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Top 5 spots to glimpse penguins in South Africa


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Typically when you think of a  penguin, your mind jumps to the quintessential image of a black and white flightless bird, waddling around in the snow and ice of Antarctica. South Africa, on the other hand, draws to mind images of immense game reserves and safari animals. Many would not associate the two.

Yet, the south-west coast of Africa is home to one species that has adjusted to the continent’s warmer climates – the endangered African penguin. Otherwise known as jackass penguins due to their donkey-like bray, there are only around 25,000 breeding pairs of these comical, endearing creatures left in the world. Yet, they know how to pull in the crowds and spectators readily enjoy watching them dive in the ocean searching for fish, bodyboarding back out on to the coast and dawdling around on the rocky shores.

So, where are the best places to witness African penguins in their day-to-day lives?

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1. Boulders Beach

Located near Simon’s Town – an easy 50-minute drive from Cape Town – Boulders Beach is the most renowned place to see Africa’s only penguin species, being home to between 2,000 and 3,000 of them. Here, you can even get in the water with them, providing you keep your distance as they can nip! Nevertheless, they are best seen from the wheelchair-friendly boardwalks that snake along the coast, through the dunes and vegetation, to nearby Foxy Beach. These boardwalks were not only installed to facilitate viewing and accessibility but to protect nesting penguins and their young.

The beach is an all-around great day out alongside a great location for penguin-watching. There are rock pools to paddle in, many places to picnic, and the Boulders Beach Visitors Centre where you can learn plenty about the area’s feathered inhabitants.

2. Stoney Point

Although often overshadowed by the famous Boulders Beach, Stoney Point Nature Reserve is arguably the best place to view African Penguins. Like Boulders Beach, it is home to one of the largest successful breeding colonies and has a wooden walkway for observing the birds, but benefits from much fewer tourists.

This nature reserve is found in the charming coastal town of Betty’s Bay, which is in the Overberg, an hour and 20 minutes from Cape Town. Stopping here could be a pleasant break of the journey to Hermanus, which is a great location for whale watching, or Gansbaai, which is a hotspot for shark cage diving.

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3. Robben Island

Robben Island may be best known for being where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years, but the island is also a top penguin-spotting location. It is considered the best place to go if you want to view penguins in their natural breeding environment, as Boulders Beach and Stoney Point are not typical African penguin habitat. You will also see an array of other African seabirds, notably African black oystercatchers, sacred ibis and bank cormorants, meaning that you can truly make a trip to Robben Island a worthwhile visit.

From Cape Town, the island is a simple 30-minute ferry journey, worth the history and the bird viewing.

4. Dyer Island

Dyer Island, located in Gansbaai, is another popular location to view offshore colonies of the jackass penguin. Viewing is typically done from a boat, usually as part of a shark or whale spotting excursion, because of the extraordinary conservation efforts on the island.

Having been victim to egg harvesting and guano (dropping) removal in the past, the colony is heavily protected. Penguins use guano to nest, so conservation experts have developed initiatives such as fibreglass nests to replicate their natural nesting burrows. This considered Dyer Island is undoubtedly the best place to go if you are interested in and support penguin conservation.

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4. St. Croix Island

Just like Dyer Island, St. Croix Island has suffered penguin turmoil and great population loss in the past. Nevertheless, you will find the largest breeding colony of the species here. If you want to see penguin chicks, this is the place to be between March and May – breeding season. However, you will only be able to view the birds from a boat because access is not possible on foot.

Unlike the locations mentioned above, St. Croix Island is not found near to Cape Town. It is in fact located near Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape, and is the opposite end of the remarkable Garden Route.

To see African Penguins on your next trip to South Africa take a look at the variety of South African Penguin Tours offered by

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