Urban safari: wildlife in Cape Town

by karenwebber

Cape Town boasts its own Big Five to rival those of the South African bush. Baboons, dassies, penguins, seals and even Great White sharks can be seen in and around the city boundaries

Spotting the Big Five while on safari is a priority for most people visiting South Africa. However, you can encounter some pretty interesting local animals without even leaving the boundaries of Cape Town. Here's where to go to spot these locals.


Boulders Beach is the most obvious place to see a colony of African penguins in their natural habitat. These little dudes have led a carefree life here for nearly three decades, and you can check out their escapades from the wooden walkways. There are nearly 3,000 now living here. You can see them without paying an entry fee, but if you want to get up close and personal – and swim at Boulders Beach – it costs about £2 for adults and less than £1 for children. Boulders Beach is situated near the historical Simon's Town and is also conveniently located for a visit to the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve, where you can watch oceans collide at Cape Point.


It is not guaranteed that you will see these cheeky ancestors of ours on your way up to Table Mountain, but it's likely that you will. Other places where you can spot these chacma baboons include the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve as well as in the area of Kommetjie, where a troop resides on the Slangkop mountain. Tourists are warned that baboons are dangerous and that they should keep a safe distance. You should hide food from their view and never offer it to them.


The rock hyrax is known in South Africa as a dassie. They measure about 50cm and resemble a guinea pig or rabbit – but are, weirdly, the closest living relative to the elephant in anatomical terms. Lots of dassies are to be found on top of Table Mountain and there is even a Dassie Walk that visitors can take. While this particular route doesn't guarantee you the best chances of spotting some of these creatures, it will offer you fantastic views to the north, south and west.

Cape fur seals

The V&A Waterfront offers probably the best shopping in Cape Town, as well as chic restaurants, local art and a booming nightlife. What a surprise, then, that this tourist destination is also home to a colony of Cape fur seals. You can take the perfect holiday snapshot of these beasts – which can grow to over 2m in length and weigh in excess of 300kg – in the Clock Tower Precinct of the harbour. The seals often chill out next to the original Bertie's Landing restaurant.

Great white sharks

This is not for the faint-hearted. Cape Town's False Bay is famous for its enormous Great white sharks. The beasts feed on seals from the Rob Eiland (literally Seal Island) colony, and several operators offer daily excursions with the option of shark-cage diving. This adventure involves being lowered into the heart of Great White territory in a floating cage, to look into the steely eyes of one of these monstrous predators. This meeting with Jaws is optional, though; the not-so-brave can stay safely on board and just admire the many seals or – if they are lucky – perhaps spot some dolphins or a Great White breaching in the waters to capture its next snack.

Other wildlife

Visitors to Cape Town have many more opportunities for wildlife-spotting. There is the Cape Town Aquarium, conveniently located at the V&A Waterfront, which is home to more than 3,000 living sea animals. Those who don't want to venture out on to the ocean to see sharks can see them here, and the aquarium offers visitors the chance to swim with ragged-tooth sharks. You will need an Open Water One or Discover Scuba qualification to do this. Entry costs 85 rand for adults (about £5), 40 rand for children aged four-13, while under-fours go free; pensioners and students pay 65 rand.

Le Bonheur Croc Farm, where African Nile crocodiles are bred, is conveniently located near Paarl in the Cape winelands. Visitors can take a guided tour and see some of the 1,000 crocodiles residing here. Make sure you visit at feeding time in the summer, to witness those jaws in action. You can also touch and hold a baby croc and meet Snowy, a rare breed of albino crocodile.

Near to Le Bonheur is Butterfly World, where you can admire the delicate and exotic insects that fly freely across a 1,000-square-metre covered tropical garden. There is also a meerkat enclosure, as well as a spider room featuring all sorts of creepy crawlies, from arachnids to scorpions. A family of two adults and two children can visit for 79 rand. Separately, adults pay 32 rand; children older than three pay 15 rand; and pensioners and students 25 rand.

If the baboons at Cape Point or Table Mountain were shy when you called round, you can still see all sorts of monkey business at Monkey Town near Somerset West. This is home to nearly 300 primates, including macaques, chimps, baboons and the native velvet monkey. There are lots of fun activities for kids, including educational talks and the chance to hug a monkey. Entrance – which includes a guided tour of the park – costs 60 rand for adults, between 10 and 40 rand for children (depending on age) and 35 rand for pensioners. There are additional charges for entering the interaction area and monkey jungle play park.

Finally, the Spier Cheetah Sanctuary offers an up-close-and-personal encounter with a cheetah. This wine estate has dedicated an area to a sanctuary and conservation project, which can be visited for a nominal fee (between 5 and 10 rand per person), while 80 rand will buy you an up-close encounter with an adult cheetah and 160 rand will get you right near a little cub. Spier is located on the R310 between the N2 motorway and Stellenbosch.