Boulders Beach - Penguins
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The Boulders Penguin Colony is a stunning year-round destination, not only during the breeding/feeding season. It is one of the best spots in the world to get close to penguins in the wild. Although, it is called Boulders Beach, most African Penguins nest at Foxy Beach. The beaches are often busy; however, during the best time of the day, it is usually quieter. Continue reading for an exceptional visit to Cape Town.
Nearby Tip: Visit the breathtaking Table Mountain at Cape Town. We just updated our Table Mountain Guide (the link takes you to our article) with great tips you should know, as well as tour suggestions.
The best time to visit Boulders Beach full of penguins is during the peak of the breeding season from February to May; in the late afternoon roughly from 4 pm onwards when the penguins come back to their nests. If you want to dodge the crowds, April and May are less busy, except Holy Week. In the late afternoon, crowds thin out as well.
Avoiding Tourist Crowds
The busy months are November until March; worst in December and January. However, it can be crowded in the shoulder and off-season as well, especially on the weekends and in the daytime. To beat the crowds and increase the chance of a parking lot, be there very early in the morning as soon as they open but, there are fewer penguins around. An alternative and our favourite time is late afternoon: roughly 2-3 hours before they close, depending on the season. You'll see many more penguins compared to the morning. We spent here already several afternoons until closure in March 2020. During the last hour, we were always almost alone. What a wonderful experience to watch hundreds of penguins arriving from their daily foraging.
In general, you'll spot more penguins in the breeding season than at other times. The breeding season starts roughly in February and lasts until August: It peaks from March to May. It's fascinating when the penguins return from hunting. We watched this spectacle a couple of times. First, you see them in the far distance, jumping and swimming. When they reach the beach, waddle up to the nests, and feed the chicks that's an unforgettable experience. The babies get fed for about two months in the late afternoon. In March and April, you see already chicks, some in juvenile plumage, penguins breeding with one or two eggs, and mating ones as well. They are so graceful when swimming in the water. Seeing them gawky waddle on land is always funny.
Opening Hours and Map
The closure time depends on the available daylight. The shop, the visitor center, Boulders Beach, and Foxy Beach get closed at the mentioned time below.
- Summer: December - January 07:00 - 19:30
- February - March 08:00 - 18:30
- October - November 08:00 - 18:30
- Winter: April - September 08:00 - 17:00
January: Juveniles are moulting, adults feeding up for the breeding season.
February - August: Mating and breeding season with most penguins at the beach; peak March to May
September - October: Penguins foraging at sea for the moulting season. Fewer penguins are at the beach.
November - December: Moulting season, means losing their waterproof plumage -getting new feathers. It lasts for roughly three weeks. At this time, penguins don't have the capability to stay warm in the cold sea. The stay either at the beach or hide in the bush.
Most pleasant weather from October-March. Day temps are always above 20°C. Rain showers can occur but on a couple of days only. During winter it’s much quieter but also colder. There is often a light breeze or even strong wind. Be prepared and bring a windbreaker.
Decreasing rainfall from September onwards. Day temps are on average around 20°C and nights around 13°C. It’s often partly cloudy and occasionally overcast.
January and February are the driest months of the year. Day temps are on average around 24°C and can climb up to 30°C. Night temps are on average around 15°C. Usually, it’s often sunny and partly cloudy. Due to the light breeze, it doesn’t get too hot. Also, the southeaster, often called "Cape Doctor" by the locals, can blow for days on end during summer. On our first visit, I got a cold due to the strong wind. The water temperature is around 18°C cold.
March is still dry, increasing rainfall from April onwards. It is still pleasant on average above 20°C. Nights are cool around 13°C. It’s often sunny and partly cloudy. Mist can occur in the morning.
During winter, it is a mixture of sunny, partly cloudy, and overcast days. More precipitation in winter around 90 mm each month. Usually, June is the wettest month of the year. Day temps are on average around 18°C and 10°C during the night.
Our 5 Top Tips for an Exceptional Visit
- There are two parking lots; one at Seaforth Square and one at Bellevue Road: Seaforth Square is bigger and open 24 hours while Bellevue Road is smaller and closes earlier. Ask the car-park attendant when the gate gets closed! To dodge the crowds come either in the morning or late afternoon what we recommend. Expect to pay a tip when leaving the car park.
- The best spot to watch a high number of penguins is Foxy Beach, where boardwalks lead to. There is the main boardwalk and a smaller one. To get to the smaller one, turn immediately right after the entry. It’s a little quieter, but the view is best from the main boardwalk.
- The entrance fee for foreign visitors is high ZAR 160 per adult and 80 per child, but it’s also used for the conservation of the penguins. In my opinion, it’s utterly worth it. Price: ZAR 160 is less than 10€/10$/16AUD/8GBP
- Boulders Beach itself is a 7-8 minutes walk from the main entrance. During the peak season, you can enter the beach with your ticket only. It’s a sheltered bay and beach and ideal for swimming. Here are only a few penguins. If it gets too crowded the ranger close the beach for additional visitors. More space on the beach during low tide. Tide Times Boulders Beach
- Usually, you can also see penguins at Water's Edge Beach and Seaforth as well but in smaller numbers. The beaches are within walking distance. From Bellevue parking, you get to another spot called Burgers' Walk to watch penguins. This path leads along the neighborhood houses. You don’t have to pay a fee for these spots, but none is as fantastic as Foxy Beach.
