A self-governing British overseas territory, the Falkland Islands lie in the South Atlantic Ocean east of the South American coast. Because of their remoteness they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like windswept, rugged places teeming with marine wildlife you’ll love it here. The picturesque capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland and is the starting point for any visit. Fiercely loyal to their British heritage, Falkland Islanders are proud, resourceful and self-sufficient but also warm, friendly and welcoming as illustrated by the photos below.
The English navigator John Davis made the first confirmed sighting of the Islands in 1592, aboard his ship Desire. However, the first landing was not until 1690 at Bold Cove, Port Howard on West Falkland, and is attributed to another British captain, John Strong, sailing aboard the Welfare.
Early visitors were American sealers, Norwegian whalers and penguin hunters from various parts of the world. These voyagers unwittingly contributed to the large number of shipwrecks – estimated at more than 300 – around Falklands shores. Thought to be a safe haven for battered vessels after rounding the terrifying Cape Horn, the islands proved to have hidden dangers of their own.
Although the Falklands were colonised by various nations, the ownership dispute between Britain and Argentina is legendary. In April 1982 Argentine forces temporarily occupied the islands, triggering the infamous Falklands War in which many lives were lost on both sides. Although British administration was restored after two months, hostilities still surface occasionally and foreign cruise ships have sometimes been denied access to Argentine ports by way of reprisals. A street name (below) commemorates the British Prime Minister who spearheaded the war.
The Falklands are situated in the stormy latitudes of the Furious Fifties and their skies can often be overcast, as they were mostly when we were there, or they can be a brilliant blue. Stanley is a village-sized capital and a pleasure to walk around. Pick up a map from the Jetty Visitor Centre and choose a route to include Christ Church Cathedral, the Whalebone Arch, the Pioneer Cottages, Victory Green, Kay’s Gnome Garden, the Whalebone Display and the Liberation Monument.
There are colourful houses, shops and English gardens everywhere with many buildings and signs indicating the make-up of the islands. I was instantly attracted to the local newspaper office (below) and found myself wondering what it would be like to work there. The Penguin News is the only newspaper produced in the Falkland Islands and is published in printed form every Friday.
One of the old homes, Cartmell Cottage, has been turned into a museum displaying fittings and artifacts from years gone by.
There are plenty of places to stay throughout the Falkland Islands and the hospitality is outstanding. Accommodation here is personal with almost all hotels, lodges, and guest houses being owner-run. Highly recommended is the venerable old Malvina House Hotel (below), situated in the heart of Stanley. It has beautiful views overlooking the natural harbour and is only a few minutes’ walk from shops, pubs and historic sites and monuments.
Although the original building was demolished in 1967, the site and the name date back to the 1880s. The owner at that time, John James Felton, named the hotel after his youngest daughter, Malvina, which is a Scottish name and its resemblance to the Argentine name for the Falklands, Malvinas, is purely and quirkily coincidental.
Apart from the two main islands of East and West Falkland there are about 700 other islands in the archipelago, although many of these are little more than dots in the ocean. Among the larger ones are Weddell, Pebble and Saunders islands. The only way of reaching the outer islands is by the Falkland Island Government Air Service (FIGAS). The views from the plane are spectacular and give visitors an appreciation of the wild and barren islands.
Car rental is available in Stanley with 4x4 vehicles offered by most outlets. An inter-island ferry service operates between East and West Falkland, which are separated by Falkland Sound, a strait running northeast to southwest. Many of the smaller islands lie in the sound.
A birdwatcher’s paradise, the Falklands are best known for penguins. They have one of the largest populations of gentoo penguin in the world as well as king, rockhopper and Magellanic penguins.
Gentoo and king penguins at the Falkland Islands.
More than 70 per cent of the world's black-browed albatross breed around the islands, and endemic bird species are the Cobb’s wren, found on a number of small islands, and the Falklands’ flightless steamer duck with its distinctive call.
The Islands are home to sea lions, fur seals and the world’s largest pinniped, the elephant seal. Dolphins play in the surf and love to follow boats. Orcas are frequently seen along the coast of Sea Lion Island.
To fly to the Falklands you need to catch a flight from your home city to connect with one of the following services. LATAM operates a flight every Saturday from Santiago, Chile, returning the same day. A stop is made each way at the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas. Once a month the flight stops in Rio Gallegos, Argentina.
Alternatively, LATAM has a midweek flight every Wednesday from São Paulo, Brazil, returning the same day. Once a month the flight stops in Cordoba, Argentina. The general sales agent for LATAM in the Falkland Islands is International Tours & Travel who can arrange competitively priced flights.
From the UK you can take a non-commercial flight (but with decidedly commercial fares!) known as the Airbridge and operated by AirTanker, a British aircraft leasing company using the Airbus A330. Twice-weekly flights leave from the Royal Air Force base at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire (above) and fly directly to the Falklands with a refuelling stop at either Ascension Island or Cape Verde. Flights leave the UK on Sundays and Wednesdays. Return flights depart the Falklands on Tuesdays and Fridays. Civilian passengers can book seats on these flights via the Falkland Islands Government Office in London. All flights including the LATAM services arrive at Mount Pleasant Airport (MPN) on East Falkland.
As I write, both the LATAM and AirTanker services have been suspended for the time being but are expected to resume by early next year.
With a wreck in the foreground, a cruise ship can be seen approaching the Falkland Islands.
If you would like to visit the islands without staying long, note that more than 40 different cruise ships from a number of companies include the Falkland Islands in their austral summer itineraries. This is a great way to get a feel for the islands as part of a South American or Antarctic adventure. Here are some of the cruise companies that usually operate to the Falklands.
Photos © Judy Barford (except where otherwise credited)