Our Train Safari from Namibia to South Africa
Probably one of the gay-friendliest ways to explore Southern Africa. It is hard to find the right words to describe our first ever Africa experience, especially because we choose a completely new way of traveling for us by boarding a train from Rovos Rail. Starting at the Namibian Atlantic coast in Walvis Bay, we traveled on railway tracks through Namibia entering South Africa on our way to Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city. Our nine-days train journey through endless no-mans land, rural inhabited savannah regions, windy sand dunes and the protected National Parks of Namibia turned out to be one of our biggest gay travel adventures ever.
While enjoying the luxury of a 5-star hotel on train tracks, we joined multiple day trips like our safaris in Etosha National Park or our hike on top of Big Daddy at the desert of Sossusvlei. As an openly traveling gay couple we could have never imagined finding a way to explore the beauty of Africa on such a safe, comfortable, relaxed and gay-friendly way reuniting the best of the republics of South Africa and Namibia in one trip of 3.450 kilometers by train. Join us on an LGBTQ+ friendly train journey ‘Southern Africa Train Safari with Rovos Rail’ and experience the southern part of Africa with photos, videos, stories, tips and info through a Couple of Men‘s eyes.
Southern Africa Train Safari with Rovos Rail
We are sitting in the last car of the ‘Pride of Africa’ train of Rovos Rail drinking Ginger Ale on the rocks, listening to African music and soaking in the view out of the lounge car’s panorama windows. It is frankly difficult to concentrate on writing today since our attention gets continuously distracted by the wide South African savannah we are passing through on our way to Pretoria and the countless springboks passing by on their way to the next waterhole. The past couple of days on our Namibia – South Africa Train Safari are hard to describe but have been undoubtedly wonderful. We still have to pinch ourselves again and again that we are actually traveling through Africa. It is the seventh of nine days on the tracks and we are already getting sad about leaving the Rovos family so soon again. Rovos Rail, the family founded, owned and operated luxury train company from South Africa which started with a dream thirty years ago, is today successfully running what they proudly call ‘The Most Luxurious Train Journeys in the World’. And we couldn’t agree more! Let’s show you why.
Good to know about the Train Safari
Before we will give you a detailed overview of our 9-days Southern Africa Train Safari, we would like to start with some general information about the route, the cabins, the food, and some general advice you should keep in mind before booking and during your trip. We stayed in a 10 sq meters lengthways double Deluxe Suite with ensuite bathroom and shower. The cabin offers enough space for at least two suitcases per person. The bed was turned into a lounge corner during the day and into a comfortable bed for the night. The ensuite minibar will be stuffed with drinks you wish to have in your room (complimentary) although we had a 24 hours room service for food and drinks throughout the whole trip. Actually, everything you need for the perfect gaycation in Africa.
- Things you can take home: Rovos Rail overnight bag each, Rovos Rail toilet bag each, Rovos Rail slippers each
- Things you can use complementary during the trip: bathrobes, travel adaptors, any drinks/ food onboard
- Included in the trip package: Excursions incl. bus & flights, hotel stays plus meals/ drinks stated in the itinerary, 24hours room service, laundry service
Meals & Drinks during the Africa Journey
Were you ever made aware that dinner is served by the soothing sounds of someone walking by your room, playing a lovely melody on a xylophone? On the Rovos Rail train it means time to eat! Especially for Daan, it is important to point out the cuisine on board. During the boarding process, the kitchen chef visited our cabin to ensure that she was aware of all dietary requirements for the journey. Daan was excited and super happy about that, since being a vegetarian during our travels isn’t always easy for him. For lunch, the kitchen always served a 3-course and for dinner a 4-course menu made out of a mix of local ingredients, herbs, cheese, and meat. Everything, seriously everything was unexceptionally delicious and served with the best wines (or in our case, beers) mainly from Africa. And every time Daan got a perfect vegetarian alternative. Bon Appetit!
Our favorite airline KLM Royal Dutch Airlines offers flights from €500 to Johannesburg, €600 to Cape Town and to Namibia. A special tip for German LGBTQ+ travelers: SkyTeam member KLM Royal Dutch Airlines with their modern fleet brings you comfortably and quickly from 10 German Airports via Amsterdam-Schiphol, the KLM hub, to over 160 destinations around the globe.
