While I was putting together our South Africa itinerary, I came across Boulders Beach as the most popular place to go penguin spotting. Yet there were also quite a few people who said the reserve is touristy and overpriced, so I looked for an alternative as well.
That brought me to the Stony Point penguin colony at Betty's Bay. Just like Boulders Beach, the Betty's Bay penguins could be found along our South Africa route anyway and so we decided to visit both.
Visiting the Boulders Beach penguins
We arrived at Boulders Beach a little before noon and parked our car in the designated parking lot. A friendly parking guy welcomed us, making sure we knew he was there and expecting some change when we'd pick up our car later.
People were making music, singing, and selling things to the tourists passing by.
On the opposite corner of the parking lot, there was a cute little cafe. We could both use some caffeine and so we took a break at Cafe Penguino (18 Kleintuin Rd, Simon's Town, Cape Town) before following the road to the penguin beach.
The penguin colony at Boulders Beach was “founded” when two breeding pairs settled there in 1982 and because African penguins are threatened by extinction, the beach is now under the protection of the Cape Nature Conservation (CNP).
The Boulders Penguin colony is also protected by nature itself, as the beach is separated by bush from the road and residential area behind it. On top of that, the 540 million-year-old granite boulders that gave the beach its name, provide plenty of shelter for the birds.
While the penguins can roam freely at the boulder beach, you can't. Not where you go through the main entry gate, anyway. There are wooden walkways you should stay on that bring you super close to the animals – but don't touch!
You won't just see them on the beach either, but also in the bush where the CNP provided them with plastic shelters for nesting.
When you're done taking way too many photos and you've walked all the walkways, don't return to your car just yet. To your left when exiting the main entrance, there's another small walkway going through the bush. If you follow that, you'll get to Foxy Beach and you'll get to see much more black and white popping out of the green along the way.
There's a little cabin where you need to pay an entrance fee at Foxy Beach and as it just seemed like a small beach where people would go to sunbathe, we didn't get on it. I only learned later, while doing a bit more research for this post, that you can actually get in with your Boulders Beach ticket.
And why would you do that? Because you can sunbathe with the penguins there!
Now, September and October (when we visited) are apparently the months the penguins spend a lot of time at sea to feed, which is probably why we only saw them from the wooden walkways and not at Foxy Beach. If you go another time, though, you might get lucky and get to hang with them.
Just make sure you don't
- get too close to them.
- bother them.
- feed them.
- bring alcohol, cigarettes or vessels like a canoe or a kayak onto the beach.
- take anything from the beach.
Practical information Boulders Beach
Where is Boulders Beach?
Boulders Beach is a part of Simon's Town, which is located on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula at False Bay.
How far is it from Cape Town to Boulders Beach?
It's about a 50-minute drive from the center of Cape Town along nice big roads. The trip can be a bit longer or shorter depending on traffic and where in Cape Town you're coming from.
What is the best time to visit Boulders Beach?
You can see penguins all year round at Boulders Beach. Apparently, they're much more out at sea to feed in September and October, but we were there beginning of September and still got to see plenty of them.
South African summer (November – April) is obviously a better (read: warmer) time if you want to go sunbathing, but I read it can get way too crowded then. When we were there, there were other people, but nobody got in anybody's way.
What is the Boulders Beach entrance fee?
It's R65 for adults and R35 for kids, which is about €4/€2 or $4.8/$2.5 at the time of writing.
Visiting the Betty's Bay penguins
Betty's Bay Stony Point also has a large parking lot with parking “security”, but when we got there it was much calmer than it was at Boulders Beach. It might have been the time of the year or the fact that Stony Point is a bit further away from Cape Town than Boulders Beach – who knows.
The parking lot is located next to an area where fishermen would bring captured whales on land and there are some information plates explaining what happened where. There's also a restaurant but that didn't look too inviting.
When you pass those (it's only a few meters), you'll walk onto a wooden walkway that leads to the entrance of Betty's Bay nature reserve. There's an entrance fee here as well, but it's smaller than at Boulders Beach.
Here too there's a wooden walkway that you have to stay on when walking amidst the penguins. There weren't as many here as there were at Boulders Beach, but there were still a lot.
The penguins in Betty's Bay also have man-made shelters they can use for nesting, but there's not as separated from the human world as their beach stops where a row of houses starts. For me, this made the beach a bit less pretty.
When you've walked the walkways, there's not much else to do – not that we noticed, at least – and so we headed back to our car to drive on to our next destination. Now, there are some beaches for people in the vicinity, but there's not really a path that takes you from the reserve to another cool spot.
Practical information Stony Point
Where is the Stony Point Nature Reserve?
Stony Point is located at Betty's Bay, east of False Bay.
How far is it from Cape Town to Betty's Bay?
About 1h30mins by car, depending on traffic and where in Cape Town you're coming from.
What is the best time to visit Stony Point?
Just like at Boulders Beach, you can see the Betty's Bay penguins all year round.
What is the Stony Point penguin colony entrance fee?
It's only R10, which is about €0.62/$0.74 at the time of writing.
!IMPORTANT: you can only pay cash here
Boulders Beach or Betty's Bay: which one is better?
If you're only staying around Cape Town and not driving east, or if you really only have time for one, I'd say go to Boulders Beach.
Yes, it's better-known. Yes, it'll probably be crowded in high season, but I'm really happy we visited and overall I thought it was a nicer place than Stony Point. Prettier, with more things to do and some cute cafes nearby.
However, if you're doing a South Africa road trip like we did and you plan to head east from Cape Town, I suggest you visit both. The drive on the R44, around the peninsula Betty's Bay is located on, is well worth the little detour and a visit to Stony Point will take an hour tops. For the change it costs to get in, visiting both won't harm your budget that much either.
And that's it! If you were wondering where to see penguins in South Africa, Betty's Bay and Boulders Beach are to good spots.