Bo-Kaap: the rainbow colored houses in Cape Town, South Africa

Bo kaap - Cape Town - South Africa

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Bo-Kaap is a bright and colorful area that is one of the most photographed places in Cape Town. But besides the beautiful pictures that you can take when you visit this neighborhood; it’s a place with a history dating back more than 360 years when the Dutch arrived in Cape of Good Hope.

This historic area that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves after the abolition of slavery, shows Islamic culture and heritage.

I loved visiting Bo-Kaap because I was able to see history, religion, art, culture, different people, typical food, and nature.

boo-kaap cape town south africa houses

You can do some previous research and wander around by your own, or as I did, take a tour to have a more detailed explanation about the neighborhood as well as some local insights which you wont be able to find online.

Let me share with you the 10 most important things you need to know before you visit this famous landmark in Cape Town. 

1. Location of Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill, above the city centre. If you are staying in the city center you can easily walk to get there, or if you are farther away you can take the My City bus and walk from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the station in which you get down. 

2. History

Translated from Afrikaans, Bo Kaap means ‘Above the Cape’. The Bo-Kaap is an area formerly known as the Malay Quarter. It is a former township, and is an historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town.

But, what is Cape Malay Culture? The residents of Bo-Kaap are descendants of slaves that were imported by the Dutch from Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and various African countries during the 16th and 17th centuries. These slaves were called “Cape Malays”, even though not all of them were of Malaysian descent.


Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa people

In the mid-twentieth century, the Apartheid government, under the Group Areas Act of 1950, declared the Bo Kaap a Muslims-only area and forced people of other religions and ethnicity to leave the area.

It is estimated that there are about 166,000 people in Cape Town who could be described as Cape Malay, and about 10,000 in Johannesburg.

3. Religion

The founders of the Cape Malay community were the first to bring Islam to South Africa. The community’s culture and traditions have also left an impact that is felt to this day. In Bo-Kaap you can find the very first mosque of South Africa stablished in 1794.

boo-kaap cape town south africa religion
boo-kaap cape town south africa religion

4. Bo-Kaap Museum

If you are interested in knowing more about the history and culture of Bo-Kaap. I recommend you to visit the Bo-Kaap Museum

The Bo-Kaap Museum itself is an important landmark: the building dates back to the 1760s and is one of the oldest in the neighborhood. It was furnished as a house that depicts the lifestyle of a nineteenth-century Muslim family. This is its main information but you can also check its website:

Boo-kaap museum
  • Location: 71 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
  • Opening hours: Open from Mondays to Saturdays from 10h00 to 17h00
  • Telephone: +27 (0)21 481 3938
  • Costs:
    • Adults: R20
    • 6-18 years: R10
    • SA Students and pensioners: R10
    • Family Ticket (2 adults & 2 children): R50
    • Under 5’s: free

5. The Rainbow-colored Houses

We have talked about Bo-Kaaps history, but WHY are the houses painted in different colors!? well, the answer is still not known with certainty but it is said that in earlier days, all the houses of Cape Town were painted white. Then the residents of Bo-Kaap began painting their houses in vivid colors in preparation for the celebration of Eid. 

During my tour other stories were mentioned, as the one of a doctor who wanted to advertise his business painintg his house red and saying: “if you ever feel sick, remember to go to the red house”.

Bo kaap - Cape Town - South Africa
boo-kaap cape town south africa houses

The Cars

Besides nice houses, you’ll also see new and old classic cars here. Make sure to find the one with the most style and take pictures there!

car Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa

6. Art

All around the neighborhood you can see art stores, nice graffity, architecture, and pretty souvenirs you can buy. This 

car Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa art
car Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa art
car Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa art

7. Food

On Bo-Kaap’s restaurants and stores you’ll be able to find traditional malay cousine, such as bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters.

Also, many locals offer cooking courses, so you’ll be able to experience a day in the life of the Bo-Kaap community while preparing and tasting traditional cosine.

You can take this Cape Fusion Tour:

car Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa food
car Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa food
Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa food

8. Nature

While walking on Bo-Kaap you’ll have the mountains in the landscape, and also you can see several pretty flowers and trees.

boo-kaap cape town south africa nature
boo-kaap cape town south africa nature
boo-kaap cape town south africa nature

9. People

Today, Bo-Kapp is a multicultural community, its residents still are descendants of the Cape-Malay community but there are many foreign students living there. For instance, my friends Kirill from Ucraine and Rafa from Brzail are living there.

Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa people
Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa people
Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa people
Boo-Kaap Cape Town South Africa people

10. Recommendations

If you decide to take a tour these are some options you can choose from:

boo-kaap cape town south africa

Are you interested in traveling around the world? In the Travel Section you can find detailed travel guides for different cities, touristic activities, recommendations, tips, and much more!

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  1. Tara
    12/12/2017 / 10:21 AM

    gorgeous! I love all of the color and the history!

  2. 05/12/2017 / 1:33 PM

    I love that you’ve link all of the credited information! The nature looks the most beautiful!

  3. 05/12/2017 / 12:32 PM

    I grew up in Botswana and never really knew about the history of Bo-Kaap. I really want to go back to Cape Town so I can really explore and learn more about the Country where my grandparents are from. Thank you!

  4. 05/12/2017 / 12:19 PM

    Loved the gorgeous photos and your outfit is stunning! Thank you for the informative article, it’s always fun to learn about new places.

    Kimberly Love
    Author of You Taste Like Whiskey and Sunshine

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