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Boulders Beach Tour | Visit Penguins in Cape Town

penguin standing underneath boulders

‘Boulders’ as it is affectionately known, is the best beach in Cape Town to see and photograph African penguins. Visit the land-based African penguin colony all year round for a natural wildlife experience. Traveling for the first time to Cape Town on your own, with a friend, or as a family? A Boulders Beach tour during a full day exploring the Cape Peninsula should be second on your itinerary after a ride on the cableway up Table Mountain.

Boulders penguins enjoy an extended breeding season. Visit from March through to May to witness laying, incubating, and the hatching of eggs. African penguins have monogamous relationships (choosing one partner for life) and will take turns to forage or stay behind to incubate the egg.

These cute couples will return to the same breeding site which is often a burrow hardened by guano (bird poo). How romantic!

Read our recommendations for a solo trip or hire a Cape Town Tour Guide for your Boulders Beach tour.

Boulders Beach Penguins

African penguins are flightless birds that are well adapted to a life at sea. A colony of over 2000 penguins has grown from two breeding pairs arriving in Simon’s Town in 1982. The penguins at Boulders Beach came from Dyer Island (South East of Cape Town) and found refuge on the sand dunes amongst the granite boulders.

African penguins are found in 28 colonies across Namibia and South Africa on islands off the coast. Betty’s Bay and Boulders Beach are the only two land-based colonies offering a protected natural environment for the penguins.

penguin mating couple showing affection

Waddling along the beach you will notice the penguins prefer flat sandy areas. They forage for food alone or in groups in the ocean and are known to travel up to 60km away from the colony. The African penguins diet consists of primarily anchovies and sardines but can also include squid and small crustaceans.

Boulders Penguin Colony

The African penguins at Boulders Beach in Cape Town are endangered and appear on the IUCN Red List. Your ticket purchase gives you access to elevated boardwalks to experience African penguins in a natural setting while the colony remains protected.

view from the second boardwalk at boulders beach

African penguin eggs require incubating for the first 15 days and are especially vulnerable up until 30 days old. The parents forage from 30 days, leaving the chicks in groups of 50 or more known as a creche. The chicks rely on regurgitated food from the parent until the age of 90 days. The age coincides with a second malting of the juveniles’ feathers allowing them to enter the water.

This change increases insulation from the cold and improves waterproofing. They return to malt at the same colony after 12-22 months with their adult plumage. In preparation for malting, penguins increase their intake of food and gain 30% in body weight. See penguins at the Boulders Beach colony all year round with the most activity around the burrows taking place at dusk and dawn.

malting juvenile penguin flapping wings

Boulders Beach Hours

Open from 8 AM (7 AM in December and January) we recommend visiting in the morning or evening when the penguins at Boulders Beach are most active on the beach. The penguins often swim during midday in the 58℉ (15℃) water for relief from the strong sun.

Boulders Beach entrance closes at different times depending on the month and stays open in December and January until 7:30 PM. It closes at 6:30 PM during the months of February, March, October, and November. The earliest closing times are from April through to September when the visitor center is only open until 5 PM.

Colony of penguins on Boulders Beach in Simons Town

Boulders Beach Entrance Fee

African penguins in Cape Town are a protected species located across 28 colonies. Tickets purchased at the Boulders Beach visitor center benefit the conservation of the land-based colony. Tickets are $10 (R152) for adults and $5 (R76) for children. South African residents can bring identification to receive a reduced rate of $2.70 (R39) for adults and $1.30 (R20) for children.

Once through the turnstile you will have access to two wooden boardwalks each adorned with information. The walkways create less impact on the habitat and allow for great pictures of the beach dotted with penguins. Tour guides should be organized a day in advance and are not available for hire at Boulders Beach.

tourist taking a photo of penguins using a phone

Best Boulders Beach Weather

Cape Town is part of the Western Cape and experiences a Mediterranean climate. The hot dry summers and cold wet winters are the opposite of South Africa’s climate. Visiting early in the morning will allow for the best light. Try to arrange your tour for a morning with clear skies by checking Simon’s Town’s weather forecast.

Boulders Beach is one mile from Simons Town which has great Hotels, Restaurants, and a Naval Museum which is located at the original dockyard. Look across the Atlantic Ocean to the sun rising over the Hottentots Holland mountain in the east. The driest time to visit is January and the wettest month is June. The summer temperature reaches maximum averages of 73℉ (23℃). The winter temperatures average maximums of 66℉ (19℃).

View of Simon's Town harbour

Getting to the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony

Solo trips are made easy by access to Uber, Public Bus, and Taxi. Train trips from Cape Town to Simon’s Town unfortunately only reach as far as Fish Hoek since sand has covered the Simon’s Town tracks. Following the scenic coastal route, the drive from Cape Town will take an hour.

Private half-day and full-day tours visit Boulders Beach with a Cape Town tour guide on board. Including a guide for your trip is affordable and comes highly recommended for first-time visitors. The cultural and historical sites are plentiful with the first dockyard established in Simon’s Town in 1743.

metro rail train on tracks along false bay

Tip: Swim at the public beaches near-by for a chance to be in the water with penguins.

Finished with your tour and want to see more? Leave the visitor center and take the wooded path to your left. Once you reach the car park, access a walking coastal path through a knee-high gate. The path will bring you closer to the water’s edge where you are able to swim. Penguins are wild creatures so it is best not to disturb them and appreciate the magnificent birds from a safe distance.

close up of penguins eye showing pink skin

Finally Time to Choose a Boulders Beach Tour

January appears to be the best time to visit Boulders Beach when considering the earlier opening times and the return of mating pairs. Whether you choose to visit the penguins in Cape Town on your own or hire a private guide for the day, you are guaranteed to experience African penguins in a protected natural environment.

Enjoy the sight of the flightless birds waddling over the beach before swimming in the sea yourself. Remember the African penguins are a wild and endangered species so do not disturb them.

If you can afford it, leave Cape Town on a helicopter ride over Boulders Beach towards Cape Point to get an amazing aerial perspective of the Cape Peninsula.

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