The blue Ford Cortina standing in front of two brightly coloured houses, one pink and the other green, has probably become the most photographed vehicle in Cape Town. Tourists love capturing themselves next to the blue Cortina as a memento of their visit to one of Cape Town’s most historic and easily recognizable neighborhoods.
Situated at the foot of Signal Hill and known for its bright, rainbow- coloured houses and steep cobblestone streets, Bo Kaap is the cultural home of the Cape’s Muslim community.
Bo Kaap Cape Town is known as a colourful and photogenic neighbourhood, but it has so much more to offer visitors.
THE HISTORY OF BO KAAP CAPE TOWN
It’s a place with a history dating back more than 360 years, from when the Dutch arrived in the Cape of Good Hope to set up their halfway station between Europe and the East. It was first established as a slave quarter, but risen above its history and has become a proud and important part of Cape Town’s historical heritage, and the home to a large segment of the city’s Cape Malay community.
About 10,000 people live here now: approximately 70% are Muslim, with the rest of other races, religions and ethnicity due to gentrification in recent years. It’s home to the oldest mosque in the southern hemisphere, the Auwal Mosque built in 1793 — one of many in the area. On the 30 April 2019 a number of important buildings in the Bo Kaap received protection under the National Heritage Act which was a significant achievement for the local community.
BUSTLING BY DAY
Iconic local businesses abound in Bo Kaap, including Rose Corner Café where a sign board advertises “warm worsies” (hot sausages). It’s one of the best places to get fresh local treat koesisters (coconut- dusted doughnuts) early in the morning.
Bo-Op, a collective of Cape Town’s top fashion designers, is a trendy boutique located on the corner of Rose and Wale streets. Also noteworthy is the spice emporium that is Atlas Trading, and the various restaurants, decor showrooms and hip coffee shops which display beautiful art — all part of the eclectic mix that makes up this melting pot bordering the CBD.
You can wander around on your own or, if you want to learn more about the history, culture, architecture, traditions, religion and economics of Bo-Kaap, engage the services of a registered tour guide. Walking tours can incorporate a visit to the Bo-Kaap Museum in Wale Street, and tea at a resident’s home. Be sure to pop in at Biesmiellah take-away for some sweet meats, which are not all sweet and not all meat.
Bo Kaap Museum is open from 10am till 5pm Mondays to Saturdays. Tickets cost R20 for adults, R10 for students and pensioners and children aged 6-16, free of charge for children under 5. The museum building dates back to the 1760s and is the oldest house in the area that is still in its original form.
The main focus is the contribution made by early Muslim settlers, and the house depicts the life of a typical Malay family.
One thing you simply have to do when visiting Bo Kaap is enjoy a traditional Cape Malay meal at one of the local restaurants. Bo-Kaap Kombuis is an authentic Cape Malay restaurant that embodies the culture, beauty and uniqueness of the area. It is run and owned by Yusuf and Nazli Lerney who call themsleves total Bo-Kaapers – they were born and raised here. Spices are heady and recipes date back centuries. For an authentic experience, many women in the area invite you into their homes for cooking lessons. Learn to make fragrantly aromatic Curries, rotis, and how to fold samoosas before sitting down with the family to enjoy the meal. Muslims do not drink alcohol, so please respect this.
At the top of Bo Kaap you’ll find our famous Noon Gun. The cannon at the South African Navy’s Lion Battery on Signal Hill startles the notoriously short-memoried pigeons of the City Bowl every day (except Sundays and public holidays). Even hardened Capetonians have been known to jump in surprise from time to time. Witnessing this almost daily occurrence up close is lots of fun, albeit very short lived. One and a half kilograms of gunpowder doesn’t go as far as you’d think.
GETTING TO BO KAAP CAPE TOWN
Bo Kaap sits just above the city centre on the slopes of Signal Hill so it’s a fairly accessible walk from town. Do be aware, however, that streets are steep — and many of them are cobbled-—so you need comfortable shoes and a reasonable level of fitness if you’re walking through the area. Alternatively, take a taxi, or join a reputable tour group, of which there are many.
For more see the digital neighborhood guide (capetown.travel/bo-kaap).
MUSLIM-FRIENDLY CAPE TOWN
Cape Town is a desirable destination for the Muslim traveler, and visitors will find many Muslim-owned guesthouses, tour operators and restaurants catering to their faith-based needs. Major supermarket chains as well as fast-food outlets are halaal-certified, while many hotels cater for the Muslim visitor with halal menus and prayer rooms. There are a number of Mosques in Bo Kaap alone, and the rest of the city offers a wide choice of modern and historic mosques, with the oldest dating back to the 1800s. Thanks to the city’s strong Muslim culture and vibrant communities, Cape Town is a natural choice for halal travellers, and visitors will find a warm welcome from all Capetonians. It is common to see Muslim youngsters and elders alike walking around with traditional muslim attire in the Bo Kaap.
Please feel free to ask any questions or share your experience on visiting this historic Cape Town neighbourhood.
Photos: @about_lou @himmelska @themomentbehind @frenchclichephotography @storiesofbokaap @junaid.travels
Information: Cape Town Tourism