With a blow of a whistle and a steam engine slowly pulling us down a track, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being transported back in time. Back to a place where travel was so much more than getting from A to B. A time when travel was adventurous and new. The popping cork of a bottle of sparkling wine snaps me back to the modern-day.
As I gaze out the window watching the skyscrapers of Johannesburg disappear and sip on the most amazing South African sparkling wine, my third of the day, I realize that this is no daydream. This is my Rovos Rail review, where old travel is new again.
The Golden Rails
What originally started as one man’s dream to vacation with his family in style, Rovos Rail’s return to the golden age of travel was a tricky one, to say the least. Rohan Vos, a lover of all things mechanical, began scouring the continent for vintage coach cars and locomotives in the mid-’80s.
After failing to get permission to use the railway lines in South Africa for private transportation the idea of opening Rovos Rail to the public was born. Understandably, times were tough for Rohan and his family. They are all part of the business in one way or another. Rovos Rail survived financial challenges; large ones I can only imagine with an operation like this and has grown into the magnificent company it is today.
Thankfully Rohan Voss’s vision of a better way to travel survived and today operates several journeys including a trip to Victoria Falls, a golf Safari, and a 15-day trip from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town. My journey, the Durban safari, was just getting started… and I was late for lunch.
5 Star Meals on Wheels
Meals onboard are nothing short of a miracle. Five-star quality dishes paired with South Africa’s best wines, all served in a beautifully decorated Victorian dining car…on a train. This high standard of travel was new to me, and I liked it.
Gone are the cold chicken or fish options with utensils that struggle to put a dent in soft butter. No, not on Rovos Rail. Instead, you will find fine China and Crystal with the signature “RR” embroidered on it. Then there is the staff. They are actually smiling and eager to please. Yes, this was a wonderful way to travel, not banging your knee on the beverage cart and all.
Carriage for a King
The high-quality craftsmanship, service and attention to detail aren’t just reserved for the dining car. Upon boarding, our personal assistant and the 24-hour concierge gave us a rundown on our suite – and what a suite indeed.
Gorgeous wood panelling and décor are reminiscent of days gone by with all the modern conveniences of today. This includes an ensuite bathroom with hot water and a hairdryer. There is a double bed, a lounge area, and a bar fridge that is full of whatever you want. Again, all of this on a train. And by the by, you haven’t lived unless you have had a hot shower on a moving train after indulging in your own bottomless minibar.
READ MORE: What’s a Luxury Train in India Really Like?
Rovos Rail Excursions
Although I was more than content to spend the entire journey in my cosy cabin (or bar car) Rovos Rail does an excellent job enticing you out. This Durban Safari journey includes a game drive at Nambiti private game reserve, a stop in Ladysmith for a fascinating history lesson, and a visit to the inspiring Ardmore ceramics gallery. Of course, these excursions are in true Rovos Rail style.
Upon disembarking the train you’re sent off with a waving goodbye from the entire crew. This touching gesture makes it a tad sad to leave each time but don’t sweat it, those same smiling faces are there to greet you on your return, this time with cold towels, and more champagne.
I love this train.
When not eating amazing meals or seeing the sights my time on this Rovos Rail review was spent enjoying the scenery for my comfortable cabin as well as from the observation car, which is conveniently attached to the bar car. Sipping South African cognac while watching the sun go down is a beautiful thing. Sipping South African cognac while watching the sun go down from an open-air observation car takes it to the next level.
Rovos Rail Routes
Rovos Rail offers a variety of scenic rail routes through South Africa and beyond. For those who really like a long train ride, Rovos Rail has expanded over the years to offer a service that stretches the content. For shorter trips, here are some of the notable Rovos Rail routes:
Cape Town to Pretoria
This is Rovos Rail’s most popular route, taking passengers on a captivating journey from Cape Town to Pretoria (or vice versa). The 1,600-kilometer trip traverses diverse landscapes, including the Cape Winelands, the Great Karoo, and the majestic Drakensberg Mountains.
This route combines a thrilling African safari experience with a visit to the iconic Victoria Falls. Starting in Pretoria, the train journey takes passengers through Zimbabwe or Botswana’s impressive landscapes, including the Madikwe Game Reserve, Hwange National Park, and finally reaches the breathtaking Victoria Falls. There guests can relax in one of the many great Victoria Falls hotels, take a river cruise on the Zambezi, and get soaked by the misty falls themselves.
Departing from Pretoria, the Durban Safari route showcases the beautiful landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal. Passengers have the opportunity to explore the scenic Battlefields, enjoy a game drive in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve, and experience the cultural heritage of the Zulu Kingdom.
This route is a mesmerizing adventure through the vast and stunning landscapes of Namibia. Starting in Pretoria, the train travels through the barren beauty of the Kalahari Desert, the Fish River Canyon, the historic town of Kolmanskop, and concludes in the picturesque coastal town of Swakopmund.
