The Best Wildlife Encounters in Cape Town for EVERY Season and Budget

Last Updated on April 9, 2024 by thecapetownblog

If you’re planning a trip to Cape Town, the chances are that you’re keen to see some wildlife while you’re here. And while I can assure you that the city does have plenty of wildlife around, you do have to know where to find it! 

I really didn’t see that much wildlife in my first few months here, when I was too enamoured with the beaches and nightlife. Look, I’d been locked down in a small village for the best part of two years, so you can’t really blame me! 

However, since then I’ve had so many incredible wildlife encounters in Cape Town. Whenever friends come to visit, I make sure that they get to see some unique African animals, and now I’m going to share my list with you. 

Since a lot of wildlife encounters are seasonal, I’ve made sure to cover a variety of options that you can enjoy throughout the year, whether you’re on a tight budget or willing to splurge a little. 

1. Seal snorkelling in Hout Bay 

Season: spring, summer, and autumn 
Budget: R950 (£40 or $51 USD)

It’s a close call, but I think seal snorkelling in Hout Bay probably has to be my favourite wildlife encounter in Cape Town. I mean, you get to swim with the seals and they come right up close to you, so this experience is pretty hard to beat! 

Hout Bay is also a really beautiful part of Cape Town that is most definitely worth exploring. It’s home to Duiker Island, where thousands of seals live, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a ton of them on this tour. I was amazed at how many I saw, and yet the boat captain told me that this was actually a really quiet day and that she was worried we were going to be disappointed. 

I learned a lot about seal behaviour, too, and being so close to them was incredible. I just wish I had more photos, but I lost my GoPro footage. Still, no regrets. Do bear in mind that you’ll need to get yourself to Hout Bay – although this shouldn’t be a problem if you have a rental car. For more details and tips, you can also check out my in-depth review of the experience.

2. Meeting the Penguins at Boulders Beach 

Season: year round
Budget: R190 admission fee 

I think that heading to Boulders Beach to see the penguins is the sweetest and most wholesome wildlife encounter in Cape Town. The whole operation is really well set up, and the penguins are just so cute (although I feel I should warn you that they are a bit smelly). 

Basically, there are boardwalks all over the beach that you can walk along, so you get right up close to the penguins without causing them any hassle. I’ve also spotted dassies here, so keep your eyes peeled. Then, after you’ve explored the main penguin beach, you can also visit Foxy Beach next door, which is a public beach where you can often swim alongside the penguins for free. 

When I drove to see the penguins, I went through Hout Bay and along Chapman’s Peak, which is a stunningly beautiful drive. This way, you can tick off two must-do Cape Town activities in one go! 

And if you’re not planning on renting a car, you can also book this top-rated tour to Boulders Beach for R640 (£28 or $35). As well as seeing the penguins, you’ll drive along Chapman’s Peak and head back to the city on a different route, via the stunning Boyes Drive, so you also get a mini tour of the Cape Peninsula! 

3. Kayaking with Dolphins, Seals, and More! 

Season: year round
Budget: R450 upwards (£19 or $24)

Kayaking is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with Cape Town’s marine life. I had SO much fun kayaking with dolphins this summer, and we also saw seals, sunfish, and a lone little African penguin. 

There are a few different launch points for wildlife kayaking tours. I went with Kaskazi Kayaks, who are based in Sea Point, but you can also book a tour from the V&A Waterfront during the summer months. 

I only have good things to say about Kaskazi, as our guides were wonderful and we saw a lot of wildlife! My two-hour kayaking tour cost R550 which I felt was good value for money. My only regret is that I didn’t take any seasickness tablets beforehand! 

You can also go kayaking in Hout Bay for R450 all year round. This is one of the best places in Cape Town to see dolphins and, as mentioned earlier, its waters are positively teeming with seals. I also think it’s one of the most beautiful places in Cape Town, and you can find the city’s best fish and chips here – honestly, what more could you want?! 

4. Aquila Safari 

Season: year round
Budget: R3,590 (£152 or $193 USD

For a true safari, you’ll need to travel to a different part of South Africa, but you can do a game drive just a few hours from Cape Town and see the Big Five! Well, actually, I’ve done the Aquila Safari twice and have only seen four, as the leopard has always eluded me, but it is a really worthwhile experience if you can’t make it to the Kruger. 

