Exploring Soweto with Intrepid Travel

Exploring Soweto with Intrepid Travel

It had been some time since my last visit to Soweto, so when I received an invitation to join Intrepid Travel and other members of the media on a tour there, I looked forward to returning. We gathered at the Voco Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg, then boarded the Intrepid Travel coach and set off for Soweto.

South Africa’s largest township, Soweto, derived its name as an acronym for South Western Township. Initially established for black residents during the apartheid era, Soweto has been the site of numerous historic events and is now home to over 2 million people. Among its former residents were the late Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Vilakazi Street, where they both lived, is famous for being the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize laureates.

Lebo’s Backpackers in Soweto

Lebo’s Backpackers

Our first stop was the popular Lebo’s Backpackers hostel which was founded by the late Lebo Malepa, and offers a unique, authentic experience for travellers looking to explore South Africa's rich cultural heritage. The hostel also has a guesthouse, campsite with chalets, and outdoor restaurant and offers a variety of activities, including bike tours, township walks, and cooking classes, which all provide an interactive glimpse into the local way of life. Staff told us that some of their guests stay there for up to 2 months!

Soweto by bike at Lebo’s Backpackers

Soweto by bike

A traditional African lunch awaited us as a band played in the background and goats grazed in the garden behind them. Our hands were washed with warm water from aluminium kettles, and we then tucked into some hearty potjie kos (food cooked in cast iron pots), consisting of pap, chakalaka and various stews. More tour groups poured in while we ate, evidence of the venue’s popularity.

Lunch at Lebo’s Backpackers

Lunch at Lebo’s Backpackers

After lunch, we were treated to a vibrant rendition of the original version of “The Lion Sleeps tonight” by the staff of Lebo’s Backpackers.

This was the precursor to our tour which was conducted by Lerato, a Soweto resident, and Phil, the late Lebo’s brother. Both were passionate about Soweto and infused us with their passion too.

Garden at Lebo’s Backpackers

Garden at Lebo’s Backpackers

We did a short walking tour during which we visited the hostel's gardens, where vegetables and herbs are cultivated using permaculture methods, then saw their campsite, which was adorned with sculptures made by a local artist, and climbed a hill that offered a panoramic view of the sprawling township below.

Sculpture made of blue gum wood

Sculpture made of blue gum wood

Our tuk-tuks awaited and we hopped onto them for the rest of our tour. Although I had ridden them in India and Thailand, I had never been on them in South Africa. School had just been dismissed and the streets were filled with children who waved to us excitedly as we passed them and made us feel welcome.

View of Soweto from the hill

View of Soweto from the hill

The first stop was a local vendor for some kasi food (township food). The Mzimhlophe hostel area was next on our itinerary. Previously housing men only, the hostel was now home to thousands of families living in overcrowded situations. Ironically, a complex with hundreds of apartments stands vacant for years on the edge of the hostel, due to a conflict between the government and the residents.

Darrell Wade looks on as Phil talks to us

Darrell Wade looks on as Phil talks to us

Back at Lebo’s, we learnt more about Intrepid Travel from Darrell Wade, one of its co-founders, and Clinton Els, Regional General Manager for Africa and the Middle East at Intrepid Travel.  Intrepid Travel is the world’s largest adventure travel company and and a leader in responsible tourism. They focus on providing unique and immersive travel experiences through low-impact travel that connects travellers with communities and conservation efforts and are expanding their footprint in Southern Africa.

Intrepid also supports local communities through its non-profit arm, the Intrepid Foundation. One of their beneficiaries is The Black Mambas, South Africa's all-female anti-poaching unit, who have been protecting wildlife and empowering women in the Greater Kruger National Park area since 2013. Travellers can visit the Black Mambas at their headquarters and join them on patrol through Intrepid Travel.

The day ended with a spread of more South African delicacies, including amagwinya (vetkoek/fluffy fried dough) and mealie bread.

Although I had been on a tour of Soweto previously, I got to see parts of Soweto that I hadn’t seen before, and my time there on this visit gave me a better glimpse into the life of the residents.

See some snippets from our day in Soweto here.


Exploring Soweto with Intrepid Travel

6 comments on “Exploring Soweto with Intrepid Travel”

  1. Soweto is lovely, I have visited a few years back and will be visiting Lebo's in October this year. Already looking forward to it after reading your post <3

  2. What a lovely opportunity for you. I'm a big fan of Intrepid. We visited Soweto a few years ago on a day tour. Really met some lovely people and learned so much. Thanks for some reminders.

  3. I have always wondered about this area because of its prominence in the news from years ago. It looks like an interesting tour and I like the use of the tuk-tuks to get around and see the area authentically.

  4. The Intrepid Travel tour sounds like a great opportunity to really get to know Soweto and it's history.

  5. The visit to Soweto with Intrepid Travel looks like an interesting tour to take. A good way to learn more about Soweto. So much history in the area and so fascinating that both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu came from here. Great that this tour took you to spots you had not visited before. A good recommendation for when we get back to South Africa.

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