Experience the decadent side of railway travel by boarding the Rovos Rail. Based in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, Rovos has quickly earned an international reputation as a truly extravagant and luxurious travel experience.

Combining the opulence of old-world travel with a modern flair and spacious suites, Rovos trains are currently the most luxurious in the world.

Started by Rohan Vos in 1989, the company is still family-owned and continues to offer outstanding luxury travel. If you’re keen to know more, keep reading.

Hop Aboard a Luxury Train, South Africa

Rovos Rail train from above - Montagu Pass

Indeed for many visitors, there is no better way to explore South Africa, as well as the surrounding countries.

Seasoned travellers will tell you that South Africa is a world in itself, with golden rich grasslands and forests, soaring mountains, meanders and hauntingly barren deserts. In a country so large, it is very easy to miss out on all its treasures.

Travelling cross-country by train, while being deliciously spoiled no less, provides travellers with the perfect opportunity to discover the very best of everything the country has to offer.

What to Expect On the Rovos Train

Your trip will be fully inclusive, and once you step aboard the wood-panelled coaches, you will find yourself swept away by the romance and atmosphere of an era long passed.

Top class craftsmanship is evident in the wood panelling and traditional furnishings.

Every cart and every carriage, from the kitchen to the suites has its own unique story. Some have serviced royalty. Others are restorations of previously discarded and forgotten cars.

While all the service cars are air-conditioned, the windows can open to let in the sights and smells of the countryside.

Rules & guidelines

Rovos Rail - Royal Suite interior

In accordance with the old-world spirit of simple pleasures, you will find no radios or television on board. And guests are encouraged to put away their laptops and cellphones in order to become one with the passing landscape.

If you absolutely have to make a phone call, do so in the privacy of your suite.

Smoking on the train is only allowed in the Club Carriage.

Suites

Rovos Rail - Royal Suite bathroom

Spacious suites are the personification of Edwardian elegance, and every single facility you will find in your room is of the highest standard. Each suite has a luggage shelf, a cupboard and safe, an ensuite bathroom and a drinks space.

There are three classes of suites available, namely the Pullman, Deluxe, and Royal suites. These vary in size and price, but all offer outstanding comfort for the duration of your trip.

Pullman suites

These are smaller suites, offering a daytime sofa that converts into a double bed or two single bunk beds at night. There’s a bathroom with a shower and a tea drawer in the room.

Deluxe suites

Deluxe suites come in one of three configurations; the lengthwise double, crosswise double, and L-twin (which has two single beds rather than one double). These suites have showers in the bathrooms as well, but come with their own mini-bar facilities.

Royal suites

The most luxurious of the suites, these contain a large double bed or twin beds. The Royal suites take up half the carriage size, and have a minibar with a lounge area. The large bathrooms contain both a shower and a bath.

Rovos train cars

Aside from the extravagant suites, the Rovos trains also have remarkable cars. There are four categories of cars, each with its own purpose.

Observation

Rovos Rail - Observation car in the evening

The large windows, open balcony and comfy seating make these cars the best place to be for viewing the landscape. These cars are at the back of the trains.

Dining

These are, of course, where you’ll enjoy all the meals onboard. They contain tables and chairs, and generally have windows so that guests can enjoy the scenes passing by as they enjoy their meal.

Lounge

Found in the middle of the trains, non-smoking lounge cars offer a comfy spot for guests to mingle and relax. They have deep sofas and wingback chairs and are the perfect place to read, enjoy a cup of tea, or even catch an afternoon snooze.

Club

These cars are smaller and more intimate and host smokers on the train in a public setting. They still offer scenic views and can hold a small group of guests on the comfy sofas.

Rovos meals

Rovos Rail - Diner car area

The sound of a gong heralds lunch and dinner. Chefs spare no effort to ensure that guests have a constant selection of fresh and interesting options, especially during overland train trips.

Meals are served in a single sitting in the very posh Dining Cars, accompanied by some of the best selection of South African wines.

