Useful country information

Train operator:  

Botswana Railway (BR) - brexpress.botrail.bw/botswanarailwaysonline/passengerbooking/bookandpay.aspx

 

Time zone:

 

GMT+2 all year.

Dialling code:

 

Dial code +267.

Currency:

 

£1 = 11.4 Botswanan Pula.  $1 = 7.2 Pula.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

 

www.gov.bw     Tripadvisor Botswana page

Visas:

 

UK citizens do not need a visa to visit Botswana.   

Page last updated:

5 October 2018


Bulawayo - Francistown - Gaborone - Lobatse

Francistown - Gaborone - Lobatse trains resumed March 2016.

In early 2009, Botswana Railways announced it was to stop all passenger service on the main line across Botswana because of mounting losses.  The day train stopped running in 2006, and the overnight train between Francistown, Gaborone & Lobatse stopped running in April 2009.  However, in 2015 they announced that passenger service would be revived, refurbished coaches were procured and an overnight Francistown-Gaborone-Lobatse train service was reinstated on 23 March 2016, see http://umhambi.blogspot.de/2016/03/botswana-botswana-railways-has-launched.html.

...and a connection to/from Bulawayo started in December 2017.

Now in December 2017 a connecting train has been introduced between Francistown in Botswana and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, connecting into & out of the Lobatse - Gaborone - Francistown train as shown below.  It's a trial, but will continue until further notice.

 Bulawayo Gaborone Lobatse

            

 Lobatse Gaborone Bulawayo

 Km

 BR Express

Daily

Mon-Fri

 BR Express

Daily

Mon-Fri

0

 Bulawayo

depart

  14:15*

-

 Lobatse

depart

19:50

05:30

?

 Plumtree

depart

  17:49*

-

 Gaborone 

arrive

21:00

06:49

196km

 Francistown

 (change trains)

arrive

  19:45*

-

 

depart

21:25

-

depart

21:00

-

 Mahalapye 

arr/dep

00:56

-

?

 Serule 

arr/dep

23:00

-

 Palapye 

arr/dep

02:50

-

?

 Palapye 

arr/dep

00:25

-

 Serule 

arr/dep

04:37

-

431km

 Mahalapye 

arr/dep

02:06

-

 Francistown

 (change trains)

arrive

06:11

-

631km

 Gaborone

arrive

05:45

-

arrive

  07:00*

-

depart

07:00

18:00

 Plumtree

arrive

  09:14*

-

703km

 Lobatse

arrive

08:30

19:34

 Bulawayo

arrive

  12:30*

-

You can check these times & buy tickets online at https://brexpress.botrail.bw/ botswanarailwaysonline/ passengerbooking/bookandpay.aspx.

* = This is a trial Francistown-Bulawayo train which started from 20 December 2017 until further notice, with standard class seats.

The BR Express currently has all-air-conditioned First Class sleepers, Business Class seats & Standard Class seats and a buffet car.  The train also allegedly has WiFi & TV screens, see news item at www.mmegi.bw/index.php?aid=58774&dir=2016/march/23.  Also see photos of the train at http://umhambi.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/botswana-botswana-railways-has-launched.html.

The fare between Lobatse & Francistown is 102 pula in standard class, 171 pula in business class & 285 pula in first class.

The fare between Gaborone & Francistown is 88 pula in standard class, 146 pula in business class & 244 pula in first class.

The fare between Francistown & Bulawayo is 70 pula ($7) in standard class.

You can take up to 20Kg luggage in Standard Class, up to 40Kg in Business & First.

Travellers reports...

Traveller James Beard used the new Francistown to Bulawayo train in late 2017:  "The new service between Bulawayo and Francistown is not the same train as the one that runs between Francistown and Lobatse. It's a connecting service, and when I used it the Francistown to Bulawayo train waited for the train from Lobatse (and so was about an hour late leaving, half of which was made up by not waiting so long at Plumtree). In both directions there were two standard seating carriages and a buffet car, but the buffet car didn't open (I was told there was a delay in getting approval for it to function in Zimbabwe) and we all sat in one carriage, I guess to make it easier for the border formalities.  Again in both directions, freight wagons also formed part of the train.  The fare is 70 Pula (~USD7) and in Bulawayo you can pay in Pula or USD. The Zimbabwean border formalities are done while the train waits at Plumtree (last/first station in Zimbabwe), and the Botswanan formalities done either there or while the train is moving. The train is very comfortable and clean (I guess the carriages are the same type as those used on the Francistown / Lobatse train), but could be improved by not having piped music. There were only 20-25 passengers in each direction and we were probably outnumbered by staff, if you include the border staff and the people who prepare the train in Francistown."

Traveller Richard Walsh tried the new Francistown to Gaborone sleeper train in November 2016:  "I can confirm that the train from Francistown to Gaborone (and Lobatse) is a gem. Absolutely beautiful and very well appointed. We had a first class sleeper coupé, and yes there is a buffet car on board.  We even were given drink and sandwiches...  Probably only for first class, but maybe also business class.  A new station is being built in Francistown.  Train left and arrived to the minute.  Piped music in the corridor was an unwelcome feature."

The Lobatse - Gaborone - Francistown train...

Botswana's new blue train

Botswana's new blue train. Courtesy of Erik Pierson...

Business class on Botswana train   First class sleeper, Botswana

Business class. Courtesy Erik Pierson

First Class sleeper.  Courtesy Erik Pierson

International trains to/from Botswana

  Map of train routes in Southern Africa

Click for interactive map

of African train routes

South Africa to Botswana by train...

There are no trains from Botswana to South Africa, as the daily train to Mafeking and weekly train to Johannesburg were withdrawn in 1999.  However, you can take a comfortable train between Cape Town and Johannesburg, see the South Africa page for details.  Then there's a daily bus between Jo'burg and Gaborone leaving Johannesburg around 12:00 and arriving Gaborone at 19:30.  In the other direction, the bus leaves Gaborone daily at 06:30, arriving Johannesburg at 13:55.  For times, fares and online booking see www.intercape.co.za.

Zimbabwe to Botswana by train...

In 1999, the weekly Johannesburg-Gaborone-Bulawayo train was withdrawn and the daily Mafeking-Gaborone- Bulawayo blue train was cut back in to run purely within Botswana, Francistown-Gaborone-Lobatse.  However, after an absence of 6 years, an international train service between Zimbabwe and Botswana restarted in June 2006, from Francistown to Bulawayo, initially 3 times a week, now twice a week.  Unfortunately, that train ceased running in late 2016.

IMPORTANT UPDATE 2018:  In December 2017 the :Lobatse-Gaborone-Francistown blue train is being experimentally extended to and from Bulawayo, see the section above


Find hotels in Botswana

    

Favourite hotel search & price comparison: hotelscombined.com

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

Favourite hotel booking site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site, and unless HotelsCombined throws up major price differences I prefer doing my bookings in one place here. 

You can usually book with free cancellation - this allows you to confirm your accommodation at no risk before train booking opens.  It also means you can hold accommodation while you finalise your itinerary, and alter your plans as they evolve - a feature I use all the time when putting a trip together.

Other hotel sites worth trying...


Guidebooks

To get the most from a trip to Southern Africa, you'll need a good guidebook - and I think the Lonely Planet guides are about the best ones out there.

Buy Lonely Planet Southern Africa online at Amazon

 

 

 


Travel insurance

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent 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 and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  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, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

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

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for 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!

 


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