Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands

Photo: Nigel McCall, Sealion Island
Photo: Nigel McCall, Sealion Island

You’re the king of safaris. You’ve traveled to Africa, numerous times, to spot animals in their natural habitats. Lions in Botswana. Cheetahs in Namibia. Gorillas in the Republic of the Congo. Even the great migration in Tanzania. Now you’re planning your next great expedition. But this one is going to be very different.

You aren’t planning to go to Africa, or even cross the Atlantic, this fall. You’re heading to South America and the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands are a British territory that lie 300 miles east of Argentina. They’re largely remembered for the still-simmering dispute between the two countries. The nearly 800 islands should be known for something completely different though. The remote islands are quiet, pristine, and full of fascinating birds and animals.

After numerous flights—like Africa, traveling here is neither quick nor easy—you finally touch down on Sea Lion Island’s short clay airstrip. Sea Lion Island, which sits 10 miles southeast of East Falkland (the main island), is the southernmost inhabited island in the Falklands. The relatively flat island, save for the cliffs along the southwestern coast, was originally set up as a sheep farm, whose farmhouse was built from the wreckage of a British ship that went down in 1892. The private land was eventually sold back to the government. The sheep were banished, the fences were torn down, and the island was returned to nature. It’s now a Ramsar (important wetland) site and a nature reserve.

Photo: Sealion Island
Photo: Sealion Island

Except for one building. A lone hotel, the Sea Lion Lodge, was built as an eco-lodge to help people get up close with nature. Nature meaning seals, penguins, whales, seabirds, and, of course, sea lions. Simple rooms accommodate up to 20 guests and scientific researchers. Wildlife books are strewn around two living rooms. The Internet (to taunt people back home) and CD burners (for when your memory card fills up) are available in the Peregrine Lounge. Plus the Chilean chef will ensure you eat well the entire time you’re on the island.

Your focus, as it should be, is what’s outside though. After being greeted by a huge southern giant petrel and walking from the airstrip to the lodge—it’s really that close—board a white Land Rover for a private introductory tour of the three-square-mile island. The lodge sits in the northeast, in between Cow Point and Elephant Corner. Enormous southern elephant seals are napping on the beach, while long-tailed gentoo penguins are nesting among the stones. There’s a view of little Rum Island from East Loafers. Their roaring can be heard above the crashing waves. Two ponds, Long and Beaver, sit in the center of the island. They’re surrounded by Falkland steamer ducks, Chiloé wigeons, and little white-rumped sandpipers visiting from Northern Canada. While Bull Hill, the island’s highest point, features a memorial to the HMS Sheffield, a Royal Navy ship that was hit by the Argentine Navy during the Falklands War.

But back to all those animals. Over the next few days, you’ll hike the three trails that circle the island. You’ll stay as silent as possible, so that southern rockhopper and Magellanic penguins will get curious and venture toward you. You’ll learn the difference between the roar of a sea lion and a southern elephant seal. You’ll scan the water for pods of killer whales and Peale’s dolphins at sunset. And you’ll eventually return home with a whole new set of safari stories.

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