Swimming with Penguins at Boulders Beach near Cape Town

South Africa, Western Cape Province, penguins on beach
Frans Lemmens/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Swimming with penguins at Boulders Beach on the Cape Peninsula, near Cape Town, is a real thrill. A small public beach is set apart from the main penguin colony that resides here (on Foxy Beach), but that doesn't stop the penguins from sitting on your beach towel or darting around your legs while you take a refreshing dip in the Ocean. Penguins like to walk about and generally ignore fences. A boardwalk has been built around the dunes so you can get a great close-up look at the entire colony eating, breeding, preening, swimming, and chatting away.

Isn't the Water Freezing?

The water is "refreshing" and there will be plenty of people paddling in the ocean during the summer months. Boulders Beach is on the False Bay coast and it's a little warmer than some of the other popular beaches around Cape Town. You can always rent a wetsuit and bring it down.

What Kind of Penguins Are They?

The penguins at Boulders Beach used to be called Jackass Penguins because of their distinctive mating call that sounds like a braying donkey. Because several South American penguins apparently make the same noise, their name was changed to African Penguins. The penguins have also been called Black-footed penguins. Their latin name Spheniscus demersus has remained constant.

African penguins are small black and white penguins and the adults will come up to about your knee in height. Their coloring works to camouflage them from predators. Their black backs make it difficult to spot the penguin from above while they're swimming, and their white bellies make it difficult to see them from below if predators are looking up toward the surface of the ocean. The penguins swim incredibly fast (reaching speeds of 15 mph or 24 kmph) and it looks like they're flying under water.

But once you see them waddle on land, it's hard not to suppress a giggle. If you're visiting the penguins in November or December, excuse their raggedy appearance, but that's peak molting time. More scientific facts about African Penguins

Can You Touch the Penguins?

It's forbidden to touch the penguins, or feed them, but it's easy to get just a few feet away from them. These are wild penguins and they can get quite grumpy especially when protecting their eggs. The official brochure warns you "Penguins have very sharp beaks and can cause serious injury if they bite or lunge". When visiting Boulders Beach in May, you'll see penguins sitting on their eggs everywhere you look.

Does It Smell?

Some people complain about the odor when they visit the penguins at Boulders Beach, but most don't find it bad at all. The odor isn't surprising since there are approximately 3000 of these birds in a relatively small area, going about (and doing) their business.

How Much Does It Cost and When Is It Open?

The admission fee to see the penguin colony and access the swimming beach is just R25 per adult and R5 for children. It is open year round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How Do I Get to Boulders Beach?

Renting a car and driving down the coast from Cape Town is one of the best things to do when you're visiting. Boulders Beach is right on the scenic Cape Peninsula route. Getting to Boulders Beach doesn't take more than 45 minutes drive or so from the center of Cape Town. Make sure you take Chapman's Peak Road for spectacular views, either on the way there or back to Cape Town.

Almost every tour going along the Cape Peninsula route will make a stop at Boulders Beach. You can book day tours though your hotel, or the very efficient Tourist Information office on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

You can take a commuter train from Cape Town to Simon's Town and catch a taxi from the train station to Boulders Beach, it's just under 2 miles (3 k.m.).

What About Lunch?

You can bring a sandwich down to the public beach, eat right above the penguin colony at the fancy Boulders Beach Lodge, or hop over to nearby Simon's Town and enjoy a nice cold glass of white wine overlooking the Ocean. This whole area is absolutely beautiful and there are some great art galleries nearby to snoop around in, which many prefer to some of the more touristy shops in Cape Town. Muizenberg and Kalk Bay just north of Simon's Town, are also worth stopping at and checking out.