Renate Engelbrecht
4 minute read
4 Jun 2021
11:17 am

Best train trips and stays around South Africa

Renate Engelbrecht

A list of train trips or stays worth saving for if you're a fan of experiential travel and once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Kruger Shalati's bespoke deck and swimming pool. Picture: Kyle Lewin

The experience of a train trip or staying in a train on its tracks is certainly something worth saving for, so here are South Africa’s top three trains and track stays to consider checking out.

Rovos Rail

Although only semi-operational due to the Covid-19 pandemic, family business Rovos Rail is still running its Cape Town and Victoria Falls train trips.

Rovos rail

Rovos Rail in the Hex River Valley. 

Rovos Rail has been around for more than 30 years, taking travelers on the most extraordinary journeys. From the welcoming drinks at its very own Rovos Rail station with the wind in your hair as the train departs, to elegantly dining in evening attire and conversing with likeminded travelers, Rovos Rail allows you to truly submerge yourself in the excitement of the journey and to enjoy a screen-free environment that enhances human connection.

Meals are served in two-seater and four-seater dining cars and guests can select some of the finest South African wines to enjoy. Days onboard are smart casual, with evenings being formal.

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Rovos Rail’s Cape Town north- and south-bound routes include stops at Matjiesfontein in the Wstern Cape aand Kimberley’s Diamond Mine Museum and the world’s largest man-made excavation, the Big Hole. The Victoria Falls journey boasts magnificent scenery, off-the-train game drive excursions and of course Victoria Falls.

Rovos Rail Tours has also recently taken over the operation of the Shongololo Express, which boasts train trips of between 12 and 15 days, traversing South Africa, eSwatini, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The on-train experience transports you back to a simpler, more elegant era encompassing the romance of African exploration. The Shongololo Express is not running at the moment, but the Rovos Rail team is actively planning its Covid-19-safe reopening.

Rates: From R24,250 per person sharing (Cape Town, one-way); from R31,700 per person sharing (Victoria Falls, one-way)

The Blue Train

Probably the oldest of its kind in South Africa, the Blue Train has been offering luxury rail travel experiences since 1946. Its suites are fitted with private entertainment centres, with a choice of movie channels and radio stations for those who don’t feel like unplugging from the real world completely. You also have your own butler at your beck and call.

The Blue Train

The Blue Train’s lounge car. 

Having won the International Diners Club merit award for the finest selection of wines, you’re sure to find a favourite from the Blue Train’s 42-seater dining car’s wine list. This is also where the train’s executive chefs serve their gourmet dishes with shiny crystal glasses, polished silverware and fine bone china. As with Rovos Rail, lunches are elegantly casual and dinners are formal, with breakfasts being served at leisure.

Both the Cape Town and Kruger National Park train trips offer unique experiences, with the next Kruger National Park trip running from 24-26 June 2021. Step back in time with a stop over and excursion in Kimberley during the Cape Town southbound trip and reimagine the days of the diamond rush. Or take the train northbound and stop over at Matjiesfontein for a nostalgic glass of sherry at the Lord Milner Hotel’s colonial bar.

Rates: From R23,085 per person sharing (Cape Town, one-way); from R42,145 per person sharing (Kruger National Park, sold as a return trip only). Rates are all inclusive.

Kruger Shalati

If you’re not keen on a train in transit, consider the Kruger National Park’s recently launched Kruger Shalati, the train on the bridge.

Kruger Shalatis

Kruger Shalati’s suites are luxurious and boast magnificent views. Picture: Kyle Lewin

The train, which has been refurbished to offer unique, luxury accommodation with large, glass-walled rooms, is permanently stationed on the historic Selati bridge. This is where the train parked overnight nearly 100 years ago for visitors to explore the park.

Judiet Barnes, executive manager for brand, sales and marketing says: “It was important for us to be able to make guests feel as though they are in a luxury oasis in the middle of nowhere.”

Overlooking the Sabi River, this elevated sanctuary’s rooms are designed in such a way that you get the best out of the views, with the Big 5 roaming below. Here you can spot wildlife from the comfort of your own room or you can take it all in from the bespoke deck and swimming pool.

Kruger Shalati’s train might not be able to take you on a journey, but the destination and its food and drink offerings are undoubtedly journeyed enough for memories that will last a lifetime.

Rates: From R5,750 per person sharing per night.