Best train experiences in South Africa

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been fascinated by trains and railways. This is mostly as a result of my obsession with films like Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and Agatha Christie’s novel Murder On the Orient Express.

In South Africa, trains are mostly only used for public transport in the big metro areas. Outside of that, you do have a few options for some unique train experiences, ranging from day trips to longer stays and even across borders. We’ve rounded up our favourites for your next big adventure.

Go that extra Meyl

The famous and colourful Shosholoza Meyl is your best bet when it comes to travelling long distances at a reasonable price. These trains travel on rail routes between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London, on a weekly basis.

The Meyl has two train and class options. The first is Tourist Class, economy sleeper trains that travel on the following routes on a weekly basis: Johannesburg-Cape Town, Jo’burg-Durban, Jo’burg-Port Elizabeth and Jo’burg-East London.. They cater for couples (2 berth coupes) and families (4 berth compartments). Solo travellers are also welcome; they share a 4 berth with fellow travellers of the same gender.

You can also opt for the Premier Classe. These trains have two routes; Johannesburg – Cape Town and Johannesburg – Durban. These longer routes (a whopping 1 600km between Johannesburg and Cape Town)  that give you the chance to take in a big part of the South African landscape. There is also a dining cart which serves full English breakfast, four course luncheon, High Tea and five course dinner.

 

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True R&R

Coined as the ‘The Most Luxurious Train In The World’, the Rovos Rail is designed to treat its passengers to five star luxury with journeys across Southern Africa. The wood-panelled coaches speak romantically of a bygone era. The five star service and cuisine ensures that passengers can retreat in the Victorian luxury of it all. Patrons are requested to dress smart-casual during the day and to change into formal attire for evening meals.

Patrons have an option between Royal, Deluxe and Pullman suites. The Royal suite has its own private lounge area and full bathroom with Victorian bath and separate shower, while a deluxe suite accommodates two passengers in either twin or double beds and has a lounge area and en-suite bathroom with shower. Finally, the Pullman suites are equipped with a comfortable sofa-seat during the day, with a conversion to double or twin beds for the evening, and also has an en-suite bathroom with shower.

 

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A South African Institution

The Blue Train, also called ‘A Window to the soul of Africa’, is a luxurious display of life in the 19th century. Initially intended to stretch from Cape to Cairo, the Blue Train now tours through South Africa’s majestic landscape in five star exuberance. And although Cairo was never meant to be, the Blue Train is still an experience that cannot be missed.

Stepping onboard the Blue Train, you have the option of either booking a De Luxe suite or a Luxury suite. The elegant De Luxe suite lounges during the day and transforms into a bedroom at night with all the luxuries you might expect at a five star hotel. The Luxury suite adds an extra meter to your cabin space and includes a luxurious bath tub and a private digital interactive entertainment system. The Blue Train also recently walked away with Africa’s Leading Luxury Train accolade at the World Travel Awards Africa & Indian Ocean Gala Ceremony 2018.

 

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Steam Train’in

The Ceres Railway track was completed in 1912, at the turn of the 20th Century. Originally, the line was built using second hand material. Today, the Ceres Railway Company proudly preserves the South African Rail Heritage, which involves restoring and refurbishing old locomotives and coaches. Currently, they have three trains: a Class 19D locomotive #3321 (called Jessica), a Class 19B locomotive #1412 (called Bailey) and the very famous Red Devil which is a one-of-a-kind South African built (1981) Class 26.

The Ceres Railway Company offers day trips in and around Cape Town and Ceres. Their regular routes run between Ceres and Tulbagh, and Ceres and Cape Town. During the last week in November, also known as cherry time in the Bokkeveld, you can take the train from Cape Town to the Cherry Festival happening in Ceres. Recently, they also added a return route from Cape Town to Elgin where you can visit the newly established Art Deco & Art Nouveau inspired Elgin Railway Market. Read more about this new market experience, here.

 

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The Good ol’ Metro Rail

One of my very first experiences after moving down to Cape Town was taking the Metro Rail with my brother from Rosebank to Kalk Bay. I remember it clearly, as it was also the day that famous South African author, Andre Brink, passed away and I reflected on this true South African experience with nostalgia.

From the guy on his guitar singing ‘Wonderwall’, to the mother and her two children dressed for the beach, we passed through the Southern Suburbs, down to the beautiful Muizenberg beach, Saint James and finally Kalk Bay. And although the Metro Rail is not known to be reliable, and is often times unsafe, it is definitely something to experience at least once.

 

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