Best African Train Safaris and the Most Memorable Journeys by Rail

table in the bush in the timbavati

Travelling through Africa by train is a magical way to experience its scenic beauty in comfort. Some of the continent’s historic rail lines have been carefully restored and lovingly maintained for over a century, while a few brand-new high-speed rail lines have begun offering service just recently. Both ends of the spectrum offer a convenient and enjoyable way to travel between major cities and across the more iconic landscapes the continent offers.

Include a journey by rail on your African safari vacation to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It can fit well within your travel plans by making your journey as exciting as the destination.

The following are some of Africa’s most notable or famous rail lines to consider booking a ticket on as part of your safari trip.

The Blue Train

The crown jewel of Africa’s historic rail lines, South Africa’s “Blue Train” began service in 1923 as a way to transport luxury businessmen and travellers from steam ship ports in Cape Town to Pretoria.

Each trip covers just under 1,000 miles over the course of 27 hours, including a stop in the either the Karoo town of Matjiesfontein or Kimberly, a historic diamond mining town in the Northern Cape province. Sleeper compartments offer the luxury of a five-star hotel, and tickets to the train include gourmet meals and complimentary drinks genuinely fit for royalty. Indeed, passengers on the Blue Train have included kings, princes, diplomats and celebrities.

All of this luxury comes at a steep price — around $1,600 for a one-way ticket. Those who balk at that fare can instead opt for a journey on the Shosholoza Meyl train, which costs about a tenth as much for a two or four-berth sleeper compartment, although meals in the restaurant car cost extra. The Shosholoza Meyl offers a scenic voyage across South Africa’s Karoo region and the Cape winelands.

Jambo Kenya Deluxe

Once a luxurious rail line, Kenya’s Jambo Kenya Deluxe is now beginning to show its age. Nevertheless, your leisurely journey from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi only costs about $60 for a first-class ticket, which includes a hot breakfast and a three-course dinner.

Those seeking more modern comfort can find it on the Madaraka Express, which just began service this past month. This extremely modern Chinese-built rail line provides high-speed service from Mombasa to Nairobi while crossing through Tsavo National Park, allowing passengers to catch a glimpse at elephants, antelopes and other majestic wildlife along their journey.

Desert Express

The Desert Express in Namibia is a sumptuous rail line offering service for travellers from Namibia’s capital of Windhoek to the coastal towns of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. Options for travel range from direct trips to a seven day excursion across Namibia, encompassing a safari in Etosha Park, a yacht cruise in Walvis Bay, game drives and scenic train rides in comfortable cars across the Namib Desert.

Other Well-Known Lines

  • Rovos Rail’s Prince of Africa provides service from Cape Town through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania in a 14 luxury journey.
  • Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) offers two trains, the Kilimanjaro and the Mukuba Express both travelling from New Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The two day journey is slow and not-quite luxurious but perfect for those looking to authentically experience Africa.
  • The Zimbabwe Rail travels between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1950s-era British-built cars that still bear the now-defunct Rhodesia Railway’s “RR” logos.

Include a Train Ride on Your African Safari Vacation

You can explore your options for including a scenic journey by rail on your safari tour when you look at our Africa safari vacation packages now. You can also contact us directly for a custom safari tour package that includes a ride on the rail of your choice along with a curated itinerary of the best activities offered in your preferred area of travel.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Meerkat Fun on a Kalahari Safari

merkats

Meerkats: they may not have quite as much personality as Nathan Lane imbued Timon with in The Lion King, but they certainly come close. Their expressive faces and social tendencies endear them to humans for being similar to us but also ridiculously cute.

But make no mistake: meerkats may be cute, but they are ruthlessly efficient when it comes to working as a team while foraging, burrowing or even waging war over territory with other meerkat clans. Catching a glimpse of them in the wild can be fascinating, so keep these fun meerkat facts in mind during your Kalahari safari trip.

Meerkats Are Only Found in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts

Meerkats are a unique species. While they belong in the Herpestidae family with mongooses, they are the only species in the genus Suricata.

They exhibit highly unique traits compared to other mongooses, as well, including an evolved social structure and a tendency to live in burrows. They also mostly live in one place on the planet: the Kalahari desert. They can also be found in parts of the Namib desert along the coast of Namibia.

Therefore, if you want to see meerkats, the best places to visit would be Botswana, Namibia or South Africa.

Meerkats Live in Advanced Societies

Meerkats live in family “clans” dominated by a matriarch and her male mate. Labor is divided among the adult meerkats when it comes to digging burrows, foraging for food, standing watch for predators, and even nursing the matriarch’s pups.

One of the most notable of these duties is how several meerkats will act as sentries during the day while other members forage, play, or relax. These sentries will rotate, like people keeping watch. When a sentry spots a threat like a tawny eagle wheeling in the sky, they will bark out a specific warning call and send everyone scurrying back into the burrow. The drongo bird will even take advantage of this behavior by sounding a false alert when it can get a free meal.

Meerkats Have Highly Adapted Bodies

Adaptive traits of the meerkat include:

  • Large eyes set at slight angles for great sweeping visibility as well as an acute sense of depth
  • Dark circles around their eyes to reduce glare
  • Large ears for excellent hearing and also to radiate heat
  • Transparent third eyelids and an ability to shut their ears tight, both of which protect them during digging
  • Long, slender bodies adapted for tunneling but also advantageous for keeping watch; strong hind legs and a stiff tail also help them stand upright
  • Shovel-like claws for digging and snatching insects
  • An immunity to scorpion poison at adulthood
  • Thin-skinned bellies perfect for sunbathing when the meerkat wants to warm up

Meerkats Are Family-Oriented

Meerkat matriarchs only give birth to about four pups in a breeding season, so the entire clan looks after these pups to ensure their future survival. Some females will even help the matriarch nurse her pups by acting as wet nurses.

When meerkats sense danger, they will ensure that the pups are the first to flee. If they must confront threats, meerkat clans will place themselves in between pups and the danger to act as a shield.

One of the most surprising traits of meerkats, though, is how they can recognize individual’s voices like we would recognize our siblings’.

Come See Meerkats on Your Kalahari Safari

You can book a trip for a Kalahari safari tour in Botswana or South Africa to get a wild and personal look at meerkats in their home habitat.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa