Whimsical, bright, eccentric, colourful and diverse; these are the words that come to mind when you arrive in the Bo-Kaap of Cape Town. Formally known as the Malay quarter, the Bo-Kaap is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill and serves as the pinnacle of Malay culture in the Mother City. The Bo-Kaap is known for its bright houses, cobblestone streets and flavourful history.
A drive through the Bo-Kaap will make you feel like a character in Alice in Wonderland. There are so many bright colours and odd shapes it’s hard to not be delighted. Many of the houses are a mixture of Cape Dutch and Georgian architectural designs giving the neighbourhood a sense of uniformity which somehow defies its apartheid origins. There is so much to do in the Bo-Kaap; countless restaurants, sightseeing and of course a visit to the famous Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum is sure to keep you busy!
Things to do
The Bo-Kaap has a vibe of it’s own that’s sure to get your senses going! Your first stop should be the Famous Bo-Kaap Museum. Here you’ll discover the history of this magical suburb revealed to you. The museum is situated on Wale Street and protects the history of the Cape Malays. The building was renovated into a museum in 1978. Much of the building was restored to maintain its authenticity and give you the feeling of life during this period. The entrance fee is very affordable. Prices range from R10 to R50 depending on age and the number of people.
Sightseeing in the Bo-Kaap is best done with the aid of a tour guide. With so many interesting visuals and history, you are bound to have a ton of questions that need answering and Shereen Nackerdien from Bo-Kaap Guided Tours- Walking Tours, will be able to assist you. A tour will include explanations on slave history, important landmarks and apartheid. The tour can range between 1.5 to 2.5 hours and will definitely ignite your appreciation for this historical area.
If you’re looking for a tour with a twist, you can try to the Cape Town Photography Walking Tour With Cape malay Cookery Demonstration. The tour includes bottled water, lunch, a professional photography guide and you are transported in an air-conditioned minivan. The tour begins at 9am and is quite refreshing as it takes you to some of the hidden secrets of the city and other monumental sites including the Bo-Kaap. The tour is not weather restricted so it’s important to dress appropriately as there is a moderate amount of walking included.
After a guided tour of the Bo-Kaap, you may want to pay homage to the beauty and significance of the Auwal Mosque which represents the very essence of the Cape Malay inhabitants. This was the first and oldest mosque in South Africa. It represents the struggles Muslims went through and stands as a reminder of their right to worship. With most of the houses having flat roofs, the long pinnacle of the Auwal Mosque confidently peaks through and is truly stunning to photograph.
If you are fortunate enough to be visiting the Bo-Kaap on the first Saturday of a new month, you can head over to Bo-Kaap Food and Craft Market. If you are on a strict diet, You may want to stay clear of the temptations presented by the array of mouth watering heritage, soul food for sale. It’s also a great place to pick up some crafty souvenirs for loved ones back home. You will find beautiful jewelry, nick-nacks, fabric and of course, great conversation with the locals amongst other interesting goods. Many of the locals have remained in their family homes and have passed down years of stories and traditions that they are simply dying to share with you.
Where to Stay
The Bo-Kaap is certainly not limited when it comes to accommodation. There are a large variety of B&B’s and self catering guest lodges ranging from 18th century elegance to mordern and chic and everything in between.
Air: Depending on which route you choose, Cape Town International Airport ranges between 18 and 26kms from Bo-Kaap. The best way to get there would be to use an Uber taxi as they are slightly more affordable than conventional cabs.
Car Rental: With all the excitement of the Bo-Kaap, you don’t really want to be in a car. If you do however need to hire a car to really tailor the sightseeing to your schedule you can hire cars in the CBD, at the airport or online at your convenience.
Taxis: There are taxi services available in Bo-Kaap. Traditional cabs can be quite expensive if you plan to leave the comfort of the city Center. We suggest using Uber taxis as they are generally always available and more affordable especially if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing.
Did You Know?
Wondering why all the houses in the Bo-Kaap are so brightly painted? It is said that while the houses where on lease, they were to be kept white. When this rule was lifted, the slaves were allowed to finally buy the houses. They painted them bright colours as a way of expressing their freedom.
The Bo-Kaap is home to the first mosque built in South Africa.
Many of the houses have been passed down from one generation to the next ensuring the history of the Bo-Kaap remaining intact and alive.
The Bo-Kaap started out as a township. Look at how beautiful it is today.
The Kaapse Klopse festival was created in the Bo-Kaap and takes place every year on the 2nd of January.