When you’re hopping from one destination to the next, connecting flights are inevitable no matter what corner of the globe you’re travelling in – and Africa is no different. Where layovers once were seen as an inconvenience, travellers are now realising the opportunity that it presents. Instead of spending hours on end between the walls of an airport, you can head out and experience a new city. And there is plenty to do in 8, 12 or 24 hours in the beautiful cities that accompany Africa’s main airports and air travel hubs, from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Nairobi and Entebbe. Here’s our handy guide on navigating a long layover guide in Africa.
What to Do on a Layover at Cape Town International Airport
Cape Town International Airport is the second-busiest airport in South Africa and the fourth busiest in Africa – meaning that it is well-equipped for travellers with long layovers. When venturing out of the airport, you’ll find that most places on our list are within easy reach. Both the V&A Waterfront and Stellenbosch (a popular region within the Cape Winelands) are located less than 40-minutes away, while spots that are further out, like Cape Point are typically an hour drive away.
As for your mode of transport, you can easily call a private taxi, hire a car at the airport, call an Uber or other e-hailing service, or simply hop on the reliable and comfortable MyCiti Airport Shuttle – a public bus that will seamlessly transfer you from the airport to the city centre.
No matter if it’s sunny or rainy, the V&A Waterfront has something for everything. Built from Cape Town’s original harbour and with classic views of Table Mountain, this entertainment, shopping and dining hub is within walking distance to several top hotels, including the One&Only Cape Town, Cape Grace and the Table Bay Hotel. There are open-air movies on the croquet lawn, the Two Oceans Aquarium, yacht cruises and plenty of restaurants.
You can also enjoy the Springbok Rugby Museum, a stroll along the seafront boardwalk or free live performances in the amphitheatre. The world’s biggest and best collection of contemporary African art is housed at the Zeitz Museum – it’s Cape Town’s version of the Tate Modern in London or Guggenheim in New York City.
The Cape Winelands is a region famous for its plethora of South African wine estates that have a history spanning 300 years. Visit Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Paarl to enjoy world-class wine, paired perfectly with gourmet cuisine creations, and some of the most breathtaking views on the continent.
The Boomslang at Kirstenbosch Gardens
To celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden – which is a regular gold winner at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show – a treetop walkway known as ‘The Boomslang’ (‘tree snake’) was unveiled.
This raised wood-and-steel path winds its way through the branches and canopy of Kirstenbosch’s lush Arboretum, a thick woodland that is also a birder’s paradise. Kirstenbosch is an ideal stop in combination with a trip to the Constantia Winelands or Cape Point. See indigenous proteas and fynbos that make up the incredibly diverse floral kingdom, against a mountain backdrop before enjoying lunch or afternoon tea.
Table Mountain and Lion’s Head
Keen hikers may want to challenge themselves to walking up Platteklip Gorge on Table Mountain – or take the cable car up if you want to save some time. Another great hike is up Lion’s Head, the distinctly shaped mountain peak alongside Table Mountain.
Cape Town is also known for its award-winning Blue Flag beaches. Llandudno, Clifton and Noordhoek are great places to enjoy or watch surfing, while Boulders Beach are inhabited by endangered African penguins - waddling right in front of you across the beach. St James and Fish Hoek are perfect for safe, warm-ish swimming, while Barley Bay in Clifton, Glen Beach in Camps Bay and Noordhoek are also great for long walks or horse-riding on the beach.
One of the reasons that makes Cape Town such a popular travel destination is its uncanny ability to supply breath-taking, picturesque views from almost every corner of this delightful city – and Cape Point provides a spectacular sight just 60 kilometres (37 miles) outside the city. Falling within the southern section of Table Mountain National Park, Cape Point consists of rugged rocks and sheer sandstone cliffs that tower more than 200 metres (656 feet) above sea level, as well as a rich biodiversity of endemic fynbos, beautiful bays, pristine beaches, and rolling green hills and valleys.
