We're getting a lot more enquiries these days from travelers looking for train journeys in Southern Africa.
So we thought we'd do a series of posts about them (as with many things in this part of the world, once you start researching, you uncover a world of options).
There are lots of rail journeys one can make in South Africa and also Southern Africa. It’s possible to travel by train from Pretoria to Namibia, for example, and also from Cape Town all the way to Victoria Falls (in northern Zimbabwe).
Essentially, trains divide into two broad categories: those run by large public companies with varying degrees of comfort (but not luxury) and those run by a handful of private companies which are all in the ultra-luxury bracket. All trains in this part of the world are to be seen as destinations in themselves (i.e. you travel by train for the sake of it, not because you want to get anywhere fast).
Websites for the public trains tend to be utterly useless, with some exceptions (like this one which is a booking agent site but at least allows to you see some pictures) but generally, the standard is good in terms of comfort (you should only consider travelling First Class on these trains). You get a private cabin (or share a four sleeper with another couple) which is turned into a bed for you whilst you have dinner in the dining car. They do not have en-suite bathrooms but they do have bathrooms in each carriage, one at each end, shared with approximately six cabins. The food is basic South African food, so mealie pap, braai vlees etc. The staff and other travellers on these trains are really what make them so pleasant: the service is always very friendly and you get to meet South Africans from all walks of life (many wealthy South Africans prefer the train to flying as they can take their cars with them either side).
Websites for the private companies tend to be amazing (and so do their prices!). To get an idea, have a look at Rovos Rail, Blue Train and also Shongolo. These are ultra-luxury trains where everything is included (fine dining, en-suite cabins some even with a bath) and yes they do include stops where you go on short safaris from the train (the train literally stops in the middle of the bush, you get out and go on safari!). We can get substantial discounts on these trains, particularly the Rovos where we have a really good relationship.
Images: www.bluetrain.co.za, Railway Gazette, Telegraph