Cape Town to Johannesburg

by train from R630 (£36 or $62)

Is Shosholoza Meyl South Africa's best-kept secret?

A Cape Town to Johnaeesburg train speeds away from Cape Town

Jo'burg here we come!  Above, the Shosholoza Meyl train to Johannesburg speeds away from Cape Town, with Table Mountain in the background.  Safe, comfortable, THE way to go! Photo courtesy of Railbookers.

You can easily swap a meaningless flight or an ugly bus journey for an epic overland rail adventure with comfy sleepers, showers, restaurant car & fabulous scenery.

Cape Town to Johannesburg, an amazing 956 miles in 26 hours for an unbelievable £45 or $72 including sleeper - yes, you read that right!, see the Shosholoza Meyl section.  Or for a touch of luxury for R1,500 (£125 or $195) try Premier Classe.

 
 
 

Safe & comfortable trains in South Africa...

Contrary to what you may have heard and to what many middle-class South Africans may tell you, taking the train is a remarkably safe, civilised & enjoyable way to travel between cities in South Africa.  In fact, you'd be crazy not to consider it.  There are several completely different train services:

 Interactive mapClick a route for train times & fares...

 

Africa map...

  Click for map of train routes in southern Africa

Click here for an interactive map of train routes in southern Africa...

For hotels, I recommend running a price comparison at hotelscombined.com.


Sponsored links...

 


Useful country information

Train operator in South Africa:

Shosholoza Meyl trains: www.shosholozameyl.co.za

(for reservations from overseas call + 27 11 774 4555)

Luxury Blue Train, Cape Town-Pretoria:  www.bluetrain.co.za.

Premier Classe trains, Cape Town/Durban-Johannesburg: www.premierclasse.co.za

   

Time zone & dialling code:

GMT+2.  No daylight saving time.

Dialling code:

 

+27

Currency:

£1 = approx 16 Rand.    $1 = approx 10 Rand    Currency converter

Visas:

UK citizens do not need a visa to visit South Africa.  If you are taking children under 18, you may need to show their birth certificate under new entry rules from June 2015, see www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/south-africa/entry-requirements.

Tourist information:

Tripadvisor South Africa page www.southafrica.net www.safrica.info

Recommended guidebooks   Health & vaccinations

Hotels & flights:

Hotels in Cape Town, Johannesburg & South Africa     Find the cheapest flights to South Africa

Page last updated:

7 October 2014


Shosholoza Meyl long-distance trains...

Safe, comfortable, economical long-distance trains...

  Sunset from the train

The Shosholoza Meyl long-distance passenger trains are perhaps South Africa's best-kept travel secret and an unbelievable bargain.  Comfortable, cheap & perfectly safe, they link major cities including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth & East London.  They're a great way to travel as they let you see South Africa comfortably & affordably at ground level, without spending whole days & nights in a bus seat, or spending a fortune on expensive tourist experiences like the Blue Train or Rovos Rail, or flying and missing everything.  They are run by Shosholoza Meyl (www.shosholozameyl.co.za), originally part of South African Railways (Spoornet) and now a division of the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (PRASA, www.sarcc.co.za).  Shosholoza Meyl means 'pleasant experience'.  The the Shosholoza Meyl name was launched in 2001 along with newly-refurbished brightly-coloured sleeping-cars.  In 2006, Shosholoza Meyl split its trains into two distinct classes:  Tourist class with sleeping cars with 2 & 4-berth compartments and a restaurant car serving full meals, snacks, beer and wine, and Economy class with sitter class seats and sometimes a restaurant car.  In Tourist class, the sleepers even have hot showers at the end of the corridor!

Pictured right:  Sunset from the train.  Photo courtesy of Billy Shearer

Train times & routes...

Cape Town - Johannesburg

Johannesburg - Durban

Johannesburg - Port Elizabeth

Johannesburg - East London

Johannesburg & Pretoria - Louis Trichardt - Messina

Johannesburg & Pretoria-Nelspruit (for Kruger Park)-Komatipoort

 

Shosholoza Meyl information...

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets   

What are Shosholoza Meyl trains like? 

Safety on Shosholoza Meyl trains  

Travellers' reports

You can check Shosholoza Meyl train times at the official site www.shosholozameyl.co.za, but travel agency site www.southafricanrailways.co.za is kept better updated and is usually far more useful!

1.  Cape Town - Johannesburg

 Cape Town ► Johannesburg  - showing the full choice of trains

Days of running:

Wed, Thurs, Friday, Sunday

Every Tuesday

3 or 4 per month

Type of train::

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats.

Premier Classe train

Affordable deluxe train with

 sleepers, restaurant, lounge

meals included, see below.

Blue Train

Luxury train with

suites, restaurant &

lounges, see below.

Comments:

Distance

(Km)

In sleepers it's cheap,

safe, comfortable, a

great experience.

A more luxurious journey,

but still affordable.

World class luxury

experience, if you

can afford it...

0

Cape Town depart

 10:00  day 1

 09:05  Tues

 08:30  day 1

19

Bellville

 10:35  day 1

|

|

72

Wellington

 11:36  day 1

|

|

175

Worcester

 13:30  day 1

|

|

298

Matjiesfontein

 15:36  day 1

|

|

538

Beaufort West

 19:50  day 1

 18:45  Tues

|

801

De Aar

 23:45  day 1

22:35 Tues

|

1,035

Kimberley

 03:46  day 2

 03:00  Wed

|

1,344

Klerksdorp

 08:26  day 2

|

|

1,530

Johannesburg arrive

 12:16  day 2

 11:03  Wed

|

1,600

Pretoria arrive

*

*

 12:50  day 2

* Pretoria:  Shosholoza Meyl & Premier Classe trains no longer run through to/from Pretoria, since May 2006 they start/finish their journey at Johannesburg.  Remember that Johannesburg city centre isn't safe for visitors, but Johannesburg Park Station itself has security and is well-patrolled & secure.  Be very careful if you walk outside the station.  It's recommended that you either use the safe new Gautrain network to travel between Jo'burg Park Station, Sandton and Pretoria, or that you pre-book a car or taxi to pick you up at Jo'burg station when you arrive, and when leaving again, take a taxi or car to the station entrance.  Pretoria is a safer city to use as a base when visiting the Jo'burg area.

Fares   How to buy tickets   What are the trains like?   Are these trains safe? Yes!   Cape Town to Johannesburg is 1,530 Km or 956 miles.

 Johannesburg ► Cape Town  - showing the full choice of trains

Days of running:

Tues, Wed, Friday, Sunday

Every Thursday

3 or 4 per month

Type of train:

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats.

Premier Classe train

Affordable deluxe train with

 sleepers, restaurant, lounge

meals included, see below.

Blue Train

Luxury train with

suites, restaurant &

lounges, see below

Comments:

In sleepers it's cheap,

safe, comfortable, a

great experience.

A more luxurious journey,

but still affordable.

World class luxury

experience, if you

can afford it...

