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Visit the Penguins at Boulders Beach in Cape Town 2023

Seeing the famous Boulders Beach penguins in Cape Town is an interaction with wild animals in South Africa not to be missed. The beautiful beach is home to a rare colony of about 2200 African penguins and is world-famous. This is the only place where you can swim with the African Penguins in their natural environment! One of the best things to do in Cape Town. You can go onto the beach and there is a nice walkway to view them from.

Five Boulders Beach penguins on First beach with Alya and Summer
Meeting the Boulders Beach penguins on First Beach in False Bay.

These penguins are also called jackass penguins, the name originates from the sound they make, a braying sound like a donkey. The penguin beach is located between Simons Town and the Cape of Good Hope, relatively close to the centre of Cape Town. There is an entrance regulated by South African National Parks and an entrance fee (it is a national park). The area comprises several small sheltered bays with a boardwalk stretching from Seaforth Beach to Boulders Beach. Many penguins can be seen from the boardwalk at Foxy Beach along the way. You can share beach time with the penguins at Boulders Beach or go to the more hidden Middle Beach for better interaction and some of the best photo opportunities on the Cape Peninsula. Need a rental car? Don’t miss our Complete Guide to Renting a Car in Cape Town.

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Excellent tours to the Boulders Beach Penguins

swimming at boulders beach on a beautiful summer day
Swimming at Boulders Beach on a hot summer day. There were one or 2 penguins in the water.

Boulders Beach Area – Foxy Beach, First Beach, and Middle Beach

When people speak about Boulders Beach they usually refer to the area of small connected beaches; Foxy Beach, Middle Beach, First Beach, and Boulders Beach. A path and boardwalk connect these beaches, stretching from Seaforth (Foxy Beach) to Boulders. There are two visitor centers one at the Seaforth parking and a Boulders visitor centre at Boulders Beach. If you pay at the visitor center at Seaforth and follow the boardwalks past Foxy Beach, you will exit the boardwalks and have to go through another pay point to enter Boulders Beach itself.  Just show your ticket from your first entrance, and you can bypass the line without paying. You can also park at the Boulders Beach parking area and pay and enter here. There is significantly less parking available here.

Foxy Beach

The penguin colony is called the Boulders Beach colony, but most penguins nest at Foxy Beach. This is the first beach you get to following the walkway from the visitors center at the Seaforth parking area. Foxy Beach is the easiest place to see penguins in this conservation of coastal birds. You can only view the Penguins from the walkway here, you are not allowed to walk on Foxy Beach. 

boardwalk going from Foxy Beach to Boulders Beach
The boardwalk connects Foxy Beach and Boulders Beach.

Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach is a beautiful white sandy beach with brilliant blue water and some large granite boulders that give the beach its name. You are allowed to walk on the beach and get into the water. We have been here a couple of times and there are not always penguins on the beach, you might have to go to Middle Beach to interact with the Jackass penguins on the beach. The water in Cape Town is cold for swimming, hovering around 15°C most of the time. 

white sand, clear water and large boulders of Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach with white sand, clear water, and large boulders.

First Beach and Middle Beach

First Beach is a secret beach because of the hidden access. Getting to the beach involves some scrambling over the ancient granite boulders and walking through the water, but there are usually a lot of penguins around. You can interact quite closely with the penguins and this is the spot to swim with them if you want to. First and Middle Beach offers the best photo opportunities on the penguin beach. Remember they are wild animals with sharp beaks. Don’t try to touch them, disturb them, or get too close. 

penguins on first beach
The ‘hidden’ First Beach often has a lot more penguins than Boulders Beach.

How to Get to the Penguins at Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach is located inside False Bay, just outside Simon’s Town, on the way to Cape of Goodhope in Cape Point National Park. Renting a car is the easiest way to explore the beautiful Simon’s town area and False Bay. This part of Table Mountain National Park is a fantastic day trip from Cape Town and is easy to self-drive. 

Rental Cars is a great resource, comparing all rental car companies on one page and showing you your rental options.   Driving from Cape Town, the easiest way is to drive on the M5 and then the M4 onto a winding coastal road to Simons Town. From there, a series of boardwalks takes you right down to the beach.

Parking at Boulders Beach

You can park at the Seaforth Beach parking area or the Boulders Beach parking area. If you park at the Seaforth parking area you are closer to Foxy Beach viewing platforms and have to walk on the walkway for a couple of minutes to Boulders Beach. If you park at Boulders Beach you can walk back to Foxy Beach. You will reach Seaforth first when driving from Muizenberg. The parking area at Seaforth is larger there are car guards that work here. These are self-employed people that look after your car and it is customary to give them a tip when you leave. 

Google Maps Pin for Foxy Beach Parking (Seaforth Beach Parking Area).

