Cape Town and the Western Cape of South Africa is better known for its beaches than for its wildlife, but Boulders Beach attracts thousands of visitors each year and it has nothing to do with surfing. Located 45 minutes from the center of Cape Town, this series of boulder-strewn coves in Boulders Bay has been home to a colony of African penguins since 1982. They’re also known as “jackass penguins” but that feels a bit disrespectful, so we’ll stick with “African penguins”. At the moment, there are over 3,000 of these little guys on/around Boulders, and if you find yourself in Cape Town, it doesn’t take much time or effort to pay them a visit.
Boulders is located just outside the center of Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula. If you’re coming from Cape Town, you’ll drive south on the M3 before getting on the M4 off of which the beach is located. The drive is only about 45 minutes in total, and the parking area is clearly marked just after passing through Simon’s Town. It makes for a good pit stop on the way to Cape Point, which is located another 30 minutes further south. From the parking area, you can walk to the entrance where you pay the R65 entry fee to the “Boulders” area which is managed by Table Mountain National Park. From there, there is a series of boardwalks that takes you right down to the beach, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by penguins. Although this is the Boulders section of Table Mountain National Park, the beach that is accessed by the boardwalks where most of the penguins like to hang out is actually called Foxy Beach. Boulders Beach itself is only a short walk from Foxy Beach, but it is more popular as a swimming place for humans than it is for penguins. Regardless, everyone just refers to the area as Boulders or Boulders Beach.
We’ve been told that the best time to visit Boulders is in January and that there are far fewer penguins during September-October because they spend more time out at sea. Well…we visited in September, and there was no shortage of penguins. From the minute we set foot on the boardwalk, there were penguins in all directions. Before we even caught a glimpse of the beach, there were penguins hanging out in the bushes by our feet.
The boardwalk winds through the bushes and rocks before reaching Foxy Beach where we were greeted by hundreds of penguins. Some were lounging on the rocks, others were swimming around with one another, and some just waddled around. Just a bunch of penguins doing penguin things. We could have watched these little guys for hours.
There are two main lookout spots on the boardwalk on Foxy Beach; however, you’re unfortunately not permitted to walk on this particular beach. It wasn’t much of a disappointment since we weren’t exactly far away from the penguins. Despite being confined to the boardwalk, we were close enough to easily reach out and touch them (which we didn’t do because that’s frowned upon and we wanted to keep all of our fingers).
Boulders Beach itself is a short walk from Foxy Beach; however, when we were there it was A) too cold to swim, and B) penguin-less. Either way, we managed to have fun climbing around on the boulders, and it’s a picturesque beach with or without penguins. Apparently, visitors in the summer often have the good fortune of sharing the water with the penguins, but in far smaller groups than what you’ll see at the neighboring Foxy Beach.
Although somewhat touristy, we loved Boulders. There are few places in the world where you can have this type of close-up encounter with so many penguins and there’s nowhere else in the world where you can consistently see such large numbers of African penguins. They are now considered an endangered species, and only about 55,000 are left. Cape Town has numerous attractions, but Boulders is easily one of the best.
If you like penguins, then you probably like puffins too. Check out where to see puffins in Maine.