The Port Stanley waterfront as we came into the harbor aboard Seaventure

The Falkland Islands, or the Islas Malvinas to the Argentines, were our first port of call on our 34-day voyage aboard Seaventure. After leaving Ushuaia through the Beagle Channel, we fetched up two days later at West Point Island, part of the Falklands group. We spent the morning exploring this scenic place before setting sail for the capital town of Port Stanley, where we would spend the next day.

The Falkland Islands lie about 400 nautical miles off Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina.

Like a lot of North Americans “of a certain age,” our only reference point for the Falklands was the 1982 invasion by Argentina and the subsequent war – when images of battle were splashed on the news broadcasts every night. I have a vague recollection of Prince Andrew being involved, and the overwhelming defeat of the Argentines after only a few months. When we found out we’d be visiting the Falklands, we were curious to learn more about this remote, beautiful place and find out what else makes it unique.

A pair of nesting rockhopper penguins we spotted on West Point Island

Here are some interesting Falklands factoids:

The Falkland Islands are a wildlife haven. This cluster of almost 800 islands hosts five different penguin species, elephant seals, fur seals, and 65% of the world’s black-browed albatross population. On our landing at West Point Island, we were able to get up close and personal with a nesting colony of those albatross, sharing the roost with southern rockhopper penguins.

Although they’re still claimed by Argentina, the Falklands are part of the British Overseas Territories. These also include South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension, and St. Helena, all of which we would visit later in our voyage (the only one we didn’t actually set foot on was Ascension, but that’s a story for another day!).

Island residents are British subjects, but the Falklands are a real melting pot. Almost 4,000 people live in the Falkland Islands, hailing from more than 60 countries including Chile and, yes, Argentina. Of course, most Falklanders are descended from British settlers, and many – such as the front desk lady we spoke with at the museum – can trace their island heritage back over 200 years. Three quarters of residents live in the capital, Stanley, with the rest scattered on remote farms around the islands.

The Falkland Islands economy was originally based on sealing and whaling, but by 1980 it had become almost completely dependent on sheep farming (even today you’ll see beautiful handmade goods for sale crafted of Falklands wool). The economy is much more diverse today, with the islands’ income mainly from tourism and commercial fishing. About 75% of the fishing industry is for squid; in fact, the waters around the Falklands are some of the richest squid fisheries in the world.

First Stop: West Point Island

We made a cold and splashy landing in the Zodiacs, the first of many, on a rocky beach at West Point Island in the northwest corner of the Falklands. This rugged, windswept place boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the islands, in addition to the seabird nesting colony. In fact, West Point has been designated an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International for its huge populations of many different species.

West Point is a gorgeous, yet austere place. If you squint, you can see Seaventure at anchor in the distance.
We hiked across the island to see the bird nesting grounds. The clumpy vegetation is called tussock grass, and it’s super important to the Antarctic ecosystem.
Fluffy black-browed albatross chicks share space with their rockhopper penguin buddies
A young albatross tries his wings. He’ll be flying soon.

West Point Island’s human story began in 1879 when Arthur Felton arrived to establish a sheep farm. Arthur’s grand nephew, Roddy Napier, and his wife Lily still operate the farm and welcome visitors from expedition ships. After hiking to the other side to see the birds, we were welcomed by the Napiers into their cozy home for tea and conversation. We were impressed by the measures they take to ensure that the sheep don’t interfere with the birds, including movable fencing and careful herd management.

The Union Jack flies proudly at West Point
The Napiers’ tidy homestead has been in the family for generations.
After the cold hike, we were welcomed into Lily’s cozy kitchen for tea and cake.

The Capital: Port Stanley

Port Stanley is neat as a pin, with its beautifully maintained English gardens and Edwardian architecture. We really enjoyed strolling around town and taking in the scene, which, if we closed our eyes, is exactly how we’d imagine any coastal English town. The two highlights of our Stanley visit were the Historic Dockyard Museum and Gypsy Cove.

Stanley’s famous whalebone arch was built from the jawbones of two blue whales in 1922. At left is Christ Church Cathedral.
Stained glass inside Christ Church Cathedral
Pretty Edwardian-style houses

The Historic Dockyard Museum is a must-visit in Stanley. It’s a treasure trove of information on the social history of the Falklands, with beautifully presented exhibits on the maritime exploration of the islands, the area’s natural history, and the 1982 war with Argentina.

We also took an excursion to Gypsy Cove, a haven for Magellanic penguins and other seabirds. Situated about 6.5 km out of Port Stanley, Gypsy Cove is a protected natural area with a scenic walkway overlooking a protected beach. The penguins burrow deep into the tussock grass to lay their eggs and rear their young, and we were able to glimpse some of them hunkered down in their burrows.

