Over the years, I’ve sent over 1000 travelers to Antarctica and though many go for the sheer adventure of it, some to set foot on their 7th continent, and some just to have bragging rights, there have been a fair number of animal lovers who have gone mostly to fulfill their dream of seeing penguins. And penguins are remarkable! They’re definitely worth crossing the sometimes very rough seas of the Drake Passage for. I feel honored to help people make their penguin dreams come true. They’re so much fun!
But when should you go to Antarctica to see penguins? Trips to Antarctica travel between November and March yet it’s important to know exactly which penguins are doing what during which months so you don’t go at a time when penguin viewing will be less than stellar.
November is a beautiful time to go to Antarctica. It’s the beginning of the season and the three main species of penguins who live on the Antarctic Peninsula, the Gentoos, the Chinstraps, and the Adelies, are just coming out of the sea after their winter away. They’re climbing onto the shoreline, greeting old friends, looking for their mate, and getting ready for their breeding season.
The shores of Antarctica are particularly stunning and pristine in November as the penguins haven’t yet spread their red guano around everywhere. But wait! You wanted to see baby penguins and sadly November is too early to see babies. November and early December are a time to see adult penguins and witness their breeding rituals: lots of loud calls and pebble exchanging!
A good time to see baby penguins is right around December 19. Over the years I’ve refined this date and some years it’s a day or two earlier and some years it’s a day or two later yet if you plan to be in Antarctica on December 19, you’ll see those adorable little fur balls.
What’s happening in January? January is when the babies start to grow into teenagers and they don brown furry coats. They always make me think of those long fur coats college men used to wear in the 1920’s. They’re almost as cute as the babies so if you plan to visit Antarctica in January, I know you’ll love seeing the teenagers. The furry coated one below is a King Penguin yet you get the idea.
By the time February rolls around, all the teenagers have become adults and then all the penguins look pretty much the same again. Mid to late February is the time when penguins head back into the sea so it’s important for penguin lovers to choose a trip that leaves the Antarctic Peninsula by Feb 22. Late February departures won’t see as many penguins as you would have seen earlier in the year. And March is a time when the only penguins left on shore are the ones who couldn’t figure out how to swim. If you hope to see penguins, don’t travel in March. Antarctica is still amazing in March and people go for the Aurora Australis at that time because it’s darker at night yet penguin people should travel to Antarctica before Feb 22.
Three foot tall King penguins can be seen anytime on South Georgia and the Falkland Islands between November and March. They do their mating behaviors in November and March and you can see baby penguins on most of the trips that travel there.
A word about guano. Penguins leave a lot of guano on the ice in Antarctica and it’s red. This means if you are traveling in late February or March when the penguins have been on shore since November, you are going to see a lot of red guano on the once pristine whiteness. This can be shocking if you’re not expecting it. Any travel planner who offers you a late February or March trip without telling you about the red guano are doing you a disservice.