Where is the Bo Kaap?

The Bo Kaap is a unique and colourful part of old Cape Town situated above the central business district of Cape Town on the lower slopes of Signal Hill. The Bo Kaap (above Cape Town in English) is home to one of the oldest residential areas in Cape Town and is only about 2 kilometres in length and half a kilometre wide. It developed as a mixed neighbourhood with a predominately Muslim community, but today, too many visitors, it’s a destination to quickly visit to take photographs of the rows of brightly coloured homes for their Instagram feeds

The Bo Kaap has a very interesting historical place in South Africa’s history. It’s worth taking the time to explore the areas rich cultural history and its mouthwatering local cuisine. A good place to start exploring the Bo Kaap is from the Iziko Bo Kaap Museum located at 71 Wale Street. The museum is one of the oldest buildings in the area and is characteristic of early Cape Dutch architecture. The building was declared a national monument in 1966.

Iziko Bo Kaap Museum Opening Hours

  • Open from Tuesdays- Saturdays from 10:00- 14:30
  • Closed on Sundays, Workers’ Day, Christmas Day, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha and January 2
  • Tel: +27 (0)21 481 3938
  • Adults: R20.00
  • 6-17 years: R10.00
  • 5 years & under: R5.00
  • School Groups: Booked- R5.00; Unbooked- R8.00
  • South African pensioners and students (valid cards): R10.00/ Free entry on Fridays
  • Free entry on Commemorative days

If you are interested in really getting a feel for the area its good idea to hire a local guide to show you around the Bo Kaap. The museum can recommend local guides who live in the Bo Kaap and who know the area intimately.

A very popular option that most visitors enjoy is to explore the culture and architecture in the Bo Kaap with a local tour guide and then join one of the traditional home based Cape Malay cooking classes that are offered by local woman in the area. It creates a great balance between visiting the area and interaction with the local residents in their own homes.

Why Is The Bo Kaap A National Heritage Sight?

The Bo Kaap with its close proximity to Cape Town’s central business district has become a magnet for large property developers. The residents living in the area have been fighting the ever increasing gentrification of the area. The Bo Kaap with its vibrant culture and history needed to be preserved for future generations.

In March 2019 the City Of Cape Town declared the Bo Kaap a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone. This included almost 600 private homes in the Bo Kaap. In May 2019, 19 sites within the Bo Kaap where given National Heritage Status.

The idea of the Heritage Zone was intended to encourage the residents and building owners to conserve the Bo-Kaap heritage. Owners are encouraged to retain and rehabilitate the existing residential buildings and promote social and cultural traditions in the Bo Kaap.

Personal Safety In The Bo Kaap

Personal safety is always on a travellers mind when visiting any new area and the Bo Kaap has had a number of negative reviews on various review platforms and in social media. Complaints from visitors include numerous instances of people being mugged in the area, aggressive parking attendants and locals that are hostile and unwelcoming to visitors in the Bo Kaap.

Since the arrival of COVID the Bo Kaap has become very quiet with little tourism and as I walked around and explored I saw hardly anyone out at all and experienced no problems. The locals I encountered were all friendly and happy to engage with me.

Top 5 Places To Visit In The Bo Kaap

  • Bo Kaap Museum 71 Wale Street
  • Monkeybiz 61 Wale Street is dedicated to reviving traditional African bead work with a very modern twist. This NGO empowers many local woman in the community and had become hugely successful with pieces being displayed at international art exhibitions. Visit the showroom to explore the latest contemporary bead work.
  • Auwal Mosque located at 39 Dorp Street is South Africas oldest mosque dating back to 1794 and is open to all visitors.
  • The Noon Day Gun at Military Road, Schotsche Kloof is one of Cape Town’s oldest lasting traditions. Since 1806, a shot has been fired to mark 12 noon, visitors can visit the site and view the firing of the gun by navy. The noon day gun has stunning views overlooking Cape Town as an added bonus.
  • Bo Kaap Kombuis found at 7 August Road is home to classic Cape Malay cuisine and offers a wide variety of Cape Malay dishes and panoramic views over Cape Town. 

Why Are The Houses In The Bo kaap Brightly Painted?

The Bo Kaap dates back to around 1760 when rental homes where build in the area and leased to slaves. The homes were all white in colour in keeping with Cape Dutch architecture. When slavery was finally abolished in 1834 the homes could finally be purchased and the owners, who were no longer renting could now paint them any colour they liked and so the tradition of brightly coloured homes began. Any colour but white!

Today the most popular streets to see these brightly coloured Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian style homes are Wale and Chiappini streets. Dorp street also has some great photographic opportunities and is also home to the oldest Mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque. Watch out for the traffic as you explore this area and don’t step in front of cars in your pursuit of the perfect photograph. You don’t want to go home in an ambulance after being hit by a car.

One very important thing to bear in mind, not everyone is happy being photographed. If you want to photograph people, ask their permission first.

What Is The Malay Quarter?

The vast majority of people who settled in the Bo Kaap were slaves, political prisoners or exiles who traced their origins back to countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of East Africa. This group of people where often referred to as Cape Malays after the language they spoke, Malay. This language was widely spoken in the Indonesian Archipelago and the language was widely spoken at the Cape during and prior to the nineteenth century.

During the apartheid years the Bo Kaap was referred to as the Malay Quarter. The term has negative connotations for many people and the residents mostly seem to refer to the area as Bo Kaap. 

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Cape Malay Cuisine

The style of cuisine that is associated with this area is interestingly still referred to as Cape Malay cooking. If you are walking in the area you will often smell the spices that are used in the traditional Malay style cuisine.

As you explore the Bo Kaap be on the lookout for local delights like Samosas and Koe’sisters sold at most corner cafe’s in the Bo Kaap. If you have chosen to eat at one of the local homes or restaurants, be on the lookout for stews such as tomato bredie, breyani, denningvleis and bobotie that are firm favourites, spicy fragrant curries and delicious sosaties (lamb or mutton kebabs)

Two local restaurants that specialise in Cape Malay cuisine are Biesmiellah Restaurant and the Bo Kaap Kombuis. Note that these restaurants are Halal and no alcohol is served. Booking in advance is essential. 

The Cape Minstrel Festival Or Kaapse Klopse

The Kaapse Klopse or Cape Minstrel festival traditionally takes place on the second of January each year. Each troupe or Klopse has its own flamboyant uniform, its members have their faces painted, colourful hats and features participants from the age of 4 to 104. The parade is an explosion of sight, colour and sound, with each group spending months preparing for the event. The troupes play their traditional ghoema music on drums, banjos and trumpets.

The route leaves from District Six and makes its way into central Cape Town before heading up Wale street towards the Bo Kaap. The streets along the route are lined with spectators, many who have arrived hours earlier to get the best viewing spots. The spectators are often very vocal of their support of their favourite minstrel troupe.

If you miss the tweede nuwe jaar (second new year) celebrations, what many people don’t realise is that this parade forms part of a greater carnival that takes place every Saturday at the Athlone stadium. 

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