Most visitors to the islands come in summer, between October and March, to enjoy the spectacular wildlife and quaint rural lifestyle.
By the decided will of more than 98% of the resident population expressed in internationally monitored referenda, the Falklands are a United Kingdom Overseas Territory and are an associated territory of the European Union.
The Falklands have been claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas for more than 180 years and were the site of a major conflict between the two countries after Argentina invaded in 1982. This resulted in the overthrow of the military dictatorship in Argentina after the invading army was defeated. Partly because of the dire and worsening state of affairs in Argentina and in an effort to distract their domestic population, sovereignty issues continue to be raised by Argentine governments.
Although first sighted by an English navigator in 1592, the first landing (English) did not occur until almost a century later in 1690, and the first settlement (French) was not established until 1764. Since that time the islands have been the subject of ongoing territorial disputes, first between Britain and Spain, then between Britain and Argentina. For nearly two hundred years, and certainly since 1833, the islands have been under British control.
Open conflict between Britain and Argentina began on 2 April 1982 when Argentina landed troops on the islands. The British responded with an expeditionary force that landed seven weeks later. After fierce fighting in what is often known as the Falklands War, the Argentine occupation force was forced to surrender on 14 June 1982. Nonetheless, today successive Argentine governments still refuse to give up claim to the archipelago.
The economy of the Falklands was formerly based on agriculture (mainly sheep farming) but today fishing contributes the bulk of economic activity. Income from licensing foreign trawlers totals more than USD40 million per year with squid accounting for 75% of the fish taken. Agricultural activities mainly support domestic consumption with the exception of high grade wool which is exported. Surveys have revealed oil deposits within a 200 mile oil exploration zone around the islands and exploratory drilling is under way. The substantial British military presence provides a sizeable economic boost.
Tourism is being actively encouraged and increasing rapidly with about 66,000 visitors in 2009; a significant part of the increase is from visiting cruise liners. The majority of visitors are from the UK but efforts are being made to encourage wildlife and adventure tourism. The main season is November to March but angling for sea trout is most favourable outside of this period.
Flora and fauna
The most popular reason to visit is for the scenic beauty and the flora and fauna. Conservation is high on the Islands' agenda. Bird and marine species are the most prevalent fauna and include five species of penguin, four species of seal, albatross, petrels, the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck (Logger Duck), other duck species, geese, hawks and falcons. The Striated Caracara (Johnny Rook) is a rare bird of prey found only on the Falkland Islands and some islands off Cape Horn. Porpoises and dolphins are often sighted with the occasional sighting of whales.
The terrain is rocky and hilly, with some boggy terrain. Peat is found throughout the islands, leading to potentially dangerous fire conditions; once ignited, a peat fire can burn for months. The deeply indented coast provides good natural harbours. The highest point in the islands is the 2,313 ft (705m) Mount Usborne mentioned by by Charles Darwin in the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle and named after the Master's Assistant on HMS Beagle, Alexander Burns Usborne, one of the crew on Darwin's famous voyage.
Strong westerly winds are a constant in many parts of the islands. It is more likely to rain in the southeastern part of the islands with the far western islands getting very little yearly precipitation.
Although it is located almost exactly as far south as London is north of the equator, the absence of a warming current like the Gulf Stream means temperatures are considerably colder and snow may occur at any time except for January and February, although accumulation is rare. Most visitors come to the islands between November and March.
The Falklands is a victim of the Antarctic ozone hole, so it is important to wear sunscreen on sunny days during the early summer.
Life in the Falklands can be divided between living in Stanley or living in camp. The two main islands of the territory are East Falkland and West Falkland, with numerous smaller islands providing additional destinations.
"Town" is a relative term in the Falklands. While the population of Stanley hovers near two thousand, the populations of other settlements usually range from the single digits to perhaps twenty people with a noticeable increase during the busy sheep shearing times. Bear in mind that the average medium sized village located in the United Kingdom has a population of only around 3,000 and this is nearly the total population of the entire Falkland Islands.
With the exception of those arriving by cruise ship who will not be spending a night on land, all visitors to the Falklands must show that they have a return ticket, accommodation and sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the islands. A major credit card will be accepted as proof of funds. A departure tax of £22 is charged when leaving the territory from Mount Pleasant airport.
A visa is required except in the following cases:
Most international flights arrive at the Mount Pleasant (MPN) airport, which is also a military base. The only international carriers to use this airport are LanChile on a weekly flight from Santiago de Chile via Punta Arenas (CL), Rio Gallegos (AR) (monthly) and the UK Royal Air Force who carry commercial passengers direct from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom. Flights from the UK last eighteen hours including a stop on Ascension Island en route. The RAF contracts two flights per week which are subject to military priorities. There is also an airport in Stanley (PSY) but it has a smaller runway and is used primarily for flights within the Falklands.
