Boulders Beach, South Africa: Cape Town’s penguin colony

Two penguin friends holding

Ready to explore another great African destination? Welcome to Boulders Beach, near Cape Town. You’re about to meet your “local tour guide” for the day.

An African penguin in Cape Town
Meet your local guide

These tiny little creatures are incredible to watch. They’re also almost as fascinated by us as we are by them. Their inquisitive nature and charming personalities make the penguin beach an iconic attraction in Cape Town, South Africa.

Now listen carefully: your visit to African penguin territory starts here.

Where is Boulders Beach?

Colony of penguins on the rocks at Boulders Beach
Typical African penguin habitat

Boulders Beach is in Simon’s Town, a little haven near Cape Town.

The area is under the Table Mountain National Park’s protection. It’s home to one of the largest African penguin populations, with an estimated 3000 individuals.

The sandy beach, with its rock pools, shallow waters, and friendly tuxedo-clad residents, is a popular stop on trips through the Cape of Good Hope.

Best Time to Visit Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach at high tide
Boulders Beach at high tide

Since the main attraction is the Boulders Beach penguin colony, the best time to visit would be between February and May. This is breeding season for the little waddlers, therefore there’s bound to be tons of them lazing about and swimming.

The weather in Cape Town during these months is typically stunning, so it’s the perfect time to enjoy the water yourself. If you visit during the breeding season, you’ll have the best chance of seeing hordes of penguins at Boulders Beach in the late afternoon.

Of course, this is also going to be the busiest time at the beach. If you’re not a fan of crowds, wait until the last of the season during April and May. You’ll find it a little quieter. There are penguins at Boulders throughout the year though, hence you could come at a quieter time and view them too.

Boulders Beach Facts

African penguins having sex
Getting the party started

Boulders Beach is open to the public and is a popular place for families to come and enjoy picnics among the penguins. The beach is a protected area, with rangers patrolling the space all day.

There are strict rules at Boulders, including no alcohol or smoking, and no removal of any marine life. You’re also not allowed to feed the penguins on Boulders Beach – or get too close to them. No boats, canoes, or kayaks are allowed to enter the beach either.

All of these directives help to create a safe environment for both humans and animals, and upholds the beach’s stunning reputation.

Boulders Beach entrance fee

Welcome sign at the entrance

Boulders Beach entrance fees will differ according to your nationality:

  • South African locals pay R 40 per adult and R 20 per child – you must take proof of identity with you.
  • SADC (Southern African Development Community) nationals pay R 80 per adult and R 40 per child – you’ll need a passport to get this price.
  • All other visitors pay a ‘standard’ fee of R 160 per adult and R 80 per child.
  • Penguin tours from Cape Town range from R 350 per person to R 3000 per person for a private full-day tour.

These prices give you access to the beach for a day and are subject to change.

Boulders Beach opening times

Opening hours for Boulders depend on the season. The beach opens earlier during the warmer, busier months. And it closes early during the colder months (when Cape Town’s sunset happens earlier).

  • February – March and October – November: 08:00 to 18:30
  • December – January: 07:00 to 19:30
  • April – September: 08:00 to 17:00

Boulders Beach swimming

Four African penguins swimming and fishing in the ocean
Any fish?

Boulders Beach permits swimming. The beach is sheltered from Cape Town’s wind and waves since it’s in False Bay. And the water is (just a little) warmer than you’ll find at the rest of the Mother City’s shores.

This is the ideal place to visit if you’ve ever wanted to swim with penguins. You’ll often catch both the birds and people sharing the rock pools and splashing around in the waves.

Boulders Beach Penguins

Single jackass penguin standing on the beach - Cape Town
Rather pretty, isn’t he?

Since the African penguin is on the endangered list, Boulders Beach is an important breeding area for conservation efforts.

The first Boulders penguins were just two breeding pairs in 1982, during a time when the endangered species faced extinction. Thanks to conservationists and the success of Boulders Beach, the area is now home to thousands of penguins.

African penguins or jackass penguins?

Various bird books refer to the little fellows as jackass penguins (and no, this has nothing to do with the American television series on MTV 🙂 ).

Strange name, huh? Their distinctive mating call happens to sound just like a braying donkey. Scientists have recently changed its name, though, as other South American species apparently make the same kind of noise.

Jackass penguins are now called African penguins. Another name for the animal is the black-footed penguin (quite explicit), or even the Cape penguin.

Interesting Penguin Facts

Explanatory board about the African penguin
The visit starts here! (Click to enlarge the image)
  • Scientific Name: Spheniscus demersus.
  • Description: Black above, white below (for camouflage against predators). Black “horseshoe” on the chest.
  • Juvenile: Plain gray/brown.
  • Habitat: Breeds on coastal islands. Feeds strictly at sea, regularly foraging as far as 9 miles (15 km) out.
  • Diet: Mainly fish (anchovy and pilchards).
  • Height: Between 50-70 cm.
  • Body weight: Between 2.1 and 3.7 kg.
  • Speed: While penguins are quite clumsy on land, they are excellent swimmers and can reach speeds of 15 mph (24 km/h). If you get a chance to see them under water, it’s almost as if they are flying.
  • Breeding season: Mostly February-May, but all year round, really. Just like humans (at least for most of us 😉 ), African penguins are monogamous and partner for life.
  • Nesting: Nests in small colonies. Digs the nest in a sandy area or guano deposit under a boulder, bush, or in a burrow. Lays two eggs, which hatch after 38 days. Both parents incubate and feed the chicks.
  • Range: Restricted to Africa. Off the western coast of South Africa, Namibia, South Angola, and Mozambique.
  • Conservation status: Numbers decreasing by about 2% a year.
  • International & South African Red Data Book Status: Endangered.
Boulders penguins nesting in the dunes
Nesting in the dunes…
African penguin nesting under vegetation
… or under cover.

