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16 Rovos Rail Train Tips – Everything You Need to Know About Rovos Rail

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If you are off on the trip of a lifetime, catching the Rovos Rail train, you going to be full of questions. Alternatively, it could be your travel partner who hasn’t been involved in the booking whatsoever and has a million queries. To help out, we thought we would put together our own Rovos Rail FAQs as a quick reference guide for your amazing trip. Read on for our top Rovos Rail train tips.

This post may contain sponsored content or affiliate links that help support the blog. All opinions are our own.

Don’t miss our review of Rovos Rail from Pretoria to Victoria Falls

1.) How Long Has Rovos Rail Been Running?

I am sort of avoiding saying that Rovos Rail has been going for a long time as I am very slightly older than Rovos Rail. In 1989, Rohan Vos decided to turn his idea of a family caravan train into a business. He took his family and some friends (four of whom paid for the trip) down to the Eastern Transvaal. Things gained steam (pun intended) in the 1990s and now Rovos Rail is widely considered the most luxurious train in Africa with a few years behind it.

Rohan Vos is still hands-on and gives passengers tours of the workshops.

2.) Where Does Rovos Rail Go? – The Rovos Rail Routes

There are numerous routes that Rovos Rail offers. You can do as little as two nights, and as many as fifteen. You can remain within South Africa, travelling to Durban or Cape Town from Pretoria These are the shortest and cheapest routes, also saving you the cost of visas as you aren’t crossing any borders. If this is your once-in-a-lifetime trip and you have saved hard to go on a short trip then these are your best bet.

Other itineraries stretch across South Africa, up into Namibia and round into Zimbabwe.

Rovos Rail also has a special golf trip, the Golf Safari itinerary. This is a nine-night route that stays within South Africa. You will get a chance to take game drives and practice your drives as the train travels to game parks and golf courses alike. There are cultural excursions too so there is a little something for everyone.

Finally, there are the routes that travel up into Eastern Africa and one that crosses right from Dar Es Salaam on the east coast to Lobido on the west. These long journeys take a little over two weeks and are total bucket list journeys.

We love train travel! Check out more of our adventures by rail here.

3.) What Are the Rooms Like on Rovos Rail?

There are three kinds of rooms on Rovos Rail’s classic trains. Each has its own bathroom with a toilet, basin and either a shower or bath. You will also find an aircon unit in each room and a little bar heater in each bathroom so whether it is toasty or chilly outside, you will be comfortable

  • The Pullman Suite – This is the smallest of the suites at 7m2. You can opt to have your suite made up at bunkbeds, as a side by side twin or as a double at night. The longer journeys only have the beds set as side by side couches by day that can be made up as twins or a double bed at night. This gives you less space in the day but a nice place where you can both nap.
  • The Deluxe Suite – The deluxe gives you some more floor space at 10m2. There is a lounge area with two chairs and a desk/minibar. During the trip, you can opt to have your beds made up as two singles or one rather huge double.
  • The Royal Suite – This is the biggest suite totalling 16m2. They can only squeeze two of these into a carriage whereas you’ll find five Pullmans or the Deluxe suites. In the centre of the suite is a lounge area with two wingback chairs. In addition to all that extra floor space, this is the suite with the bath. Now, I don’t know about you but I think that taking a bubble bath, with a glass of bubbly is always a good idea. Add to that the novelty of being on a train? Bliss! (There is a shower too if you need a speedier clean).

4.) How Much Does Rovos Rail Cost? – Rovos Rail Prices

Prices change yearly so we will direct you to the Rovos Rail website for the latest costs. However, I can say that the cheapest room on the cheapest route (two nights in a Pullman suite, Pretoria – Durban) costs, 34,000 ZAR (£1,450) per person, based on two sharing. The most expensive room on the most expensive route (fifteen nights in a Royal Suite, Cape Town to Dar es Salaam) is $25,950 (£21,400) per person based on two sharing. When considering your route bear in mind the distance travelled and the room class you wish to take.

