Treasures of South Africa: Featuring Rovos Rail

Explore the Cape Province and travel on Rovos Rail to Pretoria followed by time near Kruger National Park tracking the Big Five of African game. Conclude with a visit to the remarkable spectacular at Victoria Falls.

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 A panorama of Cape Town  The <i>Rovos Rail</i> traveling through the savanna. Credit: Courtesy of <i>Rovos Rail</i>  Dining car aboard Rovos Rail  Elephants at a watering hole  Spot a lion at the Thornybush Game Reserve  Rhinos  Victoria Falls

A land of spectacular bio-diversity and fascinating tribal cultures, the wonders of Southern Africa exceed expectations. Cape Town nestles between Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula coast and beyond. Return to the Golden Age as you travel through the vast expanse of the South African veldt aboard the vintage Rovos Rail train, one of the world’s most luxurious trains. Thrill to sightings of “Big Five” game and other wildlife on game drives from Thornybush Game Lodge near Kruger National Park. Travel to Johannesburg, a sprawling city that grew out of a 19th-century gold-rush camp. Then conclude the journey at remarkable Victoria Falls known as the “Smoke that Thunders”.


Day 1 — Depart the U.S.

Smithsonian Travelers depart the U.S. for Frankfurt, Germany via overnight air service.

Day 2 — Frankfurt

After a morning arrival at Frankfurt Rhein-Main International Airport, check in at the Frankfurt Sheraton Hotel and Towers*, where dayrooms have been reserved for your comfort and relaxation between flights. This evening, depart refreshed and rested for Cape Town, South Africa, aboard scheduled, overnight air service. Meals appropriate to the time of day will be served in flight. * Some Air Program travelers may be routed through Munich. In that case, dayrooms will be provided at the Munich Airport Hilton Hotel.

Day 3 — Cape Town

Arrive at the Cape Town International Airport, and transfer to the splendid Mount Nelson Hotel, an historic Cape Town landmark. The balance of the day will be at leisure to relax and explore the hotel. This evening gather with other Smithsonian Travelers for a festive Welcome Reception.

Day 4 — Cape Town

Motor this morning to the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Journey along the magnificent Marine Drive, beyond Lion’s Head Mountain and past the Twelve Apostles, limestone stacks that rise from the sea. Continue to picturesque Hout Bay, a coastal suburb of Cape Town.  Ascend Cape Point by funicular and marvel at panoramic ocean views. Visit Boulders Beach and see the African Penguin Colony. A lecture on The History and Culture of South Africa will highlight some of the key events in the history of this amazing country, including Dutch and British colonization, the introduction of slavery, struggle of native tribes, discovery of gold and diamonds, and more. (B,L)

Day 5 — Cape Town

Begin the exploration of Cape Town with a tour of the city’s highlights and an ascent of Table Mountain for breathtaking panoramic views of the city, Table Bay and the Cape of Good Hope. Continue on to Robben Island. For nearly 400 years, isolated Robben Island was a place of exile and is now a World Heritage Site. Cruise to the island by boat and tour the former prison where the late Nelson Mandela was incarcerated from 1964-1982. The tour is narrated by a former prisoner with first hand knowledge of life on the island. Then, see the island’s lime quarry and local village. Sit down with other Smithsonian Travelers to dinner this evening at a lovely harbor-front restaurant. (B,D)

Day 6 — Cape Town and Rovos Rail Train

The 900-mile rail adventure aboard Rovos Rail begins this morning with transfer to the rail station where you board a luxury train born in the Golden Age of travel. Experience the elegance and excitement of traveling by rail, while marveling at the spectacular South African veldt. Journey to the charming, perfectly preserved Victorian village of Matjiesfontein, an oasis situated in the semi-desert region of the Little Karoo. Declared a National Historic Monument in 1970, Matjiesfontein is home to the charming Matjiesfontein Railway Station. In addition to being a stop on the Rovos Rail line, this historic building is home to the Transnet Museum. Its treasured exhibits include a stationmaster’s office from the late 1800s, the original signal room and signal box. Another highlight of the Railway Station is the Marie Rawdon Museum, which showcases an eclectic collection of Victoriana and Boer War memorabilia. (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Rovos Rail

Breakfast is served on the train. Gather with fellow travelers in the observation lounge and revel in the breathtaking landscape of South Africa. Enjoy the distinctive character and charm of Rovos Rail’s classic, refurbished wood-paneled coaches. After an overview of the world-renowned diamond city of Kimberly, visit the Diamond Mine Museum and the Big Hole, one of the largest man-made excavations in the world. (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Johannesburg

Enjoy breakfast aboard, and then relax with leisure time before arriving in Pretoria. Disembark the train and motor to the Apartheid Museum, which focuses on the system of racial discrimination that became synonymous with South Africa. Next, transfer to the elegant 54 on Bath Hotel. Gather at a Smithsonian Journeys Traveler’s Corner to exchange ideas and experiences. The evening is free of planned activities. (B)

Day 9 — Thornybush Game Reserve

Drive by deluxe motor coach to Kruger National Park and the deluxe Thornybush Game Reserve. Lunch will be served en route. After getting settled at the lodge, attend a lecture given by your Smithsonian Journeys Expert. (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Thornybush Game Reserve

Get an early start this morning with a game drive to find and track South African Big Game. After this exciting outing, luncheon will be served at the lodge. In late afternoon, another game drive is planned. Enjoy “Sundowners” each afternoon while on game drives. A lecture by one of the lodge’s naturalists will take place in late afternoon. This evening join fellow Smithsonian Journeys Travelers for a traditional Boma Dinner served around lodge’s campfire. (B,L,D)

Day 11 — Thornybush Game Reserve

Start the day just after sunrise, for another chance to track the Big Five African wildlife during a morning game drive. After a hearty lunch, there is time to relax. The Smithsonian Journeys Expert will offer an engaging talk. After an afternoon game drive, join fellow travelers at a Smithsonian Traveler’s Corner to exchange ideas, experiences and friendly chat. (B,L,D)

Day 12 — Johannesburg

Drive from Thornybush Game Reserve to Hoedspruit for the flight to Johannesburg. After a late morning arrival, enjoy lunch followed by an afternoon tour of Soweto Township. The tour will drive past the homes of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Afterward, drive to Kliptown, for a tour of a local youth project and plant a tree to commemorate your Smithsonian visit. Spend the night at the deluxe 54 on Bath Hotel. (B,L)

Day 13 — Johannesburg and Victoria Falls

Transfer to the Johannesburg International Airport for the 1½-hour flight to Victoria Falls and the deluxe Victoria Falls Hotel. Victoria Falls is located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe where the Zambezi River plunges 300 feet into the basalt gorges and mist below. An afternoon excursion will take you to explore the falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (B)

Day 14 — Victoria Falls

The day is free of planned activities so you can follow your own path and explore independently or take an Optional Excursion to Chobe National Park. This excursion sets off on an unforgettable safari through the second-largest national park in Botswana and encompasses four distinct ecosystems. See its renowned African Elephants that can number from 500 to 5,000 depending on the season. Chobe is also home to one of the most diverse concentrations of game and birds found on the African continent. This evening gather with friends for a Smithsonian Farewell Dinner. (B,D)

Day 15 — Victoria Falls

An early breakfast is served at the hotel. Later, transfer by motor coach to the Victoria Falls Airport. There, board the flight to Johannesburg and connect to the flight to Frankfurt. (B)

Day 16 – Connect to trans-Atlantic flight to U.S.

Arrive Frankfurt, and connect to trans-Atlantic flights to the U.S.