Johannesburg to Cape Town by Train & Flight

Johannesburg to Cape Town

You can take the easy one – by flight – or the very long way: by train. Since I had plenty of time I decided to experiment both ways. By plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town and by train from Cape Town to Jo’Burg.

For the flight ticket I decided to go on the leading travel website in South Africa, The flight was even cheaper than on the official website of the flight company. I flew with Mango Airways and one way ticket cost me 80$. There are 2 major low-cost companies in South Africa: Mango and Kuala. I flew with Mango and had no problem. The prices are similar between the 2 companies. The 3rd flight carrier, the national one, South African Airlines is the most expensive.

Keep in mind that there are 2 major airports in Jo’Burgh: Tambo International and Lanseria (for low-cost carriers). I advise you to choose the first one; there is a direct train between the airport and downtown Joburgh, Sandton ( Gauteng). One way ticket cost 12 rands. Safe and reliable. Don’t know which are the transfer options from Lanseria to downtown Johannesburg.

I had a personal driver these times, my friend Marcel. Renovated for the World Cup in 2012, the Tambo Airport is one the nicest and easiest airports I have ever been. The check in took only 5 minutes. You can pick a free newspaper to read during the 2 hours flight. No need to take off your shoes or your laptop. Clean, easy, friendly. Had a bad experience while leaving South Africa to Rwanda but that’s another story. Being a low-cost, food and drinks are not included, but for 2 hours whom need to drink or to eat.

Johannesburg to Cape Town

The Cape Town Airport is located 20 km from the city center. You can take a bus, which cost 10 rands. But strikes are very often in South Africa; and when I arrived it was a driver’s strike so I had to take a shuttle for 10$. Actually, there is even a cheaper transfer shuttle: only 2$. Mine was a decent one; had to call the company because the driver wasn’t there, but in the end it came. And it was only be and a german girl whom was starting a volunteer program in South Africa. Imagine not showing up: no buses due to strike, no shuttle; that remains only an expensive taxi.

The Long Way to Cape Town is by train. This is a totally different story. Not sure why the train system did not keep up with the aviation one. In terms of services or websites. In order to buy a train ticket you have to fill in a complicated form on the SA train website. But that does not mean you have a confirmed seat. We will be  contacted afterwards by someone to confirm the purchases. Meanwhile, you have to send via fax the payment confirmation. Or to go to train station to pay for it. Jesus Christ!

Did not wanted to go through with this complicated system so I have not booked it while I was in Jo’Burgh and instead I bought it while in Cape Town. Take in mind that, the train is usually fully booked and you have to make the reservation within a few days or even weeks (for high tourist seasons). The Shosholozameyl runs daily and the cost can be up to 600 rands, depending on seat structure.

South African Landscape P1060189

I went 5 days before the departure. Wanted to leave on Saturday; but surprise! No more seats available. The guy told me: the only way to get by train to Johannesburg is next week. I said what? Can you please look if you have any seats left on Sunday.

He finally looked and found one more seat for me. To print the ticket was a different story. It seemed like it was his first day at work. He vanished in 5 minutes and return without saying anything. In the end, I think it took me more than 10 minutes to buy a train ticket.

The advantage of going by train its the central location of the train station. Only 5 minutes from the Long Street by foot. And you can leave the hostel like 10 minutes before the train departure. Not like going by plane. Have to be 2 hours before and if its traffic you might lose another 2 hours on the round.

The bad thing is the time. From Johannesburg to Cape Town by plane its a 2 hour and half ride. By train its more than 26 hours! One day! Not sure what it was in my mind when I decided to choose this option on my return to Jo’Burgh. And here I am not including the delays. I was to find out from the 2 “room mates”that this can be up to 6 hours. So, at least 32 hours! Actually, my long train ride was 16 hours from Bucharest to Belgrade and it was  damn long and endless journey.

Let’s return to the train system in South Africa; first you are not given a seat number when you buy the ticket. A bit late to the train station I was asking where should I find my compartment number. After going round twice, I finally found it. It was written on a paper stuck to a pillar. My name was written there and next to it my number.

This is how the compartment looks like. Decent, clean. For the price of 400 rands it is an excellent deal. I was to find out that evening that it wasn’t.

Packed with some biscuits, baby carrots and My Name is Red book I was ready to confront the 26 hours. It was daylight when I left Cape Town. The views were interesting outside. The poorer class of South Africa was there: the homeless, the infamous  settler.

Shosholozameyl South African Train South African Train

I wasn’t alone in the compartment. 2 white Afrikaans, mid-age guys. One was a bit sad because he booked the whole compartment for himself and he got with 2 mates for the next day. I talked with them more and the beginning and later not that much. One was a bit over religious saying: Thank You God a bit too often. But I liked this South African spirit of religion.

So beside reading, eating and looking at the window you do not have any other options. If you don’t have food, you can order. It wasn’t expensive, but I had my baby carrots which by the way were amazing!

At some point some lady came and ask us if we want some blankets. First, I wanted but after I heard I had to pay I said no. It wasn’t the price; the blanket would have been useless after due to the lack of space in the backpack. But I was going to regret it! Damn, it was so  cold that night! I couldn’t sleep at all! Tried many methods to warm myself, but it was impossible. Never experience such a thing in the entire life. So, if you ever plan to go by train in South Africa, I suggest to have or to buy a blanket.

In the morning, more bad news was  coming. We were informed that the train had some delays on the Orange County route. And that we were going to take a different route and that a bus was taking the two Afrikaans from the train station to their location.

Luckily the delay was only 2 hours. So it total it took me only 28h from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Did it worth it? Well, I decided to go back by train for one reason. To see the landscape. But the problem was the night. Most of the ride is taken place during by night. As an experience it was an interesting one. The cold was the bad part of it. Should I do it one more time? Probably, but I will buy a blanket!


by Sorin

Sorin is a freelance travel writer. He is an experienced travel writer and traveller. Since 2012 he explored more than 60 countries on 4 continents: Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. Currently is based in Romania after spending the last 7 years in Myanmar.