattle along tracks throughout the Cape Winelands, beloved Karoo, game reserves and brilliant historical regions, making for a travel experience like no other.
In an age where electronic devices and social media have taken over every aspect of our modern lives, what better way than to disconnect, relax, and rediscover a distant era of elegant travel aboard a vintage luxury train.
This celebrated style of travel can transport you to some of Africa’s most exciting destinations in unforgettable style, allowing you to relive the days of high tea, dressing up for dinner and watching the landscape gently unfold before you.
South Africa’s luxury train journeys are less frantic than flying. For example, no bag drop, security, or waiting in an airport departure area. Plus, with private suites onboard, they’re also more efficient than driving long distances.
Luxury train travel in Africa is here to stay and promises a unique, undeniably glamorous experience. Two luxury trains, in particular, have been making waves as top luxury locomotives. Offering you a similar bucket list experience to the world-famous Orient Express, both Rovos Rail and The Blue Train are a must on any discerning traveller's list who want to revel in historical reminiscence.
With the following two 5-star luxury rail operators, you can expect to travel in style and top-class comfort, allowing you to be well-rested and refreshed upon arrival.
Notorious for its elegance and extravagance, the grandeur of the Rovos Rail epitomises luxury train travel in Africa at its finest. Amble your way back to the Victorian days with the help of vintage carriages and glamorous lounges finished with sleek wood-panelling and wingback chairs. Guests will also indulge in a first-class dining experience with excellent cuisine in an amiable pre-1940s atmosphere.
The Rovos Rail experience has always been characterised by enjoying the journey rather than rushing to the destination, and each adventure submerges guests into an enchanting Edwardian-style fairytale. Trains travel blissfully along at no more than 60 km per hour, allowing guests to admire the scenery, observe birds, spot wildlife and take photographs. There is an absence of radios and televisions, and the use of technological devices is confined to the privacy of guests' suites.
Rovos Rail routes
The most frequented route is between Pretoria and Cape Town. This 1,600-kilometre meander journeys through the Highveld grasslands to the Great Karoo's barrenness, trundling through spectacular mountain ranges and scenic Winelands.
Other varying, multiple-day itineraries venture as far as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Swakopmund in Namibia. But the equally popular three-night adventure to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is another particularly stellar option. Departing from Pretoria, the trip winds its way through Warmbaths and Nylstroom before crossing the Tropic of Capricorn en route to the border with Zimbabwe. Eventually, it traverses Hwange National Park, a rich and diverse wildlife sanctuary where you can spot animals from the train and go on game drives. Before the sojourn ends, you'll visit the incomparable Victoria Falls. The surrounding areas offer travellers many recreational opportunities, including cruises, white-water rafting, superb game viewing, and photo safaris.
Unhurried and untroubled, these classic railway journeys radiate romance, elegance and grandeur for all who step aboard.
An icon of South African travel, The Blue Train counts celebrities and presidents among its clientele, combining world-class accommodation and dining with the ever-changing backdrop of the South African landscape.
The two train sets each include two lounge cars, dining cars and an observation car, and some of the en-suite cabins have the rare facility of a full-sized bath. Above all else, personal service and attention to detail are what make The Blue Train a perfect 5-star option. Offering guests a lavish experience that incorporates fine-dining gastronomy with deluxe suites finished with touches of gold and marble, as well as a personal butler to attend to your every need.
The Blue Train routes
Routes run from Pretoria to Cape Town and Pretoria to Hoedspruit. The Blue Train route between Pretoria and Cape Town is a two-night journey encompassing 1,600 kilometres through some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery offered by the African sub-continent. Along the way, there's a stopover in Kimberley to visit the Big Hole and the mining museum. It's ostensibly the best way to make the trip to Cape Town more inspiring and luxurious.
The journey between Pretoria and Hoedspruit allows guests to experience the full Blue Train offering, including an overnight in one of the train's beautifully appointed suites, with a gourmet dinner and a sumptuous breakfast served before arrival. And it's the perfect way to get to your dream safari in the Kruger National Park, where you'll enjoy everything from a bush breakfast to a sunset game drive and boma dinner.
In an era when time is a luxury, train travel exists to indulge those wishing to see the South African countryside in slow-moving style.
If the comfort and safety of a “travelling hotel” appeal to you, then book your truly unique trip of a lifetime aboard a luxury train with one of our Travel Experts today.
Our favourite tours showcasing the best of Luxury Rail Journeys
A selection of our favourite places for Luxury Rail Journeys
Accommodations for every kind of traveller
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