Mealtimes are as follows:

  • Breakfast 07:00-10:00
  • Lunch 13:00
  • Tea 16:30
  • Formal dinner 19:30
  • Bar service is from 07:00 – ±01:00

Dress code

Dressing up for the occasion adds authenticity to the Rovos Rail train experience

For most of your time on the train, the dress code is smart casual. However, dinner is a formal occasion, and so requires the appropriate wear.

Because you will be enjoying the pleasures of fine china and silver service, it is best that you dress in keeping with the atmosphere.

Men are to wear a suit and tie at least, and cocktail evening dresses for the ladies of leisure. By making the effort to dress up, you are simply adding to the authenticity of your experience.

There are also themed evenings on occasion, which are fun to join in and dress up for.

Rovos Rail Routes

Rovos Rail train passing in the Outeniqua mountains

You might even say that Rovos Rail is the pride of South Africa. A series of journeys lasting anything between a couple of days to a month, linking some of the top destinations to Pretoria.

Destinations in South Africa include Cape Town at the very edge of the continent, Durban in the heart of the Zulu Kingdom, and a special trip for golf enthusiasts. Some of these routes run just once a year, while others are available more regularly.

(Excursions will be included in your trip, unless otherwise stated).

Cape Town

Duration: 3 days

This 3-day trip will see you spend 2 nights onboard the train as you meander through South Africa’s rich and diverse landscapes.

Starting in Pretoria, the train will head to the grassy Highveld, where you’ll stop off in the town of Kimberley. Enjoy sightseeing before boarding again for the next leg of the trip.

Passing through the Great Karoo, a seemingly barren stretch of semi-desert landscape. However, it is teeming with life if you know where to look. Stargazing in the Karoo is unmatched.

Your journey will end in the Mother City, cradled by the renowned Table Mountain.

Highlights

  • Big Hole in Kimberley
  • Kimberley Diamond Museum
  • The historical village of Matjiesfontein
  • Cape Winelands

Durban safari

Observing wild lions in a local reserve near Durban

Duration: 3 days

This Pretoria to KwaZulu Natal journey is more like a cross-country train safari, with ample opportunity to spot the Big 5. It takes you through KwaZulu Natal’s Nambiti Conservancy private retreat for a stunning view of the wildlife and landscapes.

The trip takes place in summer, ensuring warm, sunny days and plenty of animal sightings. There are game drives, battlefield lectures, and lots of South African culture and heritage to discover.

Enjoy a luxury safari vacation and watch the biodiverse scenery of KwaZulu Natal through the windows of your suite. Finish your trip in Durban, after travelling through the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

Highlights

  • Spioenkop Game Reserve
  • Valley of a Thousand Hills
  • Ardmore African Ceramics studio
  • Travel through the bio-diverse Nambiti Conservancy

Golf safari

Duration: 9 Days

For keen golfers and their loved ones, this golf safari luxury train ride provides a unique experience from Pretoria through Swaziland, Durban, and Nelspruit. Enjoy teeing off at 5 famous golf courses such as Leopard Creek, Durban Country Club, and more.

There are also game drives offered in Hluhluwe in Zululand, Kruger National Park, and Mkhaya Game Reserve. Shop for cultural souvenirs in Swaziland and traverse the Lost City. Your journey ends back in Pretoria.

This trip will delight just about any golf enthusiast and optional excursions are available for non-playing guests.

Highlights

  • Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland
  • The Lost City at Sun City
  • Battlefield tours
  • Pilanesberg and Drakensberg mountain ranges
  • Kruger National Park
  • Hluhluwe Game Reserve
  • Mkhaya Game Reserve
  • Mantenga Cultural Village

Victoria Falls

Rovos Rail train crosses a bridge in Victoria Falls

Duration: 4 Days

Take the picturesque route to Zimbabwe’s best-known waterfall, also known as ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. This trip takes passengers through the glorious lands of Botswana. Passing through the Tropic of Capricorn, and offering a game drive in Hwange National Park.

