The Falkland Islands are a quiet, remote and pristine archipelago of some 778 islands located off the coast of Argentina and until the 1980s, were largely unheard of. That situation changed when the Argentine army invaded seeking sovereignty over the British overseas territory, resulting in the two-month long Falklands war. The only positive repercussions of this short war were that it raised international awareness of the islands and led to a growth in tourism.
Many visitors that come to the Falkland Islands do so by cruise ship, usually as part of an Antarctica cruise or expedition. Despite its relative isolation from the rest of the world, you can fly to the Falklands from either the U.K. or from Santiago, Chile. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) runs flights operated by Air Atlanta Icelandic from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England to RAF Mount Pleasant, 30 miles west of Stanley, via a refueling stop at RAF Ascension Island. LAN Chile (tel. 866/435 9526; http://plane.lan.com/index-en-us.html) flights operate from Santiago on a weekly basis (each Saturday) but you can't buy tickets online, only by telephone. The round-trip flight during peak season (December to March) is $907 including all taxes. In shoulder season, the price starts at around $600. The flight from Miami to Santiago on LAN Chile ranges from approximately $820 to $1,200 round-trip depending on the season. Because of the infrequency of the flights, your stay will invariably be for one or two weeks.
Eco-tourism and wildlife photography are the main draw cards in the Falklands as the area is a haven for marine-based wildlife, especially penguins (five different breeds), whales, sea lions, elephant seals and various types of birds including black-necked swans and several birds of prey. The best time to visit is between September and April and for increased wildlife activity and warmer weather November to February is considered the peak tourism season.
The first thing you need to know about traveling around the Falklands is that it is not set up as a high influx tourism destination. Infrastructure is limited, adding to its natural charm. Although tour companies may advertise prices, often these are purely estimates. Tour companies generally provide tailor-made trips to suit individual clients or groups and itineraries may change due to climate, seasonality and demand. What this means is that you will undoubtedly get the experience you are after if you take the time to discuss your needs (by phone or email) with your tour provider. The Falklands is by no means a budget destination, both in terms of airfares to get there and accommodation and meals. The fact that prices are in pounds sterling only adds to the cost. However, once you are there, travel and tours are quite reasonably priced considering the uniqueness of the experience. Package deals are available through various suppliers both in the U.S. and the U.K., but most are priced upwards of $5,000 so you may wish to travel independently and save.
Tony Smith at Discovery Falklands (tel. +500/21027; www.discoveryfalklands.com) runs a number of day and overnight tours including specialty wildlife excursions. Travel to Cape Bougainville, a scenic part of the North Coast where you'll see huge colonies of Rockhopper penguins, a number of Macaroni penguins and sea lions; Cape Pembroke and Gypsy Cove, a short driving distance from Stanley is home to Magellanic penguins, night herons and porpoises plus the historic lighthouse at Cape Pembroke, a superb area for viewing sea birds along a rugged coastline with beautiful white sand beaches; Elephant Beach, on the northern coastline of East Falkland, where you'll experience sea lions, Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, ducks, birds of prey and stunning scenery; and Bull Point, the extreme south of East Falkland which has both natural beauty and an abundance of wildlife including Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, sea lions, ducks and wading birds, pristine beaches and wildflowers (overnight stays are usually suggested for Bull Point due to the distance from Stanley). For all these tours, transport is by-four wheel drive vehicle. Tony provides hot drinks and expert guiding plus can arrange accommodation for the Bull Point and Elephant Beach tours. Prices for these wildlife sites are in the range of $400 for up to three passengers for day tours and $600 for up to 3 people with one overnight stay. Three is the ideal number of passengers per vehicle but they can accommodate groups of up to six people, using two vehicles.
International Tours & Travel Ltd (tel. +500/22041; www.falklandstravel.com) are Falklands specialists and they offer several appealing itineraries, all of which can be tailored to suit your needs, budget and length of stay. Their eight-day Island Hopping tour features two nights on each of Pebble Island Carcass Island and Sea Lion Island plus one night in Stanley. Included are all transfers, accommodation, domestic flights on eight-seater FIGAS Britten Norman Islander aircraft, excursions, all meals whilst on the outer islands and breakfast in Stanley. Highlights of this trip include a full-day guided tour in four-wheel drive vehicle of Pebble Island, one of the larger outlying islands and home to Chiloe wigeon, Grebes, Black-necked swans and a multitude of other wildfowl and wading birds plus semiprecious stones; Carcass Island with its sandy beaches, well-established hedges and trees attracting a large variety of small birds; and Sea Lion Island, one of the smallest in the Falklands archipelago, home to Southern sea lions, Elephant seals and a variety of rare bird life including Striated caracara, Antarctic skuas and Southern giant petrels. Accommodation is at Malvina House Hotel in Stanley, Pebble Hotel on Pebble Island, the settlement on Carcass Island and Sea Lion Lodge on Sea Lion Island, where you can view the wildlife (plus an occasional killer whale) from the lodge bar. In Stanley, enjoy a city tour as well as a visit to the museum and the Magellanic penguin colony at Gypsy Cove. This tour is priced at $1,928 per person based on double occupancy. A budget option with airport transfers by taxi and bus, no Stanley tour and guesthouse style bed and breakfast accommodation in Stanley instead of hotel is priced at $1,800.
