For the “mature traveler”, Visiting Africa seems to be either cheap, very uncomfortable, sleeping on 1” mats in tents and bumping for hours over dusty dirt roads, or, very expensive, lounging in hotels or game lodges, being waited on hand and foot. But my husband (who is African born and bred) and I recently discovered a third, entirely satisfactory alternative: the Shongololo Express. There are 3 different routes but we chose the Johannesburg to Victoria Falls trip, visiting 6 different countries and 4 different national parks. The Shongololo Express is an old Rhodesian Railway train, maintaining its classy image of the British Empire days – wood paneling, serviced rooms, dining and lounge cars. But there are definite modern touches – a safe in each room, running water in each room, a cheap and efficient laundry service, staff help with immigration details, 3 course breakfasts and 4 course dinners (included in the cost), a bar and an account system.
It is great to unpack your stuff only once over the 16 day journey as you sleep on the train (mosquito netting screen and either an overhead fan or air-con provided ) and set off each day for sightseeing adventures in a comfortable mini van (holding 13 passengers ). We saw and experienced an amazing array of things: Elephant herds in Chobe National Park, rural villages in the beautiful hills of Swaziland, a village school, cruises in Mozambique, Zambia ( on the mighty Zambezi ), Botswana, and Zimbabwe, the majestic Victoria Falls ( got drenched in all the spray and my husband’s joggers have squeaked ever since!!! ), lion in Kruger National Park, local village projects of fabric and pottery, markets (both curios and local ) – the list goes on. All adding to an experience of Africa we will never forget.
Did I mention the staff? From the train manager to engineers and handymen, to the wait people, to our fantastic African guides/drivers (both black and white), they were always courteous and helpful, often funny, and very knowledgeable and informative. And they provided transfers to and from airports as well.
On our trip Aussies ruled!! But there were people from USA, Canada, UK, France and Germany ( French and German speaking guides provided ). We had lots of laughs, great talks, fun times together over food and drink, and made some good friends.
Incredible value for money, and an incredible experience. Now we’re trying to figure out how we can have the whole family along to enjoy and experience their African heritage with us next time!!!!
David & Jane Irwin