South African quarter like a vibrant new world

Peter adams


Brightly coloured houses in Bo-Kaap, or Malay Quarter as it’s otherwise known, in Cape Town, South Africa.

A visit to Bo-Kaap is like entering a Barbie world. With its pretty houses in pastel shades aside dainty little cobbled roads, this picturesque neighbourhood in central Cape Town is a world away from the safaris, vineyards and the townships of South Africa.

From the city’s main street, Buitengracht Street, it’s a short climb up a few steep roads and narrow alleys that echo the streets of San Francisco, to get to Bo-Kaap.

Apart from the characteristic 19th-century houses, the area is unique because, unlike all other coloured neighbourhoods in South African cities, it was not razed to the ground, but survived the apartheid regime’s decision to turn all local urban areas white.

Non-white inhabitants were displaced into townships outside the cities. Bo-Kaap was only saved because the National Monuments Council preserved parts of the area in 1962. The colourful neighbourhood was subsequently declared a Malay area, which meant that only people who were classified as Malays — descendants of slaves — were allowed to live there.

Many of them still live in the area, where the majority of the city’s Muslim community also resides. It is impossible to miss the sound of the call to prayer from the great mosque, Owal Mosque, which sounds several times a day.

Having satiated the eye with the shining and newly painted houses, there are plenty of opportunities to satisfy the stomach, too. This charming area houses some of the best restaurants in Cape Town at reasonable prices.

Ginja should be mentioned; this restaurant is located in an old rundown warehouse, which appears somewhat unspectacular. But once you have squeezed your way into the restaurant, a culinary treat awaits, from the grilled meats, which are as tender as butter, to the king prawns topped off with coriander foam.

After dinner it is worth making a trip to Shoga, the bar on the first floor of the restaurant, where you can settle down in the big easy chairs for your after-dinner drinks.

If you’d rather eat dinner to the beat of local live music, pay a visit to Marco’s African Place ( As well as live African bands, you’ll enjoy a menu of South African specialities including ostrich and springbok as well as fantastic local wines.

Once you’re done with lunch and a stroll through the streets, it is time to delve into the history of the area at the small Bo-Kaap Museum on Wale Street ( The museum is located in the oldest house in the city, which dates back to 1763.

Black-and-white photos trace the changes in city life in the 20th century, and tell the story of why the houses have all been painted with such striking and distinctive colours and explain why Muslims chose to settle in the neighbourhood.

Now that you’ve been there, done that, you can buy a T-shirt. Some of the most unique souvenirs are to be found in MonkeyBiz (, a shop easily recognized by its shop front that is decorated with its red monkeys trademark.

Here you can stock up on beaded jewelry and artwork that matches the neighbourhood colours, cars made out of cans, and rag dolls with rasta hair.

Everything is made by women from the city’s townships — the shop’s profit supports MonkeyBiz’s HIV and AIDS clinic.

slave history

  • Malay is the term for descendants of the slaves the Dutch imported from the East to South Africa in the 17th century. Bo-Kaap is also known as the Malay Quarter.

Best bets for Cape Town

Metro World News

Local people stroll up and down a street in Bo-Kaap, a vibrant area of Cape Town, South Africa.

• Long Street, City Bowl
— a hip and colourful area where the locals hang out in small coffee shops and bars. Also the best shopping street with vintage clothes, old furniture and small shops where upcoming designers sell their creations.

metro world news

Like many other larger cities in South Africa, Cape Town, above, is racked with crime. There are many assaults and thefts, and consequently, shop fronts are barred even during business hours, and tourists are warned against going out alone after dark. So, even though Bo-Kaap is a peaceful area, you do need to beware at night.

Metro World News

Be sensible and enjoy the day and stay safe in the evening as you enjoy the sights and sounds of this colourful neighbourhood.

• Table Mountain — the city symbol, which, with its 1,085-metre height, makes an incredible backdrop for the city, which stretches out along the coast. A cable railway leads all the way to the top of the mountain, where there is an impressive view of the city and its bay.

• Robben Island — the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years up until 1990, when he was released and elected president three years later in South Africa’s first free election. After 400 years as a prison island, the area became a conservation area in 1997. Today, the prison is a museum and you can see the prison cell that served as Mandela’s home for almost 30 years.

For more information on South Africa tourism, see

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