As you'll discover on a Falkland Islands tour, this remote bit of land--the Falklands' land mass is roughly equivalent to that of Connecticut--has had quite a history of dispute. From the time the first European set foot on its shores to the present day, various nations have argued over who has sovereignty over the archipelago. British Captain John Strong landed on the islands in 1690, and his discovery marked the beginning of long years of dispute between the British, French, and Spanish. The Falklands' strategic location near Cape Horn made it an ideal place for a naval base; Spain claimed the islands in 1713; France, unknown to Spain, established a base there in 1764; and the British, unbeknownst to Spain or France, built Port Egmont in 1766. Disagreements escalated first between Great Britain and France, and then Spain joined in the fray.
Spain and France eventually reached an agreement that France would surrender its port to Spain, with Spain giving reimbursement for the cost of the settlement. Spain and Great Britain, however, were unable to reach an agreement, and in 1770 the Spanish sent 1600 naval officers to take control of Britain's Port Egmont. The small British force quickly surrendered, and Spain claimed control of the Falklands. The British, however, were not content to give up control so easily, and made plans for war. When the panicked Spanish forces could not convince Louis XV of France to support them, they agreed to compromise with Britain by returning Port Egmont to British hands. While neither nation had complete sovereignty over the islands, all sides understood that Port Egmont was a determined British holdout against mainland South America.
Once the American War of Independence broke out, however, Britain relinquished its presence in Port Egmont, withdrawing its citizens and leaving behind only a plaque asserting its right to the settlement in 1776. Spain took advantage of the British absence to assert its control over the Falklands for the next 35 years, but it, too, eventually withdrew its citizens and left a plaque in 1811.
The Falklands remained empty of permanent residents for the next several years, though sealers and whalers took advantage of the vacancy to moor their ships near the islands, using them as a base for their hunting. In 1820, Argentina decided to take advantage of the emptied territory and sent David Jewett to the Falklands to claim sovereignty. In 1828, Argentina founded a settlement and a penal colony, and the following year appointed Luis Vernet as governor of the islands, causing loud protests from the British. Only two years later, Argentina stepped on American toes when Governor Vernet seized U.S. seal hunting ships during a dispute over fishing rights. The U.S. expressed their displeasure by destroying the Argentinian settlement in 1831, leaving behind only escaped prisoners and pirates.
In 1833, nearly 60 years after leaving the Falklands, the British decided to return and reassert their authority. The settlers already living in the Islands were allowed to remain, and the British proceeded to build a naval base at Stanley. Over the next 150 years, the Falklands proved to be a strategic point for ships navigating around Cape Horn, as well as ideally located to service ships during World Wars I & II. However, despite this strong British presence in the islands, Argentina had never officially given up its claim to the Falklands. In 1945, with the creation of the United Nations, Argentina claimed its right to the islands and to efforts to reclaim them. Talks continued into the 1960s, but no solution was resolved upon, largely because the ~2000 inhabitants of the Falklands were primarily British and preferred to remain under British control.
The situation came to a head in April of 1982, when Argentina invaded the Falklands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands, all British territories in the south Atlantic. The U.N. Security Council called on Argentina to withdraw and for the two countries to come to a peaceful resolution. When Argentina refused, the British sent their troops to reclaim the islands by force, leading to the brief but intense Falklands War. The British eventually reclaimed the territory on June 14, 1982. In the years since the war, the British have strengthened their military presence in the Falklands, and, since 1989, have resumed diplomatic relations with Argentina. These relations are still somewhat tense, however, as Argentina has recently renewed its claim over the Falklands and requested that Britain reconsider the issue of sovereignty.
Though Falklands' history has included the influences of the French, Spanish, Argentine, and British, it is British culture that prevails in the Islands today. Seventy percent of the ~3,000 inhabitants have British and Scottish roots, though a scattering of Scandinavian names is a legacy of the whalers and sealers who resided in the islands in the 19th century. Most of the rest of the residents are French, Gibraltarian, Portuguese, and Chilean in origin. The official language is English, and the currency is the Falkland pound, which is equivalent to the British pound.
Ninety-five percent of the population makes its living through either fishing or sheep farming--there are over 600,000 sheep on the islands, and their meat, hides, and wool make up a significant portion of the Falklands' exported goods. Fish and squid make up the remainder of the exports. Since the fishery was built in 1987, fishing license fees provide a large amount of revenue to the Falkland government, making the fishing industry the primary contributor to the local economy.
Such resources make a visit to the Falkland Islands particularly enjoyable to the palate. Visitors will be able to sample a wide variety of locally harvested organic fare--lamb, beef and mutton dishes are served alongside fresh vegetables. No Falklands tour is complete without tasting some of the myriad seafood offerings, whether it be mussels, oysters, scallops, snowcrab, seatrout, Atlantic rock cod, local squid or the Patagonian toothfish. The British influence on the islands ensures that travelers will be able to enjoy the traditional fish and chips at any number of restaurants in Stanley. Travelers will also enjoy local traditions such as "smoko"--delectable home-baked goods served with tea or coffee in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
On a Falklands tour travelers will also have a chance to visit museums, explore the shops, and purchase beautiful locally-made goods. The museums share the cultural and natural history of the Islands, from the Falklands' part in the World Wars to detailed information about local wildlife, and from stories of shipwrecks to an exploration of a restored historic cottage. Falklands visitors will also enjoy perusing the local shops and seeing the unique hand-made goods. Woollen goods include colorful hand-dyed hats, sweaters, and warm ponchos. Leather work, jewelry, and wood crafts (some made from the local diddle-dee bark) are also available to those looking for a special memento of their Falkland Islands vacation.