Get to know the African penguins at Boulders Beach

Cape Town, South Africa


Boulders Beach near Simon's Town in Cape Town, South Africa has a lot going for it: Because it falls under the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, the beach is always clean and safe, and it is rarely crowded.

Did I mention the penguins? The soft white sand and warm (ish) waters are not the only reasons why 60 000 visitors make their way along the coast, past Simon's Town, to Boulders Beach. The local inhabitants - and I'm talking about the little tuxedoed chaps here - know how to pull the crowds.

African Penguins - formerly known as Jackass Penguins because of their distinctive braying - are the only penguins found on the continent. Colonies can be found from southern Namibia to the South African coast to Port Elizabeth; however, few places offer remarkable viewing at Boulders Beach.

When the penguins first came to False Bay in 1983 from Dyer Island, which is near Gansbaai, there was much for them to eat and the colony grew rapidly. In recent years, however, commercial fishing, marine pollution and habitat destruction have negatively affected the size of the colony. In 1910, it was estimated that there were approximately one-and-a-half million African Penguins; a century later, the aquatic bird was classified as an endangered species. 26 000 breeding pairs left in the whole world!

While Boulders Beach is a great place to set up camp for the day - you will be good for climbing on the rocks and poolside - it is not really the best area for viewing the penguins. For this, there are three wheelchair-friendly boards that make their way through the dunes and around Foxy Beach. If you want to get up close and personal with the penguins - just not too close because those beaks are razor sharp! - Foxy Beach is your best bet. At the Boulders Visitors Center, you'll find information about the penguins and knowledgeable guides.

While Boulders is obviously more attractive to a destination during the summer months, you should be able to see the penguins throughout the year. However, the birds do spend most of September and October feeding on the beach. For a real treat, try to visit in January when the juvenile birds are moulting on the beach. If it's snapshots you're after - who doesn't want a selfie with these snappy dressers? - visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon.