Seal Snorkelling in Cape Town: What You Need to Know

Last Updated on March 14, 2024 by thecapetownblog

It’s not uncommon to spot seals around Cape Town, especially at the Waterfront, but the best place to see them is Hout Bay

Just off the coast of Hout Bay is Duiker Island – aka “Seal Island” – and up to 7,000 seals can cram themselves onto its surface at once. And not only can you see lots of seals in Hout Bay, you can actually go snorkelling with them! It’s amazing to watch them swim and twirl around underwater, and if you stay calm they’ll often swim right up to you.

I had such a fantastic experience seal snorkelling in Cape Town, but there are a few things that you should know before you go. So if you’re thinking about it, this blog post contains everything you need to know. 

Where can I go seal snorkelling in Cape Town?

Hout Bay is the place to go snorkelling with seals in Cape Town! It’s 31 kilometres (19 miles) south of the city centre, which takes about 40 minutes to drive. Or if you’re staying in Camps Bay, it’s only a 20 minute drive. 

The tour office is in Hout Bay Harbour, next to Ground Up Cafe. I would recommend putting Ground Up Cafe into Google Maps if you’re driving here, because I ended up getting a bit lost. 

My experience seal snorkelling 

After I managed to find the tour office, I got a warm welcome from the staff and changed into my wetsuit. I also hired a GoPro for R500, and bought the SD card for R450, which I later lost, hence why this blog post has so few photos. I’m still furious with myself about that, but moving on…

I met my guide, Clemon, who was super friendly and nice, and my fellow participants. I had booked the 8 am slot, and there were only three of us, which was ideal! Then, we climbed onto a small, open boat and rode out to Seal Island. On the way, our captain and Clemon gave us a safety briefing and explained how to interact with the seals – essentially, don’t interfere with them, just float and observe. 

Then, we got into the water and swam through a kelp forest until we reached our seal spot. Clemon was so good at spotting seals – he just magically seemed to know where they were! We saw so many of them, even though apparently it was a relatively quiet day, seal-wise. I loved watching them twirl underwater and if you just let them be, these curious creatures will actually swim pretty close to you. I wish I had my GoPro footage! 

We spent an hour in the water, and the other couple got out a little early, so I even got a 1:1 experience for a while. Clemon taught me more about seal behaviours and answered all of my questions, and then when it was time to head back to shore we all enjoyed hot chocolate and cookies on the boat. 

I was so impressed by this experience and would highly recommend it. It was such a wholesome activity and it’s always a pleasure to spend time in beautiful Hout Bay. 

Is seal snorkelling ethical?

Yes, I believe so. The tour company has a strict no-contact rule with the seals. They don’t feed to bait them, and there’s a strict no contact rule. You’re just there to observe and the numbers are capped, with a maximum of 10 people per group, so that there’s minimal disturbance to the seals.

How much does it cost?

It costs R950 (£40 or $51 USD) to go seal snorkelling in Hout Bay. You get free cancellation and date changes up to 24 hours beforehand when you book through Viator, and you’ve also got the option to buy now and pay later, which is what I did.

Does it include transport?

No, you’ll need to get yourself to Hout Bay. If you’ve got a rental car, then it’s an easy drive. I would actually recommend leaving 10-15 minutes earlier and taking the scenic route if you’re coming from town, as the drive through Camps Bay and Bakoven is stunning. Although saying that, it was really misty on the morning I went so I didn’t get to see much! 

Are you guaranteed to see seals?

There’s no official guarantee but yes, given that 70,000 of them live around Duiker Island, it’s highly, highly likely that you’re going to see them. Our boat captain said she was nervous that my group would be disappointed because there were so few seals around on the day we went, but we saw loads – more than I was able to count! 

Is seal snorkelling safe?

As long as you follow the rules, yes. I asked Clemon, our guide, if he had ever been bitten. He said that he has been doing this job for 10 years now, and never received a bite! As long as you passively float and let the seals come to you, there’s really nothing to worry about. I felt really safe. 

When is the best time to go snorkelling with seals?

The tour only runs during the summer months, finishing up in May and starting again around October, although exact dates change every year. The water is pretty cold so it would be way too chilly to go during the winter, but you can spot seals on this guided kayak tour instead.

Can you get seasick on a seal snorkelling tour?

I would say it’s unlikely. We only spent about 5 minutes on the boat each way, and the water around Hout Bay is usually pretty calm as it’s well protected. I have gotten seasick before but I was totally fine on this tour. However, if you’re extremely prone to seasickness it might be a good idea to take some tablets beforehand. 

Can you touch the seals?

No, you are just there as an observer. Touching them is a big no-no and could be dangerous, as they may bite you if you frighten them. Still, I just stayed calm and floated, and then lots of seals came swimming right up to me! They might even brush against you, as they’re very curious and friendly animals. You just can’t be the one to initiate contact. 

How long does it last for?

The seal snorkelling experience lasts for an hour, but I recommend hanging out in Hout Bay for longer. I went to Fish on the Rocks for fish and chips afterwards and then went for coffee at Deus Ex Machina. However, you could also drive along Chapman’s Peak to Noordhoek and do a beer tasting at the Aegir Project

What if the weather is bad?

If you’ve booked through Viator, you’ll be able to reschedule for free or get a refund if the weather is bad, but this is quite unlikely. Summer in Cape Town is almost nonstop sunshine, and Hout Bay is very sheltered so it’s not as badly affected by the wind. And if it rains, hey, you’re underwater anyway! But honestly, this isn’t something you need to worry about too much. 

Do I need to leave a tip?

There’s a tip box at the tour office, and you can also leave a tip with your card if you prefer, which is what I did. However, tipping isn’t mandatory and they don’t pressure you into tipping. I was just so impressed by the experience and Clemon was so lovely that I felt he really deserved a tip! 

What do I need to bring?

Not much! Wetsuits, flippers, dry robes, and snorkel masks are all provided, so you can travel pretty light. I wore my swimwear so I just bought clean undies to change into afterwards, and a hair brush because my hair always gets so tangled when I go in the ocean! 

Oh, and bring a GoPro if you have one.

Is snorkelling with seals worth it?

Yes! I absolutely loved it and would definitely go again. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in Cape Town, and I thought it was worth every penny. 

You can book your seal snorkelling experience here, or for more adventurous activities in Cape Town, check out…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top