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

Two penguins in the sand at Boulder Beach South Africa

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 to Boulders - Home of the African penguin

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 penguins swimming in the sea

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

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…

One penguin in a whole

… 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.

Panoramic view of Foxy beach and its boardwalk

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.

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.

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 - "Please look under your vehicles for penguins"

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.