An overnight flight to Chile. Spend the evening in Santiago. Fly to Punta Arenas, Chile the next morning. And, if it’s Saturday, connect to Mount Pleasant, an air force base in the South Atlantic Ocean. It’s a bumpy landing, with strong winds and pelting snow. There’s a mountain and water in the distance, but except for a row of barracks, the landscape is barren. Welcome to the high season in the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland Islands are a British territory located 300 miles east of Argentina. East Falkland and West Falkland, the two main islands–plus more than 700 smaller islands–were largely ignored until an ongoing land dispute between Britain and Argentina resulted in the 1982 Falklands War. The 74-day battle lead to hundreds of deaths and lingering tension between the two countries. But nature lovers have returned to the remote, now-peaceful islands. Many people add a Falklands stopover to an Antarctic cruise. With temperatures almost in the 50s and endless hours of sunlight, when the clouds disperse, November through February is the ideal time to head south.
From Mount Pleasant, drive an hour to Stanley, the capital of the Falklands. About 2,100 people live in Town, as everyone calls it, making it one of the least populated capitals in the world. The brightly roofed city looks like a smaller version of Reykjavik. The Lady Elizabeth, a ship severely damaged while rounding Cape Horn in 1913, lays unrepaired in the harbor. The stone-and-brick Christ Church Cathedral, the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world, stands on Ross Road overlooking the harbor. In front of it, a whalebone arch, made from the enormous jaws of two blue whales, commemorates Britain’s 100-year-rule over the Falklands. And, in contrast to most of Stanley’s architecture, the waterfront, brick-terraced Jubilee Villas celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
Also on Ross Road, you’ll find the Malvina House Hotel. The hotel was originally built in the 1880s. Though much of it was demolished in 1967, the original conservatory remains, and it now houses one of the best places to eat in Town. You’ll have a view of the harbor–and maybe a stray seal–as you eat chilli salted squid, snow crab cakes, and fish pie. When your Chilean Carménère makes you sleepy, move to your harbor-view room. Rooms are named after Falkland destinations, with paintings depicting each location. You’ll start exploring some of them tomorrow.
After a quick porridge breakfast, pick up your packed lunch that you requested the night before. Drive east to the black-and-white Cape Pembroke Lighthouse, the easternmost point of the Falklands. Nearby Gypsy Cove is beautiful–rough seas pound a white-sand beach where Magellanic Penguins and Rock Shags make their homes–but dangerous; much of the area is fenced off due to Argentine land mines. Excited by your first penguin sightings, head north to Volunteer Point. Large King Penguins, long-tailed Gentoo Penguins, and more Magellanic Penguins breed here along the beautiful beach. It’s noisy and stinky, but you’ll walk away with unbelievable photos. Still feeling adventurous? Continue north to Cape Dolphin, a stunning, desolate area with even more penguins, sea lions, and possible whale sightings.
Feeling exhilarated and exhausted, you’ll return late to Stanley. Walk to Deano’s Bar for cider, and fish and chips. The friendly staff keeps the drinks flowing, and after a few rounds, most of the people in the bar know your name. They tell you not to miss the San Carlos museum and battlefield, the British Military Cemetery at Blue Beach, and the elephant seals at Kelp Point. With so much to see and do, it’s a good thing flights only depart on Saturdays.