Recently, in this space, I wrote about overnighting in Antarctica as part of a Patagonia expedition, but there’s another option that’s well worth consideration. Barely an hour northeast of Punta Arenas, surrounded by the South Atlantic Ocean, the Falkland Islands have no glaciers, but they do have an array of sub-Antarctic wildlife that matches almost everything the South American continent can offer – in a smaller area. It makes an ideal extension to almost any trip to Patagonia.
Best known, unfortunately, for the 1982 war between Argentina and Britain, the Islands can offer a charming capital, Stanley, where 60 percent of the 3,000 or so residents live. Stanley has distinctive Patagonian architecture and an excellent new museum, a diversity of accommodations (though nothing luxurious), surprisingly good food, and even a smattering of pubs. On a short drive from town, it’s possible to see as many as five different penguin species – Magellanics, Gentoos, kings, rockhoppers and macaronis – up close and personal.
It’s the countryside, though, that has the most to offer. Many sheep farms, especially those on outer islands, have turned their big houses into wildlife lodges, and tiny Sea Lion Island has a custom-built lodge that does approach luxury. It probably offers more, in a smaller area, than any other destination here, including elephant seals and its namesake southern sea lions.
My own favorites, though, are Saunders Island, with huge colonies of black-browed albatrosses and ruins of an 18th-century British settlement; Carcass Island (elephant seals, many birds and great local hospitality); and Bleaker Island (a bit of almost everything, with great hiking). I’d happily revisit any one of them in an instant (and probably will).
There’s one drawback to a Falklands visit that, in some ways, is not a drawback at all. Flights from Punta Arenas leave and return every Saturday, so it’s necessary to stay at least a week – or multiples thereof – if you plan to come back to the South American continent. Alternatively, there are several charter flights every month to RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire.
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