- South africa
A Backpacking Guide to Exploring Soweto on a Bike
Walking on the soil of Africa has been a long time dream of mine. There's something about Africa that fascinates me ever since I was little. You see photos of rural areas in Kenya in your geography books, and you gotta wonder what life in Africa is like. On 11th April 2014, my dream had finally come true, as I landed in Johannesburg (Jo'Burg) in South Africa after a whopping 14 hours flight from Bangkok transiting through Mumbai, India.
Africa Travel Video
Booking a Soweto Bike Tour
The first item in my itinerary was to go on a bike tour around Soweto, one of the biggest historical township in Jo'Burg, South Africa. I wanted to see the true African life up close with no filters and there's no way to do that in the city unless you come here to Soweto and see for yourself.
I booked a 4 hour bike tour with Soweto Bicycle Tour. The tour costed around 450 - 500 ZAR (~45USD). They also do pickup from the airport but it costed as much as the tour itself.
With that info out of the way, let's begin our journey to Soweto:
Getting to Soweto from the Airport
There is no easy way to get to Soweto however. You either have to organize a pick-up with the hostel or drive if you are renting a car. For more information on driving, visit Directions to Lebo's Soweto Backpackers.
I personally chose to organize a pickup from the airport with the hostel as I didn't have much time. The cost of the transfer should be around 200 ZAR one way. A driver picked me up at the airport. While he was complaining about the distance, I saw the remnant of the 2010 World Cup, the FNB Stadium.
Where to Stay in Soweto
The Soweto Bike Tour is run by the only hostel in the area called Lebo's Soweto Backpackers. Prior to arriving, I emailed them to reserve a spot. The tour started at 10:30 AM until 2:30 PM. The hostel is surrounded by high walls, decorated with beautiful vegetation, giving a very peaceful and private feel to the place. There's nothing around the hostel, so don't expect to go shopping and dancing anywhere in this area. For convenient, stay at the hostel is recommended.
Soweto Bike Tour Review: An Excellent Way to Explore Soweto
I was early so I gotta pick my bike first. Some are pretty decent, but some are downright crappy (notice the first one?).
Beautifully decorated rickshaw. If you don't fancy cycling up/down hill, you can go with the rickshaw tour instead. Same route, but a little more comfy. Not my style, however.
These kids love approaching foreigners! The most surprising thing to me was that they didn't approach us for money like all the other parts of the world. They simply just wanted to play with us. It put a smile on my face every time I heard these kids shouting Hello from across the fence in schools just because they saw a foreigner biking along the road.
Our first stop on the side of the road that gave us the view of half of the Soweto and the iconic Orlando power plant. It's a shame the bike tour didn't include seeing the power plant up close (or bungee jumping off it for that matter).
Meet my bru, an awesome guide assistant who had helped me twice because of a flat tire on my bike. He smiled all the way throughout the tour. Such an awesome fellow.
Our second stop, we stepped inside the Shebeen as our guide explained the tradition of the Sowetan while putting us in traditional dress and trying out their traditional African beer "illegally" brewed in the Shebeen.
Umqombothi is the what they called this beer. It's a traditional African beer made from maize and sorghum. The guide told me that the effect is nothing like the normal beer in supermarkets. The Umqombothi will go right to your knees causing you to walk astray instead hence the warning.
Me in men traditional dress. Somewhat resemblance the Thai Boxing dress of my country.
The good thing about the tour is that in put you right in the middle of the local's community. They were awesome!
After visiting the local and trying out their beers, we went to try a local delicacy. This photo captures the environment in which Sowetan are living in.
An automobile among the simple life in the township.
Introducing the Nshima and grilled meat. The ultimate local delicacy. The meat tasted pepper-ly, with a mix of salt and spice. It was, to tell you the truth, more delicious than the lunch they prepared for us afterward. A must-try!
The expedition consisted of Me, Chasev (a friend I met during the tour), and a Dutch couple who had no trouble cycling at all. :)
This is the closest look of the power plant you will get from the tour.
A Visit to the Apartheid Museum
Me at Mandela's House. The house had been turned into a museum. The 4-hour tour didn't include the walk in the museum so we had to leave after a few photos.
Got a special treat from these awesome street performers in Soweto that day. They danced and sang for donation and boy, did I donated a bunch that day.
As we learned about the history of the Apartheid, a bunch of school girls asked for a photo of me. Once in a full moon, do Asian travel around Soweto so it was understandable. :)
With these friendly encounters with the locals, it set the tone for my African trip and made me fall in love with the African people even more.
During the tour, you will encounter children playing along the road and they will run after you for a lift to god knows where, but nevertheless it was a really refreshing and fun experience. I asked the guide assistant to snap this photo for me with a little Sowetan girl with a pose.
And that's the end of the 4-hour tour of Soweto on a bike. If you are want to see a video about the tour, please check out our video that summed my African trip for your entertainment.
The overall experience was superb, and I would totally recommend you to go for it. You would not see anything like this elsewhere in Jo'Burg.
I hope you enjoy this photo essay of Soweto. Next up, we will go on a safari tour sleeping on tree houses in the bush for 4 days looking for the big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephants, and buffalo). The post will be up in a few days so stay tuned for more African adventure.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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