South Africa’s Rovos Rail touted as the most luxurious train in the world

* Its epic train journey of 15 days travels through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania

* It’s become one of the most famous train journeys in the world and it’s a trip of which we are very proud

* Since its inception in 1989, Rovos Rail has earned an international reputation for world-class travel experiences

By Duncan Mlanjira

It is worth experiencing for Malawians who can afford — a luxurious train-hotel in the world managed by private South African tourism firm, Rovols Rail since inception in 1989, which has earned itself as an international reputation for world-class travel experiences.


According to Rovols Rail website, the train-hotel is complete with accommodation carriages, dining cars, a lounge car, a small gift shop, a smoking lounge and an observation car with an open-air balcony.

“There are three suite categories to choose from — Pullman, Deluxe and Royal — each offering passengers privacy and comfort with double or twin beds and fittings and facilities that are of the highest standard.

“Every suite has an en-suite, tea making facilities, air conditioning and adequate storage and a team of talented chefs are responsible for ensuring guests’ every need is catered for.

“Fresh local ingredients and traditional dishes are a speciality and meals are served in one sitting in the dining cars and are complemented by a selection of fine South African wines.

“The dining cars have tables of two and tables of four and guests can dine together or individually.”

The phenomenon train-hotel epic journey — one of the most famous in the world — is 15-day train travel from Pretoria, South Africa into Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania and is.

“The sojourn begins in Cape Town taking guests to the historic village of Matjiesfontein, the diamond town of Kimberley and the capital city of Pretoria for short tours followed by two nights in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

“It continues through Botswana into Zimbabwe where guests overnight at the Victoria Falls Hotel. After crossing the mighty Zambezi River, the train joins the Tazara line in Zambia and continues to Chishimba Falls where guests enjoy a bush walk.

“The train climbs to the Tanzanian border then descends into the Great Rift Valley negotiating the tunnels, switchbacks and viaducts of the spectacular escarpment.

“Climbing again, it traverses the Selous Game Reserve – the largest on the continent and a vision of timeless Africa – before the bustling arrival in Dar es Salaam the following day.

The website says Rovos Rail, a private railway company operating out of Capital Park Station in Pretoria, has been operating the journey to Dar es Salaam for over 20 years, running its train-hotel to a regular schedule on various routes throughout Southern Africa, from South Africa to Namibia and Tanzania.

“The trains consist of restored Rhodesia Railways (NRZ) coaches with two lounges, two restaurant cars, and private sleeping compartments, each with private ensuite facilities.


Of the three types of accommodation on board, the smallest is a Pullman, at 76 square feet and the largest being the Royal Suite, which is half a train car, and 172 square feet.

“All types of cabins have ensuite shower, sink, and toilet. The Royal Suite also has a Victorian-style bathtub.”

Wikipedia records that the company was started in 1989 by Rohan Vos and is still family owned and every two years, Rovos Rail runs a Cape to Cairo route — using private chartered aircraft and lake cruiser for parts of the journey — that offered for the first time in 2008.

Its 7 steam locomotives were purchased between 1987 and 2007 with the oldest built by Dubs & Company in Glasgow in 1893 — a Clara 6  locomotive which Rovos Rail named 439 Tiffany (after the youngest daughter of Rohan Vos).

The remaining locomotives are Class 19Ds and Class 25NCs built by Borsig Lokomotiv Werke, Henschel & Son and North British Locomotive Company.

All three were saved from scrap metal dealers and, after extensive restoration, were put back into service in 1989. Locomotive 3484 Marjorie – named after Rohan’s mother – is a Class 25NC locomotive built in 1954 by North British in Glasgow.

Due to the difficulties in running steam over long distances the decision was made to convert this locomotive from a coal to a more efficient oil-fired engine.

This info is for train enthusiasts as well as any other tourist on such journeys as the locomotives add the glamour of the epic Pretoria to Dar es Salaam excursion.


In the past, Malawi train service was only enjoyed by those living along the route between Blantyre through to Balaka; Salima; Lilongwe and Mchinji — whose rail cuts deep inside two sides of the M1 Road along Zalewa route and the road to Salima.

All train services were both cargo and passenger with the main route being from Limbe to Mchinji — which was dubbed ‘Mail’, which started off very early morning and crossing one another with that from Mchinji.

There were other services for the day from Limbe to Balaka, dubbed ‘Pickup’ that ended at Balaka Town, which was to pick up goods from the border Nayuchi, a route that was operated by its own service from Balaka turning off from Nkaya Station.

Malawi Railways train services

This service waited for the Mail from Limbe at Nkaya to pick up passengers going along the route to Liwonde, Nsanama and all the way to the border where it also delivered empty cargo.

From there, it brought back goods, that included fuel from the Mozambican port of Nacala, which was then picked up by the train from Mchinji and the morning Pickup from Balaka.

The other service was from Limbe to Marka in Nsanje, which is now being rebuilt to enhance the transportation of fuel and other dry cargo.

There is also a special rail from Moatize, Mozambique, that gets into Malawi through Mwanza, passing through Neno, Balaka and crossing over the Limbe to Balaka rail at Nkaya — to deliver coal to the Nacala Port.

The coal train service from Moatize

The only luxury service was what was known as diesel railcar (DRC) — a single elite passenger carriage that operated twice a week between Limbe and Nayuchi, catering for businesspersons with interests in Mozambique.


Currently, Central East African Railways (CEAR), which acquired management of the rail service from Malawi Railways, runs a bi-weekly passenger service between Limbe and Balaka and from Balaka to Nayuchi.

The passenger carriages are fitted with air conditioning as well as toilets but not a properly designed tuck shop but just improvised food vending by authorized private traders.

It has one luxury coach which fun riders target but most just from Limbe to Blantyre Station or up to Lirangwe while those who dare all the way to Balaka — a time consuming trip on the slow service, which leaves first-time enthusiasts with bitter-sweet memories.

Perhaps organisers can revisit what was provided for in  the old days, during Christmas season, when special fun trains were organised either from Blantyre to Limbe and from Limbe to Luchenza and back — something which many Malawians of old would like if it was reintroduced.