Penguin Places

IT Contributor Andrew Evans offers an all-inclusive guide to all things penguin.

African PenguinsPenguins are never passé. Be they marching or tapping their happy feet toward another sequel, the little black and white birds are still very much in everybody’s minds and hearts. I also imagine that kids who play with plastic penguins in their Happy Meals grow up to be bigger kids who want to see the birds in real life, in the wild.

Admittedly, live penguins are so astonishingly cool–the way they tilt their heads from side to side to get a good look at you, the strange braying chorus they sing, and that distinctive penguin smell that’s part fishy dishwasher detergent and part dusty, old attic. Travelers often bemoan the fact that penguin Grand Central is in almost-inaccessible Antarctica, a destination better suited for scientists, explorers, and millionaires. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to cross wild penguins off your wish list. The southern hemisphere is filled with alternatives for seeing wild penguins in their natural habitats.

The following locations offer options for safe and sustainable human interaction with wild penguins:

1.    Isla Magdalena, Chile: This lone clump of rocks in the Strait of Magellan is home to over 50,000 breeding pairs of adorable Magellanic penguins. After a one-hour ferry ride from the city of Punta Arenas, the boat drops you off for a good 90-minute visit with the birds. A marked path guides you safely through the penguin nests and up to the island’s lighthouse for a remarkable view. (Insider’s tip: in case you’re tempted to use your hands to climb up those giant mountains of yellow ‘dirt’ for a better view, don’t. That isn’t dirt.)

2.    Galápagos Islands, Ecuador: The Galápagos penguin is the world’s northernmost penguin species. They live right on the equator, but look and act a lot like the penguins from colder climes. The best viewing spots are on Isabela island (the largest in the archipelago) and the west coast of Fernandina island.

3.    Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town, South Africa: Gigantic granite boulders and tropical-looking turquoise inlets are the exotic home for the African or jackass penguin. A system of raised wooden walkways leads you right into the heart of penguin territory, including the penguins’ own sandy beach. Afterwards, enjoy a swim at the people’s beach next door.

Falklands Penguins4.    Oamaru, New Zealand: The Oamaru blue penguin colony is a sustainable tourism success story that’s definitely worth the journey down under.  Every year, tens of thousands of tourists come to see approximately 130 breeding pairs of the smallest (and cutest) penguin species in the world. Part wildlife reserve/part auditorium and museum, the center allows human-penguin interaction with minimal impact to the birds. The most exhilarating moments take place after dusk (around 10:00 p.m. in the austral summer and 6:00 p.m. in the winter) when the penguins swim back to shore holding on to one another in “rafts”.

5.    Phillip Island, Australia:  A mere 90-minute drive from the city of Melbourne, Phillip Island Nature Park offers visitors access to a nightly “Penguin Parade.” Bring a picnic for the boardwalk while you watch the little blue penguins coming home.

6.    Falkland Islands: The Falklands has become the ultimate diversionary tactic for Antarctic-obsessed tourists and contains the largest concentration of rockhopper penguins in the world, along with four other penguin species. It’s difficult NOT to see a penguin in the Falklands.

Closer to home: Before you buy an expensive long-haul flight to the other side of the world, check out the penguins nearest you.  Here’s a current list of zoos with penguin populations:

•    Central Park Zoo (New York, NY)

•    Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle, WA)

•    Maryland Zoo (Baltimore, MD)

•    Rosamond Gifford Zoo (Syracuse, NY)

•    Oregon Zoo (Portland, OR)

•    St. Louis Zoo (St. Louis, MO)

•    Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa, FL)

•    Philadelphia Zoo (Philadelphia, PA)

Read More: Rolf Potts got up close to the little guys in his piece, “My Own Private Falklands” in the July/August 2008 issue of Traveler. Learn more about Darwin’s travels through the Galápagos from the National Geographic Channel’s presentation of “Darwin’s Secret Notebooks.”


  1. bla
    March 19, 2012, 5:23 pm

    That’s true amazing to see this! I agree that the San Diego Zoo should be included too!

  2. Bob Bradfield
    December 11, 2011, 3:12 am

    The San Diego Zoo should be included

  3. Gaston
    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    December 10, 2011, 11:15 am

    You forgot to mention…. Peninsula de Valdez in Argentina… This is the place where you can see the mayor quantity of penguins, sea lions and elephant seals in the world… you can see millions of them right on the beautiful beaches of Patagonia.

