Our Guide to Johannesburg’s (OR Tambo) International Airport

3 min Read November 26, 2017

Our Guide to Johannesburg’s (OR Tambo) International Airport

Have you looked at your flights and discovered you’ve got 2 to 3 (or even more) hours to kill at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg? All of us here at African Portfolio would be thrilled with such a long layover! In fact, we count on those airport hours to avoid having to carry around any gifts and curios on our travels. It’s an attractive and inviting facility, a great place to shop, and the cappuccinos are not bad at all. If you remain in transit (when connecting from Victoria Falls or Maun, for instance), you can get your boarding pass at the transit desk (although in many cases these can be issued at your point of origin), put your hand luggage through a security scan, and zoom right through to the retail area.
Retail Therapy Anyone?
Of course you will find the standard offering of cosmetics, jewelry, tobacco and alcohol that you see in airports worldwide, but also some of those great South African wines you’ve been drinking along the way, the iconic Amarula cream liqueur you had around the camp fire, and needless to say, some South African Diamonds that – like your safari memories – are forever. Beyond all these old standards, there is still a treasure trove of good quality merchandise to feast on though. Whether you’re looking for last minute souvenirs, Zulu beadwork, traditional shawls, leather fedora hats or Ndebele dolls, “Out of Africa” offers a huge selection at decent prices. Need something unique for the men in your life? The sportswear shops have the latest Springbok or Bafana Bafana jerseys for rugby or soccer fans. Or better yet, bring home a snazzy Madiba shirt to remember the late and great Nelson Mandela. For outdoor enthusiasts check out Cape Union Mart and pick up a safari outfit for your next adventure in Africa (with us!).
Looking for something truly unique for your home? Indaba has exquisite original pieces for sale, not cheap, but certainly classy. If you have children, they’ll love Kids Paradiz with the regular toys they’ll recognize along with some unique African options like wire cars. It’s always nice to bring home something for yourself too. Perhaps some local music that will remind you of your safari, or a good book to revive the excitement, and there are several decent book stores and music shops in the duty free hall.
Animal & Vegetable:
maynardsIf you really want to treat any South African friends (or safari consultants), you probably can’t go wrong with good old Maynard’s Wine Gums, a box of Rooibos tea, or Radox Bubble Bath. Sadly, the biltong, dried sausage and fruit, chutney and canned guavas we ache for, are out of the question. As with all international travel, animal and plant products or byproducts can only be brought ashore under rigorous import regulations, and are subject to confiscation by customs officials. That includes flower seeds, ostrich egg shells and Nguni cowhide products.
Digital Withdrawal?
Not into shopping anyway? The central cafe and bars are good, and the view of the airport through the huge glass windows is spectacular, especially during the rainy season! The Shongololo Lounge offers something to eat and drink, International News on TV, free Wi-Fi connectivity and shower facilities. All for roughly $30 per person.
If you have enough time and patience to brave the extra lines and security checks, you could consider treating yourself to a world class dinner at Quills Restaurant in the Intercontinental Airport Hotel.
Overnight at OR Tambo?
If you need to spend a night at the airport, we highly recommend the City Lodge or InterContinental. They are both an easy walk through the terminal, and well signed. All African Portfolio clients are treated to a special meet and greet when they first arrive in South Africa, our representative will whisk you through customs and walk you to either hotel.  Ask us about the special recharge and refuel services we can offer for travelers who may not need an overnight but do have a long layover.

  • Do lock your bags as they transit through the airport. Outbreaks of petty theft occur at times although those are much more rare now than in the past.
  • If you have children, there are no play areas, but the main departure area is large enough to stretch their legs.
  • Keep in mind that the distance to your boarding gate can be up to a 20 minute walk, and that there will be an additional screening of hand luggage immediately before the gate if you are returning to the USA. (Liquids should comply with the usual 3-1-1 rule for carry-ons = 3 ounce containers (or less) in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag per person.)

Fast Facts:

  • Name of Airport: OR Tambo International Airport
  • Airport Code: JNB
  • Number of Passengers: OR Tambo is Africa’s busiest airport handing over 28 million passengers per year.
  • Two Main Terminals: A for International arrivals & departures and B for Domestic arrivals & departures
  • Location of the Airport: 14 miles (22km) east of the city of Johannesburg.
  • Getting to and From the Airport: The Gautrain is a 50 mile mass rapid transit railway system in linking Johannesburg, Pretoria, and OR Tambo International Airport.
  • Official Airport Web Site: OR Tambo International Airport
  • National Airline: South African Airways
  • Car rentals agencies, banks, restaurants, hotel and tour operators are all available at the airport.


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