The Falkland Islands are a popular addition to many Antarctic voyages, but they’re well worth seeing on their own for their spectacular populations of penguins, seals and albatrosses. Surrounded by the South Atlantic and by centuries of controversy, the islands lie 490km east of Patagonia. Two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, and more than 700 smaller ones cover 12,173 sq km, about the same area as Northern Ireland or Connecticut. Alternately settled and claimed by France, Spain, Britain and Argentina, the Falkland Islands (known as the Islas Malvinas in Argentina) have been an overseas territory of the UK since 1833, a status the Argentines have fought and still contest.
Besides the five types of penguin (gentoo, king, macaroni, Magellanic and rockhopper) that breed here, there are many other birds equally interesting and uncommon.
About 60% of Falklanders are native born, some tracing their ancestry back six or more generations. Today more than 80% of the 3140 Falklanders (sometimes called ‘Kelpers’) live in Stanley, and about 1200 British military live at Mt Pleasant base. The rest of the islanders live in ‘Camp,’ the name given to all of the Falklands outside Stanley.
Since the advent of large sheep stations in the late 19th century, rural settlement in the Falklands has consisted of tiny hamlets built near sheltered harbors where coastal shipping could collect the wool clip.
The Falklands retain their rural character: the islands are laced with 400km of roads, but there’s not one traffic light. Interesting ‘stone runs’ of quartzite boulders descend from many of the ridges and peaks on both East and West Falkland. Among the 13 endemic plants are several unusual species, including snake plant (Nassauvia serpens), with its long stalks and tiny leaves, and Felton’s flower (Calandrinia feltonii), a caramel-scented, magenta-blossomed annual until recently thought to be extinct in the wild. Vanilla daisy (Leuceria suaveolens), while not endemic, is still interesting – its flowers smell remarkably like chocolate. There are no remaining native land animals.
The Falklands operate on GMT -3 hours.