A complete guide to visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach – South Africa. Everything you need to know to help you plan the perfect trip.
If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, there’s a good chance you will be planning to visit Cape Town. And if you’re not, then you absolutely must! Cape Town is like no other city we’ve visited and remains one of our favourite cities in the world. There’s a bunch of stuff to see and do within the city itself, and a whole lot more to experience beyond.
Arguably the most popular thing to do from Cape Town, is visiting the African penguins at Boulders Beach. And it’s no wonder, these little cuties are an absolute delight to see. So here is everything you need to know about visiting the African Penguins at Boulders Beach.
About the African Penguins at Boulders Beach
As the name suggests, African Penguins, once called the Jackass Penguins, are found only in Africa. They inhabit the coastlines between Southern Namibia, down around Southern Africa and up to Port Elizabeth. One of few in the world, the Boulders Penguin Colony is home to a land-based and endangered colony of African Penguins. Over the years, Boulders Beach and its penguins has become a famous and favourite international tourist destination.
The Boulders section of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) comprises of 3 boardwalks, 1 penguin viewing area and 3 stunning beaches. The boardwalks were built to enable the viewing of the penguins, whilst protecting them from those who can’t help but to get too close! The cove is sheltered from large waves, currents and wind by huge boulders, making it an ideal swimming spot, even for children. As you may encounter penguins whilst taking a dip, it’s important, not to touch or feed them. Don’t be fooled by their incredible cuteness. If they feel threatened, they wont hesitate in snapping off your fingers with their razor-sharp beaks!
A bit more about the African Penguin
“The Boulders Penguin Colony was established in 1983 and numbers increased from surrounding island colonies to bring breeding numbers to 3900 birds in 2005. Since then there has been a decrease. The 2011 figures sit at around 2100 birds at Boulders Penguin Colony. The decline at Boulders and the global decline is the suspected result of:
- habitat destruction
- effects of oil spills and other marine pollution
- impacts of global warming on fish stocks and fish movement
- over fishing
- irresponsible tourism activities
- domestic pets/animals
On May 26th 2010, African Penguins were reclassified from Vulnerable status to Endangered. In 1956 when the first full census was conducted on the African Penguin, there were approximately 150,000 breeding pairs counted. In 2009 there were only 26,000 breeding pairs left in the world. These numbers indicate a loss of more than 80% of breeding pairs in just over 50 years” – (extract from SANParks website).
Boulders Beach is located in Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsular, right on False Bay. From Cape Town, it’s a 41km drive, which takes around 40-45mins.
Visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach is pretty easy and there’s an option for everyone:
Rent a car
Car hire is super cheap in South Africa and gives you the freedom and flexibility to experience things at your own pace. The roads from Cape Town to Boulders Beach are in good condition and it’s easy to navigate your way around. There’s limited parking around Boulders Beach, so it pays to get there early. Remember that South Africans drive on the left side of the road, and be mindful of speed cameras on the highways as well as in and around cities and towns.
By train from Cape Town – Simon’s Town
If you’re not into driving but still want a bit of flexibility, then consider catching the train. The Southern Line train makes the scenic journey, departing from Cape Town and terminating at Simon’s Town, whilst taking in stunning coastal views along the way. Trains depart several times an hour Mon-Fri and once an hour on weekends. The journey takes around 1 hour and costs R16.50 for a one way ticket. From the train station, it’s a 30 minute walk to reach the penguins, or a short taxi ride.
There are plenty of companies running half day or day trips from Cape Town, which incorporate visiting the penguins at Boulder Beach along with other attractions. Many hotels and guest houses can book these for you. Alternatively, check out the Cape Town Sightseeing bus which offer a flexible ‘hop-on-hop-off’ experience.
It’s possible to catch a taxi or Uber from Cape Town to Boulders Beach.
Best time to visit
Visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach is a year round activity. However, you’ll get the most penguin action in summer, which is the ultimate time to visit. The penguins spend a lot of time at sea between September and October. And although there will still be some birds on the the beach during these months, you will likely see a lot less than during the summer months. And if you visit in January, you will likely see juvenile birds moulting.
The penguins are most active early morning and late afternoon, which are the best times to visit for photography. We believe there’s more penguins on the beach in the afternoon (as they may still be swimming around in the morning). But it’s worth noting that most day tripping groups visit the colony in the afternoon, meaning it can get very busy. As we prefer quieter wildlife experiences, we visited very early in the morning. There were plenty of penguins around and very few people!
Visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach can be done year round. Opening hours vary depending on the time of year:
- Winter: April – September 8:00 – 17:00
- Summer: December – January 7:00 – 19:30
- February – March & October – November 8:00 – 18:30
Entrance fees and other costs
As the Boulders Penguin Colony is part of the TMNP, you will need to pay the daily conservation fee to access the beach and walk along the boardwalks to see the penguins. Entrance for foreign visitors is R160 p/adult and R80 p/child.
If you’re planning on an extensive visit to South Africa, consider purchasing a SANParks Wildcard. The wildcard gives access to 80+ parks and reserves around Southern Africa, including the Boulders Penguin Colony. International tourists will need to purchase an ‘International All Parks Cluster.’ For those lucky enough to be spending a bit of time here and visiting multiple parks around the country and Eswatini (Swaziland), this can be big money saver.
What to take with you
There’s a few things that you definitely won’t want to forget to take with you when visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach:
- Camera and spare battery (just in case)
- Swimwear & towel if you fancy a dip
- Hat, sunnies and sunscreen, especially in the summer months
- Water, snacks or even a picnic lunch
- Small change to pay for parking
There are clean toilets and outdoor beach showers at the Boulders Penguin Colony. The boardwalks are wheelchair friendly and there are plenty of picnic spots to choose from. There are also restaurants and accommodation options if you want to overnight in Simon’s Town.
It’s possible to see African penguins for free down in Simon’s Town. If you head to Seaforth Beach, you’ll likely come across some Penguins down on the beach. Although we saw some there, we had a much better experience walking along the boardwalk around Foxy’s Beach down to Boulders Beach.
Things to do nearby
As Boulders Beach is so close to Cape Town, there’s plenty of things to do nearby. Check out our blog ‘Best Things to do in Cape Town & around‘ for some ideas! And if you’re planning on exploring South Africa further, don’t miss our guide ‘Best things to do in South Africa’.
Planning a trip to South Africa? Check out our other guides:
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