Cape Point opens at various times throughout the year to coincide with daylight hours, opening at sunrise and closing at sunset. Once in the area, you can enjoy hang-gliding and paragliding, kayaking, rock climbing, horse riding, mountain biking, line fishing, scenic nature walks and hikes through the fynbos. You can also enjoy classic bucket-and-spade fun on the beach, riding the Flying Dutchman Funicular up to the viewing point, picnics among the unique flora and fauna, and walks along the Cape coast to try and spot the numerous shipwrecks that litters Cape Point from west to east.
Things to Do on a Layover at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport
Being South Africa’s primary airport for domestic and international travel – handling over 21 million passengers annually – O.R. Tambo International Airport has ensured that its infrastructure and location makes it easy for travellers to reach any part of Johannesburg. All attractions on our list are only a 30-minute drive from the airport, with the exception of Soweto, which will take you 45 minutes to get to.
Similar to Cape Town International Airport, there are plenty of transportation options from O.R. Tambo. Hire a licensed private cab, car or call an Uber to take you wherever you need to go. Or if you prefer to travel like a local, the high-speed Gautrain – an express commuter rail system – has a terminal at the airport, which will see you getting to any destination on its path in rapid time.
Start your layover in Johannesburg with a tour of Soweto, a neighbourhood made up of many suburbs lies a short distance from the city centre. The Soweto Township is a melting pot of South African cultures, as well as a bright and active centre that will awaken your senses. Visit 8115 Vilakazi Street, where Nelson and Winnie Mandela lived with their children- - this modest house is packed with personal memorabilia and a tangible spirit of resilience. Across the road is the house where fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived, making it the only street in the world to be home to two Nobel laureates.
Make sure to stop at the Apartheid Museum that opened in 2001. It is acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum in the world dealing with 20 century South Africa, at the heart of which is the apartheid story. The museum is a stunning example of design, space, and landscape, providing a unique South African experience to visitors from around the world.
Gold Reef City
If you’re travelling with your children, consider a visit to Gold Reef City, which has many interactive experiences that explain the history of mining in South Africa – including descending into an old mineshaft! Kids will also enjoy popping in at the Orlando Towers where they can bungee jump, play paintball in a series of tunnels or ‘free fall’ from the edge of one of these enormous towers (this is easily combined with a Soweto tour).
Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton
Nelson Mandela Square, located in the heart of Sandton, is Joburg’s premier dining destination, honouring one of the world’s most illustrious leaders. Next to Mandela Square lies the famous Sandton City Shopping Centre, with its sidewalk cafes, delicious eating options, and 93 upscale boutiques – making it one of South Africa’s most popular retail and leisure destinations.
How to Spend a Layover in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is perfectly placed for the traveller who loves exploring the surrounding city on a long layover. Each attraction below is set less than approximately a 50-minute drive away from the airport, with the closest being Nairobi National Park and the furthest being the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Trust.
Getting around Nairobi is fairly easy, with a number of taxis and car rental services readily available, as well as public transport. The Nairobi Commuter Rail Services and Madaraka Express to Mombasa are options as well.
Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Trust
The Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Trust dates back to 1977 and is the most successful orphaned elephant rescue programme in the world. Babies that have got lost, injured, separated from their herd, or had their mothers killed by hunters or poachers are brought here to be hand reared and reintroduced into the wild. Public feeding is between 11:00 and 12:00 – this is a very popular activity so be sure to arrive in good time, especially since it accommodates school groups.
Nairobi National Park
One of the best ways to spend a long layover in this city is at Nairobi National Park. This undercover safari destination is also known as the world’s only wildlife capital and is a large game reserve on the border of the city, situated just a short drive out Nairobi’s central business district. Spend a few hours in the park, enjoying game drives, hikes, and picnics in this little-known urban national park.
The Giraffe Centre (also known as the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya) was founded in 1979 to help conserve the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, which was under threat from poaching, hunting, human encroachment, and loss of habitat.
Today there are only about 1 500 Rothschild’s in the wild, making it the rarest of all the giraffe subspecies. At the centre you can interact with habituated giraffes and learn how the breeding programme helps diversify the remaining gene pool. You can also visit the bird sanctuary and enjoy a short nature trail through an indigenous forest – look out for warthog, dik-dik and other small animals.