 Pretoria depart

*

*

 08:30  day 1

 Johannesburg depart

 12:30  day 1

 15:00  Thurs

|

 Klerksdorp

 16:25  day 1

|

|

 Kimberley

 21:20  day 1

 23:03  Thurs

|

 De Aar

 01:35  day 2

02:45  Fri

|

 Beaufort West

 06:00  day 2

 07:20  Fri

|

 Matjiesfontein

 09:43  day 2

|

|

 Worcester

 12:05  day 2

|

|

 Wellington

 13:54  day 2

|

|

 Bellville

 15:00  day 2

|

|

 Cape Town arrive

 15:30  day 2

 16:16  Fri

 12:00  day 2

Fares   How to buy tickets   What are the trains like?   Are these trains safe?  Yes they are!   Hotels in Cape Town, Jo'burg & Pretoria

2.  Johannesburg - Durban

 Johannesburg ► Durban  - showing all trains

 

 Durban ► Johannesburg - showing all trains

Days of running:

Last Fri of month*

Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun

Days of running:

Sun after last Fri**

Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun

Type of train:

Premier

Classe

deluxe sleepers &

 restaurant car.

Click for info

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats.

Type of train:

Premier

Classe

deluxe sleepers &

 restaurant car.

Click for info

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats.

Comments:

Distance (Km)

Affordable, safe,

quite luxurious,

civilised.  A treat!

In sleepers it's cheap,

safe, comfortable,

civilised.

Comments:

Affordable, safe,

quite luxurious,

civilised.  A treat!

In sleepers it's cheap,

safe, comfortable,

civilised.

0

Johannesburg depart

18:20  day 1

18:40  day 1

 Durban depart

17:30  day 1

19:15  day 1

438

Ladysmith

02:20  day 2

02:35  day 1

 Pietermaritzburg

20:08  day 1

21:53  day 1

617

Pietermaritzburg

05:20  day 2

06:15  day 2

 Ladysmith

23:28  day 1

01:45  day 2

722

Durban arrive

08:30  day 2

09:10  day 2

 Johannesburg arrive

06:30  day 2

09:35  day 2

* = The Premier Classe train runs only on the last Friday of the month.

** = The Premier Classe train runs only on the Sunday after the last Friday of the month.

Johannesburg-Durban trains pass the spot near Estcourt where in 1899 young war correspondent Winston Churchill was taken prisoner by the Boers when the British armoured train he was with was derailed.  They call at Pietermaritzburg (PMB), the station where Mahatma Ghandi was thrown off a train in 1893.  Not just transportation, but a bit of history!

Fares   How to buy tickets   What are the trains like?   Safety on board   Johannesburg to Durban is 722 Km or 451 miles.

3. Johannesburg - Port Elizabeth

  Johannesburg ► Port Elizabeth - all trains

 

 Port Elizabeth ► Johannesburg - all trains

Days of running:

Wed, Fri & Sun

Wed, Fri & Sun

Days of running:

Wed, Fri & Sun

Wed, Fri & Sun

Type of train:

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats.

Premier

Classe

deluxe sleepers &

 restaurant car.

Click for info

Type of train:

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats.

Premier

Classe

deluxe sleepers &

 restaurant car.

Click for info

Comments:

Distance (Km)

In sleepers it's cheap,

safe, comfortable,

civilised.

Affordable, safe,

quite luxurious,

civilised.  A treat!

Comments:

In sleepers it's cheap,

safe, comfortable,

civilised.

Affordable, safe,

quite luxurious,

civilised.  A treat!

0

Johannesburg depart

13:15  day 1

13:15  day 1

 Port Elizabeth depart

15:00  day 1

15:00  day 1

210

Kroonstad

17:25  day 1

17:25  day 1

 Nouport

22:29  day 1

22:29  day 1

407

Bloemfontein

20:30  day 1

20:30  day 1

 Bloemfontein

04:46  day 2

04:46  day 2

696

Nouport

02:35  day 2

02:35  day 2

 Kroonstad

07:52  day 2

07:52  day 2

1,112

Port Elizabeth arrive

09:15  day 2

09:15  day 2

 Johannesburg arrive

11:35  day 2

11:35  day 2

Fares   How to buy tickets   What are the trains like?   Are these trains safe? Yes!   Johannesburg to Pt Elizabeth is 1,112 Km or 695 miles.

4. Johannesburg - East London

 Johannesburg ► East London

 

 East London ► Johannesburg 

 Days of running:

Wednesday, Friday, Sunday

 Days of running:

Wednesday, Friday, Sunday

 Type of train:

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats

 Type of train:

Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist & Economy

class train with

sleepers, restaurant &

economy seats

 Johannesburg

depart

14:20  day 1

 East London

depart

14:15  day 1

 Kroonstad

arr/dep

18:32  day 1

 Bloemfontein

arr/dep

04:01  day 2

 Bloemfontein

arr/dep

21:35  day 1

 Kroonstad

arr/dep

07:08  day 2

 East London

arrive

10:20  day 2

 Johannesburg

arrive

10:50  day 2

Fares   How to buy tickets   What are the trains like?   Are these trains safe? Yes!   Johannesburg to East London is 1,023 Km or 639 miles.

Click here for train times for other Shosholoza Meyl routes, including Jo'burg to East London, Messina & Komatipoort (for Maputo), Bloemfontein-Kimberley.

How much does it cost?

 Shosholoza Meyl tourist class fares

 One-way fares in tourist class including sleeper...

 Johannesburg to Cape Town

R630 (£36 or $62)

 Johannesburg to Durban

R330 (£19 or $33)

 Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth        

R450 (£26 or $44)

 Johannesburg to East London

R440 (£25 or $43)

 Cape Town to Johannesburg

R630 (£36 or $62)

 Cape Town to De Aar

approx R300 (£20 or $31)

 Cape Town to Kimberley

approx R380 (£25 or $40)

 Durban to Johannesburg

R330 (£21 or $34)

  • Fares vary by month.  For example, Cape Town to Jo'burg might be R500 in August, R540 in Sept-Oct, R580 in November, R640 in December & January.  The fare includes a sleeper berth in a 2 or 4 berth sleeper compartment.  Couples can request berths in a 2-berth compartment, though this can't be guaranteed.  Bookings open 90 days in advance.

  • Bedding (sheets, blankets, pillow, made up for you by the train attendant) is an extra 40 rand (£3.50) or so per person, paid on the train.  UPDATE: No bedding available.  Due to an argument between Shosholoza Meyl and its laundry company, there's been no bedding available on any Tourist sleeper train since 2013.  Please check the situation before you travel, and if necessary take a lightweight sleeping-bag or sheets.

  • Children in tourist class sleepers aged from 0 to 9 pay half fare, 10 and over pay the adult fare.  This arrangement was introduced in 2009.  It seems harsh to have to pay half fare for a 3-month old baby, but remember how cheap the fares are to start with.  Children in economy class seats aged under 5 travel free, children aged 5 to 9 inclusive travel at half fare, children aged 10 and over pay full fare.

  • Return fares are twice the one-way fare. 

  • There may be further reductions for students & seniors in off-peak periods, so ask when booking.

  • Luggage:  You can take up to 25Kg of luggage into your sleeper compartment with you.  Excess can be sent in the baggage car for R4 per item.

  • Cars can be transported, for prices & booking contact www.shosholozameyl.co.za or (probably better) reliable agency www.southafricanrailways.co.za.  Pets are not allowed on board, except guide dogs.

  • Economy class fares:  Cape Town to Johannesburg in a seat on the daily Economy class train costs 170 Rand (£12).  Johannesburg to Messina costs R110 (£10) in economy class.  Johannesburg to Komatipoort costs R170 (£12) in economy class.

