Lying about 305 miles east of Patagonia, the Falkland Islands is an archipelago consisting of two main islands – East Falkland and West Falkland – and more than 750 smaller ones. The islands were possibly visited in prehistoric times, but the first recorded landing is attributed to English captain John Strong in 1690.
Now officially a British overseas territory, the islands have also had French, Spanish and Argentine settlements at various times in their history. Argentina still maintains its claim to the islands, which it calls the Islas Malvinas, a situation that reached boiling point during the Falklands War of 1982.
Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the Falklands, they remain a popular addition to many Antarctic voyages, with cruise passengers accounting for the vast majority of visitors. Most visitors stop off or stay in Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, which has a population of about 2,150 (the archipelago has a population of around 2,850). Here you’ll find a post office, pubs, a cathedral, an interesting museum, some good places to eat, and a warm welcome.
But people don’t travel all the way to the Falklands for fish and chips and a pint of beer. They come for the rugged, windswept and stunning landscapes and, more importantly, the abundance of marine wildlife. With its often dreamlike scenery of tussock grass, craggy cliffs, windblown hills, bogs and moorland, the islands are a paradise for trekkers seeking a true rural retreat. And for wildlife spotters, it’s hard to beat.
The islands are home to five penguin species: king penguins, magellanic penguins, gentoos, rockhoppers and macaronis, with about 494,500 breeding pairs living on the islands. The Falklands are also a bucket list destination for birdwatchers, with 227 bird species recorded, 60 of which breed on the islands. These include two-thirds of the world’s black-browed albatrosses, and two endemic bird species, Cobb’s wren and the Falkland flightless steamer duck, which are unique to the Falklands. They also provide a critical refuge for endangered birds such as the striated caracara, ruddy-headed geese, black-throated finches and tussac birds.
Elephant seals, fur seals and sea lions all breed on the islands, while the surrounding seas are a haven for killer whales, Commerson’s dolphins, Peale’s dolphins, leopard seals, southern elephant seals and southern sea lions. And those are just some of the highlights, with plenty more to see while visiting this isolated archipelago.