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7 Places to See Penguins in the Wild

SmarterTravel

Fact: penguins are one of the world’s most adorable creatures–and you can watch them frolic in their natural habitat (no sad, smelly aquarium trips required). Think you have to venture all the way to Antarctica to find these well-dressed flightless birds? You can actually find them all over the world, including on warm beaches.

Where to Find Penguins

Here are seven places where you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot a penguin in the wild:

Falkland Islands

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There are more penguins than people on the Falkland Islands, and one of the reasons for that is fascinating. During the 10-week Falklands War, thousands of land mines were planted across places like Yorke Bay. After the conflict ended, the potentially deadly minefields were simply fenced off and the land mines left behind. The small Magellanic and Gentoo penguins that live here aren’t heavy enough to explode the mines, and so they were able to flourish here untouched by human interference or development. You don’t have to risk your life to see penguins on the Falklands though (you can safely see them from behind fenced-off areas in Yorke Bay). Or, check out a place like Sealion Island, where you can even sleep in a hotel next to a thriving penguin colony.

Punta Tombo, Argentina

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Punta Tombo National Reserve, located about halfway down the eastern coast of Argentina, is nicknamed “penguin paradise” because approximately half a million Magellanic penguins come here to nest. The penguins begin arriving in late September and stay through April to raise their chicks. A raised boardwalk allows tourists to watch the penguins as the birds guard their nests, search for food, and feed their chicks.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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If you’ve dreamed of swimming with penguins, the Galapagos is the place to do it, as you’re likely to encounter them if you’re snorkeling around Bartolome Island. The Galapagos penguin is the second smallest penguin in the world (they only weigh about five pounds and are just under 1.5 feet tall), and the only type of penguin that lives north of the equator. Don’t try to race the Galapagos penguin if you’re lucky enough to swim with one—they can swim as fast as 21 miles per hour when hunting. Look for them on land as well on Isabela and Fernandina islands.

Ballestas Islands, Peru

Shutterstock/Byelikova Oksana

Peru’s Ballestas Islands are nicknamed “the poor man’s Galapagos” due to their biodiversity and relative accessibility (you can take a short boat trip from Paracas, which is about a four-hour drive from Lima). On your boat ride around the islands, you’ll see the endangered Humboldt penguins on the rocky shore line.

Martillo Island, Argentina

Shutterstock/LongJon

Sometimes called “penguin island” due to its large colony of Gentoo and Magellanics penguins, Martillo Island is a place where you can get up close and personal with the birds. This nature reserve was cleared of other inhabitants (mainly cows and sheep) in the 1960s, which has allowed the penguin colonies to thrive here. And thrive they have—you  can find as many as 1,000 nests on the island. These migratory penguins live on the island from September through April, and you can book small group tours that allow you to walk among the penguins. (Book early as regulations to protect the penguins limit the number of groups allowed to walk on the island).

Boulders Beach, South Africa

Shutterstock/Gil.K

At home, a day at the beach is likely to involve flocks of annoying seagulls, but at one magical beach, you can spend the day with a colony of penguins. (Fun side fact: a group of penguins on land can be called a colony, rockery, or a waddle, but once the group is in the water it should be referred to as a “raft.”) At South Africa’s Boulders Beach you can share the sand and surf with a waddle of little penguins. There’s a viewing boardwalk that goes over the main penguin refuge area, but you’ll also find the penguins playing on the beach or even wandering around the parking lot (you’ll be warned to check underneath your car for the birds before you leave).

Phillip Island, Australia

Shutterstock/Marina Tatarenko

What’s cuter than a penguin? A tiny penguin! The smallest penguins in the world, known as Little Penguins or “Fairy Penguins,” can be found in Australia and New Zealand, including on Phillip Island where they put on a famous nightly parade. Every night of the year, about an hour before sunset, about 4,000 penguins make the trek in from the sea to their homes on the beach where they’ll rest for the night. Watch the show at the Phillip Island Nature Park, which has built stadium-style seats, walkways, and underground viewing windows so visitors can watch the penguins without disturbing them.

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Caroline Morse Teel will travel for penguins. Follow her adventures (penguin-related and otherwise) on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

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