Did you know?
Soweto (short for 'South-Western Townships') is home to more than a million people.
Soweto, the famous South African township, feels like a universe unto itself. It is a place best experienced on the ground, rather than cruising through it in an air-conditioned bus with sealed windows.
It’s much better to hear kwaito music and people shouting greetings; to see children running alongside; to smell the kota (favourite junk food in Soweto) and corn cobs over the fire and the strange things sold at herbalist shops; and to laugh at the good-natured comments from vendors selling everything from sunglasses to snuff.
Soweto Bicycle Tours offers a way to experience this excitement on two wheels, and makes for an unusual and memorable township tour.
You can opt for two-hour, four-hour or full-day guided bicycle tours. There is also a three-hour tour of Kliptown, a section of Soweto where the Freedom Charter, a historic document outlining South Africa after apartheid, was signed in 1955. That document became the foundation of South Africa’s Constitution, one of the most progressive in the world.
If you’re not into bikes at all but still want a ground-level experience of Soweto, why not try a tuk-tuk tour?
Depending on which tour you choose, you will see an old apartheid workers' hostel (now transformed), the place where the 1976 Soweto student uprisings started, the Hector Pieterson Memorial (he was a schoolboy killed by police during the uprisings), Nelson Mandela’s Soweto home, and a shebeen (informal tavern), among many other attractions.
The owner of the tours, known simply as Lebo, first plunged into tourism in 1999, opening his home to visitors wanting to stay overnight. It’s centrally located, within walking distance of the famous Vilakazi Street, where Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu once lived.
In 2003, Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers was officially opened. He and his wife, Maria (originally from Sweden), live on site too.
Subsequently, Lebo began the bicycle and tuk-tuk tours (you can opt for a walking tour too, or be driven if you prefer).
In 2008, Soweto Bicycle Tours and Soweto Backpackers became responsible tourism operators when they were certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
Soweto Backpackers is known for its commitment to the community. It is cleaning up a dump site and turning it into a green space with newly planted trees.
For Lebo, it’s all about opening up people’s eyes to his beloved Soweto.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)11 936 3444
Cell: +27 (0)84 851 8681
How to get here
Depending on traffic, it takes roughly an hour to get from OR Tambo International Airport to Soweto. It’s best to get detailed directions from the listed website, Soweto Backpackers.
Around the area
Lebo’s can also organise tours of Johannesburg or put you in touch with other backpacker accommodation around the country.
What will it cost
If you’re staying at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, your rates are discounted. Tour prices range from R350 to R600.
What to pack
Bring a hat and sunscreen, comfortable clothing suitable for bike riding and a daypack for your camera and other goods.
Where to stay
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers would be the perfect choice. There are dormitories, double bedrooms and single bedrooms to choose from.
What to eat
When in Soweto, eat Soweto’s favourite burger, called a ‘kota’. It’s a quarter loaf of bread stuffed with meat and cheese.
You could go bungee jumping or abseiling off the iconic Soweto cooling towers (part of a now-disused power station); enjoy beers or ciders in an informal tavern; find out what your future holds with a traditional healer (sangoma); or sing rousing hymns at a church service.