It's a mode of transportation I've always been excited by, and in any city I visit that has a train/subway service, often I'll go for that over buses or cabs (except Rome - only 2 very limited lines and Barcelona - kind of expensive). But my story with trains goes back even further.
For one, both my grandfathers worked for Kenya Railways when my parents were tots. But in much of Africa, train travel has fallen away in recent times compared to previous decades, perhaps because of a lack of demand or lax maintenance. My first memory of being on a train car is on a school trip to the Railway Museum in Nairobi. So whether it's old family connections like me or the mystique of days gone by (let's be real, some of these carriages and tracks in use are the original ones), enjoy my top 6 African train journeys to experience (in no particular order):
1. Le Lezard Rouge - Tunisia
This one I hadn't even heard of until I started doing further research for this post, but I'm convinced and I'm going.
Le Lezard Rouge (Red Lizard) is a quick voyage, under an hour, but it'll take you through the red phosphate mines, into tunnels carved through the Selja Gorges, past the Atlas mountains and back to its origin in the town of Metlaoui. SOLD.
2. Rovos Rail - Southern - East Africa
Let's be real, this one is more aspirational than likely at this point in my life, but can we just discuss this marvel for a sec? I debated whether I'd rather go on this or The Blue Train, South Africa's other luxury rail legend, but I settled on this because of the more scenic routes and activity options.
There's a Cape - Dar Es Salaam route, the longest one I believe, a Namibia safari option and even a golf route among others. Some day ;)
3. The Lunatic Express (RIP) soon to be SGR - Kenya
Bringing it home to the ex-East African Railway where construction in some areas was interrupted by crew being lost to man-eating lions. True story. This one I believe I have actually been on. I say I believe because I have seen no photographic evidence and don't remember a thing - I was 2 years old.
Since then the infamous overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa has been going not that strong, with frequent delays (friends of mine have been on it for 24 hours instead of the expected 13) and looking a little rough around the edges, but you can no doubt see how glorious it was back in the day.
In just a few weeks the new multi-million-dollar SGR service is said to begin operation, taking people through the same scenic route (Tsavo National Park minus the fees, win!) but in 4 hours and with some comforts of this century. I'm excited!
4. The Desert Express - Namibia
Sand dunes and dramatic landscapes galore are what you'll see if you catch the luxury train from Namibia's capital, Windhoek to the coastal oasis of Swakopmund.
This 19-hour journey includes safari and star-gazing stops as well as desert play-time for your Instagram cred. I'M IN.
5. Addis Ababa Light Rail - Ethiopia
Santos Express Backpackers - Mossel Bay, South Africa.
This one isn't technically a train journey, it's a backpacker's inside an old train with a front row seat to the best of the Garden Route's whale-watching. Win.
Train d'Ebene - Benin
The Train d'Ebene (Ebony Train) is a private train ride owned by a French B&B-owner to ferry guests from the coastal capital Cotonou to his guest houses. It's a voyage through voodoo country and fishing villages in a refurbished 1920's train car. INTO IT.