The Mount Pleasant airport is 35 miles (56km) from Stanley. Falkland Island Tours & Travel (☎ +500 21775, firstname.lastname@example.org) operates a shuttle bus that meets all flights and that can take visitors to and from the capital for £15.00 per person (one-way). Taxis also take passengers to and from the airport - these must be pre-booked.
By cruise ship
Large cruise ships stop at Stanley's port throughout the summer. These boats may also stop at some of the outlying islands. While cruise ships can dock at Stanley, be prepared to come ashore on a zodiac, also called a rigid inflatable boat (RIB), when landing on most other islands. It is also typical for expedition ships en route to Antarctica, to include a stop at the Falkland Islands in their itinerary.
Companies offering cruises to Antarctica include:
Travelling between islands in the Falklands is generally done using the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS). The planes are Britten Norman Islander aircraft, capable of carrying eight passengers plus pilot. Be aware however, that passenger load may be reduced depending on the condition of the airstrips being visited. With the exception of Stanley and Mount Pleasant, all airstrips in the Falklands are either dirt strips or grassy fields. Be prepared for slight delays while livestock is cleared from airstrips prior to takeoff/landing!
FIGAS flights leave twice daily from the airstrip just outside of Stanley and travel to a variety of locations throughout the islands. There is a baggage limit of 20kg per person which is strictly enforced; you and your baggage will be weighed prior to boarding in Stanley. For those with more than 14kg of baggage there is an additional charge of £1.00 per kilogram, space permitting. Note that unless the plane is flying to an island with a very poor landing strip there are almost never weight constraints that would prevent travelling with a few extra kilos of baggage.
Reservations are required for travel and should be booked at least 24 hours in advance. Booking reservations can be done either by calling the airport (Tel: 27219), emailing email@example.com or visiting the airport in person when it is open (hours vary depending on flight schedules but mid-morning is usually a good time). Flight schedules are announced the night before departure and are also available via a fax service. Most lodges will post the schedule as soon as it is announced.
Flights can be paid for in cash or with credit card. Fares vary by destination but sample fares (one-way) from November 2009 were:
While it is theoretically possible to get around the Falklands by boat, as of March 2010 there was no regular service available to tourists travelling in small groups to the outer islands; (contrary to reports in guide books, the Golden Fleece does not taxi passengers around the islands). For large groups it may be possible to charter a boat in advance thus providing a great way to visit some of the less-travelled islands. Be aware that per-passenger landing fees are charged on many of the islands; contact the island's owner before visiting.
However there is a regular passenger ferry between New Haven, 2 hours car journey from Stanley to Port Howard. Ferry tickets must be booked in advance from Workboat Services on 22300. As of December 2008 example prices were: Foot Passage single £10; Car Passage single £25.
Large cruise ships are the most common means for people to visit the Falklands, and most will make several landings at various islands. Note that aside from Stanley all landings from cruise ships are done using zodiacs (small inflatable boats), and in many cases the lack of docking areas will require a quick wade from the zodiac onto shore.
Within Stanley there are two taxi services that can be hired for travel throughout the town and surrounding areas, including the Mount Pleasant airport.
By Land Rover
Land Rover rental may be possible from Stanley. Contact either the Falkland Islands Company or Stanley Services (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information. Roads in Stanley are paved, but elsewhere road conditions range from well-maintained dirt roads to boggy mud streams. Unless your travels specifically require having your own vehicle, renting a Land Rover is neither necessary nor a particularly good idea.
As the Falklands are a British overseas territory, English is the official language. Ten percent of the population is fluent in Spanish, mainly native speakers from nearby countries like Chile. Many others have a "working knowledge" of Spanish.
The official Falklands currency is the Falkland Pound (FKP) whose value is set equivalent to that of one British pound sterling (GBP). Money can be exchanged at the only bank in the islands which is located in Stanley across from the FIC West store. British pounds are accepted anywhere in the islands and, within Stanley, credit cards and US currency are also often accepted. On the outlying islands credit cards will probably not be accepted, although British and US currency may be taken; check with the owners in advance to determine what is an acceptable payment method.
It is nearly impossible to exchange Falklands currency outside of the islands, so be sure to exchange all money prior to leaving the islands.
Meals in the Falklands are primarily traditional British. Fish and chips, roast beef, mutton and tea are standard fare. There are some Spanish influences such as Milanesa and Casuela. While in camp many of the lodges provide home-cooked meals in very generous portions and their food is generally better than is found in Stanley's pubs and eateries. However, Stanley does have a few good restaurants.
While most items in the Falklands are expensive due to the cost of importation, there are no taxes on alcohol making beer prices fairly reasonable. Pubs and lodges offer a wide selection, although most drinks will usually come from a can or bottle rather than a tap.