The route ends at Victoria Falls, where passengers can disembark and enjoy all the area has to offer.

Highlights

  • Tropic of Capricorn
  • Hwange National Park
  • Victoria Falls

Namibia safari

Duration: 9 Days

If spending 9 days on a luxurious trip through the Highveld and savannahs is your idea of a dream trip, this Namibia safari will delight you. This route has a beautiful blend of cosmopolitan cities, quaint towns, and barren deserts.

See the world’s second-largest canyon, Fish River Canyon, and then discover Keetmanshoop (or Giant’s Playground). You’ll also get the chance to ride in a light aircraft from Windhoek to Sossusvlei Lodge.

(This trip is available with a reverse itinerary as well).

Highlights

  • Big Hole in Kimberley
  • Kimberley Diamond Museum
  • Fish River Canyon
  • Kalahari and Namib Deserts
  • Etosha Salt Pan
  • Sossusvlei salt and clay pan

Dar es Salaam

Duration: 15 Days

You’ll get the truest taste of Africa on this 15-day voyage from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The route moves through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, before completing in Tanzania.

This trip includes memorable experiences such as bush walks, river cruises, and game drives. As well as helicopter rides and bungee jumping. Spend some nights in your luxury suite and others sleeping in lodges or hotels, and each day enjoying new sights and sounds.

Highlights

  • Klein and Great Karoo
  • Kimberley Big Hole and Diamond Mine Museum
  • Victoria Falls
  • Zambezi River sunset cruise
  • Chisimba Falls in Zambia
  • Great Rift Valley
  • Selous Game Reserve
  • Madikwe Game Reserve

African collage

Duration: 10 Days

From Pretoria to Cape Town, this route showcases the best South African landmarks, along with six of the country’s top golf courses. Passengers can choose either a golfing or non-golfing itinerary.

See Kruger Park, tour the city of Durban, head through the Valley of a Thousand Hills and visit the Addo Elephant Park. Discover the beauty of the Garden Route and meet the large birds at the ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn.

There are golf course options spread along the route. Disembark in the spectacular Cape Town and take in the Mother City’s excellence.

Highlights

  • Addo Elephant Park
  • Oudtshoorn ostrich farm
  • Kruger Park game drive
  • Swaziland
  • Hluhluwe Game Reserve
  • Garden Route

Rovos Rail Train Station

The Rovos rail train arrives at the station, Pretoria

Part of the Rovos appeal is visiting the Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria. The red-brick building is home to a railway museum, a welcoming lounge, and a balcony where you can watch the trains come in.

Private Hire Train Tours, South Africa

Journeys are customizable for large groups and Rovos offers two private hire trains, which are available for private events.

Charter train

You can rent a 42- or 72-sleeper train for private gatherings and themed journeys. The routes are similar to the train’s typical routes.

Events train

Guests can hire this train for weddings, conferences, and other private events. Choose from a one-way trip of up to 8-hour or a 3-hour journey around Pretoria.

The Pride of Africa Train

Rovos Rail Deluxe Suite interior, with double bed

The slogan of Rovos Rail is, “if it can be reached by railroad, Rovos can take you there.

They already have some of the most luxurious overland journeys through Africa, and yet Rovos are still pushing their limits. The newest route, Dar es Salaam to Lobito, Angola, set off in July 2019 and offers 15 days of African travel.

In the 30+ plus years that Rovos has been running, the company has expanded beyond what any of the team originally thought possible. Rovos has welcomed new additions to the fleet, now also including the Shongololo Express, the routes have broadened, and the team has grown.

There’s no doubt that this is one of the most enchanting ways to see the beauty that the African continent has to offer.

Jeff Cammack writes for Safari Guide Africa, a company that arranges custom South African holidays that often include Rovos Rail.

Read more about Rovos Rail trips from Safari Guide Africa.