The Falkland Islands remain a real untouched gem in the South Atlantic Ocean. A true nature lovers paradise, wildlife enthusiasts will be in their element in this southern archipelago.
If you’re well versed on the top reasons for visiting the Falklands, no doubt you’ll be wanting to book a trip there for yourself! But before you go brandishing your credit card, here’s everything you need to know about visiting this serene and spectacular island destination.
When to Visit the Falkland Islands
The summer months of December to February are the most popular time to visit the Falkland Islands. The weather at this time of the year is mild, there are longer daylight hours, and the island’s wildlife is at its peak.
As always though, travelling in the shoulder season also has its benefits. It’s generally cheaper, there are fewer people around to compete for that perfect photo op and there’s still plenty to see and do!
Seal pups start appearing on the beaches from September and consequently, this is also when Orcas are spotted offshore. October is the height of the elephant seal breeding season and a great time to watch these massive mammals congregating on the beach. From October you can find baby ducks and geese, and the the penguin chicks which start appearing in November.
I visited in March – at the end of the prime season – but there was still an abundance of wildlife on the islands.
Migrating birds don’t leave until April, and I spotted many seal pups still clinging to their mother’s sides. It was also a great time to see the penguins. Large colonies stood around moulting and waiting for their plumage to renew, while King penguins were busily looking after their young.
There are flight two routes you can take to visit the Falkland Islands – one via the UK and the other via Chile and for those looking for a quick introduction to the islands, cruise ships also stop off in this unique part of the world.
The UK flight is a Ministry of Defence* charter flight from Brize Norton near Oxford in the UK (this is how I travelled). Flights leave the UK twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays. Returning flights leave the Falklands on Tuesdays and Fridays. The flight takes about 18 hours including a quick refuelling stop on Ascension Island.
The Chile flight is operated by LATAM airways and leaves Santiago every Saturday – returning from the Falklands on the same day. Flights stop at Punta Arenas, and occasionally (once a month) at Rio Gallegos, Argentina on the way.
All flights arrive at Mount Pleasant international airport which is approximately 56kms from the country’s capital, Stanley.
For your onward journey, you can take a shuttle bus or taxi into town. It’s best to organise your transport with your travel agent or accommodation provider before arriving in the Falkland Islands if possible.
*Don’t let the military aspect of this flight put you off! Apart from the fact you’re flying out of a military base, the flight itself is like any other commercial flight. There are movies playing and an in-flight service to make the journey comfortable.
You can also visit the islands via a cruise ship, with many boats calling into the islands as part of their southern tour. The only downside to this method of travelling is that you usually don’t get too long to explore and enjoy the islands to their fullest.
What to do in the Falklands
You won’t be short of things to do in the Falkland Islands, but you may be short on time to do them all!
Obviously, watching the wildlife in their natural, unspoilt habitat is an amazing activity that is somewhat unique to the Falklands. From visiting the King Penguin colony at Volunteer Point to watching giant elephant seals battling on the beach – there are opportunities at every turn. But that’s not all the islands have to offer!
Brandish your binoculars for a spot of birdwatching, learn about the Falklands War on a battlefield tour, get creative with your camera, go for a hike to a deserted beach or mountain peak, visit the war cemetery at San Carlos, take a flight to the outer islands with FIGAS or drop into the Historic Dockyard Museum for an insight into the Falklands through the ages.
The Falkland Islands have a lot to offer, especially if you’re happy to go exploring.
Which Islands to Visit
When you arrive, you’ll land on the largest of the Falkland’s 700+ islands, East Falkland. It is well worth spending a few days here, as you’ll be able to visit the King Penguin colony at Volunteer Point, the stunning Gypsy Cove with its resident Magellanic penguins, the lighthouse at Cape Pembroke, the historic settlements of Darwin and Goose Green and will get to know the capital of Stanley.
The most important thing to note when planning which of the outer islands to visit is that very few currently offer visitor accommodation.
The ones that do – Weddell, Sea Lion, Carcass Bleaker, Pebble and Saunders – all welcome guests with friendly island hospitality. They all offer intrepid visitors something unique – from Weddell Island’s resident reindeer population and war remains littering the landscape on Pebble Island, to the masses of seals and sea lions that flock to (the aptly named) Sea Lion Island each year.
Getting Around the Islands
From Stanley airport you can catch a flight to many of the inhabited outer islands or even just hop on a ’round robin’ scenic flight!
FIGAS is the government owned flight service that operates on demand, flying locals and tourists around the islands, whilst stopping off to pick-up and drop-off passengers on the way. Most islands have a grass airstrip and the people who own/live on the island are in charge of hanging the wind wand, and meeting the aircraft on arrival.
Flight schedules are determined the night before the flight and are dependent on demand and flight conditions. From my experience, most flights around the islands left around 8-9am. Although my flight from Weddell was delayed until after 11 due to a passing storm.
Flying experiences don’t get more unique than on the Falklands!
There are plenty of options to stay in Stanley, from intimate guesthouses to large full-service hotels.
Elsewhere in the Falklands, the choice is limited – often to only one establishment per island. These B&B’s and lodges are checked every year to make sure their accommodations are up to scratch, so you don’t need to worry about quality!
All of the hotels and guesthouses I stayed at were very comfortable. Warm and inviting, with knowledgeable and helpful staff or owners, who would go out of their way to make sure my stay was enjoyable, or to offer advice about what to see and do in the area.
When you stay on the islands, you feel a little like a local exploring – everyone treated me with warmth and made me feel incredibly welcome.
Something caught me off guard in the Falklands – the high quality of the food offered. I’d read that ‘traditional British fare’ was the norm when it came to eating out, but what I experienced was much better than Yorkshire puddings and mashed potato (although those are good too)!
Everything from the delicate flavours of a Moroccan tagine at Malvina House, to homemade vegetable ravioli in a herby tomato sauce at Pebble Island and a delicious Indian curry made from homegrown vegetables at Weddell Island. Every dinner was a sumptuous surprise.
You’ll find that accommodation providers on the outer islands offer a full board option for good reason – there is nowhere else to buy food! Fortunately though, in my experience, what you are offered is spot on.
The only supermarket in the Falklands is in Stanley, so stock up there if you’re planning on self-catering.
Most of the hotels, both in Stanley and the Islands have WiFi hotspots.
You can purchase a card from your accommodation to use the internet. Prices vary and can cost as much as £10/hour on the islands, to £15/12 hours in Stanley.
The only island I visited that didn’t have a WiFi hotspot was Weddell Island, but Jane and Martin were very kind in allowing me to use their internet connection in the lodge – as long as I did so sparingly.
Essentials to Pack
- Camera gear – You’ll need lots of storage for all the photos you’ll take – so make sure to bring backup memory cards for your camera. A 200 or 400 mm lens is ideal for capturing wildlife from afar, and a wide-angle lens will do justice to the amazing uninterrupted scenery.
- Warm clothes. This is a must, regardless of which season you’re visiting, as the weather can be wild and unpredictable at any time of the year. Make sure to bring plenty of layers so you can layer up/down as needed. There are, as they say, “four seasons in one day” on the islands.
- Good walking shoes. The best way to explore the Falklands is by foot, so make sure to bring good walking shoes/boots. Waterproof is best for exploring the coastal areas and boggy fields.
- Medicines. This isn’t the place to get caught out without any of your regular prescribed medicines. There is a pharmacy in Stanley for simple items such as painkillers or cold remedies.
A few last things to know before you go!
All visitors arriving in the Falklands must have accommodation booked and a return ticket paid for. You’re also advised (although it’s not mandatory) to have adequate travel insurance that will cover you should you need to be airlifted out of the islands for medical care. You don’t want to be left with a hefty bill should trouble arise!
Certain nationalities will need a visa to enter the Falklands. To see if your country is exempt, check the Falkland Islands government website. Remember to also review visa requirements for any countries you plan on having a stopover in (i.e. Chile or Ascension Island). Also, as the RAF Airbridge operates out of the UK Ministry of Defence facilities, unfortunately, people of certain nationalities are restricted from flying on this service.
The Falklands also have strict biosecurity regulations to ensure their environment is protected. Things to watch out for include food and outdoor equipment (fishing gear, hiking shoes) so be sure to brush up on the restrictions before you begin packing.
The Falkland Islands are wild, unique and an amazing insight into life as it was many years ago when we all knew our neighbours and help was readily on hand. Locals are friendly and wildlife is abundant.
It’s just waiting for you to explore!