Where to See Penguins Around the World
There are few universal truths, but this is definitely one of them: penguins are unspeakably cute.
For many penguin enthusiasts, making a pilgrimage to see these birds in the wild is a bucket list item. Good news: penguins have no natural land-born predators, so wild penguins aren’t particularly afraid of humans. Yes, that means selfies with penguins are totally possible.
Penguins are almost exclusively Southern Hemisphere dwellers and often take up residence in some of the most off-the-beaten path stretches of the earth: Antarctica, sub-Arctic islands, the Galapagos.
After all, what other reason would travelers have to venture to the freezing cold bottom of the earth? Of the more than 40,000 people who visit Antarctica each year, most report going for the sole purpose of seeing penguins.
Cruise expeditions are ideal for spotting penguins (Silversea Cruises’ Silver Explorer, for example, navigates the Drake Passage and docks at a number of penguin rookeries, including South Georgia Island and Elephant Island—the Celebrity Xpedition ship routinely visits Galapagos Islands, including the ancient volcanic remains, Isabela, that are a favorite playground for the area’s namesake penguin species) though it's not impossible to find them frolicking on a busy strip of beach near metropolitan Cape Town.
If you’re headed below the equator to frolic with penguins, plan your trip for the warm season (November through March) when penguins typically spend more time on shore.
Whether you're planning a trip or are eager for a little late afternoon eye candy, here are some of the world's most famous penguin species (there are 17 or 18 total, depending on which expert you ask), and where to find them.
Head to the southernmost stretch of rugged glaciers and ice to see colonies of more than 595,000 emperor penguins. You may also see Adélie penguins here, the most populous penguin population in the world, tobogganing across soft snow and ice or squawking protectively around the nest.
South Georgia Island
From above, this British overseas territory island, often looks like an abstract zebra-print pattern: huge swaths of brown and white, as adult King penguins heard their downy brown chicks into giant huddles to keep them warm.
You can’t miss the Gentoo penguins waddling across the Falklands and surrounding Antarctic islands: they have citrus-colored feet and long, bright red-orange beaks. Gentoo penguins are famous for being laid-back and low-key.
Chiloe Island, Chile
Best bets for seeing one of the only migratory penguin species, Magellanic penguins is on Magdalena or Chiloe Island. During the winter, however, they’ve been spotted as far north as Brazil.
Macaroni penguins get their name for the ridiculous yellow plumage on their heads, named for an equally silly British fashion from the mid 1700s. They can be found at the southernmost tip of Argentina and surrounding islands.
Philip Island, Australia
Philip Island Nature Reserve, 90 miles from Melbourne, has attracted tourists for nearly a century: every day, at sunset, Little Blue Penguins return to shore to build nests, mate, and feed their young. The world’s most petite penguin species stands at only a foot tall and weighs less than three pounds, earning it the title “fairy penguin.”
Also known as black-footed penguins, these indigenous birds (the only in the genus to inhabit Africa) have a famous colony at Simons Town (not far from Cape Town) on Boulder Beach. They’ve also received the notorious nickname, Jackass Penguins, thanks to their obnoxious call.
Not all penguins seek out glaciers and ice floats: Peruvian Humboldt penguins have developed a taste for balmy Mediterranean weather, breeding almost exclusively in hot deserts.
You’ll have to get off the mainland to see Rockhopper penguins: a crested breed with a distinctly stocky build and spiky yellow eyebrows. They can be found on Auckland and the Antipodes Islands.
Most of the Galapagos Penguins’ incredibly tiny population (less than 1,000 breeding pairs) can be found on the westernmost islands of Fernandina and Isabela. The breed is distinguished by a thin white line around their face.