Bo-Kaap - Cape Town's colourful Cape Malay heritage

Street scene in Bo-Kaap, Capetown

Bo-Kaap is the most colourful place I have ever seen. Situated at the foot of Signal Hill in Cape Town, South Africa, it is home to the Cape's Muslim Community. I have visited Bo-Kaap first in 2014 and again in 2016. Last time I payed a visit in spring 2020. 


The origin of the colourful Bo-Kaap houses was in the 18th century with the 'huurhuisjes', rental houses within the steeply cobbled roads. They were build for and leased by slaves. During the time of lease all the houses had to be white. After the residents were allowed to buy their rental houses they painted them in bright colours as an expression of their new freedom. The oldest of Bo-Kaaps buildings is home to the Bo-Kaap museum. You can also find the first

muslim mosque of South Africa in the district (the Auwal mosque). This video gives a short impression of life in Bo-Kaap.


For everybody interested in street photography or cityscapes this place is a must. It is one of the most photogenic places in the mother city. But be aware that Bo-Kaap is not an open air museum. People live here, people work here. Tourism is welcome, but make sure to pay some respect to the residents. 

I cut some clips and made a very short video back in 2016 just to transfer the mood in this district. You can check below.

Bo-Kaap house numbers

I love shooting little things of the same nature and combining them. It was easy to figure this out for Bo-Kaap. Every coloured house has a street number next to the door.  When seeing them put together like this it gives you an idea of how colourful this area of Cape Town is.

Same car, four years later

The beauty of revisiting places is when realising the same streets, corners and shops as well as some distinct differences to your last trip. Shortly before finishing our in 2020 I saw this orange car. I knew that I took a photo of it before. Back home sitting at my desk editing the new pictures and checking the 2016 images I discovered that it is the same car even at the same place, but the owner replaced the trunk cover from the original orange to yellow. Now you can really see the car ageing.

Same street corner, different colours of the houses

Street scene in Bo-Kaap, Capetown, South Africa

Similar to the car example I took a picture of the same street corner that I visited four years ago. The picture above is from March 2016, the picture to the right from March 2020. Let's check the colours of the houses from right to left:

  • Very right: Same yellowish colour
  • Second to right: The wall has a lighter colour than in 2016
  • Blue house: same colour
  • Left of blue house: green in 2016, yellow in 2020
  • Second left of the blue house: violet in 2016, grey in 2020
  • Third left of blue house: turquoise in 2016, violet in 220

I wasn't aware that the residents not only repaint their houses but regularly change the colours of it!

Street scene in Bo-Kaap, Capetown, South Africa

Painted stairs in Bo-Kaap, Capetown
Painted stairs in Bo-Kaap, Capetown

The means of transportation of Bo-Kaap

There is something special about cars in Bo-Kaap. You can always find some vintage cars around. And sometimes the means of transportation even match the colour of the building. See for yourself!

The people of Bo-Kaap

Many of its about 6000 Bo-Kaap residents are descendants of slaves from Malaysia (therefore they are generally known as "Cape-Malay"), Indonesia and different parts of Africa. The slaves were brought by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th century. As of today the majority of the Bo-Kaap residents is still muslim. In recent years the Bo-Kaap community faces a thread of gentrification as explained in this Guardian article or this article about an 18-story high building nearby. Let's hope that the spirit of this district holds up. 

It is all about the vibrant colours

By the way: Bo-Kaap is Africans and means 'above the Cape'. If you want to learn more about Bo-Kaap's history and its role during apartheid you can check this article. What is your favorite Bo-Kaap experience?

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