Golf enthusiasts will love this unique route that combines luxury train travel with exceptional golfing experiences. The train journey starts in Pretoria and includes stops at renowned golf courses in Sun City, Durban, and the Fancourt Estate in George, offering an unforgettable blend of relaxation and sport.
Each Rovos Rail route provides passengers with luxurious accommodations, delectable cuisine, and exceptional service, allowing them to immerse themselves in the natural wonders and cultural heritage of the destinations they visit.
Ride the Rovos Rails
As we rounded the corners of the Valley of a Thousand Hills I realized Rovos Rail is about enjoying the finer things in life, doing so from a vintage rail car nonetheless. I’m more than thankful for Rohan Voss’s vision of returning to this golden age of travel.
Rovos Rail believes in this vision so strongly that it even enforces a no-cell phone policy that is, in my opinion, very welcomed and long overdue. It makes you enjoy the company and scenery around you, just like those early travellers did not too long ago.
Hats off to them for reaching this lost time.
Rovos Rail FAQ’s
How many passengers can a Rovos Rail train have?
Rovos Rail has different train carriages with varying capacities. The maximum capacity of a Rovos Rail train is typically around 72 passengers. However, the exact number of passengers can vary depending on the specific train configuration and journey. It’s always best to check with Rovos Rail directly or refer to their official documentation for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding passenger capacity on their trains.
What is the difference between Blue Train and Rovos Rail?
The Blue Train and Rovos Rail are both renowned luxury train services in South Africa, offering distinct experiences. The Blue Train follows a fixed route between Pretoria and Cape Town, with a modern design, spacious suites, and an emphasis on onboard luxury. Rovos Rail, on the other hand, offers various routes to destinations like Victoria Falls and Namibia, boasting elegantly restored vintage carriages that evoke a classic and charming atmosphere.
While the Blue Train accommodates around 80 to 82 passengers and focuses on the onboard experience, Rovos Rail has a maximum capacity of approximately 72 passengers and often includes off-train excursions, allowing passengers to explore nearby attractions. Both trains provide exquisite dining experiences and personalized service, but the Blue Train exudes a refined and contemporary ambiance, while Rovos Rail offers a nostalgic and romantic atmosphere reminiscent of a bygone era of train travel. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on personal preferences, desired destinations, and the specific experience one seeks from a luxury train journey in South Africa.
Is Rovos Rail all-inclusive?
Rovos Rail offers all-inclusive journeys, ensuring a seamless and worry-free travel experience. When you book a trip with Rovos Rail, the fare typically covers various aspects of your journey. This includes luxurious accommodation in well-appointed suites or cabins, gourmet meals prepared by skilled chefs using fresh ingredients, and a selection of non-alcoholic beverages. Additionally, the services of dedicated onboard staff, including train managers and hospitality personnel, are included to ensure your comfort and satisfaction throughout the journey.
Moreover, Rovos Rail often includes off-train excursions as part of their itineraries, allowing you to explore nearby attractions and landmarks. These enriching excursions are typically included in the fare, providing you with opportunities for discovery and immersion in the destinations visited. By offering an all-inclusive experience, Rovos Rail aims to provide a hassle-free and unforgettable journey where you can simply relax, indulge, and enjoy the luxurious amenities and services onboard.
What is the dress code on the Rovos Rail?
Rovos Rail maintains a smart-casual dress code throughout the journey. During the day, comfortable and casual attire is suitable, such as smart jeans, shorts, and T-shirts. However, swimwear and overly casual attire are not recommended in the public areas of the train. As the evenings tend to be more formal, guests are encouraged to dress in elegant and sophisticated attire. For gentlemen, this may include jackets, ties, and trousers, while ladies may opt for dresses, skirts, or dressy pantsuits. It’s important to note that the dress code is part of the overall ambience and contributes to the refined atmosphere of the train.
For special events or themed dinners, Rovos Rail may request specific dress requirements. This could involve formal wear or attire related to the event’s theme. Guests are typically informed of any special dress instructions well in advance to ensure they can prepare accordingly. Ultimately, the dress code on Rovos Rail reflects the luxury and elegance of the train, and adhering to it enhances the overall experience for all passengers, creating a sophisticated and memorable atmosphere on board.
Is Rovos Rail air-conditioned?
Yes, Rovos Rail is air-conditioned, ensuring a comfortable and pleasant journey for its passengers. All the train carriages are equipped with air conditioning systems to provide a cool and refreshing environment, especially during warmer seasons or when travelling through regions with higher temperatures. The air conditioning maintains a comfortable temperature throughout the train, including the common areas, dining cars, and individual suites or cabins.
