Get ready for penguins.
Just a few decades ago, the Falkland Islands were embroiled in a bitter war when Argentina invaded the U.K.'s territory. The conflict, which eventually restored the islands back to British control, lasted for 10 weeks and inspired films, documentaries, and television shows.
Today, this archipelago of more than 750 islands and islets is a tourist destination for bird watchers, wildlife seekers, and anyone hoping for a taste of the “deep south” in this gateway to Antarctica.
A nature lover’s paradise, the Falklands show signs of life everywhere you look: from crags dotted with seabirds, to beaches swarming with penguins (the Falklands are home to five different species), to vast watery depths where whales, walruses and seals compete for space off-shore. There’s even an entire island named for sea lions.
Located deep in the Southern hemisphere, summer here falls from November through February, and this is the best time to visit, as you’ll enjoy warmer weather and a better chance at spotting wildlife. If animals are a big factor in your decision to come here, check out this handy Wildlife Calendar, which offers an overview of what happens when. (For example, while October is when Gentoo and Magellanic penguins lay their eggs, in December you’ll be able to witness those eggs hatch. Later, in March the penguin chicks “fledge,” or shed the remainder of their soft baby feathers.)
What to Bring
Keep in mind these islands are remote: Don’t expect the same amenities you’d find in a big town or city. There are no ATMs in the Falklands, according to the tourism board, so travelers need to carry British pounds or U.S. dollars with them to cover incidentals.
Pack water-resistant clothing, warm layers, and sturdy walking shoes, as there is plenty of exploring to do on foot. However, don’t let the Falkland Islands' polar location fool you: While it’s geographically within the Antarctic zone, temperatures are milder than what you’d expect. The weather here is similar to the U.K., but with less rain.
What to See
“The density of wildlife on the Falkland Islands is like nowhere else on Earth,” said Wendy Smith, head of polar adventures at boutique tour operator Intrepid Travel.
Not only does the archipelago boast five different penguin breeds, but penguins actually outnumber people here by the hundreds of thousands. To see them, head three hours north of Stanley to Volunteer Point. Home to the largest colony of King penguins in the Falkland Islands, this peninsula has a gorgeous white sand beach stretching for two miles—it’s here where you’ll spot several hundred penguins, tottering in groups of ten or twenty along the smooth shoreline.
This is a popular cruise stop, so be sure to ask your tour guide to time your visit before (or after) the mob descends.
Where to Stay
The 22,000-acre estate of Pebble Island Lodge is probably as close as you’ll ever come to sleeping on your own private island. With a prime location in the center of Pebble Island, the hotel goes out of its way to help guests explore. Guided tours are offered on a regular basis, in 4-wheel drive vehicles (necessary for traversing the crude, hilly landscape and getting onto the sandy beaches). Bird watchers, in particular, love it here, with plentiful sightings of Peregrine Falcons, Night Herons, native Rocky penguins (known for their goofy-looking mohawks), and more. The lodge itself is in a large 1928 white brick farmhouse, cozily furnished, which sleeps 11 people, in six rooms, all en suite.
What to Know
Stanley is the capital of the Falkland Islands, a well-weathered port town that’s home to about 2,100 inhabitants (which is most of the Islands' population). Settled in the 1840s, it was once an important stop for English explorers and whalers, hence the striking whalebone arch — constructed from the jawbones of two blue whales — that marks the entrance to Christ Church Cathedral.
Step into the past at the Historic Dockyard Museum, a former 19th-century storehouse, smithy, and telephone exchange building that now tell the full story of the Falklands, with old maritime relics (many ships were stranded here during early attempts at exploring the Antarctic), exhibits about the 1982 war, taxidermied animals, and tools from the farmers, blacksmiths, and carpenters, and of course fishermen who once lived here. (Need something a little more light-hearted? Stop by Kay’s, a whimsical B&B whose gnome garden has become an attraction all to itself.)
How to Go
At roughly 400 miles off Argentina’s southern coast, the only way to get to the Falkland Islands is by plane. LATAM flies once a week (on Saturdays) from Santiago, Chile into Mount Pleasant Airport on East Falkland. Although this is actually a military facility, it also doubles as an international commercial airport.
From the airport, it’s about an hour’s drive to Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. Once you’ve arrived at the archipelago, the easiest way to get around is in a 4-wheel drive vehicle (usually accompanied by a tour guide), or via FIGAS, the island’s government-operated air service. Fares start at £55, or about US$69.