To many, the Falkland Islands are renowned for being perhaps the most controversial British lands in the world although guests aboard expeditions to Antarctica revere them primarily for their incomparable wildlife richness.
Found just 500 km east of the southern Patagonian coast and about 700 km north of Antarctica, the Falklands are sparsely inhabited, dramatic-looking and immensely fascinating, showcasing an astonishing fusion of biodiversity that reflects both Patagonia and Antarctica, both in terms of flora and fauna. To help you understand this fascinating destination, we’ve compiled this Falkland Islands travel guide.
Home to five distinct species of penguins (including King and Rockhopper, which are difficult to see elsewhere), a large colony of Black-browed Albatross (the largest concentration in the entire region), an abundance of Elephant seals, Sea lions and plenty of migrating whales and dolphins, these South Atlantic islands are very much a sub-Antarctic haven and can easily be considered the best introduction to a fabulous journey to the White Continent.
Although the islands do boast an airport, and you could certainly swing by on a fly-over journey, the most popular option is to include them on an expedition cruise to Antarctica.
Here is where you’ll find them:
Why include the Falkland Islands?
All things considered, the Falklands don’t boast the kind of Antarctic wildlife bonanza found on South Georgia (because there’s simply no other place like South Georgia) however, there are a few very valid reasons this is almost irrelevant. First of all, if you do want to include South Georgia on your Antarctica expedition then you will be choosing an itinerary that also includes the Falklands, since they are en route.
Secondly, although the Falklands may not boast South Georgia’s mind-boggling animal concentration, their Antarctic wildlife offerings are still tremendously impressive. Rather than competing with its (far off) neighbour, the Falklands complement them.
Antarctica expeditions to the Falklands and South Georgia are the longest journeys you can take from Ushuaia and considered the most comprehensive of all.
And thirdly, for history and culture aficionados, the islands are incredibly enticing. With a tumultuous chapter of its history you’ll no doubt remember if you’re above 40 years of age and a capital city that is totally charming and utterly British, the Falklands offer the only real cultural infusion on Antarctic expeditions.
Falkland Islands Highlights
Five Species of Penguins
Hosting more penguins than human inhabitants, the Falklands rate as one of the best places in the world to see the slippery little fellas in their natural environments. From King to Gentoo, Rockhopper, Chinstrap and Magellanic, the Falklands’ penguin inhabitants are the #1 draw. The Falklands and nearby South Georgia are considered the two best destinations to see the magnificent King penguins – despite the fact they are undoubtedly an Antarctic wildlife icon, they actually prefer sub-Antarctic climates so are rarely seen on the Antarctic Peninsula proper.
Preferring to huddle in groups and having the run of the place, penguins are easy to spot on the Falklands and if these remote isles were any closer to the South American mainland they’d undoubtedly also be overrun by tourists. Instead, they are seldom visited and that makes a visit feel incredibly special.
Nearly 230 Species of Birds
Revered among bird-watchers as an incomparable mecca in the southern Atlantic, the Falklands have recorded nearly 230 distinct species of birds, a mind-boggling stat given the rather diminutive land area. The most common landing sites in the Falklands include the two main isles as well as nearby islets, all renowned for hosting colonies of unique bird species, including penguins (naturally) and the much-coveted Black-browed albatross – over three-quarters of the world’s population lives here and on nearby South Georgia.
Sea Lions, Fur & Elephant Seals
The Falklands’ marine wildlife cache is likewise impressive, with the islands hosting three distinct seal species. The aptly-named Sea Lion Island archipelago is home to almost the entire population of elephant seals in the Falklands and, given it is likewise brimming with a multitude of penguin rookeries, is an astonishing spot to visit.
Whales and Dolphins
Completing the marine life spectacle are over 20 species of whales and dolphins which routinely frolic in the seas framing the Falklands. The most commonly-seen species include Commerson, Hourglass and Peale’s dolphins as well as orcas, pilot whales, fin and sperm whales.
