How To Swim With Penguins at Boulder Beach

When we booked our trip to Cape Town, South Africa, seeing the penguins at Boulder Beach was at the top of my list. However, when I began researching how to get on the beach with the penguins, the information wasn’t as clear. So, in this guide, I am giving you step-by-step instructions on how to reach the secret beach to swim with penguins!

Before I tell you exactly how to see them, it is important that you know:

  • These are wild animals, and they do bite
  • Do NOT Touch them
  • Be respectful and give them space

By following these basic guidelines, we can all continue to enjoy up-close experiences with these endangered South African Penguins.

Samantha Oppenheimer with Penguins at Boulder Beach
South African penguins swim at Boulder Beach
Detailed Guide to Boulder Beach Penguins
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Getting to Boulder Beach

Also known as Penguin Beach, Boulders Beach is located in Simon’s Town, about 40 minutes South of Cape Town. There are three main ways to reach the beach.

By Car: This is one of the easiest ways to reach Boulder Beach while giving yourself flexibility. Remember to not leave ANYTHING in your car, as car break-ins are very common. Additionally, you need to make sure penguins are not under your car before leaving the parking lot.

Uber or Driver: If you didn’t rent a car, you can hire a driver or take an Uber. We took an Uber, and it was very easy. The trip cost us around ZAR655, which is equivalent to about $35 dollars. By doing this, we didn’t have to worry about driving on the left side of the road.

Tour: There are also tours that will bring you to Boulder Beach and many times include some additional attractions. The only issue you may run into is that the tour doesn’t allow enough time to actually make it to Middle Beach to swim with the penguins.

South African Penguins Swim at Boulder Beach

Quick Guide to Reach the Penguin Beach

Boulder Beach has two entrances and several beaches. The beach you want to visit to get up close to penguins is Middle Beach. While both entrances reach Middle Beach, the best option is to enter at the Bellevue Road entrance, just past the main Visitors Center.

In the screenshot below, I show you where to park and the exact walking path you need to take to see the penguins.

Insider Tip: If you are driving your own car, this parking lot can fill up fast, so try to come early.

Boulder Beach Map to swim with Penguins
Map with guidelines to get to Middle Beach, where you can swim with Penguins

Next, you will walk up to the entrance booth, where you will need to pay to get onto the beach. For International tourists, this is R 190.00 per person. Make sure to hold onto your receipt (more on that later). Take a very short walk down the path until you reach the beach.

You will see the stretch of beach continues on your left-hand side. Follow it down for about 2-3 minutes until you see some boulders. You will want to crawl under this boulder and then over another.

The entrance to Boulder Beach with children running in the water
The entrance of Boulder Beach – follow the red path

This is not too difficult to do, but it is BEST to visit at low tide! Once the tide starts to rise, you will have to walk in the ocean to go up and under.

After you have crawled under one boulder and climbed up some small boulders, you will see that the beach has opened up. Welcome to Middle Beach! Now you can enjoy posing and swimming with penguins!

It is important to know that the amount of penguins, if any, is not guaranteed, as they are wild animals. We were lucky to see a handful during our visit, but none were in the water when we came.

Samantha walking up to the Boulder to crawl under
Crawl under this boulder
Samantha under the Boulder to reach the beach with penguins
Samantha and Alex with Penguins and boulders behind them
Close up of Penguins

What Else is There to Do at Boulder Beach

Boulder Beach is a very popular beach in general, and it is not just because there are penguins. You can easily spend all day here enjoying the beautiful South African weather. We easily spent a couple of hours.

Samantha walking on Boulder Beach in red bikini with boulder and water
Samantha squatting down next to 5 penguins near a boulder

I also recommend strolling down the boardwalk to the Visitor’s Center. If you walk back up from the beach, you will see the boardwalk to your right. The path is scenic and takes about 5 minutes or so to walk, and this is where you will be able to see larger groups of penguins.

Samantha walking along the boardwalk to the visitors center with greenery on either side
The boardwalk to the Visitor Center
Samantha looking through a telescope on the boardwalk
boardwalk telescope and view

Just show the attendant your entrance receipt, and they will let you in. Down the boardwalk, you will find a lot more information about the penguins, as this area is dedicated to them. This is Foxy Beach and it’s protected, so you can only view them from the boardwalk, but in my opinion, it is worth it! We also saw a baby seal on the sand. They also have a gift shop, bathrooms, and snacks.