What are Shosholoza Meyl Tourist Class trains like?

Sleeping-cars:   The sleeping-cars have 4-berth rooms called 'compartments' and smaller 2-berth rooms known as 'coupés'.  The berths convert to seating for daytime use.  Each compartment has basic leatherette bench seats which convert to bunks at night, and a washbasin with hot and cold water.  Bedding is provided for a small extra charge (40 Rand, about £3.50) and expertly made up for you in the evening by the train attendant.  Each sleeping-car has a hot shower at the end of the corridor, with lockable shower cubicle & changing area - bring your own soap & towel.  The coaches are not air-conditioned, so the windows open for a superb view of the countryside.  A metal mesh screen is provided for use at night to allow cool air.  Berth numbers aren't specified on your ticket or allocated when you book.  Instead, reservation lists are posted at the departure station telling you your car car and berth number.  As far as is possible, two passengers travelling together will be booked into a 2-berth coupé, a solo traveller will normally be booked into a 4-berth compartment with passengers of the same sex.  The price is the same.  If you pay for two tickets (quite affordable, given the fare) you can have sole occupancy of a coupé.  The whole train is all non-smoking.

2-berth sleeper on a Shosholoza Meyl tourist class train   Shosholoza Meyl train from Johannesburg to Cape Town, seen at Jo'burg

2-berth 'coupé' sleeper, with berths folded away and washbasin covered...

 

The Shosholoza Meyl Tourist Class train to Cape Town about to leave Johannesburg...  All the scenery of the famous Blue train at a tenth of the price!  Photos courtesy of Jeroen van Marle

4-berth sleeper on the Jo'burg to Cape Town Shosholoza Meyl train   Sleeper toilet   A shower on the train!

4-berth 'compartment' sleeper, washbasin covered by the small table, one upper berth folded away.

 

There is a toilet and a shower with plenty of hot water at the end of the sleeper corridor.

Restaurant car on the Shosholoza Meyl tourist class train from Johannesburg to Cape Town   A cooked breakfast on the train!   Dinner in the diner!

Restaurant car exterior, at Johannesburg station...

 

A cooked breakfast...

 

Dinner in the diner...

Restaurant car:  There's a restaurant car serving snacks, drinks and affordable complete meals.  A full English breakfast (35 Rand) hits the spot in the morning, and beer and a wine list is available for something to go with you lunch or dinner.  The food is not expensive, even by South African standards.  Restaurant car staff also come down the train to sell tea and coffee to you at your seat.  Catering was originally sub-contracted to caterers such as BJ's, the South African equivalent of Wimpy, though is now back in-house.  Recent video of dining in Shosholoza Meyl restaurant carPhotos courtesy of Jeroen van Marle

What are Shosholoza Meyl Economy Class Trains like?

  Shosholoza Meyl economy class train:  Sitter class.

Sitter class seating on an economy class train...

Sitter class seating: Economy trains have basic seating, which does not convert to berths.  Fine for daytime journeys, and safe with travelling security staff on board, but not generally recommended for visitors on overnight trips unless you can't get a sleeper and are prepared to rough it.  Most trains also have a restaurant or refreshment car.

How to buy tickets...

Shosholoza Meyl tourist class sleepers can get fully-booked a month or two ahead, especially on the popular Cape Town to Johannesburg route, so book as far ahead as you can.

Online booking briefly appeared but then disappeared on the official Shosholoza Meyl website www.shosholozameyl.co.za, which seems to be run by some fairly dozy managers now, most unlike the once-efficient South African Railways of decades ago. 

If you live in South Africa, just pick up the phone and call Shosholoza Meyl's freephone number 086 000 8888, or contact www.southafricanrailways.co.za.

If you live outside South Africa contact specialist booking agency African Sun travel www.southafricanrailways.co.za, as shown below...

Buy tickets from reputable travel agency African Sun Travel, www.southafricanrailways.co.za...

The best way to buy tickets for Shosholoza Meyl trains from outside South Africa is to order online from travel agency African Sun Travel via their website www.southafricanrailways.co.za.  Their website is kept better updated with Shosholoza timetable sand days of running than the official one, and they seem far more on-the-ball than Shosholoza Meyl themselves.  Just be aware that this is not Shosholoza Meyl, but a privately-run travel agency.  African Sun travel charge a R90 (£8, $14) fee on top of the official price for Cape Town to Jo'burg tickets, R60 (£6 or $9) for Jo'burg to Durban.

Buy tickets in person or by phone 086 000 8888 (overseas callers + 27 11 7744 555).

Call Shosholoza Meyl reservations on 086 000 8888 or buy tickets in person at any station reservation office.  From outside South Africa, call + 27 11 7744 555.  Bookings open 90 days before departure.  Reservations are computerised, so any reservation office can book any journey in South Africa.  When booking by phone, you will be given a booking reference number, and you must collect and pay for your tickets at a station within 2 days.  Your ticket will not show your coach or berth number, but a passenger list showing which berth is allocated to which passenger is posted in a glass case at the station about an hour before departure.

Security on Shosholoza Meyl trains:  Not a problem!

Shosholoza Meyl tourist class trains are perfectly safe to travel on, and can even be recommended for families and women travelling alone.  Sleeping compartments have both a normal lock and a security lock which cannot be opened from the outside, and the train manager and his assistants do a good job looking after their passengers.  People who tell you that 'trains in South Africa are unsafe' have probably never been on one, and are confusing these excellent and safe Shosholoza Meyl trains with the suburban Metro trains around the big cities which they see adversely reported on South African TV.  It goes without saying that the high-end Premier Classe and Blue Train services are very safe, too.

Safety at Johannesburg's Park Station...

The long-distance trains themselves are very safe, and Johannesburg's Park Station itself is well-patrolled with security guards & CCTV.  However, the streets surrounding Park Station in downtown Johannesburg are definitely not safe, so arrange a car to drop you off or pick you up right at the station entrance or ask the driver to meet you inside the station.   You should take advice before walking around in Johannesburg city centre.  However, things are improving and you can now travel between Johannesburg Park Station and Pretoria via the suburb of Sandton, using the safe new Gautrain network.

Traveller's report:  Trish Jones says this about arriving by car at Johannesburg Park station to catch the Premier Classe train to Cape Town: "With regards to Johannesburg's Park Station, it was one of the things I was concerned about as I haven’t been there for ages, and I’m super cautious.  We had a friend collect us, drove into the car park from the Rissik Street side, and much to my amazement it was spotless and well organized.  Once inside, it’s a case of down the escalator, turn left, and straight into the Premier Classe Lounge (also used for The Blue Train) for check in.  It’s totally separate and is available only to Premier Classe [and Blue Train] passengers.  No hassles and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or threatened at all.  The rest of the station isn't great, but it doesn't matter because you don’t go there."

Traveller's report:  Steven Wasiura says "Park Station in Johannesburg was very busy and felt generally safe, with visible security presence throughout.  The Gautrain is an excellent way to reach the station [from Pretoria, airport, or suburbs], though the direct link between the Gautrain station and Park is still under construction, necessitating a short, easy walk outside.  There are also several car hire agencies with offices at the station, so you may be able, as I was, to return your rental car there and go straight to your train."

Travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town by Shosholoza Meyl tourist class train...