The presence of air conditioning on Rovos Rail ensures that passengers can relax and enjoy their journey without the discomfort caused by extreme heat. Whether traversing the scenic landscapes of South Africa or venturing into neighbouring countries, air conditioning contributes to a more enjoyable and relaxing travel experience.
Where does Rovos Rail go?
Rovos Rail offers a range of captivating journeys that take passengers through diverse and breathtaking landscapes. The train routes cover various destinations, including South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and more. Here are some notable destinations and routes:
In South Africa, Rovos Rail’s iconic route is between Pretoria and Cape Town, offering a spectacular journey through the picturesque landscapes of the Western Cape and the famed Cape Winelands. Passengers can admire the scenic beauty of the Hex River Valley, traverse the arid landscapes of the Karoo, and witness the majestic splendour of the Drakensberg Mountains.
Rovos Rail also ventures beyond South Africa, offering journeys to awe-inspiring destinations. These include the Victoria Falls route, where passengers can experience the wonder of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Other journeys include the Namibia Safari, which showcases the stark beauty of the Namib Desert, and the Dar es Salaam route, which takes travellers from Tanzania’s largest city to the stunning landscapes of the Selous Game Reserve.
What is the most luxurious train in Africa?
Rovos Rail is widely regarded as one of the most luxurious trains in Africa. With its meticulously restored vintage carriages, elegant interiors, and impeccable service, Rovos Rail offers a truly opulent and memorable travel experience. The attention to detail, gourmet cuisine, and personalized service contribute to the train’s reputation for luxury.
The suites on Rovos Rail are spacious and lavishly appointed, featuring elegant decor and modern amenities. The train’s public areas, including the dining cars and observation lounge, exude a timeless charm and provide a refined setting for relaxation and socializing. Rovos Rail’s commitment to excellence in every aspect of the journey has earned it a reputation as one of the finest luxury train experiences in Africa.
It’s worth noting that luxury is subjective, and individual preferences may vary. However, Rovos Rail consistently ranks among the top choices for travellers seeking an exceptionally luxurious train journey in Africa.
Are Kids Allowed on Rovos Rail?
Yes, children are allowed on Rovos Rail.
While Rovos Rail provides a luxurious and sophisticated travel experience, they also welcome families with children on board. However, it’s important to note that Rovos Rail maintains an atmosphere of elegance and tranquillity, so parents are encouraged to ensure that their children can adhere to the expected decorum and respect the comfort of other passengers.
Rovos Rail does not have specific age restrictions, but it’s advisable to consider whether the train journey and its duration would be suitable and enjoyable for children. Parents are responsible for supervising and ensuring the well-being of their children throughout the journey. It’s recommended to communicate with Rovos Rail directly or consult their official documentation for any specific policies or guidelines regarding children on board.
Like what you read? Pin it!
Looking for more South Africa?
Rovos Rail on Facebook
Rovos Rail on Twitter
Although I was provided with a complimentary journey for this Rovos Rail review,
the experience, opinions, and trip through the golden age of travel are my own.
Wow. Sounds like the early days of air travel. Great read.
For sure Quentin! Thanks for the comment and compliment!
This would be a dream come true! So wonderful and lovely photographs!
Thanks Joanne! If you are interested it you should start planning today!
I have never heard of this company! Looks amazing!
It really is Sally! Highlight of my RTW trip so far!
Wow, this brings back such awesome memories. Thank you! We celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary on the Rovos Rail in 2009. We flew up to Pretoria and traveled back to Cape Town on the majestic Rovos Rail. I love the rose petals on the bed…the attention to detail is awesome. And Joe, the train manager, was magic!!!
Awesome! Glad I could bring you back! I hope to do that route someday!
Thanks for the comment and photo share!
What an unreal journey you have taken! I would never expect a train like this in Africa, especially all the way to Dar es Salam. Wonderful.
Thanks Trevor! It was unreal. I hope to take the Dar es Salam trip someday! Can’t think of a better way to see Africa!
Shaun, an absolutely marvellous post with fab photography to go along with it! Love your writing style and now I want to experience this rail journey so badly for myself! Well done. I hope you’ll come by to take a peek at my luxury travel posts – would love to hear from you if you have time to leave me a comment at some time. A great adventure with what sounds like an absolutely amazing luxury brand.
Thanks for the kind words Deb! Share your link with me and I will have a look!
Great, Shaun – Come on over to http://www.newjetsetters.com and hook up with me on my social media channels (links are on the website). We’re also publishing our next edition of New Jetsetters Gloss digital magazine in a few weeks – love you to come subscribe at . (free) Thanks for connecting! (PS I’ve come to follow you on Instagram already!)
SO AMAZING! Some day!
I hope so! It is a really incredible journey and hope to do it again!