Luxury & Heritage: Discover South Africa Tour by Train

A 11 day trip to South Africa 

Traversing iconic landscapes on journeys of old-world elegance, the luxury Blue Train offers a window into the soul of Africa. Across dramatic mountain ranges to arid desert, through colonial relics to big-game dominated savannah, two indulgent train journeys reveal the splendor of a land untouched by time. Travel is about the journey, yet when you disembark, the destinations also provide dreamy African experiences: Cape Town, Nelson Mandela's Soweto, and Kruger National Park.

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Cape Town, V & A Waterfront, Bo-Kaap, Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Winelands, Stellenbosch, Matjiesfontein, Pretoria, Apartheid Museum, Hector Pietersen Museum, Soweto, Vilakazi Street, Hoedspruit, Kruger National Park, MalaMala Game Reserve

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Cape Town – The Charms of the Coast

Land in the city and you immediately explore nature, Table Mountain dominating the skyline and endless waters flanking luxurious coastal areas. Two oceans collide here; the sun sets evocatively over the frothy Atlantic waves while lush blue Indian waters flow behind the vertical peak of Table Mountain. One glance at the landscape provides a beautiful introduction to the country you will be exploring over the next 11 days. After the airport meet and greet, you're transferred to the five-star Cape Grace, located on a private quay between the harbor and the V & A Waterfront. A large pedestrianized area provides easy exploration on this first day, leading you to boutique markets, excellent seafood restaurants, and a variety of historical sights.

What's Included: accommodation at the Cape Grace, airport transfer

Day 2: Cape Town – Table Mountain and the History of Robben Island

The glass-fronted cable car turns as it ascends, providing 360-degree views of the city and the mountain. It rises to over a kilometer above the ocean, the upper station standing over a vertiginous cliff face. The mountain's summit is flat like a table, decorated with a sequence of walking trails that offer supreme vistas. Gaze out at two oceans, across at the very southwestern tip of Africa, then down at the city that shimmers in the morning sun. Out on the ocean, you locate Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years.

After descending by cable car, a small boat takes you out to the island and prison, where an ex-inmate conducts the tours. Narrating personal stories about Mandela and life on the island, the guide evokes an atmosphere to accompany the chilling brutality of the cell and prison. Poignant and haunting, a tour of Robben Island is an inspiring ode to the political prisoners who preached peace and reconciliation, not revenge. After returning by boat, you enjoy a lavish late lunch at the waterfront before the rest of the day is at your leisure. The guide and vehicle will be available should you wish to explore other parts of Cape Town. Note that a morning start is recommended for Table Mountain as a tablecloth of mist often rolls over during the afternoon.

What's Included: accommodation at the Cape Grace, tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 3: Cape Town – Exploring the Vineyards of the Cape Winelands

Less than an hour from Cape Town are the internationally acclaimed vineyards of the Cape Winelands. Over 500 of them fill a string of enchanting valleys. The 19th-century estates stand amidst miles of vines; whitewashed estates gaze across the valleys, oak barrels line historic cellars, and the tasting menu can take you in a variety of directions. With a specialist wine guide, you explore the area, stopping at four or potentially five different wine estates. Pinotage is the local grape, creating full-bodied wines laced with complexity and subtlety. Shiraz also excels on these slopes, as do a series of light white wines that are often enhanced with bubbles.

The first wine estate provides a sensual introduction to the flavors of the Cape Winelands before a winemaker leads the tasting at the second. Stop at one of the region's most luxurious vineyards for a degustation lunch, mixing wines with delicacies like biltong – soft cured meat from cow, springbok, ostrich, kudu and more. The rest of the afternoon is flexible, and there are hundreds of potential tasting stops dependent on your interests, from boutique cellars to major international exporters.

What's Included: accommodation at the Cape Grace, tour, breakfast, lunch

Days 4 – 5: Cape Town to Pretoria – Luxury Blue Train Across South Africa

The Blue Train departs in the morning light, after pre-departure snacks and drinks in the exclusive Blue Train Lounge at Cape Town Station. Shimmying through the mountains, it slowly bends away from the Cape, traversing canyons and valleys during the first sitting for brunch in the exquisite dining car. Everything about the Blue Train evokes the rail journeys of a distant era; a wood-paneled club car, large windows for watching the world roll by, champagne glasses attentively filled by personal butlers, decadent lounge areas for lazing away the afternoon with a good book. By midday and the second brunch, sitting the mountains are fading away, replaced by the scorched tones of the Karoo Desert and the hopping of ostrich.

Your luxury suite also offers a wide window into the soul of Africa. A private lounge area is dominated by polished wooden fittings, your en-suite gold and marble bathroom includes a bathtub, and the rhythm of the train's wheels lull you on large beds. There are just three luxury suites per coach, an indication of the space you enjoy. A personal butler provides the service and everything available in the bar and dining car can also be served in your cabin.

By mid-afternoon, you've traversed evocative miles of the desert and are heading into a roaming country of cow herds and colonial relics. Disembark the train at Matjiesfontein for a glass of sherry in the bar and a short guided tour of this time-warped 19th-century town. Victorian buildings and London lampposts abound, faded but not forgotten. Return to the train and you begin to cross vast cattle-grazing land, a rugged, semi-arid landscape that's contrasted by the delicacies of enjoying high tea in the Lounge Car. A raw sunset evokes dreamy preconceptions of Africa, the burning yellow ball coming down as pre-dinner drinks are served. Dinner on the Blue Train is an elegant affair and guests are requested to dress formally for the occasion in a jacket and tie, the attire a part of the fine dining atmosphere.