The experience runs year-round, but it does vary a little according to the season. When I did it during the winter, we had buffet breakfast and lunch included, whereas in the summer we only had lunch, but we were allowed to use the beautiful infinity pool (so don’t forget your swimwear!) The food is decent but nothing to write home about, really, and you get a free welcome drink on arrival. 

The game drive is so much fun. Our guide, Charlie, taught us loads about the animals we saw and their behaviours. I saw so much both times, including lions, rhinos, elephants, hippos, springboks, buffalo, zebras, and giraffes! The tour involves two hours of driving each way from Cape Town, but I think it’s totally worth it. You can read my full review here, but this experience definitely gets a thumbs-up from me. 

5. Seal Cruise Hout Bay 

Season: year round
Budget: R110 (£4.66 or $5.90 USD)

I will say that I don’t think the seal cruise in Hout Bay can compare to seal snorkelling, as you don’t get to go in the water, but it may be a better option for some! If you’d rather chill out on a boat than go beneath the surface of Cape Town’s cold Atlantic waters. Plus, it’s really cheap at just R110 (£4.66 or $5.90 USD). When booking online, just make sure to select the 40-minute seal cruise option, or you can pick the hour-long seal and shipwreck option for the same price if you prefer.

I think that this is a fantastic wildlife encounter for families, and you can really make a day of it by exploring Hout Bay afterwards. I highly recommend fish and chips at Fish on the Rocks! 

6. Shark cage diving 

Season: year round
Budget: R3,655 (£155 or $196)

I was so excited to go shark cage diving but I actually found the experience a bit underwhelming. I took a tour from Cape Town and it was just too much driving for one day. We went with the cheapest possible option so we only got an hour on the boat, which didn’t feel like a lot compared to all of the drive time. So if you do want to do it from Cape Town, I’d recommend booking this tour as you get two hours on the boat, plus breakfast and lunch in a well-rated restaurant.

However, if you’ve got the time, then I think that the best way to go shark cage diving is to drive to Hermanus and stay overnight there. We spent 6 hours in the van, which was just too much! 

Beautiful Abalone has amazing reviews and you can snag a room for as little as R900 (£38 or $48) per night – bargain! Plus, if you go in winter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see whales in Hermanus. Then, you can book a shark cage diving tour without a transfer, since Gansbaai is only 30 minutes down the road.

7. Big 5 Ocean Safari Waterfront 

Season: year round
Budget: R900 (£38 or $49)

Okay, so to be honest, I probably wouldn’t go shark cage diving again – not on a day trip from Cape Town, anyway. If I couldn’t do an overnight stay in Hermanus, I would book this marine safari instead, because it’s a lot cheaper and departs from the Waterfront. It leaves at 10:30 am and lasts for 1.5 hours, so you’ll get the rest of the day to enjoy. 

The trade off, of course, it’s that you’re unlikely to see any sharks on this boat trip. But as far as I’m concerned, penguins, seals, and sunfish more than make up for it – and did I mention that you might see whales during the winter months? 

I love the fact that this is a small group tour, with no more than 10 people on board. My boat when I went shark cage diving was a bit overcrowded and we didn’t have a ton of room, whereas this tour promises to be much more personal. 

8. Simon’s Town Whale Watching Cruise

Season: June to November
Budget: R1450 (£62 or $78)

Spotting whales in Cape Town is a big reason to visit during the winter. You can spot humpback, Bryde’s, and Southern Right whales breaching offshore, but the best way to get up-close and personal with them, without leaving the Cape Peninsula, is with the Simon’s Town Boat Company

Simon’s Town is 45 minutes south of the city centre, and this is where Boulders Beach is, so you could always combine a whale cruise with a visit to the penguins. And as for the cruise itself, it lasts for 2.5 hours and there’s a 98% chance of spotting whales – I like those odds! 