 

Johannesburg Park Station.  Above left, the main concourse.  Above right, the Shosholoza Meyl ticket office and waiting room.  the streets outside Park Station aren't safe, so make sure you are dropped and collected right at the station entrance.  However, the station itself is well patrolled, has CCTV and is a fairly safe and pleasant place to be.  Photos courtesy of Jeroen van Marle

Reservation lists posted at station for a Shosholoza Meyl Tourist class train   Shosholoza Meyl Tourist class train on its way to Cape Town

The reservation list...  Tourist class berths aren't allocated when booking, reservation lists are posted at the departure station. Courtesy of Johannes Wittlinger.

 

En route from Johannesburg to Cape Town...  26 amazing hours by train, right across South Africa.  Travellers who fly really do miss out...  Courtesy of Jeroen van Marle

More scenery from the train...   Cape vineyards and mountains seen from the train   The train from Johannesburg approaches Cape Town

The next day, after crossing the arid Karoo and traversing the Hex River Pass, the train reaches the Cape wine region, where vineyards nestle under vast mountains.  The carriage windows open half way, great for reflection-free photography and allowing a cool breeze into your sleeper...  Photos courtesy of Jeroen van Marle

The Shosholoza Meyl Cape Town to Johannesburg train calls at a station   Shosholoza Meyl tourist class train from Cape Town to Johannesburg, on its way across South Africa!

Approaching Cape Town itself, you'll pass shanty towns, then Table Mountain itself will come into view.  Photos courtesy of Johannes Wittlinger.

The Shosholoza Meyl train from Johannesburg has arrived at Cape Town station   Cape Town railway station

Cape Town station. You arrive right in the heart of Cape Town itself... Photos courtesy of Jeroen van Marle

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Steven Wasiura took Shosholoza Meyl from Jo'burg to Cape Town in 2013:  "In South Africa we took the Shosholoza Meyl tourist class train from Johannesburg to Cape Town, with a 2-berth sleeper booked through African Sun Travel, who gave very friendly, efficient service.  There isn't much to say beyond that it was great.  Park Station in Johannesburg was very busy and felt generally safe, with visible security presence throughout.  The Gautrain is an excellent way to reach the station, though the direct link between the Gautrain station and Park is still under construction, necessitating a short, easy walk outside.  There are also several car hire agencies with offices at the station, so you may be able, as I was, to return your rental car there and go straight to your train.  We had considered taking the Premier Classe but it didn't fit our schedule, but anyway I'm very glad we ended up on the Tourist Class.  The train was full and as far as I could tell we were the only non-South Africans onboard.  Our fellow passengers were very open and friendly and represented every part of the "rainbow nation.  Travelling at the beginning of winter it did get cold overnight, but the bedding (40 Rand) included three heavy blankets and the hot shower at the end of the corridor worked great in the morning.  Dinner for two in the dining car, with dessert and a full bottle of excellent South African wine, came to $21, and they also served breakfast and lunch the second day before arriving in Cape Town.  There is no need to fly across South Africa and certainly no reason to subject yourself to a bus."

Traveller Matthew Dowling travelled with Shosholoza Meyl tourist class:  "As for the south African Shosholoza Meyl train from cape town to Kimberly – only good things to say.  Excellent service, comfortable and efficient.  Surprisingly empty, though, which allowed us a six sleeper compartment all to ourselves.  The dining car was well kept and reasonably priced - a real pleasure sliding through the Karoo desert sunset and having a lasagne and a glass of wine."

Traveller Maranda reports from a trip on Shosholoza Meyl's Johannesburg-Cape Town train:  "I met fascinating people (there were no non-South Africans visible on the trains I was on) and saw the country in a spectacular way.  My parents and husband were happy because it was clearly safe. And I even stayed within my budget. I was greatly blessed to meet wonderful people and to see a slice of South African life that's not on the tourist maps.  On the Trans-Karoo, the food I had at dinner in the restaurant car was really good.  I had fried fish and yellow rice with some onion/tomato topping.  Quite scrumpy, and at Rand 30, a very good deal. It was obviously freshly made.  You still need to take a bar of soap, as soap provision in toilets was a bit spotty.  Overall, have to say that the 1st class travel on Shosholoza Meyl is one of the best bargains I've ever encountered. As you said, the train staff are lovely, the bedding is comfy, the views are unbelievably spectacular, and the whole experience is great.  Plus you just get a window onto so many different aspects of South African life, just in terms of whom you meet. "


Premier Classe trains...

  The Premier Classe train from Johannesburg to Cape Town  
 

Premier Classe:  Travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town in comfort & safety, aboard the Premier Classe train...  Photo courtesy of Michael Schaffer.

 

Deluxe train travel on a budget...

Cape Town -  Johannesburg (once a week)

Johannesburg - Port Elizabeth (twice a week)

Johannesburg - Durban (once a month)

The Premier Classe trains (www.premierclasse.co.za, if & when their site is working) are an affordable deluxe service on key routes aimed at both budget-conscious tourists and South Africans themselves.  They are another of South-Africa's well-kept travel secrets, and they are already getting great reports from travellers who try them.  If you can't afford the famous Blue Train, but still want safe, civilised deluxe train travel at ground level through superb South African scenery that you can't see from 30,000 feet, take a Premier Classe train.  Premier Classe started out in 1998 as an affordable deluxe service from Cape Town to Johannesburg, originally running once a week attached to the regular Shosholoza Meyl train.  But in May 2006 it was made into a completely separate train and increased to twice a week.  In October 2008 they introduced a twice-weekly Durban-Johannesburg train.  They briefly ran a weekly Premier Classe train from Jo'burg to Hoedspruit in the Kruger National Park, but this has now been discontinued.  A new Jo'burg to Port Elizabeth train was added in 2013. See advice on using Johannesburg Park Station.

Premier Classe trains are hotels on rails.  They use standard South African railways sleeping-cars (in fact, the same 1960s-1970s type used by Shosholoza Meyl) which have been refurbished to deluxe standards, and passengers are given twice the normal amount of space per passenger:  Solo passengers get sole occupancy of what would have been a 2-berth coupé, two passengers get sole use of what would have been a 4-berth compartment and so get two lower berths.  The sleeping-cars aren't air-conditioned, a big advantage for photographers as the windows open!  There's a deluxe Premier Classe restaurant car serving 3-5 course meals and a Premier Classe lounge car with armchairs, sofas and a bar.  The fare includes all your meals and complimentary tea/coffee, although alcoholic drinks cost extra. Premier Classe passengers can use the luxury Blue Train VIP lounges at Cape Town and Johannesburg stations.  Premier Classe is now a division of the new Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (PRASA, www.sarcc.co.za).  This amateur video gives a good idea of what to expect on board the Premier Classe train and in terms of scenery, and you may also find this account helps convince you to try out this excellent train service!

Pretoria, Sandton & airport connections:  You can now travel between Jo'burg Park Station, Sandton, Pretoria & Jo'burg international airport on the safe new Gautrain network, see below.

Car transport:  Cars can also be transported on these trains between Cape Town or Durban & Johannesburg, R 1,100 per car to/from Durban or R 1,780- R 3,700 per car to/from Cape Town.

Premier Classe train timetable...   You can check train times & fares at www.premierclasse.co.za (if working) or at www.southafricanrailways.co.za (African Sun Travel, a private agency but usually more reliable).

