Penguin Pursuit: A search for the tuxedo birds of South America
Photo: Vera & Jean-Christophe/Flickr/CreativeCommons

Life, love, and the pursuit of penguins:

All my life I have tried to find what exactly it is that makes me happy. What I really care about. What makes me smile. What I enjoy more than sleeping my life away. (I really like to sleep.)

Over the years I’ve come to realize that happiness is not something you can find. It’s a way of thinking. Happiness is not circumstantial, it’s a decision you make to see the good in what you are given. It’s a choice.

However, love is not always a choice. You don’t get to decide who or what it is that you love. Love is just what makes you happy whether you choose to be or not. It’s an uncontrollable feeling of joy.

Two things I’ve found that I really love are 1) experiencing other people’s culture and way of life, and 2) animals! To have the privilege of observing someone else’s world, and being able to interact with them is just so amazing to me. Not only other people’s way of life, but different types of animals in their own habitats as well. Can you imagine getting to see a penguin colony up close and personal?! AHHHH! In my dreams! Well, it doesn’t have to be just a dream — for me or for you!

My husband and I have decided to embark on an epic journey together. A six month long, backpacking trek around South America in a penguin pursuit! Well, it’s not just about the penguins. It’s about learning new things, meeting people, hiking unknown terrain, eating all the food we can, experiencing different cultures, seeing exotic animals (not just penguins), and so much more.

It is going to be very hard to leave all our family, friends, and fur-babies for so long. (I am actually pretty nervous about the whole thing, but also very excited.) I know it’s going to be an unforgettable experience for us both. Some people may think we are a little crazy for doing this, but why not do it? Why not live a life filled with exciting new adventures? Why not go and make the most of the short time we have? What is life really if not the pursuit of love and happiness? (And penguins!)

Ok, so here’s the plan:

We will be taking a one-way flight into Medellin, Colombia. The reason? It’s one of the cheapest flights from Atlanta to anywhere in South America (less than $150 one-way!). Medellin is also known for having great Spanish immersion classes, which we plan to attend for a week or so when we first arrive.

From Colombia, we’ll head southwest to Ecuador, then on to Peru, and Chile. From there we’ll cross over to Argentina in Patagonia and head back north. After that, it’s on to Brazil, French Guiana, and finally back to Colombia to catch a flight home. That’s the plan at least. Nothing is really set in stone except our arrival date. More countries might get added in, some might be skipped.

In each city we will have the freedom to stay as long as we like, leave as soon as we like, or skip things completely. Clay really wants to take a full six months to travel. I don’t think I want to be away quite that long, so as a compromise we decided if we get close to hitting our budget we will just head home early. (My plan is to just spend up all our money if I get too homesick!)

Now, I’m sure what you really want to know: where are all these penguins? Like I said, we don’t really have a set timeline, but there are a few very important destinations for us:

Photo: David Waddle/Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Photo: David Waddle/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Two hot spots to find penguins in South America:

-Isla Magdalena, Chile: An island off the coast of southern Chile, near the town of Punta Arenas. We’re hoping to arrive her sometime in December–that magical time of year when a large colony of Magellanic penguins will be welcoming new baby chicks to the world! Here you can walk amongst the penguins as they go about their normal lives. Check out this video to see why this stop is so vital.

-Punta Tombo, Argentina: Given our route, this will probably be one of our final penguin stops. We’re planning to get there before the end of February, in time to find the continent’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins still beached.


Other top places to find penguins in South America:

Other than those two exciting stops there should be plenty of other penguin spotting opportunities along the way:

-Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Fitting enough, this island archipelago is home to the Galapagos penguins. Unfortunately, excursions to the Galapagos Islands are also insanely expensive, so unless we hit the lottery before we depart, I doubt we’ll be making this stop during our trip.

-Islas Ballestas, Peru: Known as “the poor man’s Galapagos,” the Ballestas Islands are home to Humboldt penguins and are located much closer to mainland South America. Part of the Reserva Nacional de Paracas, the small islands are just off the southern Peruvian coast near the town of Pisco. This will probably be our very first chance to see any of our tuxedo-donned bird friends during our visit.

-Ancud, Chile: Located in the northern reaches of Patagonia in southern Chile, the area around Ancud plays host to both Humboldt and Magellanic penguins.

-The Falkland Islands: A British territory located way off the coast of Argentina, the Falklands would be an amazing place to visit, but much like the Galapagos, it’s not a cheap trip to make. Yet, when it comes to finding a variety of penguin species in one location, the Falklands are where it’s at. They are home to King, Gentoo, Rockhopper, Magellanic, and Macaroni penguins! Some of those species can’t be found anywhere else in South America. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints we probably won’t be visiting anytime soon.

-Tierra del Fuego, Argentina: A southern province with a national park by the same name, the region is centered around Ushuaia, the continent’s southern most city. This is going to be a really exciting place to visit. Not only does the area offer some amazing hiking and camping options, Gentoo penguins and even a small group of King penguins can be found here! This is the only place King penguins can be found outside of the Sub-Antarctic islands.

-Puerto Deseado, Argentina: Further south than Punta Tombo, the area near Puerto Deseado is where we’re likely to find more Magellanic penguins and even some Rockhoppers! Yes, Rockhoppers, the tiny tuxedo bandits known for their bright yellow feathers that stick out look like old-man ear hair!

Sounds pretty amazing, right? Well, before you get too excited, remember there’s lots to be done in preparation for a trip like this. (Check out some of our other blog posts detailing our itinerary, supplies, and budget stuff.) But once the journey begins our day-to-day adventure options will be endless. Total freedom — at least until the money runs out. All we have to do is get there.

In the meantime, here are some more picture of penguins to hold you over. Thanks for reading!

penguins in Punta Tombo.
Photo: Liam King/Flickr/Creative Commons
Photo: Wilfried Wittkowsky/Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Photo: Wilfried Wittkowsky/Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Photo: Brian Gratwicke/Flickr/Creative Commons
Photo: Liam Quinn/Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Liam Quinn/Wikimedia/Creative Commons