Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by thecapetownblog
Visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach in Cape Town is without a doubt one of the best things to do when you come to the city.
You can find African penguins down the coast at super scenic Boulders Beach. There’s a boardwalk along the beach that you can stroll along to go say hi to these adorable birds, and it’s a really wholesome day out.
I’ve been to visit the penguins twice so far, once independently during the winter and a second time during the summer as part of a guided tour – and I absolutely loved it both times!
However, the penguins aren’t exactly smack dab in the middle of town and so I’ve put together a guide containing all the info you’ll need to go and visit the penguins at Boulders Beach.
About the penguins at Boulders Beach
The penguin colony at Boulders Beach is currently about 3,000 birds strong, which is pretty impressive given that back in 1982, there were only two breeding pairs left in the world!
African penguins are usually between 60-70 centimetres tall, so they’re pretty small, and they used to be called “jackass penguins” because of their braying, donkey-like cry.
They live along the coast of South Africa and Namibia, and it’s estimated that there are 14,700 breeding pairs left in the wild, so they are considered to be an endangered species.
These guys are much more graceful in the water than they are on land. They have a cute little waddle that makes them look slightly drunk, but they’re great swimmers. They’re also near-sighted on land, but have amazing underwater vision.
Boulders Beach isn’t the only place in South Africa to see African penguins, but it is the best place to visit them from Cape Town. It’s the closest place to see them, and the three boardwalks around the beach make for great viewing points.
Recently, a penguin even got lost and somehow made its way to the Saunders Rockpool in Sea Point, but that’s a very rare occurrence, so don’t pitch up there expecting to see penguins.
Where is Boulders Beach?
Boulders Beach is 41 kilometres (25 miles) from Cape Town city centre, and the drive takes around 45 minutes if you avoid traffic.
It’s in Simon’s Town, which is one of the oldest towns in South Africa, located on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula.
How to get to Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach is pretty easy to get to from central Cape Town.
You can drive yourself there, and if you haven’t got a car you can rent one for as little as 280 rand per day from sites like Discover Cars, which is basically like booking.com for cars! You can compare suppliers by price and customer ratings to make sure that you get a good deal. You can also add full coverage insurance to make sure you’re covered whatever happens, and only costs around R140 ($7.50) per day.
You can either pick up a rental from the airport or Paarden Eiland, which is 39 kilometers (24 miles) from Boulders Beach.
The best route to Boulders Beach
Depending on where in the city you’re staying, the fastest route may be to drive along the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula, along the M3, M75, and M4.
However, if you really want to make a day of it then I recommend taking the scenic route, which is what we did the first time I visited the penguins at Boulders Beach.
Once you’ve driven through Hout Bay, you’ll get to a toll gate where you’ll need to pay 57 rand to drive your car along the Chapman’s Peak scenic drive, which is probably one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
It winds along the red rocky cliffs along the coast offering beautiful views of the mountains and the sea, and there are several viewpoints where you can pull over to snap some photos.
After you’ve driven along Chapman’s Peak, you’ll then head through pretty Noordhoek across to the eastern side of the peninsula, and then continue down to Boulders Beach.
If you do want to take the scenic route (and I highly recommend that you do!), then just make sure to check the status of the road before you head out. Chapman’s Peak drive closes when the winds are strong, and it does get pretty dang windy in Cape Town at times.
Take a Guided Tour
Another way to visit the penguins at Boulders Beach is to do so as part of a guided tour. You can either just visit Boulders, or you can take a combined tour to the Cape Point.
Penguin Encounter Boulders Beach Half Tour Day from Cape Town
This penguin beach tour picks you up from any of the central neighbourhoods in Cape Town and takes you along the stunning Chapman’s Peak drive. Then, you’ll spend 2 hours at Boulders Beach which is plenty of time to see the penguins, relax, and get some food if you’re hungry.
You head back to town via Muizenberg and the False Bay coast, which is also super scenic, so you get a good overview of the whole peninsula on this tour!
The tour starts around 8:30 am and lasts for about 5 hours, so you’ll get dropped off back at your hotel mid-afternoon, with plenty of time to catch the sunset.
This tour costs R640 including your transport and entry to Chapman’s Peak Scenic Drive, which is £27.50 or $35 USD at the time of writing. You still have to pay the entrance fee to Boulders Beach on the day, which is usually R176 (£7.50/$9.50). There’s more detail on entry fees below!
Full Day Cape Point Sightseeing Tour
The second time I went, I did so as part of a City Sightseeing tour that also took us to the Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope. We didn’t get to drive along Chapman’s Peak as part of this tour, but we had plenty of time to see the penguin beach and have lunch before heading to Cape Point.
Do note that that with this tour, you still have to pay the entry fee to Boulders Beach on the day.
There’s also an optional guided hike from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope, although we didn’t do this as the weather was bad!
The tour costs R545 for the bus ride, which is about £23 or $30 USD. You’ll have to pay the admission fee to see the penguins and the R360 National Park Fee to visit the Cape Point (£15.50/$19.50)
The tour lasted for 8 hours and we left from Long Street at 9.42 am, but you can also depart from the Aquarium, the Winchester Hotel in Sea Point, the Green Point lighthouse, or Camps Bay.
I really enjoyed this tour because our guide was super friendly and his commentary made us laugh along the way. I do think it would be better if it included the Chapman’s Peak Drive, though, as that’s one of my all-time favourite things to do in Cape Town.
Is there parking at Boulders Beach?