 Cape Town ► Johannesburg

 Johannesburg ► Cape Town

 Premier Classe:  Deluxe sleepers, restaurant car, lounge.

 Premier Classe:  Deluxe sleepers, restaurant car, lounge.

 Cape Town

depart

09:05  Tuesdays

 Johannesburg

depart

15:00  Thursdays

 Beaufort West

arr/dep

18:45  Tuesdays

 Kimberley

arr/dep

23:03  Thursdays

 Kimberley

arr/dep

03:00  Next day

 Beaufort West

arr/dep

07:20  Next day

 Johannesburg

arrive

11:03  Next day

 Cape Town

arrive

16:15  Next day

Note that Cape Town-Jo'burg should run twice a week, but it seems to be running only once a week at the moment.  Feedback appreciated!

 Port Elizabeth ► Johannesburg

 

 Johannesburg ► Port Elizabeth

 Premier Classe:  Deluxe sleepers, restaurant car, lounge.

 Premier Classe:  Deluxe sleepers, restaurant car, lounge.

 Port Elizabeth

depart

15:00  Wednesday, Friday, Sunday

 Johannesburg

depart

13:15  Wednesday, Friday, Sundays

 Bloemfontein

depart

04:46  Next day

 Bloemfontein

arrive

20:30  Next day

 Johannesburg

arrive

11:35  Next day

 Port Elizabeth

arrive

09:15  Next day

 Durban ► Johannesburg

 

 Johannesburg ► Durban

 Premier Classe:  Deluxe sleepers, restaurant car, lounge.

 Premier Classe:  Deluxe sleepers, restaurant car, lounge.

 Durban

depart

17:30  Sunday after last Fri each month

 Johannesburg

depart

18:20  Last Friday of each month

 Pietermaritzburg

depart

20:08  Sunday after last Fri each month

 Pietermaritzburg

arrive

05:20  Next day

 Johannesburg

arrive

06:30  Next day

 Durban

arrive

08:30  Next day

How much does Premier Classe cost?

How to buy tickets...

www.southafricanrailways.co.za or call +27 11 774 4555 or + 27 12 334 8039 or (in South Africa) 086 000 8888

Booking for Premier Classe opens 12 months ahead.  You can request a Premier Classe booking online at www.southafricanrailways.co.za (this is  African Sun Travel, a reliable ticketing agency, not the operator themselves) or www.newfusion.co.za (New Fusion Travel).  Or you can book by phone calling the train operator on +27 11 774 4555 or + 27 12 334 8039 or (from within South Africa) 086 000 8888 (lines open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:30, GMT+2).  Alternatively, you can e-mail your request to the train operator at info_premierclasse@transnet.net.  There is more information at the Premier Classe website, if it's working, at www.premierclasse.co.za, with an online booking request form.  However, reports suggest you'll get more responsive booking from ticketing agency www.southafricanrailways.co.za (African Sun Travel).

A journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg on the Premier Classe train...

For these photos I am indebted to Billy Shearer, you can read his trip report below.

Premier Classe train exterior  

Blue Train & Premier Classe lounge, Cape Town

Boarding the Premier Classe trainAll photos in this panel courtesy of Billy Shearer.

 

Premier Classe departure lounge.  The same lounge is used for the Blue Train.

Premier Classe menu  

Dining-car on the Premier Classe train to Johannesburg

Dinner in the diner:  Meals in the elegant restaurant car are included in the fare.

2-berth sleeper on the Premier Classe train  

Private sleepers:  All Premier Classe passengers get a private sleeper, solo travellers a coupé with one lower berth, couples get a compartment with two lower berths.  Each compartment has a washbasin, fluffy towels, soap, shampoo, shower gel, mineral water, slippers & bathrobes.  There's a toilet and shower just along the corridor.

South African shanty town approaching Cape Town   Table Mountain, Cape Town, seen from the train

Shanty towns on the outskirts of Cape Town, a reminder of South Africa's less well-off...

 

Cape Town's Table Mountain , seen from the train...

Scenery from the Cape Town to Jo'burg train   Cape vineyards

The Cape vineyards:  The train heads past Paarl and the Cape wine country. You can sample some of their produce on board the train!

More scenery from the train to Johannesburg   Premier Classe lounge car

More beautiful scenery...

 

The lounge car, a place to relax and meet people.

Night falls...   Sunrise...

Night falls over South Africa, the train races on...

 

Sunrise next morning...

Premier Classe traveller's reports...

Traveller Deon Irish travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg by Premier Classe in 2011:  "The train itself was immaculately turned out with - for once - a pair of matching Shosholoza purple diesels instead of orange freight locomotives to pull us out of Cape Town.  Inside, our double berth compartment was immaculate and the newly installed air conditioning welcome (although I would have welcomed higher temperatures overnight in the extremely cold winter highveld conditions).  Staff were uniformly cheerful and helpful, which more than made up for the occasional lack of sophistication. The dining car was a real surprise, with a fine luncheon, a splendid dinner and a gargantuan breakfast included in the ticket price. Drinks are extra, but the wines - in particular - are sold with minimal mark ups.  The only real criticism of the entire journey was the appalling traffic control in the Johannesburg area which over a distance of only 90 odd kms, turned what had been a uniformly on-schedule journey of some 1400 kms into an almost 90 minute late arrival, especially considering it was a Sunday morning."

Traveller William Shearer travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town by Premier Classe in 2010:  "Oh, the howls of disbelief from my South African friends when they heard I was taking a train. "It's too dangerous! Why aren't you flying? Are you sure?" 
Thanks to the information on Seat 61 I was more than reassured by the safety of the trip I was making. I'll admit, it was with a certain trepidation that I approached Johannesburg station. The area around train stations in any country can sometimes be dodgy (think Kings Cross in times past) but Johannesburg does come with a reputation.  Lugging my two suitcases from my friends car, I was obviously a tourist, and indeed we were approached by a beggar. My friend told him to go away, politely, and he did. That was the extent of any 'hassle' experienced. The station itself reminded me of a shopping centre, but with a handful of shops - quite modern and tidy.  I walked down the escalator which was out of order and found the Premier Classe lounge and 'check-in'. My two suitcases were labelled and I was invited to sit down for a hot or cold drink and a snack while waiting for boarding. The lounge was more like a waiting room, but away from the main station so much more private.

The train manager introduced himself and announced that boarding would start at 2.30pm. A short walk down to the platform and there was our train.  I was invited to join everyone in the dining car at 2.55pm for welcome drinks, so in the meantime I went to my sleeper.  The showers and loo were at the end of the corridor, and they were spotless.  The toilet always smelt fresh, and there was fantastic water pressure in the shower.  After some sparkling wine, and an introduction to the onboard staff, we had coffee and cake. I met some of my fellow travellers and enjoyed a drink as the train lazily snaked through the suburbs of Johannesburg. Our host then asked if we were happy to dine in our groups, which was fine. My fellow traveller was a young man who worked in a goldmine, loved travelling, and hadn't told his parents he was onboard because they would complain he was wasting money... At 7pm I found my table, and my new friend, and sat down for dinner. We had a table for four, made up for two, so very spacious. Kingklip is delicious! As a rule, I don't go for fish, but I was on holiday and my goodness I am glad I tried it! The other courses were very tasty too - served with a smile! I took some pictures but to be honest they didn't come out very well and that wasn't because my dining partner wouldn't share the bottle of wine I ordered. Or anything.