Accommodation in Stanley includes numerous bed and breakfasts as well as a handful of hotels. Buildings are generally older and the warm hospitality also seems to come from a bygone age. While in camp lodging includes everything from old farmhouses to lodges built specifically for tourism. Camping may be permitted with permission of the landowner. Many places are self-catering meaning supplies will need to be purchased in either Stanley or from a local source, if one is available. When in camp it is essential that lodging be reserved in advance; in Stanley it is generally possible to find lodging without a reservation but it is still recommended that reservations be made.
A work permit is required for any foreign national, including UK citizens, working in the Falklands. Work permits should generally be applied for prior to coming to the islands and will require an employer's sponsorship. Additional information can be found at the Falkland Islands Government site.
The locals can be unfriendly towards 'contractor workers'. They also think they get free housing. Contract workers are essential to the Falklands Economy due to a shortage of skilled and professionally qualified workers. It is almost impossible to find fresh fruit and vegetables there and when you do they are extortionately priced, for example, a banana will cost £1 and a small orange or one single plum will cost 90p. Cabbage and cauliflower costs around £4.50 for half a portion and when you get it home you will find it is more than likely rotten. Half a portion of lettuce costs around £3.50 and a small cucumber costs £4. Tomatoes for some reason are very expensive, if you buy 2 small tomatoes that will set you back £2.50! There is no fresh milk available and all milk is UHT/long life milk. The only fresh meat on sale in the supermarket is mutton. A frozen chicken costs around £12 for a 2kg bird.
The cost of heating your house during the time that you are there is also a problem as kerosene (the only form of heating available to most housing there) is expensive and will set you back £200 to £300 or more per month to heat a small 3 bed house. Overall the cost of living is at least 3 times higher than the UK.
The internet is very expensive and it costs around £80 per month for a limited data package of 4GB per month. It is not uncommon to be charged extra for going over your monthly allowance as it is easy to do this, most smart phones and tablets use the Internet to update so are hungry on the data. The internet is very slow and crashes often. Streaming is a big 'no' not only because of the cost but because it constantly buffers 'stop start'. It is not uncommon to receive monthly phone/Internet bills in excess of £200. It costs around 60p off peak to phone the UK and 90p per minute peak rate.
It is expensive to get off the Island and a return flight to Santiago (the nearest airport interchange hub) costs approximately £800 per person and is a 7 hour flight. It costs £1600 for a return ticket to the UK if you are eligible for discount (you need to be a FIG employee) otherwise it costs £2100.00 per person so keeping in touch with the outside world is almost impossible.
Crime is relatively unknown in the Falklands, although one should still take the normal precautions of not leaving items unattended or travelling alone late at night. If problems are encountered the police force should be helpful.
Unexploded ordnance from the 1982 conflict, including land mines, are still found in the islands. No civilians have been harmed by landmines since the conflict ended and the remaining minefields are all well marked and clearly cordoned off. It is a criminal offence to enter a minefield and to remove minefield signage.
Many animals in the islands can be dangerous when cornered or with young. Elephant seals, sea lions and fur seals are probably the most dangerous; keep a safe distance when viewing these animals. A general rule is that if the animal seems to notice your presence, you are too close.
The Falklands, being located at a far southern latitude, may be affected by the Antarctic ozone hole from August until December. During this time be sure to wear sunscreen on sunny days, as the risk of sunburn is increased significantly. During other months of the year the ozone hole shrinks and the danger from the sun is not significantly greater than anywhere else on the planet. However, it is wise to wear sunscreen as the burning effect of the sun is often under-estimated by visitors to the islands.
There are no special medical requirements for visiting the Falklands. There is a large hospital in Stanley but outside of the capital there are no medical facilities. For serious injuries the costs of being airlifted out of the islands are very high. Your travel insurance must cover the costs of medical evacuation.
Since the population has British roots, customs tend to follow those of the United Kingdom, although in many ways the islanders are more conservative than Britain. Drugs are not tolerated and travellers should be aware that among some residents there is still a mistrust of Argentines stemming from the 1982 conflict between the UK and Argentina.
In addition to the above concerns, there exists a Country Code that should be followed by visitors to the islands:
The international calling code for the Falklands is +500. The local phone company, Cable & Wireless, sells phone cards which can be used throughout the territory but international calls cost £0.90 per minute. Broadband internet access now exists island-wide although speeds are much closer to dialup, 56 Kbps or less. Several hotels, as well as the visitor centre offer computers that accept Cable & Wireless internet cards and there are an increasing number of Wi-Fi hotspots. Both phone and internet cards can be purchased from the Cable & Wireless office in Stanley (located on the hill past the War Memorial), as well as in some of the stores in Stanley. The larger lodges will also sell phone cards and may have internet cards. More recently a GSM cell phone network has been made available but works only for Stanley, Mount Pleasant and a few other locations on East Falkland.
The postal service in the Falklands is reliable and letters can be mailed easily from Stanley and most settlements. The main post office is located in downtown Stanley across from the FIC West store.