Top 5 Places in the World to See Penguins

They slide on their bellies across the snow, congregate on icebergs and seem to fly through freezing water in search of fish. That’s how most people picture penguins: playing among icebergs in Antarctica.

Although the southernmost continent boasts the most penguins of any region in the world, it’s not the only place you’ll find the tuxedoed bird. The Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa are four other destinations where you can see penguins in their natural habitat.

1. Antarctica

Experience one of the most remote and magnificent places on Earth as you encounter the vast continent of Antarctica. Despite the icy conditions, there’s no shortage of wildlife viewing here, especially for penguin lovers. In fact, you’ll find the most penguin species on the planet!

Seven penguin species are native to Antarctica: Adelie, chinstrap, Gentoo, king, macaroni, rockhopper and emperor penguins. However, the Adelie and emperor penguins are the only two that live exclusively on the Antarctic continent. The others either live in the sub-Antarctic or travel between the two areas, depending on the season.

The Adelie is the smallest species of penguin in the Antarctic, as well as the most widespread. Adelie penguins have feisty attitudes, too. They’ve been known to take on potential predators—seals or large seabirds—or even attack visiting researchers with their flippers.

Emperor penguins are the largest living penguin species, standing up to four feet tall. These creatures are easy to identify due to their sheer stature, weighing in anywhere between 48 and 80 pounds. They usually mate for life and work together to keep their young fed and safe.

Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) diving off iceberg, Antarctica, January

Adelie penguins © naturepl.com / Tim Laman / WWF

On our Sailing Antarctica Polar Wildlife Expedition, you’ll have numerous opportunities to share the solitude with penguin colonies, including on deserted beaches while camping under the stars. 

Another highlight is zooming through the icy water in Zodiacs to observe loud colonies of chinstrap, emperor, Gentoo and Adelie penguins. Chinstrap penguins are named for the narrow black bands under their heads. Gentoo penguins, on the other hand (or the other flipper) have white straps across the top of their heads. Emperor penguins can be identified by the pale yellow coloring of their ears and breasts. Adelie penguins are known for their their tuxedo-like appearance.

Magellanic, Gentoo and rockhopper penguins—named for their ability to leap over obstacles— live on the rocky cliffs of the Falkland Islands, which you can visit on Lindblad’s Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falklands cruise and South Georgia & the Falklands cruise. Millions of king penguins—penguins with golden highlights on their heads and chests—live on the beaches of South Georgia.

Learn more about the penguins of Antarctica.

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2. The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos penguin is the rarest species of penguin and the only one found north of the equator in this series of islands in the Pacific Ocean located off the coast of Ecuador. You’re most likely to spot them on Fernandina and Isabela islands, though they also hunt huge schools of fish just offshore of Bartolome Island. Cruising by panga (motorized boat) along Punta Moreno on our Galapagos Discovery adventure provides numerous opportunities to look for penguins. Snorkeling around Sombrero Chino Island, you may even encounter a resident penguin family.

The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest penguin species in the world at roughly 19 inches tall and 5.5 pounds. You can spot these penguins all year-round, most commonly swimming in the ocean, taking care of their young, and feasting on sardines, anchovies and mullet.

Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) in Los Túneles on Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador

Galapagos penguins © Antonio Busiello / WWF-US

Sadly, much of the Galapagos penguin population (up to 77%) has died off due to El Niño events. As waters warm, their prey species decline and their breeding becomes more stress-induced and, therefore, less successful. Today, there are an estimated 2,000 or fewer Galapagos penguins left on Earth. When you travel to the Galapagos with Nat Hab and World Wildlife Fund, you can rest assured that your conservation travel dollars will help protect this precious species!

Learn more about the Galapagos penguin.

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New Zealand

Several penguin species are unique to New Zealand and the Oceana region. The blue penguin is the world’s smallest penguin and is named for its unique color. Crested penguins are known for the brush-like feathers on their heads.

As the name would suggest, yellow-eyed penguins have distinctive amber-colored eyes and whitish-yellow stripes that run from their eyes around the backs of their heads. Although this bright feature is characteristic of this species, young yellow-eyed penguins have gray eyes and dark brown or gray feathers.