Here you can find the rates and dates for 2024/2025

5.) What Should I Pack for Rovos Rail?

Your Luggage

There is no restriction on board the Rovos Rail trains but there are a couple of things to bear in mind:

  • They have excellent porters at every station and you won’t have to haul your own bags aboard but you will have to get it to the station in the first place so don’t make it crazy heavy.
  • There is plenty of luggage storage space (under the bed and up on the huge luggage shelf but you might struggle to get your bag away if it is particularly weirdly shaped and/or bulky.
  • There was enough room in the wardrobe for two of us, for four days but we don’t pack heavily and on any longer journeys you may need to access your luggage more regularly so you will want to make sure they are easy to handle.
Things to Pack for Rovos Rail?

Don’t forget these essentials:

  • South African or British plug adaptors – The suites come with two different kinds of plugs. You will find the three-round pin South African kind (used hardly anywhere else) and the three-rectangle British kind (also used in Zimbabwe).
  • Sunglasses – It might sound obvious but you are going to be off the train on exciting excursions which may be bright and sunny and may be dusty. It is good to have your sunnies to protect you from both.
  • Reading materials – Laptops and iPads are discouraged outside of your suites so if you would like to relax in the lounge or observation car, you will need something a little more on the analogue side.
  • Cash for tipping and visas – South Africa takes ZAr (South African Rand). The rest of the countries Rovos Rail travels to will take USD (US Dollars). Ensure your dollars are printed after 2001.
  • Ear plugs and eye mask – the train does carry er plugs but it is best to bing a kind you know works for you. Together with an eye mask, this is your best chance for a great night’s sleep.
  • Any fussy toiletries – If you have to have your favourite brand of shampoo then don’t forget it. Each room has a great amenity kit with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, insect repellent and more…but not your preferred brands.
  • Medicines – The train does have first aid and basic medicines but bring anything that is prescription or you can’t be without. Plus, some extra in case of delays…a good plan every time you travel.
  • Your dinner finery – Dressing for dinner is formal so you will need to pack some dinner outfits…but we will talk more about that later.

6.) How Much Should I Tip on Rovos Rail?

Tipping is not mandatory but the staff work incredibly hard and we think it is only fair. If you do decide to tip, the suggested amount is ZAR 100 – 200 ($10 – $20) per person per night. No need to worry about the awkward handover, tips/gratuities can be popped in a specified envelope in your room and given in at the end of the journey. Give what you can and don’t be embarrassed if it is not that much. Some people do tip other staff during the trip but this is not expected. You may also want to tip the guides/game drivers during excursions too.

7.) Is There a Rovos Rail Dress Code?

The Rovos Rail dress code is at once a little strict and quite casual. When you are planning your outfits, here are some things to consider.

  • In the daytime, they request that you dress in smart casual attire. This for me means a collared shirt for gents and avoiding loungewear. However, this is entirely personal and we saw plenty of people in more casual styles than we were expecting.
  • Some of the routes offer a game drive or safari so it is worth bearing this in mind and brining some neutral tones (khaki, cream) for these excursions. It can be chilly in the mornings or evenings on these trips so bring a warmer layer that you can add or take off as required.
  • For dinner, the rules are stricter. Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie and ladies are requested to wear a cocktail dress or a nice suit. Now, I love dressing up, this was half of the fun of planning the trip. The romance of train travel greatly increases when everyone looks elegant. If you only have hand luggage or just don’t own a whole bunch of suits, never fear. The same jacket with different accompanying shirts and/or ties will be fine. On our trip, a whole group of travellers had been told by their travel agent that the dress code was more casual for dinner so they didn’t go all out. They were not turned away from dinner
  • It is worth noting for people who like heels that the train does wobble and you may end up turning your ankle so stick to lower options to be on the safe side.
  • On longer trips, Rovos Rail hosts theme nights. If you are on these then check the itinerary as you may need gear for a 1920s night and/or an African night.

