Airport shopping

December 21, 2011  By: Gretchen

Travels can be a great opportunity to pick up holiday or birthday gifts for your loved ones back home (or in my case ‘thank you’ gifts for putting up with my animals while I’m gone).  We got to thinking about our various airport shopping experiences from our time in Africa and came up with the following.

O.R. Tambo International Airport in is one of the better shopping airports in Africa. So many trips to Southern Africa, and even East Africa, end up including a stop in Johannesburg and it makes a great place to do some end-of-trip shopping before flying home. They have lots of shops with interesting goods and buying stuff there saves you dragging stuff around for your whole safari (many of which have strict baggage weight restrictions anyway). I like Out of Africa, it has something for everyone, and I’ve bought many gifts there including place mats, jewelry, toys and trinkets.

While much, much smaller than O.R. Tambo, the ‘airport’ at Laikipia, Kenya is also a favorite for shopping.  Despite the fact that it is merely a dirt airstrip, the airport has a fine restaurant (try the lentil salad with halloumi cheese and a glass of crisp, white wine – absolutely delicious!), and a beautiful boutique where you can find everything from local crafts to designer bags and footwear from Annabelle Thom.  On my most recent trip I bought scarves, jewelery, a unique bottle opener, a fantastic belt and more.  Most were gifts for the upcoming holiday season and won’t it be nice to give people a little piece of Africa?

Not all airport shopping in Africa is quite as inspiring.  Nairobi is probably one of my least favorite airports.  It is stuffy and crowded and the shops are so jammed with things it’s hard to spend more than a moment looking before you want to escape from claustrophobia.  Buy your obligatory Tusker (a locally brewed beer) tee-shirt and get thee onto the plane.

Zambia’s Lusaka airport isn’t much better.  You won’t be allowed into the area with the ‘better’ shops until an hour or so before your flight, but that area is much more spacious and light than the main terminal.  There isn’t a wide selection of shops, but if you forgot something or someone you wanted to bring something back for, you’ll have no problem with the decent selection of goods here and the departure terminal is a nice respite from the main area.

Both the local and international airports in Arusha, Tanzania have shopping where you can pick up a quick, Tanzanian inspired gift for your loved ones back home, but it’s not the same inspired experience as the Jo’burg airport.  You are probably better served going to one of the amazing markets in town if you have the time.

Kigali has only one small shop and the variety of what’s available isn’t consistent, so if you’re traveling in Rwanda, be sure to get your gifts along the way.

The airports in Livingstone, Kasane, Lilongwe, and other cities and towns in Africa all generally sport at least one shop with local souvenirs, so you’re safe for that last-minute gift.  If you are planinng for airport shopping, do be sure that there is in fact an airport where you’re going, not just an airstrip!

What’s the best airport shopping you’ve found?  Tell us on our Facebook page!