Please, respect the requested 3 meters distance to the penguins. If they get disturbed they may disappear. None of your social media posts is worth doing so! As you can see in the picture below; this is a bad example of taking pictures from these endangered birds. Our pictures were taken with Olympus OMD 10 II
Simon’s Town is home to the South African Navy's Naval Base. The harbour comes with an interesting history, established in the 19th century by the Brits as an alternative when powerful storms prevent landings in Cape Town. In 1982 the first pair of African penguins settled at Boulders Beach and more followed. Nowadays, there are roughly 2.500 around the area of Boulders. Most of them nest at Foxy Beach. Unfortunately, the numbers are decreasing due to domestic pets, seals, kelp gulls (I even saw a gull with an egg in the beak), overfishing, climate change, even cars, and first of all because of us!
In former times the eggs were harvested uncontrolled and guano was scraped. Meanwhile, the species is classified as endangered since 2010. The African Penguins are native to South Africa and Namibia. Boulders is just one of two land-based colonies in SA where you get pretty close to penguins in the wild. Please let them stay wild; don't pet or frighten them. Betty's Bay is the other exceptional place less known to watch these cute guys close.
Boulders Beach is a section of Table Mountain National Park and managed by SANParks; several beaches, three boardwalks, and two penguin viewing areas belong to it. The main beach with viewing area is Foxy Beach. The other one where you can swim in summer is Boulders Beach. This beach is usually not crowded due to the entrance fee. Most visitors come here just for half an hour or less and don’t visit Boulders or the other spots.
For the increasing number of visitors peaking at 5.000 each day in December/January and for the rest of the year around 2.000 visitors daily, the access is via wheelchair-friendly boardwalks nowadays. The boardwalk gives you the perfect position to spot penguins just in front of you. It is all very well constructed; penguins get protected, visitors have a memorable time, and stunning pictures. It's a protected area, fishing, smoking, and alcohol is prohibited! Before you can enter you have to pay the conservation fee.
Fee Boulders Beach 2020; ZAR 160 roughly 10€/10$/16AUD/8GBP
The boardwalks not only protect the environment and the penguins' habitat but also providing great viewing spots for capturing outstanding pictures of nesting penguins and their chicks. The area is a Marine Protected Area, you must follow the rules of Cape Peninsula National Park and never remove any marine life from the area. Respect the recommended 3 meters distance to these majestic birds, they have a strong beak and bite. However, the area around Boulders might be the only place in the world where people can swim amongst penguins. Nevertheless, the water temp is around 20°C in summer and 14°C during winter. You could also check for low tide, as there is more space at the beach during crowded times.
Getting to Boulders Beach National Park
Boulders Beach is located in the False Bay on the Cape Peninsula. It's half an hour drive from Muizenberg and 40 minutes from Hout Bay. Boulders Beach can be perfectly combined with the Cape of Good Hope on a day trip, which is also just in half an hour distance located - 23km.
- By rental car, uber, or Taxi roughly one hour from W&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
- Take the train until station Simons Town. Take a taxi or uber or walk 3 km from here.
- Book a guided tour, most convenient if traveling without a car.
17 Facts About the African Penguins
The pinker the glands get the hotter it is - cooling down the blood
- Former called jackass penguins because of the donkey-like call, but other species have a similar call. So now they are only called African Penguins.
- They are social breeders the reason for huge colonies.
- Usually, they mate forever and return to the same nesting site each year.
- Weight 2-4 kg
- Size 60-70 cm
- Lifespan in the wild roughly 15 years
- Feeding on small fish, sardines, anchovies, squid
- Diving into depths of up to 130 m for food.
- Holding the breath for around 2.5 minutes.
- Their white belly and black back is their camouflage for predators below and above.
- Laying two eggs – both parents breed and feed
- Roughly 60 days after hatching some chicks have already the juvenile plumage and called "baby blues" due to their new colour.
- Mature after 2-4 years
- Diving more than 100 meters deep
- Excellent eyes underwater but on land nearsighted.
- They can be identified by their unique pattern on the chest.
- Penguins drink seawater which gets purified in their salt-water glands. They sneeze out the salt crystals.
Accommodations (Hotels, Lodges, B&Bs)
There are tons of lodges, cottages, private houses, B&Bs, and hotels in Cape Town. It's rare that Cape Town is fully booked. However, we always book these accommodations in advance. First, rates are lower and we only choose the safe and better rated self-catering cottages or B&Bs. Usually, 80% of the accommodations are already booked a couple of weeks before during the peak season. Check out booking.com for the best rates and read the recommendations first. Bookmark the link for the lowest prices. The following three are some of our favourite ones. If you click on the picture above you get to our last accommodation close to Cape Town in Hout Bay on Mount Bay in summer 2020. The view was fantastic, the sunrise spectacular, and even a gas BBQ was available.
- A Boat House (8-minute walk from the beach): Incredible staff and host, stunning view, great breakfast, great pool, spacious room with detailed touches, beautiful location. Amazing value! We say: A++
- Rocklands Seaside Bed and Breakfast (excellent location): Lovely and accommodating hosts. Comfortable and of top class. Delicious breakfast and a view to die for! One of the best places you can stay in the Cape.
- Alternatives (incl. budget tips): Penguin Colony | B&B - Lodges: Enter your preferred dates and then check the list of hotels. Make sure to change the search criteria to your liking at the top bar. We usually select 'Review Score & Price'.
More information about the whole region: Table Mountain National Park. An excellent guidebook which is very captivating and extremely helpful in orienting yourself within the city and the area:
Video by Paul Brown