Karen Blixen Museum
Karen Blixen was an adventuress and the author of ‘Out of Africa’, one of the most enduring tales of colonial Kenya. The baroness lived in this well-preserved stone house from 1917 to 1931, and it remains one of the most typical residences built by wealthy Europeans.
If you love eating meat, then Carnivore is the place for you. Staff bring out platters of freshly grilled, roasted, and barbecued Kenyan beef, pork and venison – from crocodile and zebra to impala and kudu. The atmosphere is inevitably festive as diners try new flavours and textures, such as ostrich and camel. All meats are roasted on traditional Maasai swords, and you’re encouraged to drink a glass of ‘dawa’ by the roaming ‘medicine man’, aptly named Dr. Dawa.
8 to 12 Hour Layover in Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport
Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city, and a treat to explore during a long layover. Each of the below attractions will take you anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours to get to – with the furthest away being the hauntingly beautiful ruins at Bagamoyo.
A great way to get around Dar es Salaam is via the city buses, which can be easily accessed from Terminal 1 and 2 at the airport. Or if you prefer more private transportation, airport taxis can be hired, or car rental services are readily available.
Take some time to recoup from your long flight by catching some sun on one of Dar es Salaam’s beautiful beaches. Kunduchi, Mjimwena and Mbwamaji are fantastic spots to spend a few hours reclining on soft white-sand and watching tranquil azure water.
Ancient Ruins at Bagamoyo
Stop by Tanzania’s oldest town, Bagamoyo, and explore the atmospheric ruins of the country’s main port before Dar es Salaam hit its prime. While here, you’ll visit the site of the first mosque in East Africa, constructed in the 13 century, which is now better known as the Kaole Ruins - as well as explore 30 tombs, which date back to the 7 century.
Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative Society
Art lovers will not want to miss the opportunity to visit the Tinga Tinga Arts Co-operative Society. Here, local artists and artisans showcase their artwork based on the popular TingaTinga art movement. It’s a great place to get a one-of-a-kind souvenir while simultaneously supporting the local economy and artistic community.
What to do on a Layover at Zanzibar’s Abeid Amani Karume International Airport
Stone Town and all its offerings sit a mere 15-minute drive away from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. The best ways to get around Zanzibar and to its city centre from the airport is to hail a taxi or take a local bus, called a Dala Dala. Taxis are safe, reliable and comfortable, while Dala Dala’s are a cost-effective option, that takes a little longer to get to its destination but provides a novel experience that captures the essence of Zanzibar.
Explore Stone Town
No visit to Zanzibar would be complete without exploring the narrow, cobbled streets of Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former capital of the main island. There are several places of interest scattered around town, not least of which is Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), a former sultan’s palace. Absorb the history, culture and cuisine of this former ivory port on guided tours or simply wander around at your own pace.
Zanzibar Spice Tour
One of Zanzibar’s most popular excursions is a spice tour. In days past, Zanzibar was known as the ‘Spice Island’, exporting cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, and cardamom to the world. The spices were brought over from Asia and South America and flourished in Zanzibar’s tropical climate. Nowadays the plantations are a tribute to the island’s past, swapping spices for tourism and combining both in a spice tour.
Sunset Dhow Cruise
Set sail along the coast of Zanzibar on a bona fide dhow. Used by fishermen and travellers for centuries, it feels like a slice out of a different era. The breeze billowing in pearly-white sails, recline in the cushioned wooden hull, with nothing but ocean views before you - keep your eyes peeled for pods of dolphins!
How to Spend a Layover at Victoria Falls Airport
A long layover at Victoria Falls Airport provides the perfect opportunity to explore Africa’s Adventure Capital. All activities listed below are located less than approximately 30 minutes away from the airport, with the fastest and easiest means of transport being a taxi. Alternatively, you could take your adventure into your own hands and rent a car at the airport.
