Why This 31-hour Train Journey Is One of the Best Ways to Discover South Africa
While the golden age of rail travel might seem like a fantasy of the past, South Africa’s Blue Train is a reminder of what it means to experience luxury at a leisurely pace.
During a 31-hour journey, the train — which debuted in the 1920s — carries passengers through the rolling vineyards, national parks, and charming towns and cities of South Africa.
With 24-hour butler service, opulent suites, and impressive touches like a club lounge (for when it’s time to kick back with a glass of cognac and a cigar), the Blue Train may have you feeling more like you’ve stepped into a five-star hotel rather than onto a train.
That is, until you get a glimpse of the dreamy views outside your train car.
Origins of Opulenge
In operation for more than 70 years, the Blue Train began operating in the 1920s, with the intention to provide transportation between Africa’s southernmost and northernmost tips.
As tales gold and diamonds in the area started to spread, more travelers began coming to South Africa, and a burgeoning upper class formed. Travelers expected increasingly luxurious forms of travel, according to the train’s representatives.
Details of Grandeur
In the 1970s, the Blue Train underwent a carriage-by-carriage refurbishment to create the five-star suites and chic spaces its famous for today.
The experience is incredibly upscale even before you step onboard. Guests check into private lounges at the train station before being escorted to their suites on the train.
There are two sets of trains: one of which can accommodate 52 guests, and a weekly train that can accommodate 80 guests and also has a conference car for serious business travelers.
The train’s observation car has large windows that showcase the mesmerizing views as the train rolls through vineyards, mountainous terrain, and lush valleys.
The train is the definition of opulence, from the golden shades that line the walls to the plush leather seating.
The Blue Train has hosted such high-profile passengers as Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher.
The Blue Train currently operates between Pretoria and Cape Town on select Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and between Pretoria and Hoedspruit on select Fridays and Saturdays.
The winding journey, which takes travelers past such iconic sights as Victoria Falls and the flat-topped Table Mountain, traverses a total of 994 miles.
Travelers heading into Pretoria should be sure to watch out for the bright and bold colors of the jacaranda tree, which is famous for its fragrant purple blooms.
Pretoria is home to so many jacaranda trees, it’s nicknamed the Jacaranda City.
During the trip, the train will stop at locations like the historic town of Matjiesfontein. The 19th-century lampposts, post offices, and charming coffee shops promise to transport visitors back in time.
On the southbound journey, off-train excursions include visits to the diamond town of Kimberly, where passengers can visit the diamond museum and check out the Big Hole (which claims to be the world’s biggest hole excavated by hand).
There's also have plenty of time to admire the natural beauty of South Africa. The train travels to South Africa’s Limpopo province, which is home to Kruger National Park.
Here, travelers have the chance to spot all of Africa’s Big Five, while overnight journeys throughout the year give visitors a chance to enjoy a stay at one of the park's private safari lodges.
When it's time to dine, passengers can enjoy a selection of local specialties such as Karoo lamb, ostrich, venison, and oysters fresh from Knysna
All of the plates are served on crystal and china tableware.
Leisure and Dining Spaces
In the train's dining car, guests can enjoy either private meals or banquets while jazz and classic tunes play in the background.
There’s also a lounge car in the middle of the train where passengers can enjoy countryside views during afternoon high tea, or while having a drink.
In the Club Car, there are Cuban cigars, backgammon, chess, cards, and a well-stocked library.
Suites and Rates
The train’s soundproof and fully carpeted suites can actually convert from a living room to a bedroom. Passengers can choose from either the De Luxe suites, which measure 86 square feet and come with a three-quarter bath, or the Luxury suites, which measure 110 square feet and include a full-sized bath.
Rates start at approximately $1,164 during the low season (January through August and November through December) for a De Luxe double suite.