Last Updated on

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.

These tiny little creatures are incredible to watch.

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

Meet your local guide


Boulders beach is situated in Simon’s Town, a little haven near Cape Town. The area is protected under the Table Mountain National Park, a top tourist attraction in South Africa. It is home to one of the largest African penguin populations, with an estimated 3000 individuals.

African Penguins or Jackass Penguins?

In a variety of bird books, the little fellows are sometimes known as Jackass penguins (and no, this has nothing to do with the American series show 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 species from South America 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 chest.

Rather pretty, isn’t he?

Juvenile: plain gray/brown.

Youngster enjoying the sun

Habitat: Breeds on inshore islands. Feeds strictly at sea, foraging regularly out 9 miles (15 km).

Typical African penguin habitat

Diet: Mainly fish (anchovy and pilchards).

Height: around 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 up to 15 mph (24 km/h). If you get a chance to see them under water, it’s almost as if they are flying.

Any fish?

Breeding season: mostly February-May, but all year around really. Just like humans (at least for most of us), African penguins are monogamous and partner for life.

Getting the party started

Nesting: Nests in small colonies. Digs nest in sandy area or guano deposit under a boulder or bush, or in a burrow. Lays 2 eggs, which hatch after 38 days. Both parents incubate and feed the chicks.

Nesting in the dunes…

… or under cover.

Range: Restricted to Africa. Off 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.

My Experience

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 definitely plan both excursions on the same day.

On the one hand, Foxy Beach is accessible through a boardwalk that overlooks the spot. The admission fee is relatively affordable (R25 for adults and R5 for children; price subject to change). That’s where the largest part of the colony resides, and here no immediate contact with the birds is possible. Really nice scenic view though, and quite fascinating indeed. It’s a perfect venue to see them swim, eat, breed and preen almost without being noticed. I could literally observe them all day long!

Panoramic view of Foxy beach and its boardwalk

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 though (strictly forbidden). Penguins can be quite vicious with their sharp beaks, and could cause serious injury in no time. So please keep your distance.

Boulders Beach at high tide

Curious close encounter

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

Swimming is also possible, though 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 extremely quick and agile in the water, and it’s impossible to keep up with their pace.

Last minute check before leaving! 😉

June 2000 “Treasure” Oil Spill

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