Lovely Gypsy Cove
A Magellanic penguin hanging out in front of his burrow (Photo: Ben Osborne/Polar Latitudes)
A couple of penguins hunkered down in their burrow
The wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, launched in England in 1879. She came into Port Stanley for repairs in 1912 after being damaged rounding Cape Horn, and she never left. Lots more interesting history here.
Another pretty view of Gypsy Cove with tussock grass in the foreground

About That War

The Falklands have been disputed territory since the arrival of the first Europeans, originally serving as a strategic base for ships to stage their passage around Cape Horn. The islands have been (more or less) continuously occupied by the British since 1765 and became a British crown colony in 1841, but Argentina has claimed sovereignty since the early 19th century. Matters came to a head in 1982, when the Argentine military invaded and attempted a takeover, and British Prime Margaret Thatcher responded by sending a huge naval task force to the region. The lopsided conflict was over in three months with Britain retaining control, but not before 255 British and 649 Argentine military personnel, plus three local civilians, lost their lives.

It turns out (surprise) that the Falklands war boiled down to politics. Both England and Argentina had been working on a diplomatic solution for decades with little success. Lt. General Leopoldo Galtieri, leader of Argentina’s military government, planned the invasion as a means of promoting patriotic feeling and propping up his regime. He was also hoping to divert people’s attention away from Argentina’s chronic economic problems and dismal human rights record. For her part, as England’s first female prime minister, Thatcher was looking to secure her reelection and gain leverage in a man’s world (it was 1982, after all).

These signs are in Tierra del Fuego National Park near Ushuaia. The right sign says “The Malvinas are Argentine” and the small print on the left one says “Malvinas Unite Us.”

To this day the Falklands war is a sore subject on both sides. In many places in and around Ushuaia, you’ll see signs declaring that the Malvinas are part of Argentina. There’s also a beautiful plaza on the Ushuaia waterfront dedicated to the 649 soldiers who died in the battle. And in Buenos Aires, there’s an even more impressive monument, watched over by a military honor guard.

This sign in Stanley’s Historic Dockyard Museum neatly sums up the Falkland Islanders’ perspective on the war.

For their part, the Falklands Islanders are fiercely proud of their heritage (as they should be) and are determined to keep the Union Jack flying over their islands. A referendum held in 2013 asked them whether they wanted to continue their status as a U.K. overseas territory, and 99.8% voted to remain a British territory (with a 92% turnout). Very recently, Argentina’s newly elected president, Javier Milei, signaled that he recognizes the islands are in British hands and that he will work towards a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the sovereignty question.

Tips for Visitors

The Falkland Islands are easier to visit than you might think, particularly if you’re coming from the U.K. Most tourists arrive on cruise ships, but you can also book a trip through a tour operator or travel agent. For independent travelers, LATAM Airlines offers a limited number of weekly flights connecting through Santiago and Punta Arenas, Chiles. Check here for lots more info about getting to the Falklands.

For such a small and isolated place, the Falklands Islands Tourist Board does a great job of promoting the islands to visitors. The tourism website is one of the best we’ve seen, and the Visitor Information Center on the Stanley waterfront has a wealth of information.

The Waterfront Hotel and Restaurant is a cozy place for a nice lunch and proper cup of tea.

We enjoyed chatting with the friendly gin master, Richard McKee, at Falkland Islands Distillers.

If you’re a gin fan, pop into Falkland Islands Distillers, a small craft distillery overlooking the harbor in Stanley. The small-batch, hand-crafted gins are distilled using local botanicals. The gins are mighty fine, and reasonably priced.

Next: Majestic South Georgia Island

31 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post, Susan and John. The Falkland Islands have captured my imagination, like many other small island nations. I did not know that Milei acknowledged they are actually and indeed British property. I guess that’s some progress, but he also plans to make them Argentine over time still. An interesting desire, knowing that almost all Falkland Islanders prefer to remain British.

    Like you, we have seen many signs throughout Argentina stating “Las Malvinas son Argentinas”. Sometimes, we see road arrows pointing towards the islands with their distance from that point and, in Buenos Aires, every public bus has the same “claim sign” on it. In Mendoza, we saw a park dedicated to Las Malvinas, also claiming it is Argentine.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Liesbet! That article about Milei was pretty eye-opening; he seems like a fairly reasonable person behind all the bluster and crazy behavior (some people were calling him the Argentine Trump when he was running for election). If you go back to Buenos Aires, go see the Malvinas monument in Plaza San Martin. It’s pretty impressive.