Tour Victoria Falls
First and foremost, a tour of Victoria Falls is an absolute must. Victoria Falls, which dates back 150 million years, reaches its zenith in about May each year when the flow is at its fullest. It is truly awe-inspiring experience – the overwhelming sight, the roaring sound and the humbling feeling of witnessing one of nature’s masterpieces.
Cruise the Zambezi River
A Zambezi River cruise is a superb way to relax amongst the serenity of nature. You may see a variety of game, including hippo, crocodile, and elephant in their natural habitat, as well as enjoy many different bird species. This popular cruise includes snacks and drinks. As the sun sets and flocks of birds skim the waterline, there are fantastic photographic opportunities.
Short Helicopter Flight Over the Falls
On request, you can enjoy a 13-minute helicopter flight. The flights depart regularly throughout the day and offer breath-taking views and sensational photographic opportunities over the Falls. The helicopters have specially designed bubble-shaped windows that are ideal for a panoramic view from all seats.
Test your courage, defy gravity and soar like a bird on the gorge swing – a giant swing that is 95 metres (312 feet) long and 120 metres (394 feet) above water with a 70 metres (230 feet) freefall before you begin swinging. The gorge swing experience gives you the opportunity to sail through the air and gaze on the glorious Zambezi River and its ancient gorges while having an adrenaline rush at the same time.
Zipline Over Batoka Gorge
Take a ride on the longest zipline in the world. Experience the rush of travelling 106 kilometres an hour (66 miles an hour) across the wide Batoka Gorge while being suspended above the breath-taking beauty of the Zambezi River.
Bungee Jump Down the Falls
A solo bungee jump is a thrilling way to experience Victoria Falls. On this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, you will jump 111 metres (364 feet) with the majestic Falls behind you, the river rushing below and exquisite canyons surrounding you.
Victoria Falls Canopy Tour
The Victoria Falls Canopy Tour allows you to observe the riverine forest from a variety of different vantage points and experience forest birdlife. This tour offers a network of nine slides, trails, and rope-bridge walkways in the canopy of the hardwood forest of the Zambezi gorges. Enjoy a spectacular birds-eye view of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World that is suitable for adventure seekers of all ages.
Take a Dip in Devil’s Pool
Lastly, if you’re visiting Victoria Falls between mid-August and mid-January, you’ll want to check out the famous Devil’s Pool. Depending on the Zambezi River’s water levels, you can take a thrilling dip in this natural rock pool that sits at the very edge of the waterfall.
Arusha Airport Stopover: What to See and Do
Arusha Airport is a domestic travel hub in Tanzania’s stunning city of Arusha – an ideal destination to explore during a long layover. The idyllic Arusha Coffee Lodge and Estate is only about a 5-minute drive from the airport or 30-minute walk if you’re keen on a scenic stroll. Arusha National Park and Kilimanjaro Golf & Wildlife Estate are a bit further out, with both being under a 2-hour journey by taxi.
Enjoy a Round of Kiligolf
If you’re a keen golfer and have significant time in Arusha, look into a short-term membership at Kilimanjaro Golf & Wildlife Estate for a round of ‘Kiligolf’. Getting in a game will be good exercise, and you’ll be one of the few golfers in the world lucky enough to tee off under snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro. The immaculate course attracts small wildlife like dik-dik, duiker, guinea fowl and even aardvark.
Tour Arusha Coffee Estate
The coffee estate tour sees you meandering with a guide through the coffee plantation at Arusha Coffee Lodge to understand just how pretty flowers become unassuming brown beans, that end up in hundreds of millions of cups across the world every morning. It’s also a good place to stock up on fresh coffee beans to grind back home and learn about ‘parchment roasting’, and traditional methods of grinding using heavy stones.
Arusha National Park
Keep your safari adventure going even during your long layover with a game drive in Arusha National Park. The park covers Mount Meru, a dormant volcano that reaches 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) into the air. Although Arusha National Park is a small park by African standards, it has three different landscape types and is a good place to see elephants. This is ideal as an introduction to your bigger safari or as a last game drive before you head home.