Day 1: Boarding the ‘Pride of Africa’ in Walvis Bay
We have been pretty excited prior our Southern Africa Train Safari with Rovos Rail, to be totally honest with you. Especially since it was our first train trip with an overnight stay onboard. We should learn quickly, that all concerns have been obsolete. From the first steps through Walvisbay Station to our first glimpse into the dining cars, our deluxe double bed suite Eckman and the observation car all the way at the end of the train, we felt instantly at home entering perfectly restored cars with an late nineteen-hundreds, early 20th century interior design which truly is an art form in itself. During the restoration process of the coaches, the team around Rohan Vos, train fanatic and founder of Rovos Rail, paid particular attention to space maximization which results in large (double) beds and ensuite bathrooms. After the train manager’s introduction of the staff and some first tips for the itinerary of the Namibia Safari, it was time to get on board and to start enjoying Southern Africa on a luxury way with stunning views. Our Africa journey began…
Day 2 & 3: Etosha National Park – Namibia
To be totally frank with you, during our first night on board the ‘Pride of Africa’ train, it wasn’t that easy for us to find some good sleep due to the continuously moving train. But let us ensure you, we quickly got used to it after the first two nights or so. On our second day after a rich breakfast onboard, we departed with two buses to Etosha National Park, one of Africa’s best nature reserves for game drives and animal watching safaris, especially during sunset and sunrise.
Etosha National Park is one of the best and well protected national parks in Africa located in the northern part of Namibia. Birds, herbivores, and carnivores are sharing the big park with over 22,270 square kilometers. We had the chance to attend two game drives and were able to experience the incredibly diverse wildlife! Guess which animals of Africa’s Big 5 jumped in front of our lens!
Day 4 & 5: Sossusvlei National Park – Namibia
Back on board the train, we had a rough second night due to some pretty bumpy rail tracks. But that’s actually part of the experience adding an exciting touch to our Southern Africa adventure. No time to waste with sleeping anyway since Namibia has some seriously spectacular natural wonders to offer. Among them, the dunes and desert of Sossusvlei. To get there is an adventure on itself. The next day, we arrived in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia early in the morning. And already on our fourth morning, we had developed quite an efficient routine to get ready for breakfast, to pack our backpacks and to get our Rovos Rail overnight bags for the day.
And off we go! From Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city by propeller-driven plane into the Namib Desert flying over the Kalahari. Candlelight dinner under the Milky Way, more than 320 meters high dunes in the Sossusvlei area, dead black trees in the claypan Deadvlei: Who would have guessed that we would be able to hike all the way up to Big Daddy, one of the biggest sand dunes in the world?
Day 6: Fish River Canyon & Garas Park – Namibia
Garas Park and the Quiver trees
Getting up early is part of the trip and we promise you, you will get used to it! On day six after a delicious breakfast (menu is changing slightly every day), we boarded the bus heading towards Garas Park. Unexpectedly, hidden in the middle of nowhere, unique volcanic rock formations with curious looking trees appeared in the Namibian Savannah also known as the Giant’s Playground. A seriously magical place for our first excursion of the day. The Quiver Tree Forest is special to this place saving liters and liters of water in the uniquely structured trunk and branches. The biggest trees you will see below on our photos are several hundreds of years old. It takes a long time for them to grow slowly centimeter by centimeter every year.
Fish River Canyon – 2nd biggest Canyon in the world
Back on board the Rovos Rail train, we enjoyed once again a wonderful lunch menu getting some rest on our journey towards Holoog. What’s special about this place? Well, besides its importance for the history of this south Namibian region, for us it is the time and place to disembark for a 45 minutes bus ride over gravel roads towards the world’s second biggest canyon formation Fish River Canyon. Once we reached the main viewing point at the edge of the Fish River’s Canyon, we had time to explore the nearby hiking trails to get the best view inside the deep river valley where still some small waters were left from the rain season. The sunset was stunning while having a cold beverage provided by Rovos Rail’s mobile bar. The deeply red colored sky of today’s sunset was the perfect ending to our adventurous and exciting days in Namibia, particularly the southern part of the Kalahari Desert.
Day 7: Relaxing on board the Rovos Rail Train
Our next stop: South Africa. We crossed the border from Namibia to South Africa during the night. But we haven’t had to take care of it on our own. The crew made sure everything went smoothly at the border while the passengers including us were able to sleep into the first South Africa morning of this trip. The seventh and eighth day, the final days of our trip, can be described by long talks with fellow travelers from Germany, Israel, the UK, the United States of America, the Netherlands, China and Costa Rica, hours of observing the continuously changing environment along our train journey and relaxed evenings with drinks and music getting to know the crew and their family-like connection to Rovos Rail.
One of the highlights was undoubtedly the Africa Day when countries like Namibia celebrate their independence from the European colonists. Dressed in colorful traditional African clothes, we spend the evening of the 25th May dancing and singing to African music, learning some phrases of the Afrikaans language and gazing for the best view of the uncountable stars of the dark African sky from the observation car. African gaycation at its best.
How gay-friendly is Southern Africa? Are there gay-friendly hotels for a trip as an openly gay couple? How can I travel for a reasonable price to Southern Africa? In our Gay Travel Guide Southern Africa, we are giving answers to your questions with a brief overview of the South African countries and valuable links to travel websites making your trip to Africa unforgettable.
