Train Ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town

There is something wonderfully magical about travelling by train. It conjures a sense of nostalgia for an era so utopian. Long distance train travel used to be purely for practical reasons. People, in the past, would use the train to get from point A to B, but today, when life refuses to slow down; taking the train might just be what you need. The train ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town is a picturesque paradise. The train glides through the most beautiful parts of the country that we only see in coffee table books. You can fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town and arrive in less than two hours or you can take the scenic route and see the country in greater detail.

These are some of the things that were front of mind when I took this trip.

The train before it leaves Johannesburg Park Station
4 Berth compartment with bunk beds.

Dining area! You can bring your drinks and have a party!

It’s Cost Effective & Safe

I always travel on a budget and I make sure that I get a lot of value from the money I spend on travelling.  The idea is to have an unforgettable experience and if I can do it on a budget, even better. There are various ways to travel to Cape Town from Johannesburg. The train options are usually luxury options like the Blue Train or the Rovos Rail and not everyone can afford those; certainly not me. You can imagine my excitement when I heard about South Africa’s best kept secret; the Shosholoza Meyl Tourist Class train. This is a sleeper train, which travels to Cape Town once a week. The full cost of the trip is less than R750. This amount includes a 4-berth coupe that can be shared by a family or group or a 2-berth coupe suitable for couples. In that same amount, you can get clean sheets, a blanket and a pillow for your comfort. Solo travellers get to share a 4-berth coupe with other travellers of the same gender. The train serves three meals a day for an extra fee, but you’re more than welcome to bring your own food.

Besides being cost effective, this train option is incredibly safe. There are designated security guards and police officers on the train who make sure that all passengers are safe.

There’s plenty of time to read!

The Scenery

The route between Johannesburg and Cape Town is a beautiful blend of semi desert landscape with unending mountains and greenery. The land is vast and will offer rolling hills and flat lands alike. The 27 hour train journey starts in Johannesburg Park Station and segues through sixteen beautiful small towns and four provinces namely; Gauteng, Northwest, Northern Cape and Western Cape. The journey starts off with cramped squatter camps become townships which disappear into sunflower fields and eventually become Cape Winelands.  If you are lucky, you might even spot some wildlife on the way. Just remember to keep your eyes peeled and have your camera ready. In some stations, the train stops for longer and passengers can disembark, stretch their legs and catch some fresh air. This is also a good time to take that perfect train station selfie. When the train stops in Worcester, be ready to buy the biggest and freshest grapes.

Amenities

The train is clean and has maintenance staff constantly making sure that it stays that way. At the end of each coach there is a shower and toilet which are easily accessible. There is restaurant-style dining area where you can have your meals and beverages. If you are on a group trip you can break bread with the whole group in one place while enjoying the beautiful view.  If you don’t want to eat in the dining coach, a waiter will come to your compartment at breakfast, lunch and supper to take orders. There is a make-shift table where you can have your meals in the room. Each compartment has a bunk bed, a sink, USB ports to charge your electronic devices, a heater and fan. The night can be cold depending on the time of the year.

The People

There’s a certain charm about train travellers. Firstly they have all the time in the world. Don’t be surprised if you’re approached by a stranger who wants to tell you about the first time they took the train. The trip to Cape Town takes about 27 hours and by the time you get to your destination, you are all a community of travellers. Because the Shosholoza Meyl is a sleeper train, passengers are quite comfortable to move around train and go back to their compartments. There is always a sense of camaraderie when you meet in the passage. Call it that old-fashioned neighbourly curiosity. The train has facilities that can allow you to throw a party and let the train become a destination in and of itself. This would be perfect for a girls’ trip or a destination family reunion. When there is a party on the train, everyone is invited.

The staff on the train is exceptionally friendly. They become instantly familiar with passengers, granted, some passengers use the train frequently that are on first name basis with staff.

If you have never taken the train from Johannesburg to Cape Town, do yourself a favour and book your ticket now.