Shanga at Trader’s Walk
Found on the grounds of the Arusha Coffee Estate, Trader’s Walk is a collection of retail and food outlets where visitors can browse African art and artifacts, sample local cuisine, and savour the wonderful Tanzanian coffee on sale. It’s among this cluster of stalls that you’ll find ‘Shanga’.
‘Shanga’ is the Swahili word for ‘bead’ and the outlet comprises over 70 people with disabilities that make a fantastic array of high-quality products using specialist weaving, metalworking, glassblowing, beading, and paper-making techniques. All of Shanga’s products are sold throughout the country and all over the world, with profits being reinvested back into the development of new products and further employment of people with disabilities.
8 to 12 Hour Layover in Kigali International Airport
A long layover in Kigali International Airport gives you a chance to explore the rich culture and history that fills the streets of this Rwandan city. The city centre lies only about 20 minutes away, making it easily accessible via bus, taxi or car hire – all of which can be found at the airport.
Tour Kigali City
The Kigali city tour is the best way to explore and experience all that this wonderful destination has to offer. Knowledgeable guides accompany you around the city, stopping at must-see spots like the colourful Nyamirambo neighbourhood to see a traditional milk bar and the famous Gaddafi Mosque.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
The Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi minority ethnic group is a tragedy that rocked the East African country – and the world – in 1994, resulting in the mass murder of between 500,000 to 662,000 Rwandans. To ensure that this significant historical event is never forgotten or replicated, the Kigali Genocide Memorial was inaugurated in 2004 to serve as an eternal reminder, as well as the final resting place for 250,000 victims of the genocide.
The memorial also serves to educate visitors about the events that took place during this period by recounting, remembering, and analysing this point in history through eloquent and gut-wrenching displays of photographs and varying exhibits. From the memorial gardens to the wall of names dedicated to those who died, Kigali Genocide Memorial provides a place for quiet contemplation and reflection, and how we all have a personal responsibility to prevent discrimination and mass atrocity.
What to do on a Layover at Maputo International Airport
Being Mozambique’s largest and capital city, Maputo is a prime destination that’s brimming with activities to keep you entertained during your long layover. The best that Maputo has to offer is all within approximately a 20-minute drive from the airport – whether you’re seeking some fun in the sun at the beach or a walk in nature at the botanical garden. Taxis are the easiest way to get around Maputo, but if comfort is what you’re after, car rental services are available at the airport.
Maputo Railway Station
Maputo Railway Station is an architectural masterpiece and is a must-see for lovers of beautiful historic buildings. It’s considered by several international publications as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world and was built between 1908 and 1916 in a Beaux-Arts architectural style to replace the city’s first train station. Today, this active centenary train station is also home to a railway museum, as well as plays host to musical and cultural events.
After seeing the railway station, head over to Maputo Fortress, one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. The fortress was built in 1787 by the Portuguese as defensive structure and stands today as a military history museum. It provides visitors with a great depiction of Mozambican culture independently of its history with colonialists.
Unwind and relax after your long journey by visiting the Tunduru Gardens. Also known as the ‘Green Lung of Maputo’, Tunduru Gardens is a tranquil escape from the city bustle. This pleasant public park and botanical garden should be a mandatory spot to visit because of its natural beauty, peaceful atmosphere, and shaded picnic spots. And for the sports lovers, there’s also a tennis court to play a match or two.
Escape the four walls of the airport and head down to Maputo beach for a few hours of sun and water-based fun. The pristine, white-sand city beach is the ideal spot for strolls along the oceanfront avenue, where you can take in the views over the Indian Ocean, visit the fish market, or taste some fresh coconut water at one of the many stalls.
How to Spend a Layover at Entebbe International Airport
Hire a private taxi or rent car and head out into Entebbe for a few hours of fun. Our suggestions on how to spend a long layover in Entebbe all fall within about 35 minutes of the airport.
Lake Victoria Cruise
A great use of your layover would be to spend a couple of hours out on the tranquil waters of Lake Victoria. Available for both day and late afternoon trips, you sail across one of the world’s largest lakes, heading out toward the equator line or local islands. The sunset cruises are particularly enchanting, as you set out for a magical 2-hour sundowner journey to watch the sun’s final rays disappear on the horizon.
