Trans-Namib Railways connects some major towns, but trains are extremely slow – as one reader remarked, they move ‘at the pace of an energetic donkey cart’. In addition, passenger and freight cars are mixed on the same train, and trains tend to stop at every post, which means that rail travel isn’t popular and services are rarely fully booked.
Windhoek is Namibia’s rail hub, with services south to Keetmanshoop, west to Swakopmund and east to Gobabis. Trains carry economy and business-class seats, but although most services operate overnight, sleepers are not available. Book at train stations or through the Windhoek booking office at the train station; tickets must be collected before 4pm on the day of departure.
Namibia has two tourist trains, which are upmarket private charters that aim to re-create the wondrous yesteryear of rail travel. The relatively plush ‘rail cruise’ aboard the Desert Express offers a popular overnight trip between Windhoek and Swakopmund (single/double from N$6500/10,500) weekly in either direction. En suite cabins with proper beds and furniture are fully heated and air-conditioned, and have large picture windows for gazing out at the passing terrain. It also offers a special seven-day package combining Swakopmund and Etosha National Park, complete with wildlife drives, picnic bush lunches and plenty of long and glorious rail journeys to savour.
The Shongololo Dune Express, which journeys between Pretoria and Swakopmund via Fish River Canyon, Lüderitz, Kolmanskop, Keetmanshoop, Windhoek and Etosha, does 12-day trips taking in Namibia’s main sites. All-inclusive fares range from R59,800 to R75,000 per person, depending on the type of cabin. Regardless of which level you choose, the Shongololo is akin to a five-star hotel on wheels. Guests are wined and dined to their stomach’s content, and you can expect fine linen, hot showers, ample lounge space and a permeating sense of railway nostalgia.