Bo-Kaap: History, Things To Do and Safety Rules

10 January, 2024

Bo-Kaap is a vibrant and historically significant neighborhood in Cape Town also known as the Malay Quarter. Bo-Kaap is famous for its brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets. Nestled on the slopes of Signal Hill, Bo-Kaap offers a mix of Malaysian, African, Indian and Sri Lankan culture. In this article we will look into the history, cultural features and things you mustn’t miss out on in this special place.


Bo-Kaap’s history began in the late 17th century when it became a settlement for slaves, craftsmen, and artisans from Malaysia, Indonesia, and various African countries to Cape Town. “Huurhuisjes” or rental houses were built and leased to slaves by the Dutch Colonists. According to one of the theories, all the houses were built white and changing the colour was not allowed. However when the restrictions were lifted and people were free, they were allowed to buy the properties and that’s when all the houses were painted bright colours by their owners as an expression of their freedom.

Nowadays Bo-Kaap is a home for the south african Cape Malay community. Many of the families have been living in the area for generations. Islamic traditions became an intrinsic part of the neighborhood’s heritage. It was also a flourishing cultural center, because many of the slaves were skilled artisans. Bo-Kaap is home to the oldest mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque, established in 1794. The area became a center for Islamic teaching and culture. The community kept growing and in the 1800s Bo Kaap became a hub for tradesmen, craftsmen and artisans as lots of people were very talented.

Language and Cultural features

The South African Muslim community in Bo-Kaap speaks primarily Afrikaans and English. Known for it’s unique blend of history, heritage and vibrant traditions, the community has quite distinctive cultural features which are most noticeable in the food, art and way of dressing. The food at the local restaurants has both African and Asian influence. The flavours are primarily sweet and spicy as well as aromatic. The mail spices are curry, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon. Local arts whether it’s paintings or other forms of art represent mostly day-to-day life of a local community.

Bo-Kaap: History, Things To Do and Safety Rules
photo: andbeyond.com

Things to do

Bo-Kaap’s rich history and culture make it a must-visit destination for tourists in Cape Town.

Some popular activities include:

  • Walking Tours: Guided walking tours offer insights into the area’s history and culture.
  • Museum Visits: The Bo-Kaap Iziko Museum, housed in a historic 18th-century building, showcases local history and the Cape Malay culture.
  • Cape Malay Cooking Classes: Visitors can learn to cook traditional dishes like bobotie (spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping) and koeksisters (spiced doughnuts).
  • Trying Local Cuisine: Sampling local cuisine at the neighborhood’s various eateries is a must. (For example Bo-Kaap Kombuis)
  • Spice shopping: buying unique spice mixtures at the local shops. (Best variety here)
  • Arts and Crafts Shopping: Local galleries offer a variety of unique arts made by the talented artists.
  • Photo-taking: The vibrant colourful buildings make perfect background for the pictures.
Bo-Kaap: History, Things To Do and Safety Rules
photo: explorationscompany.com

Safety Rules: it’s essential to be aware of safety considerations while visiting the vibey Bo-Kaap area:

  • Secure your belongings
  • Respect local customs
  • Be mindful of traffic
  • Stay away from the quiet and empty streets

Bo-Kaap’s history is a poignant reminder of South Africa’s complex past, blending sorrow and resilience. As a colorful emblem of cultural diversity and survival, it continues to captivate and educate visitors from around the world. For tourists, Bo-Kaap is not just a destination. It’s an immersive experience into the heart of Cape Town’s history.