You can even consider a kayak tour after enjoying the beach. We saw a whole group out on the water enjoying the view of the penguins, and I thought it was a pretty cool experience.

Large Colony of South African Penguins at Foxy Beach
Large Colony of South African Penguins at Foxy Beach
Nesting Penguins on the beach
Nesting Penguins on the beach

Tips For Visiting

Now that you know all the exciting information, here is the practical information that will help you further plan your trip to swim with the penguins at Boulder Beach.

Firstly, the opening hours are:

  • Dec – Jan: 7 AM – 7:30 PM
  • April – Sept: 8 AM – 5 PM
  • Feb – March; Oct – Nov: 8 AM – 6:30 PM

Boulder Beach is a part of the South African National Parks (SANParks), and the boardwalk is handicap accessible, but not Middle Beach. None of the beach areas have a lifeguard, so it’s swimming at your own risk.

Boulder Beach Bay ocean view with mountains in the distance - South Africa Travel Guide
Views from Boulder Beach of False Bay

The best time to see South African penguins on the beach is before they start moulting, which is around November and peaks in December. The only thing about moulting, is that they can look a little funny as they grow in their new feathers.

February – August is when they begin mating and nesting, so you will see colonies on the beach with their eggs, making this one of the best times to come! We actually still saw nesting mothers on the beach at the end of November, but I am sure the numbers are much larger during the actual mating months.

When paying, you can use a credit card (Visa or Mastercard). They offer free entry for those carrying a Wild Card. If you are South African, there is a discount as well, but you need to show identification.

Additionally, make sure to check the tides! Low tide is the best because once the tide gets too high, the beach may not be accessible.

Things NOT to do:

  • Harass the penguins, walk into their nesting area, or any fenced-off area.
  • Don’t take shells, sand, or marine life.
  • No Fishing.
  • Boats are not allowed to land on the beach.
Close up of a South African Penguin standing between two boulders

Things to Pack With You

Since you’re coming to see the penguins, I can imagine you want to take photos, so make sure to come with a fully charged phone and camera. I would also recommend a portable battery pack.

Additional Items to bring:

  • Reef-safe Sunscreen
  • Towels
  • Snacks if you plan to picnic (popular to do)
  • Sunglasses
  • Beach hat – I had to buy one at the visitor’s center because my head was so sunburned.
  • Water
  • A beach bag to hold it all
Samantha sitting on the ground with a water bottle and penguin in the background

Additional Things to Do in the Area

This will be more applicable if you drive to Boulder Beach. My original plan was to drive, but then I just didn’t feel comfortable driving on the opposite side of the road (left). But I had planned a whole route out for the day, and I am happy to share it with you.

  • Muizenberg Beach – The colorful beach huts
  • St. James Beach – Less touristy with colorful beach huts and a really lively area. When we passed it in the Uber, I wish we had time to stop and explore.
  • Boulder Beach
  • New Cape Point Lighthouse – beautiful vista and opportunities to see monkeys and wild ostriches.
Google Map Screen Shot of a Day Trip from Cape Town to Boulder Beach
Google Map Screen Shot of a Day Trip from Cape Town to Boulder Beach

Fun Facts About the Boulder Beach South African Penguins

Since I have a feeling you love penguins just as much as I do, I want to leave you with some fun facts.

  • There are over 2,000 penguins in the colony.
  • False Bay is an important feeding ground for them, where they enjoy anchovies and pilchards.
  • The penguins used to be called the Jackass penguin for their doney-like call.
  • They are able to swim up to 20 km/hr when chasing fish
  • When South African Penguins moult, they are stuck on land for 21 days without eating. The second their new feathers are ready, they jet out to sea to eat.
  • Common enemies of South African Penguins include Cape Fur Seals, Sharks, mongooses, Kelp Gulls, and Orcas.
  • The Granite Boulders they call home are believed to be 540 million years old.
  • Only 10% of their original population is believed to be left, making them endangered.
Waves crashing at boulder beach with penguins by the water
four penguins relaxing in the shade of a boulder

Swimming With Penguins in South Africa Wrap-up

There you have it, everything you need to know about visiting the penguins in South Africa. If you have any questions or noticed something has changed, please let me know in the comments below! I will also have a ton of new guides covering South Africa and Safari, but if you don’t see them yet and have questions, feel free to reach out.

Did you find this Boulder Beach Penguin guide helpful? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

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