The Falkland Islands
In 1982, the isolated Falkland Islands made world headlines when Britain and Argentina fought a 10-week South Atlantic war that ended in a decisive British victory and, serendipitously, ended a brutal military dictatorship. The territorial dispute over the Islands, which Argentina claims as the Malvinas, has not gone away, but the Islands’ tourism profile has risen as a destination for cruise ships and a select group of independent travelers interested primarily in sub-Antarctic wildlife.
What the Falklands can offer, as a Patagonian outlier 500 kilometers east of the South American continent, is enormous colonies of seabirds (the five penguin species include easy access to the uncommon king and gentoo), black-browed albatrosses and several species of cormorants in particular, and marine mammals including elephant seals, sea lions, and fur seals. Most of these are rarely seen on the continent, and many of them would require a trip to either remote South Georgia or Antarctica.
Despite their small permanent population, only about 2,500, the Islands have good tourist infrastructure in the capital city of Stanley and in main island and offshore lodges, close to wildlife sites, that are the local counterpart to Argentine and Chilean estancias. The big drawback is that most, though not all, of these sites are only accessible by relatively expensive air taxis that require good timing.
Consisting of two main islands (East Falkland and West Falkland) and 700 or more smaller ones, the total land area is about 4,700 square miles (12,173 square kilometers). Roughly the size of Connecticut, they measure about 155 miles (250 kilometers) from east to west; the Falkland Sound separates the two main islands.
Over the past decade, the road network on both East and West Falkland has improved dramatically, making some destinations more accessible, but air taxis still link the relatively populous East with the West and smaller offshore islands, only a handful of which are inhabited. A twice-weekly ferry from East to West Falkland should start operating before the next edition of this book.
While it might be fair to describe the climate as “sub-Antarctic” because low annual average temperatures (around 6°C) inhibit plant growth and decomposition as well, the latitude is comparable to that of London, and the surrounding South Atlantic alleviates the winter cold. Summer temperatures rarely rise to 75°F (25°C) and average around 59°F (15°C), while winter temperatures rarely remain below freezing for days on end.
Humidity is high but rainfall is moderate, reaching about 24 inches (600 mm) at Stanley, but West Falkland is drier. The climate’s most trying feature is the almost incessant westerlies—the average annual wind speed is nearly 14 knots.
- The Falkland Islands Museum and National Trust
- Johnson's Harbour and Volunteer Point
- Bleaker Island
- Sea Lion Island
- Port Howard
- Pebble Island
- Saunders Island
- Carcass Island
Getting to the Falkland Islands
Chile’s LAN (www.lan.com) offers the only regular commercial flight to the Falklands’ Mount Pleasant International Airport (MPN), 35 miles (60 kilometers) southwest of Stanley, every Saturday from Santiago and Punta Arenas; it turns around immediately. One Saturday per month in each direction, it picks up passengers in Río Gallegos, Argentina; the following Saturday, it drops them off.
LAN fares from Santiago start at US$833 round-trip; from Punta Arenas, it’s US$664 round-trip. Through fares from Europe or North America can be cheaper for those already planning to visit South America; from the United Kingdom, the economy fare is £863 round-trip, with one stopover permitted. From Río Gallegos, though, the fare is only US$207.
LAN also has good connections from North America, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. LAN’s U.S. gateways are Miami (US$1,930 to Mount Pleasant), New York (US$2,010), Los Angeles (US$1,930) and San Francisco (US$1,985). From Toronto, the fare is US$2,290; from Sydney, it's US$2,800; and from Aucklan, US$2,700.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) charters six or seven flights per month from RAF Brize Norton, near Burford, Oxfordshire, via the tiny South Atlantic island of Ascension. The flight takes 18 hours, including an hour’s stopover for refueling on Ascension; fares start around £2,222 round-trip with a 28-day advance purchase, considerably more expensive than the Santiago-Punta Arenas route, but Chile-bound travelers can purchase one-way tickets. The MOD baggage limit is normally 60 pounds (27 kilograms); enforcement is irregular, but overweight charges run £13.40 per pound.
For reservations on MOD flights, contact the Travel Coordinator at Falkland House (14 Broadway, Westminster, London SW1H 0BH, tel. 020/7222-2542, fax 020/7222-2375, travel [at] falklands [dot] gov [dot] fk); in the Islands, contact the Falkland Islands Company West Store (Ross Rd., tel. 27633, fic.travel [at] horizon [dot] co [dot] fk). In the Falklands, for both LAN and MOD flights, contact International Tours and Travel Ltd (1 Dean St., tel. 22041, fax 22042, www.falklandislands.travel.com).
Passengers flying from Mount Pleasant pay an international departure tax of £22 or its equivalent in U.S. dollars or euros. This can also be prepaid at Customs & Immigration in Stanley.
Except between Stanley and Mount Pleasant International Airport, there is no regular public transportation on roads, though taxis and rental cars (with or without guides) are available on both East and West Falkland. Rental cars are not allowed off-road; in any event, driving is not advisable for drivers without local experience, who frequently get “bogged” in the soggy terrain and have to call or trek for help. Visitors may use their own state or national driver’s licenses in the Falklands for up to 12 months.
To West Falkland and offshore islands, the only regular public transportation is the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) (tel. 27219), an air-taxi service that flies 10-seater Norman-Britten Islander aircraft to grass airstrips throughout the Islands. At the approximate rate of £1.40 per minute, the fare from Stanley to Saunders Island, north of West Falkland, is about £170 round-trip. For safety reasons, pilots enforce the baggage limitation of 30 pounds (14 kilograms) per passenger.
In 2008, the freight-and-passenger ferry M/V Concordia Bay (Globe Offices, Philomel St., Stanley, tel. 22301, www.workboat.co.fk) began to operate between the East Falkland port of New Haven and the West Falkland settlement of Port Howard every Friday, Sunday, and alternate Wednesdays. Return passenger fares are £30 per adult, £10 per child under age 16, and £5 per child under five. The vehicle rate of £50 return includes the driver's fare; motorbikes cost £10 return.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition