The best things to do in the Falklands
By Martha Hales
The Falkland Islands possess a stark beauty, and much of their appeal lies in their wilderness regions where you can easily feel like the first person ever to set foot on your patch. The lack of human influence means that wildlife thrives here, and the particular combination of climate, habitat and location means that the variety of avian and marine fauna is unique and fascinating. Wildlife is a major attraction here, but by no means is it the only reason to visit. We’ve rounded up some of the most enticing activities available around the archipelago, and we think you might be surprised just how many things to do in the Falklands there are.
The Falkland Islands is a true hotspot for birders. There are large colonies of interesting species throughout the islands, many of which can be viewed in an environment of pristine nature, often without other people present. Of the 220 species of birds recorded in the archipelago, only two are endemic - the flightless steamer duck and the little Cobb’s wren. Among the most sought after of the Falklands’ many impressive species is the black-browed albatross, large seabirds which can be found across 16 sites, including the world’s largest colony on Steeple Jason Island.
Petrels, herons, oyster catchers, geese and cormorants are also of particular interest to birdwatchers, but the habitats of each species are different, so to see a wide range you will need to explore more than one island. The Falklands boast no less than 22 sites which have been classified as ‘important bird sites,’ and due to the lack of human influence and the unique sub Antarctic climatic zone, the birdlife here is as impressive as it is important.
Even if birdwatching is not your passion you can’t fail to get excited about penguins when you are visiting the Falklands. Images of penguins are everywhere, from souvenir tea towels to websites about visiting the islands, and it’s easy to see why these charming birds have been adopted as the mascot of the archipelago. Firstly, because they occupy many stretches of the coastline and can be enchanting to watch as they waddle about on land and slip gracefully under the waves. Secondly, because there are five separate species present - many in large numbers - making the Falkland Islands the best place to see so many penguins in the world outside of Antarctica.
A large colony of king penguins can be seen at Volunteer Point, a relatively easy location to reach and well worth it for the spectacle. During the October to April summer season there are estimated to be 500,000 breeding pairs of the five different penguin species and although the macaroni species are hard to spot, with a little tenacity the other four species are not hard to find.
First colonised in the mid 18th century, the history of the Falklands stretches back centuries. The period that captivates most visitors, however, is more recent. Enthusiasts of military history will find a lot to interest them throughout the islands, and it is possible to build an entire trip around the examination of the dramatic events of 1982.
The Falklands War lasted just 74 days but it was a deadly conflict with a considerable loss of life. For anyone with an interest in military sites there are several key locations to prioritise, including San Carlos, Darwin, Goose Green, Pebble Island and the region around Stanley - Mount Tumbledown, Mount Harriet and Two Sisters. As well as visiting the sites in person, your driver and guide will explain to you in detail the events and battles which took place.
Those in the know rave about the fishing in the Falklands. All that pristine wilderness is a major attraction, so you can lose yourself in the peace and serenity of a remote estuary or river while waiting for a bite. In terms of the fish you might catch, it is predominantly sea trout and mullet, which have been described by experienced anglers as plentiful and very willing.
If you enjoy catching lots of fish in solitude, surrounded by the splendour of untrammelled nature, the Falklands won’t disappoint. The best time to visit for prime trout fishing is September to April, and for the best of the best aim for September to October or February to March, whereas mullet are present all year round. Most locations around the Falklands offer excellent fishing opportunities, both in rivers and estuaries so our local experts can tailor your itinerary to include other wildlife experiences and sightseeing, or pure fishing trips as you wish.
The obvious starting point for hikers is Stanley, from where a number of trails radiate out into the surrounding landscapes. Choose between a straightforward seven kilometre coastal hike to Gypsy Cove, a photogenic curve of white sand where large numbers of Magellanic penguins often congregate, along with plenty of other interesting birdlife to watch before you head back along the same route.
Another trek out of Stanley is the heritage hike up Mount Tumbledown, taking in memorials and battle sites from the 1982 conflict along the way. Carcass Island and Pebble Island also offer impressive walking possibilities. On Carcass Island take in the ridge en route to the highest point on the island, the 213 metre high Mount Byng, where views on clear days are fantastic. Pebble Island offers some interesting paths among the wetlands in the east and a challenging trail to reach the peaks in the west.
Aside from the impressive birdlife the Falkland Islands are also home to a range of other fauna, notably marine mammals. There are numerous sites which are renowned for various wildlife colonies but one that you shouldn’t miss is Sea Lion Island, a relatively flat isle which allows for easy exploration. Many elephant seals and sea lions bask on the beaches around Sea Lion Island, sharing it with 47 species of birds. Mid-November to the end of December is a particularly dramatic time to be in the area because this is the period when killer whales lurk around the sea lion colonies waiting for a curious sea lion pup to stray into their path.
Whales and dolphins are commonly sighted all around the archipelago. Whales are most prolific during February and March, though you will usually have to take a coat trip to deeper waters to see them. Killer whales, sperm whales and sei whales are the most numerous species, while minke whales, southern right whales, fin whales and blue whales are often present but in much smaller numbers.
As the capital of the Falkland Islands, Port Stanley is the only sizeable settlement on the islands, and it is the hub of all facilities, services and tours. It may only be home to 3,500 people, give or take, but it contains the major cultural sights of the entire island group. Take in the stained glass windows of the cathedral and admire the size of the whalebone arch outside which commemorates the original inhabitants of the Falkland Islands who worked in the whaling industry.
The Dockyard Museum and Pioneer Row offer a glimpse back to Stanley’s early days as a provisions station for the shipping trade, while you can encounter modern life in Stanley when you sample the hospitality in the cafes and pubs dotted around town.
Make it happen
The opportunity to see five species of penguins is the main attraction for many visitors, but there is so much more to the Falkland Islands. Whether you are interested in history, hiking, landscapes, birds or marine life you will find plenty to keep you busy. Use the expertise of our trusted local partners to plan your ideal Falklands trip, combining the activities and locations that suit you best. Contact them through our enquiry form and they will begin crafting a bespoke itinerary designed around your priorities. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.