Our rail experts offer a guide to the 10 best African rail journeys for 2018.
1. Rovos Rail
This luxury train of air-conditioned entirely en suite rooms with double or twin beds has to be the most comfortable way to see southern Africa – especially in a Royal Suite, which takes up half a carriage. The beautifully restored or appointed wood-panelled coaches include dining, lounge and observation cars, and there is a gift shop on board. Varying three to 15-day itineraries venture as far as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Swakopmund in Namibia, but the most frequent route is between Cape Town and Pretoria. Most trains begin or end at Rovos Rail’s own Capital Park station near Pretoria.
From £1,127 per person sharing, including accommodation, meals and excursions as well as all beverages, including alcohol: 0027 12 315 8242; rovos.com
2. Blue Train, South Africa
South Africa’s national railway luxury train is one of the oldest, derived from trains introduced in 1923, though frequently replaced or upgraded to become more luxurious. Oscillating between Cape Town and Pretoria, the two train sets each include two lounge cars, dining cars and an observation car, and some of the all en suite cabins have the rare facility of wheels of a full-sized bath. Southbound trains break the journey at Kimberley for a visit to the Big Hole and its Diamond Mine Museum, while northbound trains stop at Matjiesfontein for a sherry in the Lord Milner Hotel, founded in 1884 by James Douglas Logan, a Scottish railwayman.
From £900 per person sharing, including accommodation, meals and excursions as well as all beverages, including alcohol (except French champagne); 0027 12 334 8459; bluetrain.co.za
3. Shongololo Express
Bought by Rovos Rail in 2016, the Shongololo Express is positioned to cater for those more concerned to see southern Africa than pay for an opulent train experience. Three 12 to 15-day itineraries are on offer, traversing South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The 72 guests are accommodated in two categories of en suite cabins with double or twin beds – Emerald has a small lounge area, Gold does not – and there is a bar car and observation car as well as dining cars. One of the itineraries offers golfing and other options, and all visit game, historic or archaeological sites.
From £3,556 per person sharing, including accommodation, on-train meals and excursions: 0027 12 315 8242; shongololo.com
4. Tangier to Casablanca, Morocco
The first high-speed line in Morocco – and Africa – is due to open in mid-2018 between Tangier and Kenitra, which will reduce the journey time between Tangier and Casablanca from nearly five hours to just over two hours with connections on to Marrakech. TGV Duplex trains have been adapted for the climate with more powerful air conditioning and filters to prevent sand penetration of equipment. Those wanting to reach Morocco overland can board ferries to Tangier in Algeciras or Barcelona.
Prices still to be announced; oncf.ma
5. Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya
The new Chinese-built standard-gauge railway between Nairobi and Mombasa opened last May, reducing the journey time from a putative 16-24 hours by the old narrow-gauge line to just over four-and-three-quarter hours by the Intercity Train, the non-stop version of the Madaraka Express. The Country Train stops at eight intermediate stations. The air-conditioned train has a buffet car with table seating area for first class passengers only, a trolley service and complimentary water. Large windows allow good views over the Kapiti Plains and Tsavo National Park, so passengers would be unlucky not to see game.
Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi
The 1,155-mile (1,860km) Tazara Railway between Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, and Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia was the first of China’s railway-building projects in Africa, opening in 1975. It has had a chequered history, but new cars were put into service in 2016 to revitalise the railway and it has succeeded in attracting more tourists as a safer way to travel than road. Besides first and second class sleeping cars, and second and third class seated cars, there are usually two restaurant cars and a first class lounge car. Some couples pay for a four-berth cabin to secure sole occupancy. The journey often allows sightings of elephants, giraffes, zebra and antelope as it clips the Selous Game Reserve, and there is a spectacular mountain section with numerous bridges and tunnels. Coaches for Lusaka connect with the train at Kapiri Mposhi.
First class £34 one way; 00255 715 469239; krc.co.ke
7. Bulawayo to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
The overnight journey from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls is a world away from Rovos Rail, but some find the Zimbabwean wood-panelled coaches from another era and the sight of game more than compensate for shortcomings in other aspects of the experience. This year – in what is now the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe – a sleeper train is being introduced from Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park with refurbished “traditional” carriages. Passengers will board the train at Victoria Falls, have a three-course dinner and go to sleep as the train heads for Hwange. Guests will transfer on to the Elephant Express, an open-sided railcar designed for game viewing, which will take them to Ngamo on a two-hour transfer for the Imvelo Safari Lodge. Guests end up in a great safari area, so it is more interesting than the normal road or light aircraft transfers.
8. Outeniqua Choo Tjoe, South Africa
For many years this 41-mile (67km) line was the most popular daytime tourist journey in South Africa, running for most of the way along the coast with a spectacular curved viaduct across the Kaaimans river and a long, low viaduct across the lagoon, before journey’s end at Knysna. National operator Transnet lost interest in the steam-hauled service and when no successor could be found, operation ceased in 2010. Now a new concession is in prospect, and it is hoped that services might resume before the 90th anniversary of the opening of the railway this year on Oct 28. Knysna lies on the Garden Route and is famous for its Oyster Festival.
Prices to be announced; outeniquachootjoe.com
9. Royal Livingstone, Zambia
This five-coach dining train uses carriages restored by Rovos Rail and a steam locomotive to travel from Bushtracks Siding near Livingstone to the Victoria Falls Bridge, traversing a short section of what Rhodes hoped would become the Cape to Cairo railway. The train pauses for 20 minutes on the bridge before proceeding to Palm Grove siding for the six-course dinner stop and then returning to Bushtracks. Operating on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the train includes a lounge and observation car. Guests transfers between hotels/lodges and the train are part of the package.
£135 per person; contact Expert Africa 020 3405 6666; expertafrica.com
10. Cairo to Luxor, Egypt
There are two ways to travel by train to Luxor for its temple complex at nearby Karnak: the daytime air-conditioned express; and the overnight sleeper. To appreciate the Nile valley and the river’s feluccas (traditional wooden sailing boats) and thin banks of fertility, you have to defy government tourist restrictions on which trains tourists can buy tickets for and take the former. This entails simply boarding the train at Cairo’s impressive Ramses station and paying on board, hoping you find an empty seat, or buying a ticket ahead online (see seat61.com for detailed instructions).
Courtesy The Telegraph