I then went to the bar where I discovered that payment for drinks was made at the end of the trip - very civilised, and drinks were cheap.  A bottle of wine with dinner was about £5.00, a good South African wine too.  I had to do a double take at the prices, as well as watch my drinking!  I went back to my sleeper to discover that it had been made up for turn down.  Next morning, having arranged an early wake up call the night before, I watched the scenery go by. This part of South Africa, the Karoo Desert was cold and rather bleak, however the sunshine took the edge of both at this time of the morning. Soon, it was breakfast time, and a fully cooked breakfast was offered - as well as pastries, cereals, yogurts, the lot!  The scenery improved as we got closer to Cape Town, as vineyards and orchards came into view. Lunch was a four course affair, and as usual, the tables were set up with fresh flowers and crisp linen. Before long, Table Mountain came into view, and we were approaching journeys end. Some of my fellow passengers commented that they had been on Rovos Rail and The Blue Train, but preferred the informal atmosphere on the Premier Classe service.  I would definitely do it again, and I think incorporate it into my next trip to South Africa.

And the cost?  Travel from Johannesburg to Cape Town, sole use of a double occupancy sleeper, coffee & cake, five course dinner, full breakfast, four course lunch, welcome drinks in the lounge, all for a mere £171. I think its the best value travel I have ever experienced.

Traveller Trish Jones travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town by Premier Classe in late 2009:  My husband and I have just travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town on the Premier Classe Train – and what an experience!  Although it's in a different class (and price range) to the Blue Train, it offers a truly amazing, comfortable, relaxing trip.  Why on earth have I been driving or flying to Cape Town for all these years?  With regards to Johannesburg's Park Station, it was one of the things I was concerned about as I haven’t been there for ages, and I’m super cautious.  We had a friend collect us, drove into the car park from the Rissik Street side, and much to my amazement it was spotless and well organized.  Once inside, it’s a case of down the escalator, turn left, and straight into the Premier Classe Lounge for check in – it’s totally separate and is available only to Premier Classe passengers.  No hassle and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or threatened at all.  The rest of the station isn't great, but it doesn't matter because you don’t go there.  One is checked in, your baggage taken for loading into your compartment, and there’s free tea, coffee and soft drinks on hand before you are asked to board.  And boarding is a breeze too – the platform the train was on was somewhat removed from the rest.  The onboard staff were truly outstanding, nothing was too much trouble.  We were served complimentary bubbly & snacks in an elegant and comfortable lounge car shortly after leaving in Johannesburg at 3.00pm, and we were introduced to the various members of staff who explained their roles, told us about the facilities on the train and made us feel very welcome indeed.  We had books and magazines to read en route but only looked at them when we were tucked up comfortably in crisp white sheets and duvets for the night.  There was no time to read, we were too busy gazing at the scenery, without having to worry about bad drivers, huge trucks or anything at all to do with road travel – sheer bliss!!  Dinner was a 5 course meal of excellent standard, and there’s a good wine list to choose from too.  We were asked whether we would like tea or coffee delivered to our compartment in the morning.  We chose tea for a 6.30am ‘wake-up’ up call, opened the curtains and blinds in our compartment and watched the sun come up across the Karoo – truly awesome!!  A hearty breakfast at 7.00am followed by a head-shoulders-and back massage in the spa compartment [the spa is now discontinued, not enough business to support it].  A hot shower in an exceptionally clean bathroom then back to the compartment for more sightseeing.….through a 12.km tunnel which brings you to the beginning of the Hex River Valley.  Some snow on the mountain peaks completed the perfect picture!!  A three course lunch, again delightfully prepared and presented, some more excellent South African wine before arriving in Cape Town at 4.00pm.  I was almost sorry to have arrived.  Train travel in South Africa is horribly under-utilised and if I can persuade anyone to give it a try perhaps we could have more trains operating, more people off the roads, and more people discovering the joy of rail travel.  The routes offered are Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, Johannesburg to Durban, Johannesburg to Cape Town, and Cape Town to Port Elizabeth – I intend to do the latter as soon as I possibly can – it just has to be fantastic.

Traveller Ros Shaw travelled from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit (Kruger Park) by Premier Classe in summer 2009:  I had a fabulous trip on the Premier Classe to Hoedspruit.  The service on the train was first class - 5 course dinner, friendly service, comfy cabins, tea/coffee wakeup service in your cabin. I even managed to do some game spotting from the train as it passed along the edge of Kruger Park for an hour or so - 1 rhino, 2 giraffe, buffalo, kudu, hippo, impala.  We picked up a hire car at Hoedspruit which was delivered to the station at no extra cost.  The only downside was getting to Joburg station for the start of the trip.  There was a garbage strike on in the Joburg CBD so it was pretty disgusting, even the amount of rubbish along the tracks for the first little bit was pretty gross.  Once at the parking lot of the station it wasn't too bad at all.  I was surprised how modern and clean the station was.  There were a few passengers who joined the train in Pretoria too.  The train was practically empty (less than 25 passenger) and all the guests were locals.  I guess its a bit too early to get many foreign bookings yet.  We spoke to the Marketing Manager who said that they have lots of forward booking from overseas and are already sold out for the World Cup next year.  Overall - highly recommended.

Traveller Andrew Darwin travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town by Premier Classe in February 2008:  I discovered the existence of the ‘Premier Classe’ train from Johannesburg to Cape Town through seat61.  I have just returned from there a few days ago, having taken this train in both directions.  What a treat!  It was probably the longest and most enjoyable railway journey I’ve ever made, immensely enjoyable.  The train is modern and well designed.  18 carriages long including 2 lounges, 2 dining cars and 2 enclosed trucks at the back for carrying people’s cars or motorbikes.  On our trip there were 4 Harley Davidsons in one of these trucks, while the burly middle-aged bikers (and their molls) enjoyed the comfort of the Premier Classe to Cape Town before going back by road.  The staff were all brilliant, very keen to be of service and clearly with great pride in their job.  At stations, some of them would get out and clean the train windows!  There was a hot shower in each coach, which meant that one arrived the other end fresh and clean, as well as rested and fed and watered.  The drinks on board are refreshingly cheap – a bottle of perfectly decent wine in the dining car can be had for as little as £2.00.  The return ticket cost about £250, including all meals.  What a contrast to the flight back from Jo'burg to London: squashed into a cramped seat, nowhere to go and nothing to see, plastic food, limited drink, no chance of rest, no shower.  Totally uncivilised: 12 hours of torture!

