The Blue Train: Crossing South Africa in Luxury

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Of all overland journeys, I’m not sure anything can top my experience in South Africa: riding from Pretoria to Cape Town on the Blue Train.

The Blue Train, you see, is a FANCY TRAIN.  The kind of train that requires men to wear jackets and ties and ladies to don elegant eveningwear.  The kind of train that has its own jewelry shop and tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise.  The kind of train where champagne comes with everything, from brunch to afternoon tea to late night in the cigar lounge.

I’ve never done anything like this before, and this train journey was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

The Cabins

I couldn’t help but think of the Sex and the City episode when Carrie and Samantha decide to cross America on a train in a deluxe suite — then find out the experience is far from glamourous.

Crossing South Africa, though?  Totally glamorous.

My suite had two upholstered chairs with matching pillows, set in front of a table with a flower in a vase.  A perfect way to watch the world go by.  Though if I wanted to, I could watch the TV, which broadcast video from the front of the train.

In the bathroom, the countertops were marble and the fixtures were gold.  In the evening, a twin bed folded down (there were two, but I was in here by myself).  There are also cabins with double beds.  Oh, and I had my very own butler!

Getting into Train Life

The beauty of taking a 28-hour journey cut off from the rest of the world means that you have time to just slow down and enjoy the experience.  We read, edited photos, played card games, and enjoyed an array of complimentary beverages.

Cailin and I both had to get work done.  Though the train had no WiFi and we weren’t able to get signal on our MiFi for most of the train ride, we settled in to do a bit of writing — with the train’s signature bright blue cocktails, of course!

The Food

The food was fabulous.  Meals were multi-course affairs, and since the drinks were unlimited, the champagne was flowing with every meal!

My brunch on the first day: salmon tartare wrapped in smoked salmon radishes with wasabi mayo, soya and honey; roasted tomato basil soup with croutons; grilled kinglip with potatoes in lemon butter; and spicy poached pears in a port reduction.

We also had a lovely afternoon tea with lots of desserts, including a giant chocolate cake that we collectively eyed for about 30 minutes before taking the plunge and grabbing a slice.

The Jewelry Store

Yes, the Blue Train has its own jewelry store!  It’s tiny and you have to make an appointment to view all of the pieces, most of which are either diamond or tanzanite showstoppers.  There are also several cubic zirconia pieces that look fairly close to the real thing.

Cailin and I giggled and tried on just about every piece in the store.  As I slipped a gorgeous $10,000 tanzanite ring on my finger, I felt my gaze drift toward the window.  We were winding past dilapidated townships without electricity and running water.

How did that make me feel?


The economic disparity in South Africa is much more pronounced than other places I’ve visited.  And while I get that there will always be people at both ends of the economic spectrum, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have the life that I do, it felt like we were rubbing extravagant wealth in the faces of South Africa’s poorest.

How do they feel about having to watch that train pass, watching people spend more money in 28 hours than they can ever hope to have at any given time?

I tucked that thought away — but it would resurface later.

The Fancy Evening

The evening meal on the Blue Train is a dress-up occasion.  Before the trip, David reminded us again and again to BRING FORMALWEAR BECAUSE YOU WON’T BE EATING IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT!

We enjoyed our fancy dinner.  The guys wore suits; Cailin and I wore little black dresses.

But the real fun began later in the evening when we retired to the cigar lounge at the front of the train.  Upon entry, we were offered our choice of Cuban cigars — all complimentary — and began swirling our own glasses of Remy Martin as we continued to wind through the countryside.

That is the closest I have ever been to being in a rap video.

The remainder of the evening?  Um, let’s just say that we were up very late, and at one point the bartenders had to go search for Red Bull.

Disaster Strikes

The next morning, I was in the shower when I heard a series of loud booms, one after the other.  I assumed the staff was putting my bed back up, but I came out of the bathroom and it was still down.  Then an announcement came on the speakers.

We had been attacked.

Farmers had been striking on the vineyards.  The reason?  Their wages were only 72 rand per day — $8.31 USD.  Per DAY.  How can anyone live on that, even in South Africa?  They had attacked the train, throwing rocks at it.

