Rovos Rail offers trips of 48 hours to 14 days on a variety of Southern African journeys. The voyages take place on “wood-panelled coaches – classics remodelled and refurbished to mint condition” which “recapture the romance and atmosphere of a bygone era”. They’ve been in operation since 1989.
Below is a story by Jeremy Belcher about his experience on Rovos Rail as a teenager.
We boarded in Pretoria (South Africa’s political capital), on the luxury Rovos Rail train headed to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where we would spend Christmas. At the station, the train awaited, with red carpets leading to the cars and stewards with trays of champagne. The trains were antiques that had been collected by Rohan Vos, and refurbished to working order with an unbelievable attention to detail.
The train was pure luxury, straight out of the turn of of the century. Everything was mahogany. The caboose was a bar car with an open deck on the back, where you could have a drink (apparently 15 year olds can drink in South Africa) and look out at the open country side as the train went on. Plus, one of the actors from Weekend at Bernie’s was a passenger on our trip! (Bummer side note: he was a dick.)
The rooms were even more luxurious, with feather beds and a zillion thread count sheets, the train gently rocking you to sleep at night. The bathrooms contained standing showers, and in some cases bathtubs. How a bathtub worked on a train is beyond me, but they had somehow figured it out.
The African countryside is unbelievably beautiful. One of my strangest memories is looking out the window, and seeing nothing but countryside for what must have been 50 kilometers. Then, finally, there was a shack with a large Coca Cola sign, and then nothing else again for another 100 kilometers. How Coca Cola somehow reached what is probably one of the most remote corners of the earth is still a mystery, but it does say something about the power of American cultural exports.
It would be disingenuous to talk about a trip like this without mentioning the intense juxtaposition of this level of luxury riding through some of the poorest places on earth. All the comfort in the world can’t stop the crappy feeling that runs through you for at least a moment when you roll through a destitute village, all the villagers staring at your train as you ride by.
All in all, it was an amazing trip, what I imagine luxury travel was like 100 years ago. I would do it again in a heartbeat… I hear he even retrofits old planes as well! If you ever have the chance to do this, or anything like it for that matter, jump on it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
You can find more information and book your own trip on Rovos Rail at rovos.com