Their eight-day Seabirds and Seals tour features one night in Darwin and two nights each at Saunders Island, Sea Lion Island and in Stanley. It includes accommodation with all meals included at Sea Lion Lodge and at Darwin House, self-catering accommodation in cabins at The Neck on Saunders Island and hotel accommodation with breakfast in Stanley, domestic flights, transfers and excursions. Visit the 200 year old settlement of Darwin; Saunders Island, a 30,000 acre sheep farm and the site of the first British settlement in 1765 plus a wildlife oasis for Black-browed albatross, King and Rock shags and Gentoo, Rockhopper, Magellanic, King and Macaroni penguins; Sea Lion Island; Stanley; the Magellanic penguin colony at Gypsy Cove; and Volunteer Point with white sandy beaches, lagoons and turquoise waters home to King, Gentoo and Magellanic penguins. This tour is priced at $2,006 per person or $1,827 taking the slightly altered budget option with taxi and bus transfers, no Stanley tour and guesthouse accommodation in Stanley.
South Atlantic Marine Services (www.falklands-underwater.com) runs a number of tours both under water and above ground. A boat trip around Port William and Stanley Harbour is $41 per person for a minimum of four people and a boat trip to Volunteer Point in a rigid Inflatable or 42 foot catamaran is $154 per person. Dives off Port William are priced from $37 or $82 off Volunteer Point. Pieces of equipment can be rented individually or rent a cylinder, drysuit, weights regulator, fins, stab jacket, mask and snorkel for $49 for 24 hours. Overland day trips in four wheel drive vehicles are priced as follows: Volunteer Point $154 per person, Darwin and Goose Green $103 and Cape Dolphin $144. You can also rent a Land Rover and driver by the hour to tour independently. It costs $62 per hour including fuel for a maximum of four passengers.
For those traveling to the Falklands especially for its incredible wildlife photography opportunities, Ralph Paonessa Photography (tel. 800/527-3455; www.rpphoto.com) is running a Falkland Islands photography workshop from January 5 to 19, 2008 to coincide with the Antarctic breeding season. The trip is land only and is priced at $5,995 per person, including all inter-island air transport from Stanley, four-wheel-drive trips, expert guides, 14-nights lodging in small lodges, hotels, or cottages and all meals (except on Saunders Island which is self-catering). The workshop starts in Stanley and visits Volunteer Point on East Falkland Island, Saunders Island, and Carcass Island. There are 12 full days of photography and participants can expect to see King, Magellanic, Gentoo and Rockhopper penguin colonies, Black-browed Albatross, Striated Caracaras, Red-backed hawks, Peregrine falcons, King Cormorants, Giant Petrels, skuas and gulls, Elephant seals and Southern sea lions. International airfare is additional.
As you can imagine in a territory with only 3,000 or so inhabitants, accommodation is limited, especially on the outlying islands, where often there may only be one or two options. Many properties do not have their own websites so bookings will need to be made by phone or email.
Lafone Guest House (tel. +500/22891; email: firstname.lastname@example.org) offers panoramic views of the Stanley harbor and has nine guest rooms. Bed and breakfast accommodation here is approximately $120 per room per night.
Pebble Island Lodge (tel. +500/41093; www.pebblelodge.com) is a large five-bedroom house operated as a hotel on Pebble Island with prices starting at around $180 per night. It also runs day tours that include a driver/guide, a packed lunch and hot drinks. The West End tour features visits to the British and Argentine war memorials, Middle Mountain's large colony of Gentoo penguins, Green Rincon beach's Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, giant petrels and Commersons and the western end of the island, known simply as "Marble" which looks out to neighboring Keppel and Saunders islands. The East End tour covers the low-level, wetland part of the island to the east of the settlement and includes a drive along Elephant Beach, the longest sand beach in the Falklands; the cliff coastline of Tamar Point seeing colonies of King cormorants, Rockhopper penguins, Gentoo penguins, and Southern sea lions; The "Penguin Coast", one of the highest concentrations of Magellanic penguins in the Falklands; and a tour around settlement buildings and sheep farming operation. Each tour is priced at $62 per person.
Sealion Lodge (tel. +500/32004; www.sealionisland.com) on Sealion Island has 13 rooms and its season runs from October until the end of March. The five mile long island is known for its colonies of elephant seals and sea lions plus there are over 45 species of birds including five species of penguin and five birds of prey. You can also spot pods of Killer whales and occasionally, Leopard seals and larger whales. Accommodation here during the month or October or March is $154 but from November to February the rate goes up to $273 but that includes all meals.
Because of the large distances involved and the need to travel between islands, most locals choose to fly. Aircraft are more commonly used by Islanders and visitors for longer distances. The Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) (tel. +500/27219; email: email@example.com) operates Britten Norman Islander aircraft from its base at Stanley airport. At other points, the aircraft land on grass strips or beaches. Capacity of the Islander is eight passengers plus the pilot and for safety reasons, luggage is limited to 30 pounds per passenger. There are no fixed schedules or prices with flights being arranged on a day-by-day basis subject to demand.