The dramatic and rugged landscapes of the Falklands are legendary, so much so that whilst Argentina and Great Britain were fighting for dominance, the rest of the world was left wondering who on earth could ever live here in the first place. Yet the rest of the world obviously hadn’t visited for as inhospitable as these islands may appear, they are actually incredibly stunning.
What usually surprises visitors is the sheer variety of scenery: from gorgeous white sandy beaches that wouldn’t look out of place in the tropics (you know, bar the tiny detail of freezing cold seas) to high rocky cliffs and rolling hills – these are some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the world.
Extensive hikes are difficult to come by on Antarctic cruises that don’t include the Falklands and South Georgia, simply because these are the only destinations that enjoy extensive snow-melt in summer. From leisurely beach walks to breath-taking cliff hikes, shore landings in the Falklands include a multitude of glorious treks of varying lengths and difficulties, so you can further soak up all those landscape and wildlife splendours.
Falklands Islands Museum in Stanley
On your way to the Falklands, you’ll no doubt be privy to lectures regarding the 1982 Falklands War, although this is only one of the many chapters which have shaped the island’s distinct cultural heritage. The Falklands National Museum is in Stanley, the largest settlement, and is considered an unmissable highlight with five distinct sections detailing the natural, maritime and social histories of the islands, as well as a section dedicated to the 1982 conflict and, finally, to the island’s role as a springboard to Antarctica. The walk-through history lesson is exceptional and the museum deserving of your time.
Stanley itself is a quaint and colourful village of merely 2,000 souls and here you’ll find several prominent historical sites as well as several authentic British pubs, cafés and restaurants.
Friendliness & Hospitality
There’s a unique kind of hospitality one enjoys when visiting remote communities and, when it comes to the Falklands, this is one of the most revered highlights. The friendliness of the locals and their genuine happiness at receiving guests is memorable and their constant offers to drop by for tea and scones is a gorgeous delight.
Best way to visit the Falkland Islands
Only a select number of expedition ships take the longer route to Antarctica via the Falklands and South Georgia every summer, with the average expedition journey taking about 20 days. See our Falklands Antarctica Cruises for departure dates.
We also offer a short and sweet 8-day Ushuaia, Cape Horn & the Falklands expedition for those who are either short on time or prefer to dedicate their expedition primarily to visiting the Falklands. A superb experience that’s ideal if you’ve already visited Antarctica and wish to now spend more time exploring these remote and unforgettable islands.
Best time to visit the Falkland Islands
The Falklands enjoy a much warmer climate than Antarctica (or South Georgia) with summertime temps even reaching 14C. The climate is still cold maritime, however, so don’t expect those wonderful sandy beaches to entice you in for a swim, even in the middle of January.
Cold and wind notwithstanding, the Falklands are decidedly milder and, consequentially, they enjoy a longer cruising season (that’s why you’ll see our above-mentioned 8-day cruises casting off from September).
Early season cruising (Sept, Oct & Nov)
Being among the first cruise ship passengers to visit the Falklands for the season certainly has its unique appeal. Spring may feel a little different in this remote and somewhat archipelago yet for the innumerable wildlife species it still marks the start of their mating season.
Mid-season (Dec & Jan)
Arguably the best months to visit the Falklands, a time when days are long and relatively warm, facilitating hikes, on-shore landings and extensive explorations. Moreover, all that early-season mating commotion will now result in a multitude of hatching events so you’ll see bundles of penguin pups taking their first steps.
Late season (February)
The last month of summer is prime whale-watching time and, as the number of visitors to the Falklands drops, the number of whales and dolphins spotted on expeditions reach an all-time high.
Take a more in-depth look at the Best Time to Visit the Falklands.
Learn all there is to know about this incredible place from our comprehensive Antarctica Travel Guide and when you’re ready to take the next step, contact us for more personalised advice.