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The Story Of Bo-Kaap | South Africa

One of the most instagramable locations in the world has a beautiful story behind it.

Bo-Kaap is a street in Capetown South Africa, formerly known as the Malay Quarter has the rainbow array of brightly-coloured houses. There are colours you never know existed here: Shades of stunning blues, pinks, orange, yellow, green. This street has topped the list of most Instagramable locations in the world.

Over 100+ tourists are posing in front of these electric houses every day without realizing that this neighbourhood has a significant part in South Africa's history.

Bo-Kaap in Afrikaans means "Above the Cape". It is located on the slopes of Signal Hill in Cape Town and has a predominantly Muslim population. It is one of the oldest residential areas in South Africa.

The history of Bo-Kaap can be traced back to the end of the 17th century when the slaves were imported from the Indonesian islands, Malaysia, India and some parts of Africa. The single-storied houses in this lane were once rented/leased to the slaves, and hence they were known as 'huurhuises' (Rented house). The slaves did not have permission from their masters to paint the house in any other colour other than white. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, the rule that only the whites could paint their houses in colour was lifted, allowing the slaves to paint their homes in whichever colour they choose to. This new-found freedom is the reason behind the vibrant colours of houses in Malay quarters.

Another speciality of the Bo-Kaap is the distinct cuisine. The hearty aroma of a simmering tomato stew and deep-fried sambusa linger in the cobbled streets of Bo-Kaap. The Cape Malay women often welcome travellers into their homes for local cooking lessons for a small price. This is a perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of the locals.

When you are in Bo-Kaap:

  • Visit the Bo Kaap Museum. It is the oldest house in the area still in its original form.

  • Stopover at Atlas Trading Company. It is Capetown's most famous spice shop: a treat to your senses!

  • Stay a night in Bo-Kaap and experience the culture.

  • Take a cooking class from the Cape Malay women.

  • Go on a free walking tour.

  • Visit the Bo-Kaap food and craft market. It happens on the first Sunday of every month.


When you visit Bo-Kaap, take a minute to think of the lives of the slaves and celebrate their freedom. This street is worth more than just an Instagram picture.

Because this locality is very famous, travellers who visit Bo-Kaap dump garbage, make a lot of noise and create nuisance in the area. Tourists often forget that people still live here. How would you like it when you open the door and people are posing in front of your door, refusing to leave? So let's be a little mindful of this when we visit? :) Thanks to the local lady we spoke to at the end of our tour in Bo-kaap, I am able to share these facts with you all.

Planning a trip to South Africa. Read our Itinerary here

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