I was fine, but J.D. was in the next room, and a rock had gone through his window.  Thankfully, he was standing out of harm’s way and avoided getting hit by any glass.

The Captain spoke to each of us, offering counseling (which we all declined).  While this is a very rare occurrence, they didn’t seem quite as shocked as I’d expect them to be.

Our reeling over, we returned to normalcy at breakfast.

Cape Town

After our 28-hour journey, we arrived in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  From there it was time to say goodbye, and on to see more of this inimitable city.

Even with the troubles we experienced on our Blue Train, I will always look back at this train trip as one of my favorite journeys.

Essential Info: The Blue Train is a top-level luxury experience, and prices reflect that.  Low season rates range from 11,583 to 19,900 rand ($1,335-2,294), while high season rates range from 14,295-24,530 rand ($1,644-$2,822).  All food, beverages, and excursions are included.

Many thanks to Visit South Africa for hosting me on the Blue Train.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

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25 thoughts on “The Blue Train: Crossing South Africa in Luxury”

  1. I can’t wait to visit South Africa – and wow, Blue Train looks like the way to go! (once I hit the lottery). I’m not usually the type for fancy jewelry, but those rings are making me drool almost as much as those foodie pics. yum!

  2. This sounds like such an amazing experience – eating great food in fancy dresses while traveling through such an amazing landscape!
    However, I can totally understand why you felt awful enjoying this kind of luxury in a poor country like South Africa – feeling the social gap between rich and poor must have been really intense! Thanks for sharing both sides of the story!

  3. What an amazing story! South Africa is one of my travel goals but this is a bit worrying. It sad to hear about the troubles of the country but at least you are ok and having a good time!

    Driftwood and Daydreams

  4. The Blue Train looks like the kind of out of this world luxury so many people (me included) can only dream of affording!

    Your experience is also a really poignant reminder of the gap between rich and poor – and how so many of us who don’t consider ourselves rich, certainly are in the eyes of others.

  5. Living in the lap of luxury could seem a little daunting while seeing the poverty flash past. Glad no one was hurt in the attack. Although the Blue is out of my budget I think the purple Shosholoza Meyl
    Tourist Class along the same route will work on my return to Joburg from Cape Town. Thanks for the heads up about potential problems.

  6. You had your OWN butler? That’s insane.

    It certainly sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime type experience, though I’m glad you pointed out the disparity between this journey and what the locals outside the train cars go through. Would have made me feel uncomfortable, too.

  7. What an adventure. South Africa is such an astonishingly beautiful country but it can be hard at times to enjoy because wherever you turn, there are reminders of the extreme poverty and the ugly remnants of apartheid.

  8. As lovely as this train looks, personally I’d hate to travel in a train where I am being told what to wear in the evening, and being surrounded by a bunch of posh people whose only problem is deciding what sized diamond they should buy next. Reminds me a bit of a cruise ship actually. I understand why you felt so awful, I think it is disgusting rubbing the luxury into the poor people’s face day in, day out. I am not surprised the train got attacked, as scary as this must have felt. It was probably a long build up of anger, especially considering Apartheid. I am glad nothing happened to you though Kate!

    I guess everybody prefers different travel styles and if people want to travel that way thenthey should, it is just not for me.

  9. I’m usually green with envy after reading about your adventures but this one takes the cake (the big chocolate kind you had for afternoon tea).
    I love travelling by train and this trip would be amazing. I’ve seen that SATC episode lots of times and always wish they would stop complaining 🙂

  10. Wow. What an experience. The train looks great and I can’t even imagine traveling like that. You’re definitely right that there will always be people on both ends of the economical spectrum, but I can imagine it’s confronting when you’re in that trains, passing all those people who barely own anything.
    It’s always something difficult: enjoying luxury while you know others probably never will.

  11. That looked like luxury. You can see the point of view of the farmers, they must throw rocks at that train every time it passes!

  12. It really is sad to recognize the reality of two opposite so far. A magnificent trip with the perks and an amazing experience and on the other hand, a part of the country living with so little.

  13. Hi! In less than a month I’ll be on the Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria. I’m not finding this specific info through a Google search. I know it’s “evening wear” for ladies, but are we talking floor-length gowns here? Or will a nice knee-length black dress with heels do? Thoughts? Thanks!

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