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.
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