Day 8: Kimberley and it’s New Rush – South Africa
Before we arrived at the final destination of the Namibia Safari through Southern Africa, we passed through the town of Kimberley, known for its history of the New Rush, the South African diamond rush. Similar to the gold rush in the USA (read more about the ghost town Bodie in California), the hunt for diamonds attracted thousands of settlers and early colonist from Europe trying their luck in uncoordinated diamond mining. The exploitation of the treasures did not happen in a strategic and planned way leaving many victims of poverty, diseases, and crime behind. And then the industrialization changed and centralized the diamond mining totally. Today, Kimberley is the lively capital city of the South African state Northern Cape and home to a diamond museum dedicated to the geologically and historically background of the diamond rush as well as the unique developments in Southern African geology and the famous Big Hole. If you are not into a 1,5 hours short story of a bygone, difficult time, you are more than welcome to skip the trip and stay onboard the train. But our journey wasn’t over yet. On our last 400 kilometers from Kimberley to Pretoria through the Karoo, we passed by the Kamfers Dam lake, home to thousands of pink Flamingos. An unparalleled spectacle which we witnessed right out of our deluxe suite window.
Day 9: Rovos Rail Headquarters in Pretoria
And there we were: Around noon we finally arrived in Pretoria at the private Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park, the once bustling hub of steam locomotion in Pretoria. The gracious railway station serves as the new departure or arrival point for all train journeys to and from Pretoria, depending on which direction the journey’s route will bring you. Part of the building is a small railway museum, a shop with some Rovos Rail souvenirs, and facilities (showers, toilets, etc.) for the LGBTQ+ train traveler of today. Before our departure from Johannesburg International Airport back home, we had some extra time to spare exploring the area by joining a tour behind the scenes to the vast carriage and locomotive sheds.
In order to maintain the quality of the trains, teams of local and international personnel keep the rolling stock order, which seems an easy task in the first moment, but can get quite challenging when it comes to parts of the old steam locomotives that need to be replaced but are not produced anymore. The roofed workshop of 10 000 sq meters straddles up to 15 railway lines with concrete inspection pits below, is the repair and maintenance facility for any Rovos Rail train operation. The low, red-bricked buildings alongside the 300-meter platform are home to laundries, gleaming stainless-steel kitchens and storerooms with all amenities we loved during the trip including the luxury, natural and eco-friendly skincare products by Africology. Especially for train enthusiasts, Rovos Rail headquarters will be an interesting last (or first) part of your gay-friendly train journey.
There are different options to book this trip: Either via Rovos Rail directly or with a tour operator. If you prefer the letter, we can highly recommend the Dutch train travel specialist Incento. Especially for Dutch, German and UK travelers since the booking team speaks all three languages and taking care of the whole trip including flights and optional stays pre or post the journey.
LGBTQ+ Gay-friendly History of Rovos Rail
We were not the only LGBTQ+ travelers onboard the Pride of Africa on our Southern Africa Train Safari. A German gay couple from Hamburg, as well as one gay guide and one gay historian from Rovos Rail, were part of the passenger list as well. From them, we learned about the gay-friendly history and open mindset of the Rovos Rail family but also about the difficult past of Southern Africa as colonies. On board, everyone is welcome and treated equally despite sexual orientation, gender identity or nationality from the first steps onto the train to the good-bye at the end of a trip. The staff itself is a mixed group of Southern Africans different origins who are unexceptionally (gay-) friendly, genuinely open-minded, and, at any point during the journey, helpful with a good portion of humor. The last day of our Southern Africa Train Safari to Pretoria was all about saying goodbye, exchanging numbers and email addresses, swapping pictures and videos and planning already the next Rovos Rail adventure. One thing for sure: It was definitely not our last trip with Rovos Rail. We got hungry to explore more of the wonders of the African continent.
Our Southern Africa Train Safari with Rovos Rail
Thanks to everyone on board the “Pride of Africa” train, from the staff, the two gay guides Graig and Nikolas, the train management, to the friendly African people who welcomed us in their home countries Namibia and South Africa. And, of course, thank you to Brenda and Rohann Vos from Rovos Rail for making our first African journey into an incredibly intense and wonderful experience! This trip was just the beginning of an African love story between Rovos Rail and Couple of Men which will be hopefully continued with the 15-days Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana to Cape Town (South Africa) Journey and the newest adventure from Angola’s Atlantic coast to Dar es Salaam. When do you plan your first Southern Africa Train Safari with Rovos Rail?
Do you wanna know and see more of us gay couple travel bloggers? Stay tuned on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook! See you around in Namibia, South Africa and on one of our next gay pride trips around the world!
Karl & Daan.
Please note: Our Southern Africa Train Safari was made possible in close collaboration with Rovos Rail, KLM, and Incento, as well as the tips and help to come from our wonderful readers, followers, new and old friends from all over the world and South Africa. Nevertheless, our texts, photos, videos, and our opinion are our own, as always.
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