Entebbe Botanical Gardens
Lying near the shores of Lake Victoria is the magnificent Entebbe Botanical Gardens. This peaceful oasis offers a respite from bustling city life, immersing you in nature. During your visit, you can enjoy guided nature walks along the lake and to the forest canopy before sitting down and munching on a packed lunch in the picnic area. And if you’re lucky, you may spot a resident black-and-white colobus monkey.
Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre
A great way to see and learn about all of Uganda’s animals and the ecosystems in which they live is to visit the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre (UWCEC), where there are currently 252 animals in the UWCEC’s care. Here, you’ll be treated to an educational experience from which you’ll walk away with an abundant knowledge on how the country’s wildlife lives, eats, plays, and walks. Available activities include getting up-close to a chimpanzee, a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of how the animals are cared for, and guided tours by one of the keepers.
Airport Layover FAQs
Why Do Layovers Exist?
In short, layovers exist to save you money. They may seem inconvenient at times, but layovers make flying more affordable for both customers and airlines. This budget-friendly system allows airlines to shuttle travellers between major destinations, where they will eventually transfer to connecting flights to their journey’s end.
Without this 'hub-and-spoke' solution in place, airlines would spend a fortune on fuel to fly directly to smaller cities, which don’t have enough passengers for larger, direct flights from distant destinations. By allowing regional carriers to service these smaller cities with shorter flights from hub airports, travel is kept at a much more affordable rate.
Should You Leave the Airport During a Layover?
This all depends on the length of your layover. If you find yourself needing to occupy yourself for 4 hours, then we suggest you spend it in one of the airport’s many restaurants, bars, or coffee shops, or do a bit of duty-free shopping while you wait. However, if you’re going to be spending 8 or more hours waiting for your connecting flight, then you should have more than enough time to enjoy an activity or two in the city, before needing to head back for check-in.
How Long Does a Layover Need to be to Leave the Airport?
Many seasoned travellers are of the opinion that any layover that’s less than 6 hours is not worth leaving the airport for, as you’ll need to factor in time for finding transportation, travelling to and from locations in the city, and the check-in processes. Anything from 8 hours upwards should, in theory, give you enough time to enjoy at least one fun activity in the city - while still providing more than enough time to get back to the airport and catch your flight without any hassles.
Can You Check into a Hotel During Your Layover?
If you find yourself with at least 8 hours or more on your hands, and you’re exhausted from your previous flight, then a short-stay airport hotel will keep you rested and comfortable before your next take-off. This is a particularly good idea if you land at night when the city is all but closed. Short-stay airport hotels were specifically created to provide a place for travellers to lay their heads comfortably during long layovers. They are usually located in short range of the airport, with the closest being right across the road, and the furthest being no more than a 5-minute drive away.
Do You Need to Carry Your Luggage on a Layover?
Fortunately, you will not have to have the extra task of lugging your luggage around the airport for 8 or more hours. Flights with layovers will usually transfer your luggage between one aircraft to the next. So, the only piece of luggage you’ll need to worry about during your layover is your carry-on. However, if your connecting flight is with two different airlines, then you’ll more than likely need to collect your luggage. It’s always best to confirm this with your Africa Safari Expert or check-in desk beforehand.
Do You Need a Different Currency When Venturing Out of the Airport?
You will need to have the currency of the country you’re in to enjoy any leisure or entertainment activities if you plan to leave the airport during your long layover. The good news is that you’ll know about your long layover in a city long before you ever leave home for your safari – meaning, that you can prepare for this experience in advance and have the exact amount of money you wish to spend in the right currency when you land.
What Can You Do After Leaving the Airport During a Layover?
Essentially, you can do anything that the city has to offer, but you’ll probably want to avoid any activity or place that’s busy, has long lines, or requires lengthy travel times – especially if your layover is only 8 hours. Other than that, you’re free to explore and enjoy any activity that captures your interest in the city you’ve landed in.
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