By Mark Stratton
Wild, rugged and remote the Falkland Islands are well versed in social distancing and offer bucket-list wildlife encounters aplenty.
Whether stunted rockhopper penguins, bouncing down cliff-faces risking life-and-limb to reach the sea or orcas patrolling frigid sounds, the Falkland Islands’ is about life – survival on the edge.
You can hike wild open spaces and deserted beaches, revel in the Britishness of the capital – Stanley's, with its red phone-boxes and union-jacks – or contemplate memories from the battlegrounds of a tragic conflict with Argentina in 1982.
But if you’re going to truly sell these subantarctic islands focus on the sublime wildlife experiences, because alongside South Georgia, the Falklands are the Galapagos of the South Atlantic.
Reopening for business?
The million-dollar question is when will the Falklands reopen? After a first case of Covid-19, the Falklands shut its borders to international arrivals in late March 2020.
Routes linking South America, including the new LATAM flight from Sao Paolo, have been suspended, leaving only the RAF Brize Norton airbridge in operation for essential travel only. After a peak of 72,000 cruise arrivals in 2019, the Falklands received no ships at all during 2020.
“Currently no decision has been made on reopening to international visitors. The vaccination roll-out for its 3,500 inhabitants has begun but there will be a lot of outside factors the Falklands Government needs to consider before welcoming back tourists,” explains Stephanie Middleton, Executive-Director of the tourist board.
“The flight from Brazil was very new when Covid-19 hit so promotion of this route will be a priority, its mid-week flight will make the Falklands more easily accessible and provides many more seats into the islands,” she says.
Likewise, the tourist board is continuing to promote walking trails and the islands’ position as the preferred gateway for cruise expeditions for Antarctica.
“The Falklands will appeal to international travellers post-pandemic because we offer wide-open spaces, with amazing wildlife, and a safe environment,” adds Middleton.
Island hopping: Recommend travelling between November and February, when temperatures may nudge 20ºC, and the fearless wildlife is experiencing birth and renewal.
For visitors, this is seen at its most intimate and visceral by island-hopping around the Falkland archipelago utilising the Government-run F.I.G.A.S air-taxi, allowing clients to linger for a few nights on each tiny island where farmstead-style full-board accommodation is cosy old-fashioned although not luxurious.
Bleaker Island: It may be bleak by name but it teems with the comedic joy penguins bring. Advise your guests to bring sturdy boots as visitors are left to their own devices to explore their very own private nature reserves. Sitting on the yellowy sands of Sandy Bay crowded by penguins, clients can expect to watch on as the imperial-cormorant colony valiantly defended their offspring in life-and-death struggles against predatory skuas.
Sealion splendour: Also unmissable, and with a larger lodge if you’re sending a group, is the fabulous Sealion Island. It’s the island to get up-close-and-personal to humungous elephants-seals.
It’s possible, if a bit unnerving, to get near to these colossal giants hauled out of water, with males weighing up to 3.5 tonnes, exhausted after breeding, tetchy, and bristling with aggravated testosterone, yet placidly content for a close-up.
Twitchers’ paradise: You’ll tempt bird-lovers to West Point Island, with its pasture green mountains, and renowned for one of the greatest avian spectacles imaginable. From September to April, a colony of over 10,000 pairs of black-browed albatrosses, the great navigators of the skies, raise chicks on the tumbling cliffs.
Remarkably, they are untroubled by birdwatchers sitting among their nests, where you can watch in awe the spectacle of the adults feeding hungry chicks trilling with excitement each time food appears.
War-torn past: After a hearty full English breakfast at perhaps one of the two best hotels in Stanley – The Malvina House and The Waterfront Boutique – take an excursion to Volunteer Point with a local guide. On route are poignant reminders of 1982’s Falklands War, such as a downed Argentinean helicopter, a twisted metal casualty of war. If your client is interested in this history, there’s a great little museum in Stanley with paraphernalia from those dark days that shouldn’t be missed.
Book it with...
Falkland Islands Holidays
Ranging from 8 to 15 days, a highlight is an islands-hopping experience to the likes of Sea Lion and West Point Islands to enjoy some of the premium wildlife spectacles on offer. Starting from £2,340pp for 8 days, the tour includes all transfers and domestic arrangements, but not international flights. A bespoke package can be created depending on your clients preferences.