Some outfit inspo:

8.) What is the Food Like on Rovos Rail?

All meals are served in the two dining cars. There is only one sitting so you can arrive a little late but less so at lunch or dinner. To chivvy yo to dinner and lunch, a lovely little gong is played throughout the length of the train.

Breakfast

(07:00-10:00) – This is the only meal you can arrive sporadically for. Whether you are an early rise that turns up right at 07:00 or the late morning lie-ins that run in at 09:45, you will get the same great service. There is a selection of cereals, granolas and fruits to grab. Every day the table gets a little basket wth a pastry, a muffin and some white and brown toast which is always great. Then you can pick from continental platters or cooked breakfast options. The salmon was particularly lovely and the omelette was a beast!

Lunch

(13:00) – Lunch is a four-course affair, served with wine pairings. It is a tiny bit lighter and more vegetarian than dinner but don’t get it twisted, it is still large and indulgent. If you get motion sick and have a game drive excursion, consider your intake. If you are a greedy girl like me, fill your boots!

Afternoon Tea

(16:30) – This is served on days when you don’t leave the train. It is available in the lounge car and the observation car too. You’ll find little cakes, tarts and some South African classic pastries like koek sisters too.

Dinner

(19:30) – This is the formal meal which is also four courses, all with a wine pairing. This is the heaviest meal of the day with tender cuts of meat and rich desserts. You may need to be rolled back to your suite after dinner…or to the observation car and its bar for a cocktail. The fare is a blend of South African and traditional fine French dining. It is amazing to see what they can produce in the tiny galley kitchens on board the train.

It is possible to have meals in your room. We opted for breakfast in bed one day. However, it is worth bearing in mind that there isn’t much room on the table and it makes wine pairings obsolete. If you are planning to do this, make sure you specify what you want and how much of it you want. I accidentally ordered two of everything for our breakfast and it was a struggle to eat it all!

You will also be fed at your point of origin, find biscuits in your room, snacks in the lounge cars and get given snacks on excursions so there is zero chance you will feel hungry at any point. It is pure foody joy.

9.) Can Rovos Rail Cater to Dietary Requirements?

When you book you’ll be asked for any dietary requirements. Ensuring you provide a detailed and timely response means the team has time to cater for you. If you leave it until you are on the train, you may be in trouble. They will try their best but choices will be fewer. Bear in mind that dietary restrictions due to religion cannot be catered for.

10.) Are the Drinks Included on Rovos Rail?

As mentioned, both lunch and dinner are four courses with wine pairings. Saying that, the last drink tends to be a liqueur or similar for a true digestif. These are not the only drinks you are entitled to. The train is all-inclusive. The only exception is if you want french champagne, which is an extra cost and needs to be booked in advance. The lovely collection of South African ines, including a few sparkling really makes this unnecessary though.

When you board you will see a mini fridge in your room. It can be stocked with any drinks that they have on board so if you want a bottle of bubbly every day, it is yours. You can request any drink at dinner if you don’t fancy the wine pairings and between about 12:00 – 00:00 the bars are open in the lounges. One is a hidden pantry and the other, you can sit at and have a tipsy talk. Finally, you will probably get a nice rink during your excursions and on your return from said trips.

On the last evening, we were surprised by a selection of cocktails on offer which you could pick off the bar like a fun boozy buffet.

11.) Where is the Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria?

All of Rovos Rail’s routes will start or end at their very own station in Pretoria. This is called Capital Park and is part station, part museum. It has bucket loads of colonial charm with white verandas and striped umbrellas. Rohan Vos will show guests around the worksheds and explain the fun and challenges or restoring the engines and carriages. You may get to see one of their gorgeously preserved steam engines which sadly they cannot run as the locomotives any more

There is actually a museum within the grounds which is a delightfully eclectic collection of vintage items and transport memorabilia. Don’t forget to head out and have a look (they can pop you in a golf cart if you need one). You can take a glass of bubbly with you for the long journey.

12.) How Do I Book Rovos Rail?