9. Hermanus Whale Watching and Wine Tour

Season: June to mid-December
Budget: R3040 (£128 or $163)

Of course, Hermanus is known as the whale watching capital of the world – yes, the WORLD! So if you don’t mind a little more travel time (we’re talking two hours each way), then you can book this tour. And honestly, the travel-to-activity ratio is pretty good in my eyes. As well as a 2- to 3-hour whale-watching cruise, you also get to visit the Stoney Point penguin colony and have the option to get lunch at Creation Wine Estate. I’ve been wine tasting here and it was heavenly!

Hundreds of whales are spotted off the coast of Hermanus every day – the record is 196! So if you’re passionate about these beautiful, graceful creatures then I think this tour is well worth it. And no, I’m not just saying it because there’s wine involved!

The price includes your transport, whale cruise, and entry to Stoney Point. A wine tasting and lunch at Creation will be on your own account. It costs R15 to R30 per tasting glass (which are usually fairly generous in South Africa) and you’re looking at R165 to R295 per main meal on the a la carte menu.

10. Cape Point Ostrich Farm

Season: year round
Budget: R135 (£5.70 or $7.30) 

Ostriches kind of give me the heebie jeebies, but if you don’t share my aversion then you can take a guided tour of the Cape Point Ostrich Farm. It’s definitely interesting to learn about the ostrich life cycle, and they do a lot of great rehabilitation work here with both ostriches and a variety of reptiles. Plus, during breeding season, you can even see chicks hatching, which is pretty cute!

I haven’t been to the ostrich farm myself because, as noted, they’re not really my cup of tea, but I did see a ton of them on the Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope tour that I took. They were just strutting around the Cape of Good Hope, which was pretty cool, and I also saw tons of baboons that day. 

11. Horseback safari 

Season: year round
Budget: R1700 (£72.55 or $92)

Take a wildlife encounter, throw in some wine tasting, and you’ve pretty much got a perfect day in Cape Town! Well, this horseback safari and wine tour takes you on a beautiful ride through a game reserve to spot zebras, giraffes, and antelopes, before heading to one of Stellenbosch’s top wineries for a tasting. 

I think that this option is really convenient because the meeting point is only 25 minutes from Cape Town, and it’s great if you’re short on time because you get to do a mini safari and experience the winelands. Just make sure to select the 3-hour “Game Reserve and Wine Tasting Option”. 

12. Birdwatching tour

Season: year round
Budget: R2000 (£85/$108)

If you’re into birdwatching, make sure to check out this awesome tour led by Alfie, who’s been guiding safaris for ages. He’s a real pro at spotting birds!

You’ll be picked up from your hotel by Alfie and then the first destination of the day is Kirstenbosch Gardens, which are breathtaking and home to tons of rare plants, which in turn attract tons of rare birds, like Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. Then, it’s onto Strandfontein Sewage Works. I know, it sounds gross, but it’s surprisingly the best spot in Cape Town for waterbirds. You can spot up to 80 different kinds in just two hours, and no, it actually doesn’t smell. 

What’s really cool is that it was a private tour, so Alfie will be totally focused on helping you and your group find birds. I think it’s great to support small local tour operators like Alfie, who is so passionate about what he does, and for a private, full-day tour, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.

13. Scuba diving in Simon’s Town

Season: year round
Budget: R1499 (£64/$81)

If you’re like me and have always wanted to try scuba diving, but don’t have your PADI certification, then you can try this Discover Dive in Simon’s Town, under the guidance of a pro diver. I think this is such an amazing opportunity, especially if you’re new to diving!

Your instructor will spend time teaching you the basics skills in shallow waters, and then you’ll move into a deeper area. Here, you’ll be able to swim through kelp forests, and spot seals, penguins, and small sharks – but no Great Whites, don’t worry. I think one of the coolest things you can see down here is pyjama sharks, which are catsharks known for their distinctive black stripes. 

What makes this tour even more ideal in my opinion is that it’s a private experience, so you’ll have your instructor’s undivided attention. It’s perfect if you’re a bit nervous about scuba diving for the first time! 

Thanks so much for reading this blog post! If you’re planning a trip to Cape Town and need more inspiration and helpful tips, I think you’ll love…

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