Wake the next morning, and the landscape has changed. You're now on South Africa's plateau, a landscape of flowering fields and rich colors. The desert is gone, its sublime beauty replaced by graceful tones and a sense of charm. Breakfast and a three-course lunch are served as the train completes its 994-mile meander to Pretoria. Arrive in the mid-afternoon, where you're greeted by a guide and transferred to the boutique Castello Di Monte, a five-star estate on the hills that surround the city. Dinner and welcome drinks are included at the estate.

What's Included: accommodation at the Blue Train, accommodation at Castello Di Monte, transfer, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 6: Pretoria – Apartheid Museum and Nobel Prize Soweto

Colors fill the cityscape just south of Pretoria, each vibrant tone an ode to the country's history and development. Industrial buildings are laced with graffiti, rather than left in monotone gray. Walls are painted with murals, which intensify the rainbow experience as almost every house is a different tone. You are in Soweto, once negatively perceived as the world's second largest township, now a wonderful place of celebration. This was where Nelson Mandela rose to fame, an inner-city area that led the battle against apartheid. Welcoming and wonderfully poetic, it's an area that reveals so much of South Africa's past and future.

Start at the Apartheid Museum, the national ode to the wrongs of history. Then continue onto the central streets of Soweto, where inviting greetings lead you to important monuments and Vilakazi Street. Nelson Mandela used to live here, and Desmund Tutu still lives here, making it the only street in the world to have two Nobel Prize winners. The guide takes you on an excellent walking tour through Soweto, continuing from Vilakazi to the Hector Pietersen Museum, where the 1976 student uprisings are remembered, an honor to those who created a major turn in the battle against apartheid. These sights are a full-day tour from Pretoria; as an alternative, you may choose a day with a different historical focus and visit the World Heritage Cradle of Humankind

What's Included: accommodation at Castello Di Monte, tour, breakfast, lunch

Days 7 – 8: Pretoria to Kruger National Park / MalaMala Game Reserve – Luxury Train From City to Big-Game Wilderness

Cape Town to Pretoria is an iconic route, the start of a distant dream to have a railway running south to north through Africa. It's one of the world's great train journeys, with the old-world luxury revived by the Blue Train. The Pretoria to Hoedspruit route doesn't have the same history, but the idea of a window into Africa's soul is equally apt. Leaving Pretoria at 3 pm, the train curves across the plateau before descending past jagged mountains, leading you north into landscapes that become increasing lush and green. The same decadent atmosphere prevails on board, with high tea, a formal dinner, and drinks flowing in the lounge and club cars.

When you wake the next morning, you're in the midst of the African savannah, the landscape marked by marula trees and freely-roaming giraffe, zebra herds and rolling grasslands. This new Blue Train route links the city with the wilderness, terminating in the Kruger's gateway town. There's the possibility of spotting wildlife through the window, and even if you don't see wild mammals, the landscape immediately grabs the attention. One look out, and it's obvious that lions and elephants will be nearby. Arrive at 10 am and you're transferred to MalaMala Game Reserve, perhaps Africa's finest private reserve. It shares unfenced borders with Kruger National Park yet offers a private safari experience, with just a handful of guests enjoying a sublime landscape. It's more than a big-five experience; it's a stunning immersion in the rhythm of untouched Africa. After the transfer to MalaMala Sable Camp, you'll enjoy an afternoon game drive before a leisurely evening overlooking the waterhole.

What's Included: accommodation at the Blue Train, accommodation at MalaMala Sable Camp, transfer, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Days 9 – 10: MalaMala Game Reserve – Exclusive Big-Game African Safari

Rhinos wander past the verandah at sunrise, an enchanting morning sight as you sip on your coffee. Across the landscape, you spot the giants, like giraffe and elephants on their morning march. Zebras canter away from the waterhole and it feels like a whole safari is playing out without you having to move. Most people go on safari anticipating a view of the famous animals; few realize that this view usually accompanies breakfast, dinner, and downtime at the lodge.

Over these two days, you create a personalized safari program, mixing game drives with game walks and nighttime drives. Each provides a distinctive angle and celebration of the savannah's ambiance. On a game drive, you explore the vast habitats of the reserve, looping around the favored hangouts of each animal. Guides know where leopards like to hide, and soon you watch the spotted hunter descend from the trees. Lions sip at waterholes then bathe in the shade of thorn thickets. Elephants and rhinos travel beneath the marula trees, giants of the landscape observed closely from the vehicle. On a game drive, you get close to the biggest of the mammals, as well as finding them going about their daily routines, like hunting for antelope or battling for supremacy.

On a bush walk, you're not looking to encounter big cats. Instead, local guides lead you to the safe grazing lands, where zebra and springbok gather in their hundreds. You're thrillingly close, perhaps just ten meters away from a kudu herd, maybe even a herd of female buffalo. A surreal atmosphere occupies the savannah at all times, and this is magnified after dark when the guide's spotlight uncovers nocturnal cats and females leaving their unmistakable scent. Epic panoramas no longer dominate the safari, yet they're replaced by individual moments of spine-tingling intimacy. Throughout the two days, MalaMala Sable Camp continues the spirit of old-world adventures, overlooking the Sand River for expressive wildlife encounters.

What's Included: accommodation at MalaMala Sable Camp, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 11: MalaMala Game Reserve to Johannesburg – Departure

Direct flights connect MalaMala with O. R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and your international departure. Dependent on your flight times, this could be a direct flight from MalaMala Game Reserve, or a South African Airways flight from Skukuza Airport in neighboring Sabi Sands. You'll have full use of the lodge and its facilities before your departure, and the journey to the airport is also a game drive.

What's Included: airport transfer, breakfast 

Price

Starting Price 

$8,795
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.