Yes, you can park at the parking lot on Bellevue Road on the south side of the beach, which is the first one you’ll come to if you take the Chapman’s Peak route to Boulders Beach.
There’s also parking on the north side if you’re coming along the eastern side of the peninsula at the Seaforth Beach lot. It’s free to park in either lot – happy days!
How much is the entry fee to see Penguins at Boulders Beach?
Entry to the penguin beach costs R176 (£7.50/$9.50) for adults and R80 (£3.45/$4.35) for children if you’re not a South African resident.
Entry to National Parks is always cheaper for locals in South Africa! If you are lucky enough to have a South African ID, then it costs R44 for adults and R22 for kids.
I think that the price is well worth it, as this really is a lovely thing to do while in Cape Town. The beach is super clean and well maintained, and your entry fee goes towards conserving the penguins and maintaining the beach.
How do you view the penguins at Boulders Beach?
After you’ve paid your entry fee, you’ll head through the gate and walk along the boardwalk, spotting penguins as you go. The boardwalk will lead you right down to the penguin beach, which is where you’ll see the highest volume of these cuties, and there are some viewing decks around.
Don’t try to poke your hand through the rails and touch the penguins, though, because they bite!
After that, you can also head to Foxy Beach to sunbathe and even take a swim with the penguins. The water here is a bit warmer than the notoriously cold sea around Clifton and Camps Bay, and it’s a very scenic place to relax.
But again, don’t be an idiot and go poking at the penguins – though they may be little, they are fierce!
When is the best time of year to visit the penguins at Boulders Beach?
Boulders Beach is open all year round and you can see the penguins regardless of season. However, you should try to pick a sunny day so that you can chill there for a while, and avoid strong winds if you can.
The first time I visited the penguin beach was on a gloriously warm day in the middle of the South African winter.
There was no wind and we actually really regretted not bringing our bathing suits. It was much quieter than when I went during the summer, which was better for taking photos and enjoying unobstructed views of the penguins.
African penguins also breed from May until August, so visiting in July meant that we got to see lots of baby penguins!
The second time I went was during the summer, but we got sandblasted due to the strong winds. I was wearing sneakers and socks, but I still managed to come away with sand between my toes (and pretty much every other crevice).
It was also a lot busier because it was the peak tourist season. If you’re visiting in the summer, I would recommend going on a weekday if you can, and trying to get there early in the morning or later on in the afternoon.
Do you only see penguins at Boulders?
If penguins aren’t enough for you, you can also see dassies at Boulders Beach, especially during the summer when they’re most active.
Dassies are furry little animals that look like giant guinea pigs, but they’re actually the closest living relative of the elephant!
During the winter, you can also spot humpback whales breaching in the distance. Whales come to the Cape Peninsula from May to November to give birth to their young, so if you’re visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach during the winter or spring then you have a pretty good chance of spotting some!
We spotted some while chilling at a cafe after seeing the penguins and it was super exciting.
What else is there to do at Boulders Beach?
If you’re visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach during the summer (or even on a warm winter’s day) then you can go and sunbathe at Foxy Beach, or even swim with the penguins!
There are also some cafes and restaurants around where you can grab refreshments and enjoy the views. You can enjoy fish and chips at Seaforth Restaurant, grab some food at Cafe Penguino, or head to The Beach Hut for a drink and some ice cream.
You can also visit the hippie towns of Kalk Bay and Muizenberg afterwards. Kalk Bay has a nice tidal pool, as well as some great restaurants and boutiques, while Muizenberg has a similarly laid back vibe and is probably the most popular place to go surfing in Cape Town.
Kalk Bay is 20 minutes north of Boulders Beach on the M4, and Muizenberg is another 10 minutes up the same road.
You can also drive for another half an hour south of Boulders to the Cape Point. This is famous for being the place where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. There’s a lighthouse that you can visit atop a rocky cliff, and you’ll have amazing views of the beaches, rock formations, and vegetation as you head up.
It’s also possible to head even further south to the Cape of Good Hope, which is the most southwestern point of the entire African continent!
Where else can I see penguins in Cape Town?
Boulders Beach is the most popular place to see penguins in Cape Town, but you can also head to Betty’s Bay to see them at the Stony Point Nature Reserve. It’s 88 kilometres (56 miles) from Cape Town to the reserve, and it’s home to the third-largest African penguin colony in the world.
There are also penguins on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. You can’t see the penguins here, though, because they’re not on the official tour route.
Can I visit the penguins at Boulders Beach as part of a tour?
You certainly can! The second time I went to the penguin beach, I did it through City Sightseeing as part of this tour, which also took us to the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.
It was super well organised, our guide was excellent, and I think that it’s a great way to explore the peninsula if you don’t have a car.
Alternatively, this half-day tour takes you along Chapman’s Peak Drive to Boulders Beach for R690 (minus the entry fee to the beach).
Hotel pick up and drop off is included in the price, which is very convenient. You’ll also have a private guide who will share lots of local insider knowledge with you and make sure you see as many penguins as possible
How long should I spend at Boulders Beach?
It’s up to you! I’d say that you need at least half an hour to see the penguins, walk around the boardwalks, and snap lots of photos.
After that, you can choose to relax on Foxy Beach if the weather is nice or head to one of the cafes and restaurants for lunch. I must say, the fish and chips at Seaforth Restaurant was really good!
All in all, visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach has been one of my favourite experiences in Cape Town.
Plus, you can really make a day of it by taking the Chapman’s Peak Drive there and exploring either Kalk Bay and Muizenberg or the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope afterwards. Just try to choose a day that isn’t super windy!
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