Boulders Beach is situated False Bay, just outside Simon’s Town, on the way to Cape Point. It is a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders.  The big round granite boulders are 540 million years old and provide some shade and shelter the cove from currents, wind, and large waves. Boulders Beach forms part of the Table Mountain National Park and is home to a colony of thousands of African penguins. In fact, the beautiful Boulders Beach is one of Cape Town’s most visited beaches and the only place in the world where you get close to African Penguins. Every year, over 60 000 visitors flock to Simon’s Town to photograph and watch the famous Boulders Beach Penguins.

African Penguins

african penguins

African penguins are formerly known as jackass penguins because of their distinctive donkey-like braying sounds to communicate. These penguins are the only penguins found on the continent. African penguins are flightless like all extant penguins. They have a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat. They are covered in dense, waterproof feathers which keep dry and insulated in cold water.  Their body upperparts are black and sharply delineated from the white underparts, which are spotted and marked with a black band. They also have distinctive pink patches of skin above the eyes and a black facial mask. The pink gland above their eyes helps them to cope with changing temperatures.  These penguins are pursuit divers and feed primarily on fish and squid. And they usually breed during the African winter when temperatures are lower.

In Boulders Beach, you should be able to see the penguins throughout the year. However, the birds spend much of September and October feeding out at sea, so the number of penguins on the beach at this time of year is lower. During the mating season which is from December to February is the best time to view the birds and their natural behavior.

Endangered Species

boulders beach

The story of this penguin colony in Cape Town started in 1983 when a pair was spotted on Foxy Beach at Boulders. They came to False Bay from Dyer Island. False Bay at that time was closed to commercial fishing so they had abundant food and breeding sites. Their population then grew. But over the years, their population declined due to things like over-fishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and irresponsible tourism activities. Today, these African Penguins have been classified as endangered species.

Boardwalks were then built as a measure to allow for viewing of the birds, whilst keeping them safe. There are wooden walkways above the beach where the penguins can be seen in their nests in the bush undergrowth. The walkways also lead down to a viewing platform at Foxy Beach, which is the most populous part of the colony.

Other Things to Do in Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach isn’t just a great place for penguins, it’s also a popular family-friendly swimming beach. Whilst tourists cannot go onto the beach at the colony itself, the adjoining section of pristine white sand and crystal clear water at Boulders Beach is great for swimming and snorkeling between the rocks as numerous penguins jump in and out of the water and swim playfully around you. It is also a great place for a leisurely picnic with the family. Visitors can also check the information center at the entrance to Boulders Beach to find out more about the penguins, including their conservation, breeding habits and their general history in Simon’s Town.

penguins at boulders beach

Important notices from SANParks

  1. Conservation fee: R60 for adults; and R30 for children under the age of 12.
  2. Boulders is a safe beach, with rangers on patrol each day.
  3. Do NOT feed the penguins or come too close. While they may look cute, they’re still wild animals.
  4. Parking is limited, especially during peak Summer, so come early
  5. Alcohol and smoking prohibited
  6. No vessels are allowed, including canoes and kayaks
  7. Because it’s part of the Marine Protected Area, it is a no-take zone, which means no marine life may be removed.

How to Get to Boulders Beach

There are a couple of routes you can take to get there: First, around the mountain via the Southern Suburbs, and leafy Bishops Court, past the Constantia Valley to Kalk Bay, then along the coast to Simon’s Town. Second, from Camps Bay via Hout Bay, along Chapman’s Peak drive, past Noordhoek and Kommetjie. Third, is through public transport. Catch a train from Cape Town Station all the way to Simon’s Town. The train runs along the Kalk Bay coastline. Boulders Beach is about two kilometers from Simon’s Town train station. You can either take the 30 or so minute walk through the historic little naval town or catch a taxi.