Traveller Michael Schaffer travelled from Johannesburg to Cape Town by Premier Classe in July 2007:  "Oddly, few of the local travel agents in Pretoria knew about the Premier Classe train, instead they all reflexively warned us against taking trains.  I suspect this is part of the odd feeling in that country, where large segments of the population live in fear and also assume anything "public" will be bad. Finally, a friend cued us in to what we'd learned on your website:  A weekly [now twice-weekly], first-class-only train designed as kind of a middle-class approximation of the Blue Train.  The train itself is comfortable and pleasant, albeit a triumph of style over substance.  They have attractively printed menus and solicitous dining-car service, but the food is so-so, although still great for a knockabout traveller.  The 4-bed sleepers have been converted to accommodate just a couple, and they put your name on the door.  The views from the train are both astonishing (the Karoo, and table mountain from the rear) and telling (the often invisible shantytowns of South Africa’s poor).  At the front end, in Jo’burg, you have access to a first-class lounge where they take your bag  and offer you tea and coffee, etc., but you still have to get there by walking through the public portions of a station that has about the worst reputation in the country.  We were fine, although we saw two different people being taken off by police.  At the far end, in Cape Town, the station is pleasant and quiet, although for us this meant there were no taxis to hail.  Eventually, the train’s purser got his son to give us a lift to our hotel!

Still need convincing to try Premier Classe?  See this video...



The Blue Train

  South Africa's Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria
 

The legendary Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria, one of the world's most luxurious trains...

Cape Town to Pretoria on one of the world's most luxurious trains...

It's the most famous train in South Africa, and one of the most famous trains in the world.  South Africa's Blue Train links Cape Town with Pretoria once or twice a week, year round.  With a one-way fare of about R13,015 (£750 or $1,300) per person for two people travelling together even in the low season, it's now aimed squarely at foreign visitors.  Single passengers cannot opt to share, so should reckon on paying R19,520 (£1,150 or $1,900) one-way for sole use of a 2-berth compartment.  However, The Blue Train is definitely the most luxurious way to travel between these two cities, and if you do choose to splurge, you will not be disappointed!

The Blue Train timetable...

 Cape Town ► Pretoria

  

 Pretoria ► Cape Town

 The Blue Train

 4-5 times a month

 The Blue Train

4-5 times a month

 Cape Town depart:

08:30  day 1

 Pretoria depart:

08:30  day 1

 Pretoria arrive:

12:50  day 2

 Cape Town arrive:

12:00  day 2

For departure dates see www.bluetrain.co.za.   See here for the regular passenger trains between Cape Town & Johannesburg.

The northbound journey includes a one-hour stop at the 19th century health resort of Matjiesfontein in the heart of the Karoo.  The Southbound trip includes a stop at Kimberley for a tour of the Kimberley 'big hole' mining museum.  The train no longer serves Johannesburg in either direction, as few tourists want to go there because of its security problems.  The Blue Train rolling stock is also used to run irregular rail cruises on a couple of other scenic routes within South Africa.

How much does a trip on the Blue Train cost?

 Fares (2014)

Cape Town to Pretoria or vice versa.

Meals & drinks included.

Low season

(1 Jan to 31 Aug &

16 Nov to 31 Dec)

High season

(1 September

 to 15 November)

Luxury suite, per person sharing

R14,060

R17,495

Luxury suite, per person sole occupancy

R21,090

R26,240

De Luxe suite, per person sharing

R13,015

R16,065

De Luxe Suite, per person sole occupancy

R19,520

R24,095

How to buy tickets: www.bluetrain.co.za or in the UK call 0844 248 248 3.

What's it like on board the Blue Train?

The Blue Train offers two types of room:  'Deluxe' compartments have either a double bed or two single beds and en suite shower or small bath.  'Luxury' compartments cost a bit more and are almost identical, but have a full size bath (yes, really) and a video.  The train has a dining car and two lounge cars (one smoking, one non-smoking) and one of the two trainsets has an observation car at the rear, allowing you to look back along the line.  Meals and drinks (and even Montecristo Havana cigars!) are included in the fare, and there is an extensive list of South African wines available.  You probably won't be able to drink £800-worth before you reach Pretoria, but you can have a dam' good try...  For pictures of the scenery between Cape Town and Pretoria, see the scenery shots from the Cape Town to Johannesburg journey by Shosholoza Meyl train here and by Premier Classe train here, as the Blue Train follows the same route as far as Jo'burg.

Boarding the Blue Train at Cape Town   One of the Blue Train's two lounge cars

Boarding South Africa's Blue Train at Cape Town's central station for an epic 27-hour journey to Pretoria...

 

One of the two bar-lounge cars on the Blue Train.  Even Montecristo cigars are included in the fare!

Blue Train restaurant car   The Blue Train at Matjiesfontein

Meals in the elegant restaurant car are included in the fare, complete with a choice of South African wines...

 

The Blue Train stopped at Matjiesfontein, with two electric locomotives specially kept in the famous blue colour...

A bath in the en suite bathroom of a deluxe suite on South Africa's Blue Train   A Blue Train deluxe suite

Yes, it really is a full-size bath (in deluxe suites only)! The Blue Train is one of the few trains in the world to feature a real en suite bath, not just a shower...

 

A deluxe twin-bed suite on the Blue Train, showing one bed folded out, the second bed remaining folded away to reveal the seat...

See the video - South Africa's Blue Train...

It's a PR video, of course, but this short film shows how good travelling in The Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria can be.

 

A bit of history...

A fast train called the Union Express northbound and the Union Limited southbound was introduced in 1923, to link the Union Castle steamers arriving at Cape Town from Southampton with the gold fields of Jo'burg and the Transvaal capital at Pretoria.  The original wooden coaches were replaced in 1937 with steel coaches built in Birmingham and painted a smart blue.  Before long, the train became known colloquially as 'that blue train', and its name was changed officially to 'The Blue Train' in 1946.  Two new sets of coaches were built for the Blue Train in 1972, and both of these were beautifully refurbished in 1997.  You travel in these same trainsets today.  The Blue Train is still run by the South African Railways (Spoornet), but it is now a separate business unit, due for privatisation...

Inclusive holidays using the Blue Train:  Great Rail Journeys (www.greatrail.com)

If you'd rather travel on the Blue Train as part of an organised tour with other travellers, try Great Rail Journeys, who offer escorted tours to South Africa which include the Blue Train.

If you can't afford the Blue Train...

...check out the other two trains linking Cape Town with Johannesburg through exactly the same scenery at a fraction of the price, Premier Classe, a deluxe rail experience that's far cheaper than the Blue Train, and if you're on a tight budget the amazingly cheap but still excellent Shosholoza Meyl Tourist Class train.



Gautrain:  Johannesburg-Pretoria & airport

Airport Line:  Sandton ► Johannesburg International Airport:  See www.gautrain.co.za...

Phase 1 of the modern standard-gauge metro service called 'Gautrain' is now operational between the Jo'burg suburb of Sandton and Jo'burg's OR Tambo international airport.  Using brand-new standard-gauge electric trains, it has all the necessary CCTV and security equipment to be a safe and comfortable means of transport for locals and tourists alike.  Trains run every 30 minutes at weekends, every 20 minutes weekday off-peak, and every 12 minutes in the weekday morning and evening peaks.  See www.gautrain.co.za for fares, times and more information.

North-South Line:  Johannesburg (Park Station) ► Sandton ► Pretoria  Gautrain now open, see www.gautrain.co.za!

Phase 2 is now open, with safe modern Gautrain service linking Johannesburg Park Station in downtown Johannesburg (the station used by Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Classe long-distance trains) with the suburb of Sandton and the administrative capital Pretoria.  Gautrain is the best way to travel between Jo'burg and Pretoria, and the safest way to access Jo'burg Park station to connect with your Premier Classe or Shosholoza Meyl long-distance train.  Trains run run every 30 minutes at weekends, every 20 minutes weekday off-peak, and every 12 minutes in the weekday morning and evening peaks.  See www.gautrain.co.za for details.

