March 2

Africa by Train: An Adventure of a Lifetime

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By Luke Lalin on
March 2, 2021

There is something romantic about travelling on a train. Now just imagine Africa by train. 

We’ve all heard the clichés about trains being reminiscent of a bygone era with elevated style and elegance. We also know the metaphors of appreciating the journey instead of the destination or settling into a slower pace than our usual high-energy lifestyle. But does this sum up the appeal of train travel in Africa? 

rovos-rail-train-overlooking-game
Taking Africa by train in luxury. Credit: Rovos Rail

I don’t sleep well when I travel. Maybe I’m too excited about being in new surroundings or, probably more realistic, I am too particular about my sleeping environment. I am utterly envious of those who can climb onto a plane and are comatose before the wheels have lifted from the runway. Even more so of those who are snoring before the vehicle has reached the highway. I am simply not one of those people. 

That is until I discovered the gentle sway of a train journey. 

Africa by Train: From Johannesburg to Cape Town

Living in Cape Town is a guilty pleasure I take full advantage of. I can never understand why more people don’t move here (as I did over ten years ago). I also wonder why it is still a relatively quiet tourism destination compared to New York, Paris or Rome. But I’m certainly not complaining, as its laid back charm is part of the allure of this seaside city. The option of choosing your adventure every day, coupled with the multitude of so many options, makes this a unique and enchanting city to experience. 

So, what better way to start my first railway adventure than to fly into Johannesburg (like many of our international travellers do) and take the Rovos Rail back to Cape Town. 

The Most Luxurious Train in the World

This is an impressive title and one which Rovos Rail has garnered, aspired to and gallantly held for over 30 years. And while luxury nowadays might be synonymous with excess, over-the-top and brashness, Rovos Rail has an understated elegance that is welcoming and soothing.

From the moment you step onto the train, everything is crafted for a personal experience. Your private butler is on hand to take care of your every wish and elevates your journey. The friendly smile and warm greeting each morning was something I loved, and that provided a sense of comfort over the three-day sojourn on the train. 

Dinner service at Rovos Rail
Dinner by candlelight. Credit: Rovos Rail

Each coach of the train has been transformed into a luxury, mobile hotel of sorts. Everything you could think of is on board. The Private Suites have a victorian bath (Royal Suite), dining and lounge cars. My personal favourite was the observation car with a lookout balcony offering the perfect vantage point to admire the ever-changing scenery. 

The Sleeping Arrangements

There are three accommodation offerings onboard. From the ultra-luxurious Royal Suites (which take up half a carriage), the stylish Deluxe Suites, to the Pullman coaches, all accommodation options are spacious and more luxurious than any other train in the world. 

Having never slept on a train and being an inconsistent sleeper while travelling, I was astounded at how well I slept. There is something about the train’s gentle sway, which lulls you off into the most restful night’s sleep. Maybe it’s a throwback to being gently rocked to sleep as a child — providing a sense of comfort and security. Whatever it is, it is magical! I have no qualms in stating that I was very excited to head to my sanctum each evening and woke up more refreshed than ever.

Deluxe Suite in the luxury Rovos Rail train
The Deluxe Suite. Credit: Rovos Rail

So What’s The Allure of Rovos Rail?

The term digital detox is something that seems counterintuitive to me. Everything we do nowadays is so focused on digital that it’s never really possible to simply “switch off”. That being said, there is something about being confined to a train’s dimensions, with no TV and no WiFi. It naturally allows you to disconnect from that trained instinct to open your tech devices and browse. 

Rovos Rail promotes train travel as an opportunity to disconnect, and I absolutely loved it. Apart from the good night’s rest, it was probably my favourite part of the entire trip. I am also wise enough to realise the connection between my digital detox and my increased sleeping patterns. I know many people feel anxious without feeling “digitally connected”, but when you have no option to distract yourself, you will surprise yourself with what happens. The evolution of this feeling is what defined my trip. 

Interior of Luxury Dining Car in Rovos Rain train
The Dining Car oozes old-world charm. Credit: Rovos Rail

Another personal favourite of mine was the dress code. I romanticise the days of dressing up to travel. Jackets to fly, smart clothes to the theatre — these are occasions which should be celebrated (in my opinion). So the smart casual dress code on Rovos Rail was one which I was only too happy to abide by. But even better, the occasion of dressing up for dinner was sensational. You stand up taller, walk more intently and immediately acquire a confident swagger when dressed smartly. This tradition is unique and special, and I love how it pays homage to the bygone travel style. 

Take on Africa by Train

Rovos Rail offers luxury train travel throughout Africa. You can embark on three-day journeys from Pretoria to Cape Town or Durban. Or take on epic adventures to Victoria Falls, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania — Africa is literally all yours to explore in this most beautifully refined and relaxed way.

There is a romance about travelling by train, savouring the moments and being fully present in the experience. Rovos Rail is a shining beacon of a forgotten romantic era — one which we can all relate to and should aspire to experience soon. 

Take on Africa by train and make your Rovos Rail adventure a reality. Contact one of our African Travel Experts today.

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About the author 

Luke Lalin

Born and raised in Johannesburg, Luke ventured to a small town in the Eastern Cape, Grahamstown, where he studied at Rhodes University. Clearly not having studied enough, he then completed a finance degree just for fun - who even does this? Luke is passionate about travelling and was lucky enough to work in the USA for almost 2 years. However, his love for Africa was too strong and he returned home and moved to the spectacular city of Cape Town to pursue a career in the travel industry. Having once been a competitive swimmer, Luke can often be found doing laps in the pool. He is, however, a general fitness junkie and can be found doing anything from cycling, running, mountain biking, triathlon, tennis, squash or anything that gets the heart rate up.

  • So excited to read this blog as we’ll hopefully be doing the Namibia trip in 2022, having had to cancel 2021. Being keen luxury train travellers we so look forward to our next experience with Rovos Rail, arguably the best train in the world!

    • Thank you so much Les. Rovos Rail is truly something special and your Namibia trip is going to be incredible! I hope you will share your experience with us.

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