My Boulders Beach Tour

There are two beautiful white sand beaches in Simon’s Town: one where only penguins are king (Foxy Beach), and the other where both people and penguins share the same sunning, bathing, and resting space. The two beaches are adjacent to one another, so you can plan both excursions on the same day.

African penguins on the beach and panoramic boardwalk in the background
Panoramic view of Foxy beach and its boardwalk

On the one hand, Foxy Beach is accessible through a boardwalk that overlooks the spot. The admission fee is relatively affordable. That’s where the largest part of the colony resides, and here, no immediate contact with the birds is possible.

It has a charming scenic view, though, and is quite fascinating indeed. It’s a perfect venue to see them swim, eat, breed, and preen almost without being noticed. I could observe them all day long!

On the other hand, Boulders Beach is where the real action takes place. Here’s your chance to interact with these funny beings. I wouldn’t try to touch them, however (it’s strictly forbidden). Penguins can be quite vicious with their sharp beaks and could cause serious injury without much warning. So please keep your distance.

Two African penguins pictured from above
Curious close encounter

The idea is to enjoy their presence while still respecting the fact these penguins remain wild animals.

Swimming is also possible, yet you have to be more than courageous to take a dip (the water temperature is freezing, rarely reaching 15 degrees Celsius). I tried it a couple of times but didn’t last very long. 🙂

As far as swimming WITH the penguins… good luck! The little creatures are speedy and agile in the water, and it’s impossible to keep up with their pace.

Subadult African penguin in the sun
Youngster enjoying the sun

June 2000 “Treasure” Oil Spill

Find out what almost caused the South African penguin population to become extinct.

Make Friends with South African Penguins at Boulders Beach

Warning sign at Boulders Beach -
Last-minute check before leaving! 😉

These quirky black and white animals attract tons of visitors from all over the world, and it’s not hard to see why. Whether you’re daring enough to brave the Cape’s cold waters, or just spend time tanning on the beach, doing it in the company of the African penguins is stunning.

Be sure to follow the rules, and plan your trip well to avoid too many crowds without missing the penguins altogether. There are also adorable dassies that you may catch a glimpse of, lazing on the sunny rocks.

4 thoughts on “Boulders Beach, South Africa: Cape Town’s penguin colony”

  1. Hey "animaljunkie", how are you? 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment! 😉

    I'm really glad you're thinking of going to UCT. It is definitely one of the best universities in South Africa, and is recognized worldwide for its outstanding academic quality. Not to mention the location which is absolutely stunning, and I hear they have an incredible marine department; you'll love it! 🙂

    Although I am no expert in marine biology, here are a few links that you will most likely find useful:

    – Oceans Research – Marine Research in South Africa. Great website for internships and projects in the marine biology domain:

    – South African Association for Marine Biological Research:

    – The Oceanographic Research Institute:

    – AVIVA, Volunteering in South Africa; Whale & Dolphin Research:

    There are plenty of others, but just start with those and take it from there. 😉

    In terms of the PADI, it would certainly help to get it beforehand but it is by no means a must…as long as you dive with expert divers you'll be just fine with the basics.

    Winter months are best to go on a safari (May-August). For whale watching, consider the months of August-September (during the peak season).

    Hope this helps.

    Take care and keep in touch,


  2. I loved your pictures/commentary were great very informative not to mention adorable! I’m thinking of going to the University of Cape Town for my study abroad experience. My major is biology with a concentration in environmental science but I am planning to continue and get a masters in marine biology.

    I was wondering if you have any information about the marine environment in that area. In addition, I would like to hear about other ecological must see spots to visit.

    Are there any places doing marine research that need help or places that I can volunteer that involve marine animals? Unfortunately, I don’t have a scuba certification yet since I’m only in my sophomore year at UNC. Would it help to get PADI certified beforehand? Right now I’m still in the preliminary stages of planning my trip but it will most likely have to wait for next year in either Fall or Spring semester.

    Is there a peak time for animal watching that I should take into account? I’ve done some traveling in Hawaii, Alaska, Italy, France, and Costa Rica but have never been to a place like South Africa it sounds like an exciting country especially for a national geographic animal junkie. Hope to hear from you!

    Thanks Again,

    Alexa aka. animaljunkie

  3. Thanks Alison! I’m really glad you enjoyed the article :)! Please feel free to give me feedback/your thoughts on the blog…

    What do you think is still missing? Any ideas/suggestions on what could be improved upon? Is there anything in particular that you might be looking for (in terms of articles, interests, etc.)?

    I’m very open to all your comments and suggestions…

    Remember I’m doing this not only for myself, but also (and mostly) for all of you guys out there…

    If I can help in any way, please do let me know…

    Thanks again,

    Michael aka Africafreak

  4. Alison from Cape Town

    Beautiful article and pictures, Michael! I love the whimsical way you have told the story of the Boulders penguins. They are under so much pressure from the city lifestyle, but they are such a pleasure to live near.

    Thanks for the blog. I’m a fan!

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