Map of train routes in Southern Africa

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of African train routes

Trains across Botswana...

A railway runs from the South African b order at Lobatse through capital Gaborone to Francistown and across the border to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, with onward connections to Victoria Falls or Harare.  Unfortunately, there are currently no cross-border trains to or from South Africa.  This page explains the train travel options.

  Useful country information

  Bulawayo - Francistown - Gaborone - Lobatse

  Train travel to/from South Africa

On other pages...

  Train travel in Zimbabwe

  Train travel in South Africa


Useful country information

Train operator:  

Botswana Railway (BR) - www.botswanarailways.co.bw

 

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:

6 March 2020


Bulawayo - Francistown - Gaborone - Lobatse

Francistown - Gaborone - Lobatse trains resumed 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 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

See note:

*

**

***

See note:

***

**

*

 Days of running:

Daily

Daily

Mon-Fri

 Days of running:

Mon-Fri

Daily

Daily

0

 Bulawayo

depart

 14:15

-

-

 Lobatse

depart

05:30

19:50

-

?

 Plumtree

depart

 17:49

-

-

 Gaborone 

arrive

06:49

21:00

-

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 at www.botswanarailways.co.bw.

* = The Francistown-Bulawayo train has standard class seats only.  It started as a trial on 20 December 2017, running until further notice.

** = BR Express. All-air-conditioned 1st class sleepers, business class seats, standard class seats and a buffet car.  The train 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.

*** = Standard class seats only.

How much does it cost?

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.

How to buy tickets

You can buy at the station or book online through www.botswanarailways.co.bw.  When you book online you get a reference number, you collect tickets from the ticket office before boarding the train.

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 at Gaborone station. Courtesy of Miika Nicholson...

Business class on Botswana train   First class 4-berth sleeper, Botswana

Business class seats. Courtesy Miika Nicholson

1st Class 4-berth sleeper.  Courtesy Miika Nicholson

2-berth 1st class sleeper on Botswana train   Standard class seats, Botswana train

1st class 2-berth sleeper. Courtesy Miika Nicholson

Standard class seats.  Courtesy Miika Nicholson

The Botswana Blue Train at Gaborone.  Courtesy of Miika Nicholson.


International trains to/from Botswana

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.  An international train service from Francistown to Bulawayo then restarted in June 2006, which ceased in late 2016.  But in December 2017 the :Lobatse-Gaborone-Francistown blue train was experimentally extended to and from Bulawayo and continues today, see the section above.


Find hotels in Botswana

My favourite hotel search site: www.booking.com

www.booking.com is my favourite hotel booking site and I generally prefer booking my hotels all 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.  I never book hotels non-refundably.  I have also come to trust their review scores - you won't be disappointed with anything over 8.0.

Tip:  It can pay to compare prices across multiple hotel sites:  HotelsCombined.com is a price comparison site which compares hotel prices on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Accor, Agoda and many others.  Though if there's not much in it, I prefer keeping all my bookings together in one place at www.booking.com.

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

 

Always take out travel insurance...

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, reliable insurers include Columbus Direct.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

You can use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

        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.

A Curve card saves on foreign transaction fees...

 

Curve card

Most banks give you a poor exchange rate, then charge you a currency conversion fee.  A Curve MasterCard means no foreign transaction fees and gives you the mid-market exchange rate, at least up to a certain limit, £500 per month at time of writing.  The balance goes straight onto one of your existing debit or credit cards.

How it works:  1. Download the app for iPhone or Android.  2. Enter your details & they'll send you a Curve MasterCard - they send to most European addresses including the UK.  3. Link your existing credit & debit cards to the app.  4. Now use the Curve MasterCard to buy things online or in person or take cash from ATMs, just like a normal MasterCard. Curve does the currency conversion and puts the balance onto whichever of your debit or credit cards you choose.  You can even change your mind about which card it goes onto, within 14 days of the transaction.

I have a Curve Blue card myself - I get some commission if you sign up to Curve, but I'm recommending it here because it's great.  See details, download the app and get a Curve card. Use code MAN61 to get £5 cashback after signing up and using your Curve card the first time.

 

Express VPN

Get a VPN for safe browsing.  VPNs & why you need one explained...

When you're travelling you often use free WiFi in public places which may not be secure.  A VPN means your connection to the internet is encrypted & always secure, even using unsecured WiFi.  In countries such as China where access to Twitter & Facebook is restricted, a VPN gets around these restrictions.  And lastly, you can select the geographic location of the IP address you browse with, to get around geographic restrictions which some websites apply - for example one booking site charges a booking fee to non-European visitors but none to European visitors, so if you're not located in Europe you can avoid this fee by browsing with a UK IP address using a VPN.  VPNs & why you need one explained NordVPN & ExpressVPN are the two best buys and I use ExpressVPN myself.

 


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