The Rovos Rail in Africa

I rarely write about a destination or an experience I have never had first hand myself. Actually, now that I think about it, I might have never done it before. But this week, while doing some research about destinations in Africa, I bumped into the Rovos Rail, a train ride in southern Africa I had never heard about…and, since I have, I can´t stop dreaming about it. And dreams are not as fun if not shared, right?

The Rovos Train has that Agatha Christie´s Orient Express flair we all love. I was already a big fan of the Venice Simplon Orient-Express in Europe, the Royal Scotsman in Scotland, and the Eastern & Oriental Express in Southeast Asia – all run by the gigantic hospitality and leisure business Belmond. And boy, do they understand about that vintage elegance we crave so much. Oh, the hunger for the old days we never lived! I don´t think, currently, there´s anybody that excels higher than Belmond in this category. Though, when talking about vintage trains specifically, some Indian and Japanese companies are not that far behind (see the Seven Stars cruise train in Japan, for example).

The Rovos train (image from the official website)
The observation car (Image by Greg Beadle – Rovos official website)

I didn´t know this kind of luxury train existed in southern Africa as well, and though I have also found the Blue Train in South Africa, it was the Rovos Rail that stole my heart. The dark wood-panelled walls reflecting the orange colors of the sundown in the Namibian desert is the materialization of a dream I knew I had. I just didn´t know where to find it.

Despite the itinerary in Namibia being the one that caught my attention and melted my heart, the Rovos Rail offers a variety of exciting trips. They last from 2 to 15 days, being served by different vintage Rovos trains that cover the territories of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. Phew! This gives me some room to fantasize about the abundance of experiences that can be lived throughout a 15-day journey. You can wake up to the mighty sound of the Victoria Falls´ waters, one of the largest waterfalls in the world, and go to sleep watching the sun set over the Kalahari Desert.

The lounge car (image from the official website)
The lounge car, ready for the afternoon tea service (image from the official website)

If you think being “trapped” inside a train for days might be a bit claustrophobic, the Rovos Rail management thought about that too. Although most of your days will be inevitably spent inside one of the most luxurious trains in the planet (they can “trap” me there for as long as they want lol), there will be days off where you will overnight in an on-site hotel. Besides, it´s not like the guests will sit and watch beautiful sceneries go by the window without the opportunity to actually experience anything. Most itineraries offer activities like visits to conservation projects, museums, city tours and game drives. Mind you that, even if you don´t feel like joining an activity for whatever reason, the company only works with an all-inclusive system. This means one rate for all (with breakfast, lunch, tea snack and dinner included), varying only on your accommodation type.

Which leads me to the gorgeous cabins! There are three kinds of rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms: the Royal (16m2), the Deluxe (10m2) and the Pullman Gold (7m2). They look beautiful and I love that there are large windows by the bed so you can enjoy the calmness of the landscape laying down, being gently rocked by the train motion.

The Pullman Gold Suite from the hallway (image from the official website)
The Deluxe Suite with its lounge area (image from the official website)
The Royal Suite with the lounge area (image from the official website)

I wish I could say that there´s a room for each pocket, but…that´s not really it. A ticket to the Rovos is costly, after all, it is tailored to satisfy the highest of the standards. A three-day all-inclusive journey from Cape Town to Pretoria (1600 km), for example, costs around U$3196 in the Royal Suite, U$2385 in the Deluxe Suite, and U$1585 in the Pullman. For comparison, a 10-day all-inclusive safari in Namibia would cost U$10.587, U$7.842, and U$5326, respectively (prices per person, for the year of 2021).

Though the prices might be high, they are incomparably cheaper than the ones you find to travel onboard such trains in Europe. For you to have an idea, one night on the famous Venice Simplon Orient-Express will cost you not less than £4.000 (Paris to Verona). So…yeah, everything is relative. Looking through these lenses, a ticket to the Rovos Railway is a real bargain, especially because all beverages are included in the price (before you ask, yes, african wine as well).

The Royal Suite bathroom
The dining car (image from the official website)

The Rovos Rail was a dream that took many years, hard work and sleepless nights from Rohan Vos to become reality – a lucrative reality. Today, it is the dream of all vintage train lovers, who envisage the perfect trip on board of a luxurious locomotive with the many wonders of Africa framed every second through a moving window.

For more on the history of the Rovos Rail, watch the video:

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