Located north of the Polar Front, the Falkland Islands are not considered sub-Antarctic, but are a common stop for many Antarctica travels. The total population of the islands is about 2,500; over half of the residents live in the Falklands' capital of Stanley. English is the official and preferred language of the region. The Falklands' main attractions include wildlife viewing, trekking, horseback riding, fishing, and scuba diving. Stanley also offers swimming in its public pool. The islands have a rich history, but since the end of the Falklands War in 1982 - United Kingdom's troops fought off an Argentinian invasion - the islands have remained culturally British.
East and West Falkland make up the majority of the total landmass, but there are over seven hundred islands to explore in the area, including the tiny Sea Lion Island.The Falkland Islands are composed of an archipelago off the coast of Argentina in the Atlantic Ocean, 280 miles northeast of the Tierra del Fuego. West Falkland and East Falkland are the two main islands, bisected by the Falkland Sound, and there are a staggering 766 smaller islands that make up the territory. The total land area is only about the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, but travelers will be excited to find that the Falklands have a combined coastline that measures nearly 800 miles. Beautiful sandy white beaches reaching off the edge of clear blue waters are around almost every corner!
Stanley, the islands' capital, is found on East Falkland. It resembles an English village, and has only about 2,000 inhabitants. Stanley used to be a busy port town, as well as rehabilitation for boats and ships that had just rounded the treacherous Cape Horn. The village is filled with charm and character; some of the area's homes are pieced together by salvaged wood from shipwrecks. There is an excellent Maritime History Trail around the Stanley, and a cruise to the Falklands may provide the opportunity to search some of the most astonishing shipwrecks in the world.
The Government House is located in Stanley and home to the London-appointed governor. The town, however, did not gain its political position through seniority. The oldest settlement on the island is actually Port Louis, located about 20 miles northwest of Stanley. It contains the island's oldest buildings, a great visit for any amateur or studied historian during their Antarctica travels.
Volunteer Beach, located east of Port Louis, is home to 150 breeding pairs of penguins. Fur seals and elephant seals can also be seen in the distance. East Falkland contains the most extensive road network in the area. Travel between locations can be done by car or an adventurous day-long trek.
East Falkland is an excellent place to begin a Falklands cruise. It boasts the highest point on the islands; Mount Usborne reaches to 2,313 feet, and is the peak in Wickham Heights, one of the two mountain ranges on the islands. The rest of the countryside on East Falkland is made up of rolling meadows and bogs, with sandstone slopes showing through. Stone runs, quartzite boulders descending from ridges, are a common geological feature. There are two deep fjords cutting through the island, leaving Lafonia in the south, which is connected by an isthmus less than a mile wide.
Comparable in size with East Falkland, the West contains only one substantial road. The island is scattered with farmland, the oldest is found at Port Howard. About 40 people share the farm with 42,000 sheep and 800 cattle. West Falkland's main temptation is its wildlife viewing. Before making the hike to the site seeing locations, make sure to ask the local farmer's permission to cross their land. The trek to the southwestern end is worth it. The coastline is covered in thousands of rockhoppers and a number of other seabirds. Groups of gentoo penguins can also be seen in West Falkland.
West Falkland is hillier than its neighbor, with the mountain range of Hornby Hills running through its middle. Most of the meadows on this island are dedicated to sheep pasture. In fact, there are no native trees on the islands; shrubs and grasses dominate the landscape. The picturesque rivers Warrah and Charles make their way through West Falkland. A cruise through the Falklands will reveal the gorgeous inlets and numerous bays that characterize both large islands.
Sea Lion Island
This small island is less than a mile wide, but if filled with wildlife. Hundreds of elephant seals crowd the beaches, while sea lions find places to bask on upper ridges of the southern coast. Over five species of penguins find room to nest on Sea Lion. The island also has one of the only working Falkland farms, sporting native tussock grass. Wildlife zealots should not miss a trip to this region.
Other islands worth visiting are Carcass Island, known for the gardens in Port Patterson; Beaver Island with the impressive wreckage of a French yacht; Barren and George Islands for their penguin colonies; and New and Keppel Islands for their nature reserves. The Falklands are dotted with numerous other islands for travelers looking for a quiet getaway.
The Falkland Islands are virtually unpolluted. A cruise to the Falklands will reveal some of the most pristine landscapes in the Atlantic Ocean. However, wildlife on the islands has been impacted heavily by human habitation, from the destruction of all native mammals to the heavy hunting and exploitation of the islands’ penguin and seal populations.
There are several organizations working to protect the unique environment of the Falkland Islands. The Environmental Research Unit is working to protect the penguin population, which is in decline due to massive industrial fishing that leaves the penguins without a food source. Falklands Conservation is currently working to protect the environment as a whole, viewing it as one of the last great wildernesses on the planet. The Falklands currently have nature reserves on several of the smaller islands to protect wildlife there.
There is a hole in the ozone layer that sits right above the Falklands; travelers are encouraged to wear sunscreen and hats!
The climate is quite mild; even in the winter months temperatures are frequently above freezing. The Falklands enjoy a narrow temperature range, thanks to being surrounded by south Atlantic waters. The thermometer hovers near 66F in the summer and about 36F in winter. Its maritime climate ensures that it is almost always humid. Stanley receives an average of 24 inches of rain a year, most of which occurs during the winter months of May to September. Travelers who expect penguins to always live in the snow will be surprised; snowfall is very rare in the Falklands! However, visitors should be prepared for high winds year around.
The Falklands were visited by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, and he wrote of the wildlife with fascination and admiration. The islands’ geographic location, isolated and yet off the coast of a major continent, allowed for unique species and also provided a resting place for an astonishing array of birdlife. A vacation to the Falkland Islands will reveal some of these incredible species.
The islands are most famous for their significant penguin population. A Falklands cruise will provide the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the three temporary penguin species on the island: the magellenanic penguin, the comical rockhopper penguin, and the macaroni penguin. These three birds live on the islands during the breeding season from September to April. The king penguin and gentoo penguin remain on the islands year around, although the breeding season is an excellent time to visit the Falkland Islands.
Another bird of note that inhabits the island is the black browed albatross; the largest population in the world is located on Saunders Island. Travelers can view the 250,000 couples from easy plane access. Visitors may also come across different types of geese, herons, and seagulls roaming the islands.
Falkland Islands marine life includes the impressive elephant seal, sea lion, and fur seal. Fur seals were hunted excessively during colonization, yet are now reproducing successfully in the waters off of the islands. Dolphins and porpoises are frequently sighted in the coastal waters. The commersion dolphin is one of the smallest sea mammals, a rare species distinguished by its black and white coloring.
All native mammals in the Falklands have been wiped out. The last warrah (Falkland wolf) was killed in 1876. Introduced mammals that now live on the islands include sheep, cattle, and horses, as well as rats, mice, Patagonian foxes, rabbits, and cats.