Mention of The Falkland Islands will likely illicit one of a few responses: where, why, the war, are they British or Argentinan, love penguins – or perhaps a mixture of all of the above. To most people though, they aren’t somewhere you would really plan to visit or spend your vacations, and I’ll admit I used to fall into that category.
Having spent two weeks exploring the archipelago of some 700 odd islands, of which I saw less than a handful, I can now see the real unique appeal in them. Wild, rugged and undisturbed nature is the main draw, but there are plenty of reasons to visit the Falkland Islands, and luckily it’s just got a lot easier and somewhat more affordable.
1. New flight routes from Brazil (and Chile)
This is rather recent and exciting news, with the new LATAM flights from São Paulo, Brazil, only launching in November 2019. This new weekly flight route will make the islands both more accessible and more affordable to visit, especially if you are already travelling around South America. This alone is the most persuasive argument for adding the Falkland Islands on to your South America trip. Another flight on Chilean LAN (now part of LATAM) already runs weekly from Santiago.
But even if you are planning to visit the Falkland Islands from further afield, this has a huge impact. Previously, from the UK, the only option was to fly the rather long, annoying to arrange and expensive route with the RAF from an army base in Oxford. Now, with the right connections to São Paulo with LATAM, it’s a lot easier. Advertised ‘from’ prices indicate return fares of £1005 from London, £1332 from Sydney, and Miami from £867 – still not the cheapest, but a considerable price drop from the previous options.
A king penguin colony at Volunteer Point
2. All the penguins
Without a doubt, the main reasons for many to visit the Falkland Islands are the adorable and characterful penguins, of which there are five types across the archipelago. Even from Stanley, the capital, you can quite quickly head to points to see these beautiful animals waddling around or jumping into the clear waters.
The whole of the Falkland Islands is basically a vast nature and conservation reserve, and to see King Penguin colonies in the wild is just a feeling I’ll forevermore struggle to put into words.
3. Countless other wildlife opportunities
Of course, the penguins are stellar, but there is an abundance of other wildlife here that make for a great reason to visit the Falkland Islands.
From sea lions and seals to killer whales, countless types of bird to jumping dolphins, there is a breathtaking place to witness wildlife where it should be, in the wild. The wildlife on offer may vary by season, but there will always be an abundance to observe no matter when you visit.
Another remote cabin on a stormy flying day
4. Untamed and untouched nature
There is only one real road on the Falkland Islands, and then a selection of ‘all-weather tracks’ to other places. Beyond that, it’s all about the off-roading to explore this untamed land of natural beauty.
From white and silver sand beaches that haven’t seen human footprints in months, to rugged rocks embracing aggressive waves and grasses as tall as people, the landscapes of the islands are varied and untamed. With hardly any trees, it makes for a unique place to explore, and once you get outside the main settlements, you’ll feel you have it all to your self.
5. Quirky and unique flying experiences
In my opinion, the best views of the islands can be enjoyed from a bird’s eye view, which given the immense number of birdlife here is apt.
Flying around the Falkland Islands is an experience unto itself, as only the two main airports have actual runways, the remainder of landing spots being grassy patches where the locals double up as greeters, fire crew and weather station. Flight time’s and passengers are announced the afternoon before on the radio, and the small eight-seater planes provide not just amazing views, but quite a unique flying experience!
6. Disconnecting from reality
In a world that feels continuously connected, whether that’s overwhelmed by social media, constantly taking in the news, or simply running around like crazy, the Falkland Islands brakes that mould. Internet is both relatively slow and expensive, and the distinct lack of people (think islands the size of cities with a population of two) means you really have to disconnect.
There might be other travellers in your lodge to explore with, or you might be alone, but there was a feeling in the Falklands that I’ve never had anywhere else: feeling utterly alone in the world. Whether it was hiking up a mountain or resting on a beach to watch penguins, you are with your own thoughts, away from anyone else, and the silence at times felt deafening.
Admiring Rockhopper penguins on Saunders Island
7. Next level photography opportunities
A lot of the (very few) travellers I met on my travels through the archipelago were photographers, and undoubted one of the biggest reasons to visit the Falkland Islands is to get snap-happy. While you might need pro gear to capture far off birds in flight, the wildlife is so plentiful and sometimes so close, that even with a smartphone you would come away with an incredible array of photos.
It’s one of the most natural and easy places I’ve been to capture fantastic wildlife photography, and so is rightly a reason unto itself – even if you aren’t laden with gear, you are guaranteed photos that will shine.
8.Local hospitality, Smoko and packed lunches
Perhaps it’s the remoteness and self-reliance, or maybe they are just genuinely lovely people, but the hospitality in the Falkland Islands was truly next level – which was a bizarre thing to experience for me in an English speaking country.
Your guest house hosts will become friends you enjoy a morning coffee with over a natter, your guides will feel like family by the end of the day, and even the pilots will be like mates as you catch up on a grass landing strip. I think I knew every name of every person I met on this trip, which is quite the feat.
When it comes to food though, you’ll be especially spoilt – with shops being rare outside Stanley, from breakfast to dinner and even the packed lunches, you’ll be lathered with food, so you don’t go hungry. Honesty bars provide an evening nightcap while baking reigns supreme when it comes to afternoon cakes, known as Smoko, again in bountiful supplies!
9. The perfect alternative honeymoon destination?
Islands have always been a top pick when it comes to romantic getaways and honeymoons, but while the Falkland Islands won’t deliver sunbathing and tropical waters, to my lonely ass self, I can imagine it to be the perfect romantic getaway.
Private beaches full of penguins, unforgettable moments to last a lifetime, and plenty of ‘us’ time by the evening to entertain yourselves given the lack of evening activities, perfect for newlyweds to…. play board games?
A dolphin plays in the shore waves at Bertha’s Beach
10. Learning to enjoy doing nothing
It might sound odd, but I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do nothing. Not to think, or worry, or be planning, or tapping on a phone. So to do nothing, and slowly learn to enjoy it again, has honestly made such a change to how I spend my time even weeks after my trip. Sitting on a beach for hours to watch penguins play, staring out a window enjoying the view ignoring the book in hand, or watching baby lambs jump around without tapping on a mobile were all moments I came to treasure.
I slept better than I have my whole adult life, I barely looked at my computer or phone, and I spent a lot of time in my own thoughts, having beautiful nostalgic memories or reflecting. It was like a detox, therapy, and a retreat rolled into one, just with a lot more penguins and wagon wheels.
Genuinely, I didn’t realise how many reasons there were to visit the Falkland Islands – as to be honest, many of those reasons above wouldn’t have enticed me to go – but boy am I glad I did.