7 Places to See Penguins in the Wild

See recent posts by Stefanie Waldek

Emperor penguins in Antarctica. Courtesy of Flickr/Antarctica Bound

Emperor penguins in Antarctica. Courtesy of Flickr/Antarctica Bound

Happy World Penguin Day! In honor of the adorable flightless birds, we’re taking a look at their natural habitats, rounding up seven places you can actually visit to observe them. Though you might imagine all penguins to live in icy climates, several of the 17 to 20 different species (depending on the authority counting) actually live in warmer locales -- with one even living near the equator. So if you want to see penguins in the wild, pick your favorite destination (and type of climate) from our list below and book your trip today.

1. Oamaru, New Zealand


Of the penguin species, the little penguin is, unsurprisingly, the smallest. They’re only found in New Zealand and Australia — head to Oamaru, nicknamed Penguintown, on New Zealand’s South Island to see these roughly one-foot-tall penguins. They nest on land, meaning that penguin watchers can observe their daily commute to and from the sea, where they feed. 

A romantic pick in Queenstown, a 3.5-hour drive from Oamaru:

2. Boulders Beach, South Africa


The waters of Cape Town’s False Bay might be known for great white sharks, but on the shores of Boulders Beach, you’ll find a massive colony of African penguins — the only species found on the continent. The best viewing spots are actually on Foxy Beach, where there are boardwalks for mobility-reduced travelers.

A luxury pick in Cape Town:

3. Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and Chile


This southern archipelago is home to multiple colonies of Magellanic penguins and the only colony of king penguins north of the sub-Antarctic islands. There are multiple tours you can take from the major city in the region, Ushuaia.

A luxury pick in Ushuaia:

4. South Georgia


The remote island South Georgia, which has no permanent human residents, is a haven for king and Macaroni penguins. Situated 900 miles from the closest land mass (Antarctica), the most common way to visit South Georgia is via expedition cruise departing from Ushuaia, Argentina, for Antarctica. Be sure stop at the grave of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

A luxury pick in Ushuaia, from which expeditions to South Georgia depart:

5. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador


Yes, the Galapagos Islands are located on the equator, but the Galapagos penguin is just fine with the warm weather (though they prefer the cooler waters brought to the area by the Humboldt Current and Cromwell Current). Part of their natural habitat actually crosses the equator, making the Galapagos penguin the only species to live in the northern hemisphere.

An all-inclusive pick in the Galapagos:

6. Phillip Island, Australia


This island only a 1.5-hour drive from Melbourne (and connected to the mainland via a bridge) is home to a colony of little penguins, or as they’re often called in Australia, fairy penguins. They live in the Phillip Island Nature Parks, which also has resident fur seals, wallabies, and kangaroos.

A historic pick in Melbourne:

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