Google Maps Pin for Boulders Beach

baby and 3 penguins on the beach
Summer sitting on the beach with a couple of penguins.

What is the Best Time to Visit Boulders Beach?

You can see the African penguins at Boulders Beach all year round. Summer is the best time to visit Boulders, the weather is nice, it is warm enough to get into the water and this is when you have the best chance to see penguin action. Summertime, December to April, is nice warm weather, from February it is usually less windy. 

January – penguins return to the beach for nesting and start to mate.

February to August – breeding season, peaks from March to May. Good time to spot penguins on the beach.

September and October – the birds spend a lot of time out at sea, less birds on the beach. 

November to December – moulting season, penguins lose their old worn feathers and get new waterproof feathers, they are landbound for this period and it is a good time to see penguins.

It is interesting that the penguins are monogamous, mating with the same partner for many years, and that they return to the same nest on the beach every year. 

Boulders Beach Opening Hours

  • Dec – Jan 07:00 to 19:30
  • Feb – March 08:00 to 18:30
  • April – Sept 08:00 to 17:00
  • Oct – Nov 08:00 to 17:00

How to Swim the Penguins at Boulders Beach – ´Secret Beach`

To take photos with the penguins in their natural habitat you have to go to Boulders Beach itself or the adjacent First Beach and Middle Beach. Remember you are not allowed to touch the penguins. We were told you should not come closer than 3 meters from the animals. Often there are very few or no penguins on Boulders Beach itself. Walk to the large boulders on the far side of Boulders Beach when coming through the entrance. It looks like a dead end. There is a little tunnel under the rocks, if you stand on the beach for a while you should see people crouching down and going through. There are more rocks to scramble over until you reach First Beach and Middle Beach. Usually, there are more of the little guys in this sheltered cove. We managed to get to this ´secret beach´ with our 18-month-old baby but we needed help to get her over the large boulders.

Entrance Fee for Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach is in a South African National Park and there is a conservation fee to have this experience with the Boulders colony of African penguins. 

The following fees apply to enter Boulders Beach:

  • South African Citizens and Residents (with ID)    R44 per adult, per day – Children R22
  • SADC Nationals (with passport)    R88 per adult, per day – Children R44
  • Foreign Visitors:    R176 per adult, per day  Children R88
  • Wild Card Holders enter free, we went to Boulders a couple of times with our Wild Cards when we lived in South Africa. 

African Penguin Population in the Western Cape of South Africa

Oil spills, commercial fishing, marine pollution, and habitat destruction almost completely wiped out a large penguin population in False Bay. In 1982 there was only one breeding pair remaining. Thanks to massive conservation efforts the Boulders colony grew, peaking at over 3,000 birds in recent years. There are two African penguin colonies in South Africa: the Boulders penguin colony and the African penguin colony at Stony Point Nature Reserve at Betty’s Bay. We have been to both penguin colonies several times. 

Stony Point Penguin Colony – Betty’s Bay

The Stony Point Penguin Colony is located at the little beach town Bettys Bay near Hermanus, it is better known as the Bettys Bay penguins There are more penguins, and fewer people, and Stoney Point is cheaper to visit than Betty’s Bay. It is, however, a different experience, you walk on a wooden boardwalk and can thus not get onto the beach with the penguins. Going to the Betty’s Bay penguins and Hermanus on the whale route is a fantastic day trip. Driving here on the stunning Clarence Drive past Gordon’s Bay and Rooi-Els is one of the best scenic drives from Cape Town. Between June and November go whale watching in Hermanus, one of the top whale watching towns in the world. 

The Stony Point Nature Reserve is open to see the penguins from 8 am to 4.30 pm.

 The Hermanus Whale Cruise is a fantastic tour not to miss in whale season!

More fantastic things to do around Boulders Beach!

Simon’s Town is one of our favorite places to visit in Cape Town with plenty of awesome activities you can combine with visiting the penguins.

Muizenberg – You will drive through Muizenberg on your way to Boulders Beach, this is a super popular surf spot and a great place to learn! also a fantastic coffee stop. The colorful beach cabins are very famous. Yellow, red, blue, and green color wooden cabins on the white sand beach make a perfect photo spot. Muizenberg Surf Lessons

Cape Point National Park is very close to Boulders Beach and an excellent option to combine with a penguin visit. Full Day Boulders Beach and Cape Point Tour

The Constantia wine farms are fantastic to explore on the way to Boulders Beach. Highly Rated – African Story Wine Tour in the Cape Winelands.

The Skeleton Gorge Hike up Table Mountain is a short drive from Constantia and can be combined with visiting the Boulders Penguin Colony. Skeleton Gorge to Table Mountain summit tour.

I have done hundreds of Scuba dives in Simons Town, it is some of the best Scuba diving in Cape Town.

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