Planes, ships, automobiles — they’re all great ways to travel. But if you really want to understand where you are, rather than materialize in your destination with brain slightly befuddled, take a train. Watching the scenery unfold as you move from Point A to Point B allows you to experience new places in real time, to get a sense of where you are and where you’re going, undistracted by the need to drive or read maps. And there’s nothing that says “adventure awaits” like the sound of a train’s whistle. All Aboard!
The Blue Train
Route: South Africa: Pretoria-Durban
The famed Blue Train more than lives up to its billing as a “magnificent moving five-star hotel.” A two-night journey on the train from Pretoria brings you to the Zimbali Lodge in Durban, where guests can opt to spend another two days golfing, being pampered at the spa, or enjoying the beautifully landscaped grounds of the lodge. Or travel from Pretoria to Bakubung Game Lodge for a two-night stay with daily game safaris accompanied by qualified rangers and trackers. Two nights on the train, in a private sleeper car with bath and an on-call butler, two nights accommodations at Zimbali or Bakubung Game Lodge, R7200-00 ($1,008 US) per person, double occupancy. Click here for more information.
The Orient Express
What traveler doesn’t get a frisson of delight just reading this itinerary? This six day/five night “Birthplace of Empires” journey on the mysterious Orient Express brings you to five of Europe’s most elegant, romantic cities and through some of the continent’s most breathtaking countryside. Tours of Istanbul, Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna and Venice are included. Passengers travel in private sleeper compartments in the original, restored 1920s carriages and have a personal steward. Because this is a historic train, modern amenities such as showers are not available on board — each cabin contains a wash basin with hot and cold water. From $6,015, double occupancy. Click here for more information.
Route: Australia: Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin
The Ghan was once known as “The Afghan Express,” named for its trek across Australia’s dry and dusty back country, which must have reminded someone of Afghanistan. Now the Ghan travels right through the heart of the Australian continent, traversing lush farmland, the outback and tropical jungles. Highlights include greater Adelaide, sunrise and sunset views of Uluru (Ayers Rock), Alice Springs, and a visit to a camel farm. Three days/ two nights from $2,295 per person. Train has private sleepers, restaurant, and lounge ($555 if you don’t want a sleeper). Click here for more information.
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Magic of Peru
Route: Cuzco-Machu Picchu
PeruRail’s Magic of Peru package is a wonderful way to discover the ancient land of the Incas. On this seven-night journey, the luxurious Hiram Bingham train traverses places almost inaccessible by any other means, climbing steep mountains, plunging into the Sacred Valley, passing Lake Titicaca and the colorful villages in the foothills of the Andes, and arriving at the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu, where guests tour this world heritage site. A city tour of Lima and lunch at a private house in Miraflores are included. Cost of the trip includes meals and overnights in excellent hotels (including one with an oxygen-enrichment system to help you acclimatize to the high altitude in Cuzco) — the train doesn’t have sleeper cars. $4,948 per person, double occupancy. Click here for more information.
Palace on Wheels
Route: New Delhi-Jaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur-Agra-Bharatpur
The Palace on Wheels takes visitors on a week’s journey through some of India’s most beautiful cities and sights. The trip includes tours of Rajasthan (popularly known as the Pink City), The Palace of Winds, the Amber Fort (here you get to ride an elephant), and the twin palaces Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir, which appear to rise from the blue waters of Lake Pichhola. Visits to Keoladeo Ghana National Park and the Taj Mahal are also included. The richly decorated 14 coaches of this fantastic train are named after former Rajput states, decorated in accordance with the aesthetics of India’s bygone Royalty. Each coach is fully air-conditioned; sleepers have private bathrooms with showers. Starting at $2,065 per person, double occupancy. Click here for more information.
The Royal Scotsman
On the elegant but wonderfully cozy Royal Scotsman, guests travel for one week along Scotland’s rugged east coast to Keith, then to picturesque west coast village of Plockton, Inverness (home of the Loch Ness Beastie) and then south to Perth, ending back in Edinburgh. Golf, seal spotting aboard a private boat, and guided nature walks along Caledonian pine forest trails are features of this trip. The dazzling scenery can be enjoyed from the observation car, either from its many-windowed interior or its open-air verandah. Each cabin is beautifully decorated, and the two dining cars offer excellent continental cuisine. The train stops for the night in quiet spots so guests are assured a good night’s sleep. From $ 9,230, double occupancy. Click here for more information.
The Royal Canadian Pacific
Route: The Canadian Rockies
A six day/five night tour on Royal Canadian Pacific takes you through some of the most rugged, inaccessible, and spectacular terrain in the world along the historic Canadian Pacific Railway lines. Guests on this luxury train tour Yoho and Banff National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage site “Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump,” in the foothills of the Rockies. Guests sleep in private compartments with ensuite bathrooms in the beautifully restored vintage carriages. Double occupancy from $6,600 CAD ($5,610 US) per person. Click here for more information.
The Epic Trans-Siberian journey is a true adventure: 17 nights/18 days on several trains (the Trans Siberian is a railroad line, not a train). In addition to Moscow and Beijing, passengers see nomad villages, remote Buddhist monasteries and holy mountains, dinosaur remains, the Gobi Desert and visit some of the world’s most fascinating cities and outposts. This is not a luxury journey. You’ll have to rent a shower stall onboard for washing up, and there are no private bathrooms. There is a dining car, which serves food from the countries you’re passing through. Opt for the Super Trans-Siberian package (26 days) and spend a few days camping out and hunting with nomadic people. Truly a journey to remember. From $2,255 US, double occupancy. Click here for more information.
GrandLuxe, American Orient Express
Route: National Parks of the West
This 9-day adventure on the GrandLuxe train traverses the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. Additional highlights include stops in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Sedona, and Santa Fe. Travelers ride in fully restored vintage carriages, with large picture windows and individual controls for air conditioning and heat (most with private shower and toilet) and relax in the sleek streamliner-era lounge and dining cars. A domed observation car offers 360-degree viewing. From $4,190, double occupancy. Click here for more information.