Gautrain, Johannesburg   Gautrain interior

Gautrain links Johannesburg & Pretoria.  Gautrain exterior & interior.  Photos courtesy of Jeroen van Marle.


Suburban 'Metro' trains

Metro trains around Johannesburg & Pretoria...

Although long-distance Shosholoza Meyl trains and Gautrain are perfectly safe, 'Metro Rail' suburban trains around Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria are different matter.  Unless you are particularly foolhardy or adventurous, they are probably best avoided completely.

Metro trains from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, Simon's Town & Paarl...

Metro Rail suburban trains around Cape Town are less of a problem and as long as you take care, leave your valuables at your hotel and don't travel after dark, they can be a good way to get from central Cape Town to the seaside town of Simon's Town (a scenic run along the coast), or to the wine regions at Stellenbosch or Paarl.  Indeed, there is a new initiative for tourists using the Cape Town to Simon's Town train service to tour the coast.  Two classes are available, 1st ('Metro Plus') and 3rd.  Metro Plus means longitudinal cloth seats on newer trains, grey plastic seats on the older ones, 3rd class means plastic bench seats.  Outside the rush hours, trains are not crowded and there's a train from Cape Town to Simon's Town or Stellenbosch every hour or two, taking about an hour.  Make sure you sit in a carriage with other travellers.  To reach the wineries, bicycles can be hired in Stellenbosch, for about £4 a day.

Metro trains at Cape Town   A Metro train from Cape Town, just arrived at Stellenbosch

Metro trains at Cape Town

Arriving at Stellenbosch...

Railway along the coast from Cape Town to Simon's Town   A train between Cape Town and Simon's Town

Metro trains on the Cape Town to Simon's Town route.  Photos courtesy of Adam Edwards


Cruise trains

Several companies run all-inclusive tours around Southern Africa using special deluxe cruise trains. 


Buses in South Africa

The trains don't go everywhere in South Africa, and there are times when you might need to take a bus.  There are several long-distance bus operators.  Useful internet addresses are:

TransLux, www.translux.co.za.  Call 011 774 3333 or from outside South Africa +27 (011) 774 3333

Greyhound, www.greyhound.co.za.  Call 083 915 9000.

InterCape, www.intercape.co.za.  Call 0861 287 287 or from outside South Africa +27 21 380 4400.


 


Guidebooks

Rough Guide to South AfricaLonely Planet South Africa - click to buy onlineLonely Planet Southern Africa - click to buy onlineI strongly recommend buying a good guidebook - and I think the Lonely Planets and Rough Guides are easily the best out there for the independent traveller.  You won't regret buying one!

Click the images to buy online at Amazon.co.uk...

LP Southern Africa is less detailed than LP South Africa, but it covers other countries as well as SA.    Alternatively, you can download just the chapters or areas you need in .PDF format from the Lonely Planet Website, from around £2.99 or US$4.95 a chapter.


 

 


Hotels & accommodation in South Africa

Finding hotels in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban or anywhere in South Africa...

Personal recommendations:  The Tudor Hotel in Cape Town is inexpensive and central, a good budget choice, from 440 Rand (£33 or $65) per night.  Pretoria is a better place to stay than Johannesburg itself.

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

Other hotel sites worth trying...

Backpacker hostels...


Flights

1)  Check prices at Virgin Atlantic...

You can't beat trains for travel around South Africa.  But if you need a flight to get there in the first place, try the excellent Virgin Atlantic from London to Cape Town or Johannesburg, they're great on both price and (above all) service.

2)  Check flight prices at www.opodo.com...

3)  Use Skyscanner to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines...

skyscanner generic 728x90

4)  Lounge passes...

Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think!  See www.loungepass.com


Travel insurance

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Get travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash (up to a limit) and belongings.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year (I have an annual policy myself).  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

        If you're resident in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on calls & mobile data...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, so consider getting a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone which can cut call & data costs by up to 90%.  At the time of writing, www.roamsure.com claims a definite 25% saving within the EU and up to 90% saving in the rest of the world.  Incoming calls are free in 73 countries, including the USA, Australia, South Africa and EU.  There's no contract or commitment, and at time I write this Roamsure is offering a global SIM card for free when you buy £20 of call credit.  Seat61 gets some commission to support the site if you buy airtime from Roamsure.

 


Other Shosholoza Meyl routes...

 Johannesburg & Pretoria ► Messina

 

 Messina ► Pretoria & Johannesburg

Days of running:.

Fridays only

Days of running:.

Sundays only

Type of train:

Economy seats  only

Type of train:

Economy seats only

Johannesburg

depart

19:00  day 1

Messina (Musina)

depart

15:25  day 1

Pretoria

arr/dep

20:56  day 1

Louis Trichardt (Makhado)

arr/dep

18:15  day 1

Louis Trichardt (Makhado)

arr/dep

07:59  day 2

Pretoria

arr/dep

04:16  day 2

Messina (Musina)

arrive

11:15  day 2

Johannesburg

arrive

05:44  day 2

"The Bosvelder".  This train has Economy class seats only (it used to have sleepers, but now doesn't).  For travellers bound for Bulawayo or Harare in Zimbabwe, Messina is 12km from the Zimbabwe frontier across the Limpopo River at Beitbridge.  Economy fare Jo'burg to Messina R110.

Sleepers now available:  Good news, it's reported that in summer 2013 this train has regained a proper sleeping-car.  Fare R250 with sleeping-berth.

 Johannesburg & Pretoria ► Maputo

 

 Maputo ► Pretoria & Johannesburg 

Days of running:.

Wednesday & Friday

Days of running:.

Thursday & Sunday

Type of train:

Economy seats only

Type of train:

Economy seats only

Johannesburg

depart

18:10  day 1

Maputo (Mozambique)

depart

*  day 1

Pretoria

arr/dep

19:40  day 1

Ressano Garcia (Mozambique)

arrive

*  day 1

Nelspruit (for Kruger Park)

arr/dep

04:15  day 2

Komatipoort (across border)

depart

18:00  day 1

Kaapmuiden

arr/dep

05:15  day 2

Kaapmuiden

arr/dep

19:36  day 1

Komatipoort

arrive

06:38  day 2

Nelspruit (for Kruger Park)

arr/dep

20:40  day 1

Ressano Garcia (across border)

depart

*  day 2

Pretoria

arr/dep

04:50  day 2

Maputo (Mozambique)

arrive

*  day 2

Johannesburg

arrive

06:16  day 2

"The Komati".  This train has Economy class seats.  Economy fare Jo'burg to Komatipoort R100.

Sleepers now available?  It's reported that in summer 2013 the Jo'burg-Kmoatipoort train has regained a proper sleeping-car.  Fare R250 with sleeping-berth.

See the Mozambique page for information on travel between Johannesburg & Maputo by train.

 Kimberley ► Bloemfontein

 

 Bloemfontein ► Kimberley

Days of running:.

Mon, Thur, Sat

Days of running:.

Wed, Fri, Sun

Type of train:

Economy seats  only

Type of train:

Economy seats only

Kimberley

depart

Cancelled

Bloemfontein

depart

Cancelled

Bloemfontein

arr/dep

Cancelled

Kimberley

arr/dep

Cancelled


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