  4. Sandy
    December 9, 2011, 12:53 pm

    How did you forget the largest colony of 500,000 Megallenic penguins in Punto Tombo, Argentina? I was there only a month ago and then I read this article! I am dissapointed to say the least but thanks for sharing the other lovely places to see Penquins.

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  6. Alex2011
    January 22, 2011, 6:56 am

    alápagos Islands, Ecuador: The Galápagos penguin is the world’s northernmost penguin species. They live right on the equator, but look and act a lot like the penguins from colder climes. The best viewing spots are on Isabela island (the largest in the archipelago) and the west coast of Fernandina island.
    Best regards, Alex, CEO of movie online

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  18. World Travel Guide
    August 20, 2009, 11:46 am

    I like to see Penguin.

  19. SquirrelNutcakes
    July 30, 2009, 7:21 pm

    Avoid the Phillips Island Penguins. The cost PER PERSON is $20.50 AUD for the “Basic Experience” (About $16USD) which lets you see penguins march up the shore from about 200 feet away while crammed into a viewing stadium made for 100 with 200 yakky smelly tourists. You are not allowed to take pictures or video. The beach does have a spotlight on it, but you are far away from it. Upgrades cost more (surprise!). For a mere $72AUD per person you can sit on a mat on a beach and watch them – oh, you do get a free drink. You get better interaction from a zoo and postcards without the pushy tourist and yapping kids. It is, in my opinion, one of Australia’s biggest tourist ripoffs- even more so because in all of the literature they emphasize that it is a national park and never mention that here is a huge charge to see them.
    For FREE penguin viewing, go to the beach at London Bridge (near Port Campbell and The Twelve Apostles)at dusk. See them from the boardwalk, about 2 minutes easy walk from the carpark. No spotlight on them, but a good set of binocs on a clear evening will give you quite a good look without hordes of tourists.
    Or if you are near Mt. Gambier, go to Port MacDonald’s Lighthouse Viewpoint at dusk – they have a small Fairy Penguin colony (Little Blue’s other name) there – again for free.
    Best wildlife watching is on Wilson’s Promontory (about 2.5 hours from Melbourne), $10AUD per car to enter the park and fabulous, bountiful wildife walks right up to you.

  20. Guillermo Philippi
    June 17, 2009, 5:45 pm

    You forgot to mention that there are two major places in Argentina to see penguins. The first, and largest in South America, is Punta Tombo, near puerto Madryn. The second largest is Cabo Vírgenes, right next to Estrecho de Magallanes. There are a lot of other places to see them along the Atlantic coast of Argentina, like Monte Leon, or even in Ushuaia you can see them.
    I am very dissapointed that you didn´t mention at least one place in Argentina, since it has the biggest colony in South America.
    Google these places to see that I´m not bluffing.
    Guillermo Philippi

  21. Robin Slater
    May 13, 2009, 5:24 pm

    The endemic Galapagos Penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) are one of the smallest of the warm weather penguins. IUCN – The World Conservation Union designation: Endangered population estimated between 3,000-8,000 penguins.
    They are alos commonly found in and around Bartolome and Sullivan Bay (Santiago Island).

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    April 28, 2009, 12:14 pm

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  24. Melanie
    April 10, 2009, 10:43 am

    I love Penguins! – one of my favorite experiences ever was my visit to Philip Island in Australia! – It was so great getting to be apart of their nightly pilgrimage back to their nests!
    I will have to check out your other suggestions as I travel more!
    We also saw the penguins that call The Hilton Hawaiian Village home in Waikiki – not the same – but cute and well cared for nonetheless.

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    March 23, 2009, 8:49 am

    Gigantic granite boulders and tropical-looking turquoise inlets are the exotic home for the African or jackass penguin.

  26. Santiago
    March 13, 2009, 8:10 am

    You forgot Punta Tombo in Patagonia Argentina, the biggest penguin colony of South America. About 1 million of Magellanic penguins.
    You should visit.
    You could find information at Internet.
    Please check

  27. JAF
    March 11, 2009, 8:24 am

    The Newport Aquarium in Newport KY, just across the river from Cincinnati, also has a delightful penguin encounter. The Cincinnati Zoo has two fine exhibits: one indoor for cold-weather species and one outdoor of Little Blue (Fairy) Penguins, in the Children’s Zoo.

  28. RoShelle
    March 6, 2009, 6:15 pm

    Moody Gardens in Galveston Tx has a great Penguin exhibit and you can meet a penguin at the Penguin Encounter…the cute little guy will even paint a picture for you. check them out at