African Penguins are black above and white below, with a black chin and face patch separated from the crown by a broad white band. They have a narrow black band across the chest and down the flanks towards its legs. Some birds show a double bar on the throat and chest, which is a diagnostic feature of Magellanic Penguins.

Males tend to be larger with heavier bills, but these differences can usually only be seen when a pair is seen together. Juveniles differ from adults by being entirely blue-grey above, and lacking the white face markings and black breast band of the adults .

The African Penguin is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa, and it is found nowhere else. Its distribution coincides roughly with the cold, nutrient rich, Benguela Current. The distribution of African Penguins is further determined by the availability of offshore islands as breeding sites. .