  2. Have also been intrigued by the Falklands and even more so now since reading this post! I don’t remember seeing any Malvinas signs when we visited Ushuaia several years ago. Too bad as that would have made a great photo. Thanks for pointing out the interesting sights, both physical and natural, on your visit. It makes me want to jump on a ship and head there.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Annie! Sorry for my belated reply – we are currently in Barbados, having just weathered Beryl. We hope you can visit the Falklands someday; it’s a really special place!

  3. I never made it over to the Falkland Islands, although my parents did on a similar cruise several years ago. What captured my interest were the penguins on the island! I know that the Falkland Islands are a point of contention between Argentinians and the British, and I heard it’s not something to discuss to the former casually in conversation…it’s incredible you made it to Tristan da Cunha as well during your voyage, as I hear it’s one of the most-difficult places to get to in the world! I hope to read about it in due course!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Rebecca – sorry about my belated response. The Falklands are penguin paradise, for sure! And yes, emotions still run pretty high on both sides regarding the 1980s war. Tristan da Cunha was unforgettable, for sure – stay tuned, a post is coming about that!

  4. The turquoise water at Gypsy Cove looks almost tropical, but I can imagine how cold it must have been. The tussock grass blown by the wind makes this corner of the Falklands look very atmospheric. It’s quite surprising that given the long-standing sentiment in Argentina about the status of Las Malvinas, the country’s current president is signaling that he might recognize British sovereignty over the islands. It’s going to be interesting.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Bama! Sorry for my belated response. Yes, Gypsy Cove was pretty cold! I remember standing on that bluff and looking down at that clear water, thinking that in a warmer clime I’d love to jump right in. I don’t think the Falklands/Argentina question is over, by a long shot. Hope you’re well!

      • No worries at all! It’s supposedly dry season here in Jakarta, but it’s been raining a lot for the past few days. But all is good. I hope you’re doing well too!

        • John and Susan Pazera Reply

          We are! Heading home from Barbados Sunday after our Hurricane Beryl adventure. Thanks, friend!

  5. What a very interesting read. We hadn’t really considered visiting the Falklands but I’m tempted now to take a LATAM detour when we do our planned extended South America trip probably next year. We also saw War memorials (and claims to ownership) just across the border at Iguazu this year. I well remember the war, of course, I was 25, just making my way with career and my young family, and started to fear being called up (although in reality that was never very likely). Those houses in your photo certainly do look like England…it could easily be a picture of the seaside town where we currently live. Great post, guys.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hey guys – sorry for my belated reply. You should definitely try to add the Falklands to your itinerary for next year. I think it would be pretty fascinating to you as “natives” 🙂 Any chance you’re coming to Colombia?

  6. I didn’t know much about the Falklands Islands either, other than the needless war. I certainly didn’t think there would be such cute English looking towns on the islands. On top of that are the beautiful landscapes and of course the wildlife. What a great stop on your amazing cruise. Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Maggie! The Falklands were a real revelation. I can totally understand why the islanders want to hold on to their way of life, which goes back generations. I hope the two sides can come to some sort of agreement soon that works for both.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Cindy! We don’t come across too many other people who have actually been to the Falklands. Glad you got to experience it.

  7. Like you I knew nothing about the Falklands except the war, so it was so interesting to read about it and to hear of your experience there. I doubt I’ll ever get there but this was some lovely armchair traveling.
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Suzanne! We don’t run across too many other people who have been to the Falklands. It’s a really special place.

  8. Beautiful pictures of the rocky coasts and that incredible blue water! Interesting read on the history here. And penguins for the win! 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Meg! The penguins are my personal favorites. 🙂

  9. Sunny Branson Reply

    Yet another destination to add to my list! Great trip report!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, dear Sunny! Hope you and Kevin are well 🙂

  10. I really enjoyed this article. Like yourselves I first heard of these islands when the war broke out. The architecture looks very British and sounds like the people there are keen to remain as part of the UK.
    Definitely a place I would like to visit. Was going ashore part of an excursion? How long did you stay?
    Great photos 😀

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Gilda! Yes, everyone onboard was able to go ashore, and they had a bus ready to take us to Gypsy Cove. That was probably my favorite part of the day! I loved seeing the penguins in their burrows. We were only in the Falklands for two nights.

  11. A fascinating read. The Falkland islands look absolutely incredible, those photos of Gypsy Bay are stunning and how amazing are those rockhopper penguins! I am interested to read about the referendum vote %, I didn’t realise that so many islanders felt that about remaining part of the UK. The Edwardian houses could be my street!!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Hannah! People are understandably passionate about their homeland, since so many islanders there can trace back a few generations. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the Falklands.

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