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The Bo-Kaap is an area of Cape Town, South Africa formerly known as the Malay Quarter. It is a former racially segregated area, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and is a historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town.
During our wander around Cape Town, I took us on a detour to an area called Bo-Kaap, which was very near to where we were staying. I had seen a lot of photographs of brightly coloured houses and wanted to see them for myself.
In the 1700s, political exiles, slaves and convicts were sent to the Cape by the Dutch from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Indonesian Archipelago. Although not technically correct, these individuals and their descendants became known as Cape Malays. Many of them eventually settled in the Bo Kaap, which became known as the ‘Malay’ Quarter. The Dutch Colonists built numerous “huurhuisjes” (rental houses) and leased them to the slaves. According to the lease agreement all the houses had to be painted white. But when this rule was lifted and the slaves became able to purchase their houses, they decided to paint them in the brightest colours as a metaphor for freedom! Many of the families in the Bo-Kaap have been living there for Generations. Today the Bo-Kaap Community is a significant part of Cape Town’s Cultural Heritage.
The oldest building in the Bo-Kaap is on Wale Street and currently houses the Bo-Kaap Museum. This is the best place to discover the real history of the area and to get a glimpse into the life of a typical Malay family.
There are walking tours of Bo-Kaap, but we decided to walk the streets under our own steam. This a residential neighbourhood, not a museum, so as we wandered, we got to see a lot of the daily activities of this mostly Muslim community. Many artisans live in this vibrant area, and among the houses were several shops selling local crafts, we were particularly captivated by one man who was making 3-D art from recycled materials.
As well as stores there are restaurants and shops, and by the time we were getting thirsty and peckish and were tempted into a café called ‘Against The Grain’, which seemed to be the sort of place we might enjoy. The café was on the first floor and had a table by a glass door in the corner that opened out onto a balcony. A perfect place to admire the colourful houses and the even more colourful activities of the people in the area.
After our refreshments, we headed back to the apartment for a bit of rest and relaxation as we knew the following day was going to be a full one!
Planning your visit to Bo-Kapp
Bo Kaap’s proximity to the city centre makes it super accessible for travellers.
On foot, it’s just five minutes walk from the centre of the Cape Town CBD, or a pleasant 20-30 minutes from the V&A Waterfront (about 10-minutes by Uber!).
From the city centre, just follow Wale Street straight up until you get the IZIKO Bo-Kaap Museum.
Best time to visit Cape Town
The best times to visit Cape Town are from March to May and from September to November. These shoulder seasons boast enviable weather, fewer crowds, and lower prices. When planning your trip, it’s important to note that the seasons here are reversed: South Africa’s summer corresponds with America’s winter, and vice versa. That said, Cape Town’s summer is the most popular (and most expensive) time to visit. Hotels and attractions are usually overflowing with travellers. Meanwhile, the Mother City clears out between June and August when chilly weather and frequent rainfall put a damper on tourist activities.
Other places to visit while in Cape Town
1. TABLE MOUNTAIN
Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top.
2. ROBBEN ISLAND
Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. Its buildings, particularly those of the late 20th century such as the maximum security prison for political prisoners, witness the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism.
3. VICTORIA & ALFRED WATERFRONT
The V&A Waterfront is an iconic 123-hectare neighbourhood which welcomes millions of people from all over the continent and world. We celebrate heritage & diversity, champion art & design, support entrepreneurship & innovation & drive positive social, economic & environmental.
4. KIRSTENBOSCH BOTANICAL GARDENS
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Few gardens can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosch, against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain.
Where to stay Cape Town
1. LUXURY – ATLANTIC VIEW CAPE TOWN BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Atlanticview Cape Town is a privately owned intimate 5-Star Boutique Hotel. It’s perfectly located close to all the main tourist attractions, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain in Fashionable Camps Bay, “The South African Corniche”, packed with world-class restaurants, bars and beaches. The hotel is accessible to the Beaches (2 min), Table Mountain (5 min) Down Town or V+A Waterfront shopping Centre (10 min) and Cape Town International Airport (20 min). The Cape of Good Hope, Penguin Colony and Cape Winelands are less than an hour away.
The hotel has commanding 180-degree magnificent views sweeping from the top of Table Mountain and The Twelve Apostles range that disappears into the sea. It is truly the perfect place to holiday, honeymoon or simply take a break for a romantic weekend. This beautiful property is situated alongside a greenbelt/nature reserve in very quiet surroundings. It is far enough from the noisy crowds of the promenade but close enough to enjoy the beaches, bars and restaurants with spectacular views in all directions.
2. MID-RANGE – ANCHOR BAY GUEST HOUSE
Anchor Bay Guest House is nestled on the slopes of Table Mountain within walking distance from the famous restaurants and nightlife of Sea Point. Less than 3.5 km away is the CBD of Cape Town, Cape Town Stadium, and of course, the extraordinary V&A Waterfront – a world-famous working harbour with many speciality restaurants, shops, boutiques, boat cruises, ferries to Robben Island, an aquarium and much more.
3. UNIQUE – THE GRAND DADDY
The Mother City’s most original, convenient and fun place to stay! The luxurious Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel on Long Street bustles with energy.
As well as standard rooms the Grand Daddy has an airstream trailer park on its rooftop. The seven original Airstream trailers each have their own decor theme and collectively reflect a typical South African road trip. Authentic Airstream trailers are incredible works of craftsmanship and their classic shape is unforgettably iconic.
4. BUDGET – LONG STREET BACKPACKERS
Accurately described as “The Soul of Long Street” (Lonely Planet, 2011), this famous hostel is the epicentre of action on Cape Town’s most vibrant street. There are literally hundreds of eating, drinking and entertainment options right on its doorstep, so come prepared for fun and good times.
Sleeping up to 80 guests, the hostel features a lush internal courtyard that’s perfect for braais, ping-pong, chilling, and meeting fellow travellers. The iconic brick building also boasts two large, sun-drenched balconies, with views of Long Street and Signal Hill. There are dormitory-style accommodations, as well as single, twin, and double private rooms, all with shared bathrooms. There is a TV room with satellite TV, a pool table, a well-stocked communal kitchen, and fibre-speed WIFI.