All bookings are done directly through a form. This is isn’t the kind of train that you can book on an app in a second. Fill out the form and then send it off to their email and a representative will get back to you to let you know what is available. Don’t forget to tell them if you are celebrating because they love to make you feel super special.

Long Journey Reservation Form

Short Journey Reservation Form

13.) Can I Smoke On Board Rovos Rail?

Rovos Rail provides a smoking car, complete with a charming matchbox. This is located just before the bar and observation car at the back. Non-smokers can skip past it as it is a little closed-off lounge with a corridor that runs along the side. You cannot smoke in your room, the dining cars or in the open-air observation car. Make sure you indicate that you smoke on your booking form and they will place your room closer to the smoking car (isn’t that thoughtful!?)

14.) Is There Internet on Rovos Rail?

Rovos Rail strives to create an ambience of the golden age of travel. This is more about books and board games than scrolling on phones and tapping on keyboards. As such, they request that guests leave their electronics in their rooms, or at least don’t use them for anything other than photos in the common areas. They do not have WiFi on the train so there isn’t any chance to connect that way. We tried to get eSims for Zimbabwe (we wanted to stay on top of the social media on the go) but they barely picked u any signal the whole time. I am sure this wouldn’t be as bad on the South African routes but honestly, it’s not worth the stress. Just enjoy your digital detox. You’ll be able to connect at each end, most of the stations have WiFi and at most of the Namibian safari accommodations.

Board games instead of Fortnite for…maybe a fortnight

15.) What Happens if the Train is Delayed?

Delays are semi-regular along most of the routes that Rovos Rail serves. Never fear, a certain amount of stoppage time is built into the itinerary. On most evenings the train manager will inform you how long the train will be parked overnight. This ice touch probably tells you how much sleep you’ll get (unless you are better at the sleeping thing than me). If there have been any bad delays during the day, they will just travel a little longer into the night. or leave a little earlier the next morning.

The train administrative manager on board will connect with you to ensure they have your accurate transfer details for your arrival. If there is a delay they will contact the transfer provider and make sure they are there at the correct time.

16.) Is There Laundry Available on Rovos Rail?

You can have some laundry done on board but not your whole wardrobe. Honestly, unless you are just bringing hand luggage, you shouldn’t really need anything washed on the shorter journeys. If you are coming for a longer trip, think about how to reuse the items you have so they can be mixed, matched and washed minimally. There is no way to get dry cleaning done so be careful what evening wear you bring/get washed.

As well as laundry, your host/hostess can have your clothes pressed for dinner and your shoes shined. There is no excuse to look shabby!

A Few More Little Rovos Rail Train Tips:

  • Rovos Rail can try and advise you but finding out about entry requirements for the countries you will visit is up to you. Look up visa requirements and prices well in advance.
  • Rovos Rail is not accessible for those in wheelchairs due to the restrictive space on the train.
  • They can extend a train to accommodate more guests but it is unlikely they will pop on a whole extra carriage for just one extra room. It may say sold out despite the stretching capability of the train.
  • Children are allowed on board but they may limit the number and those that are booked are expected to be on best behaviour. Honestly, I am not sure children would enjoy the train that much.

Final Thoughts for our Rovos Rail Train Tips

The one thing missing from this post is just how lush travelling with Rovos Rail is. Once you are on board, you don’t need to worry about the logistics any more and can just settle in to the romance of train travel to the rattle of the rails. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to message us and we will try and answer it. If we have answered all of your queries then have the best time!

Rosie xx


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4 thoughts on “16 Rovos Rail Train Tips – Everything You Need to Know About Rovos Rail

  1. Liz says:

    We have booked to go from Victoria Falls to Pretoria in march. Would it be okay to wear the same outfit to dinner each night?

    1. Oh that’s so exciting! Of course it would. We just got overexcited and bought too much stuff haha. Maybe the same suit with different shirts and ties, and a black or white dress with different colour accessories would be a fun way to mix it up without a huge suitcase.

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