The Yellow-Eyed Penguins family sitting in their nest at Katiki Point Lighthouse in New Zealand

Yellow-eyed penguins

You’ll encounter this rare species along the southeast coast of the South Island, in addition to the New Zealand islands of Campbell and Auckland, and the coastal forests of Stewart. The yellow-eyed penguin is carnivorous, feeding primarily upon fish such as blue cod, red cod, opal fish, spats and silversides.

Found only in New Zealand, the yellow-eyed penguin is one of the rarest penguin species in the world, with fewer than 4,000 remaining. On our New Zealand Nature Explorer, you’ll have the rare opportunity to visit Penguin Place, a private conservation reserve and rehabilitation center for endangered yellow-eyed penguins.

In addition to the yellow-eyed penguin, New Zealand is also home to the Tawaki penguin. Also called Fiordland crested penguins, these are the only penguins that live in the rain forest. They can be found on the southwest coast of New Zealand. Only about 2,000 pairs remain, with 10% of the population living along the shores of Lake Moeraki.

Learn more about yellow-eyed penguins.

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3. Australia

Blue penguins—also called fairy penguins—are the smallest penguin species at just about one foot tall. An adult blue penguin weighs in at just around 3.3 pounds—less than a half-gallon of milk! They have a distinctive slate-blue or indigo-blue coloration of feathers on the top of their body.

The blue penguin’s scientific genus name, Eudyptula, means ‘good little diver,’ which they are. They spend nearly all day at sea, returning to land around dusk, and they travel all flocks to protect themselves from predators. Safety in numbers!

Little penguin (Eudyptula minor) on rocks of St Kilda breakwater, Melbourne city lights in background. Victoria, Australia. January 2017.

Little blue penguin © naturepl.com / Doug Gimesy / WWF

On our Australia South: Tasmania, Kangaroo Island & the Great Ocean Road adventure, you can gaze in awe as you watch little blue penguins make their way ashore and into their nests for the night.

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4. Chile

Standing about 3 feet tall and weighing 30 pounds or more, king penguins sport black and white markings with splashes of vibrant orange across their head, beak and chest. They are known to be picky eaters, consuming lanternfish and squid, depending on the season. These magnificent creatures can live up to 26 years in the wild and 41 years in captivity.

On our Patagonia Wilderness & Wildlife Explorer, we visit King Penguin Park, the most northerly king penguin colony in the world, which is situated along the west coast of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego in Chile. From elevated boardwalks and strategic hides, we spend unhurried time at this remote site observing the endlessly entertaining antics of the world’s second-largest penguin species. Established when birds arrived to nest here in 2010, King Penguin Park is the only place to see this species outside of Antarctica and the Falkland Islands.

King penguins in Antarctica

King penguins © Jordy Oleson

On our journey around Chile, we may also spot Magellanic penguins at the Francisco Coloane Marine Park. These penguins thrive in coastal Patagonia, including Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, with some migrating to Brazil and Uruguay. Their name originates from the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew spotted the species while sailing around the tip of South America in 1519.

Magellanic penguins have a black body with a white belly, which helps them evade predators while swimming. Their black backs blend into the dark ocean, and, from below, their white stomachs are camouflaged by the light from the sky.

Learn more about our Patagonia Wilderness & Wildlife Explorer.

5. South Africa

In 1982, a colony of African penguins settled on Boulders Beach in Cape Town. The colony of 3,000 penguins is now one of the mainland penguin colonies. African penguins have a black stripe and black spots on their chests. The pattern of spots is unique to each penguin, like a human fingerprint. These penguins roam freely on the beach, allowing for close encounters as you walk among the beach’s granite boulders.

African penguins posing at Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

African penguins

Meet this unique colony when you add a Cape Town Extension to our Secluded South Africa safari.

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Learn more about penguins and how to help protect them from our conservation partner, World Wildlife Fund.

The post Top 5 Places in the World to See Penguins first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

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