South Africa: Best explored by rail?

When travellers start planning their holidays to South Africa, exploring the whole country may not sound like a realistic goal. Most opt to fly from destination to destination, as planning a road trip in a foreign country can seem like a bit too much effort, and often leaves tourists aching for a holiday from their holiday.

While a flight from Cape Town to Pretoria lasts just under two hours, it also comes with a trip to and from the airport, a long check-in, security, boarding queues and a sore neck from the uncomfortable seats. With 1,000 miles of natural beauty linking the two cities, it’s a shame that those travellers who choose to fly don’t get to experience the wonders of what lies between the arrival and departure gates.

For intelligent visitors who want to experience this captivating nation, an unforgettable option is to tour South Africa by train. The country has one of the world’s largest railway systems, connecting Cape Town to the country’s capital, Pretoria. Passengers can choose from a variety of lines according to their budgets; however, two world-class carriers stand out, Rovos Rails and The Blue Train.

With Rovos Rail, visitors can enjoy an all-inclusive experience in beautifully-restored South African coaches, complete with all the modern amenities of a true first-class train. After boarding one of Rovos’ locomotives, travellers along for the ride can expect an elegant three-day journey towards Pretoria. Private cabins, with en suite bathrooms, amply accommodate guests’ needs, although the popular Observation Car and Lounge is where most travellers can be found during the day, enjoying Rovos’ high standard of cuisine and excellent selection of South African wines.

Rovos’ itinerary includes steaming by some of the heart of South Africa’s most beautiful landscapes. In just a few days, passengers have a chance to view a dramatic change in scenery, from mountain ranges and picturesque vineyards of the Cape to the subtropical grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld. There are two scheduled stops along the journey. The first is in the historic village of Matjiesfontein, and the second, before reaching Pretoria, is Kimberly, home of the Diamond Museum and world’s largest man-made excavation, the Big Hole.

The timeless Blue Train also connects Cape Town to the capital city. The legendary train line has been a constant fixture in South Africa holidays since 1946. The Blue Train’s total journey time is almost half of that of the Rovos’, crossing the same distance in a mere 27 hours. The train stops only in Matjiesfontein, where passengers have time to explore the charming Victorian town.

Each journey begins with passengers being greeted by the friendly staff, including executive chef, butlers and the manager of the train. Though crossing South Africa by train may seem old fashioned, once travellers step into the coaches the train’s custom designed rooms, decked out with the latest equipment, show that they are actually quite modern.

Regardless of their differences, both Rovos and Blue have one main goal in common, and that is to provide visitors while on holidays to South Africa the best railway experience possible. As most holidaymakers anxiously spend a large part of their getaway trying to reduce their time in transit, travelling by rail invites passengers to relax and enjoy the journey.