One of the stops I was most excited about during our Antarctic cruise was actually the Falkland Islands. I didn’t know a whole lot about them but I always love less-travelled places. Here is all about my Falkland Islands shore day, to help you plan your own.
About the Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands, also known as the Malvinas, are a group of islands located in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 480km (300 miles) east of the coast of Argentina. The archipelago consists of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, and more than 700 smaller islands, islets, and reefs. The total land area of the Falklands is approximately 4,700 square miles (12,200 square km), and the population is around 3,600.
The Falkland Islands have a long and complex history, with both Britain and Argentina claiming sovereignty over the islands. In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands, prompting a war with Britain, which ended with a British victory and the restoration of British control over the islands.
Today, the Falklands are a British Overseas Territory, with a Governor appointed by the British Crown. They have their own government and currency, relying only on the UK for defence, foreign affairs and some things like universities (there are none on the islands).
The Falklands are known for their unique wildlife, including penguins, seals, sea lions, and numerous bird species. The islands also have a strong economy based on fishing, sheep farming, and tourism. The capital of the Falklands is Stanley, located on the eastern coast of East Falkland, where around 2,500 of the population live.
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Why do Cruise Ships stop at the Falkland Islands
While the islands are interesting in themselves, there is one big reason why cruise ships stop here – penguins!
The Falkland Islands are home to five different species of penguins, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviours.
- Magellanic penguins are the most numerous penguin species on the Falkland Islands, with an estimated population of over 1 million. They breed in burrows dug into the ground, usually near the coast.
- Gentoo penguins are the third-largest penguin species and are known for their distinctive bright orange beaks.
- King penguins are the second-largest penguin species and are known for their striking black-and-white plumage.
- Rockhopper penguins are easily identified by their spiky head feathers and bright red eyes.
- Macaroni penguins are named for the distinctive yellow feathers on their heads, which resemble a type of 18th-century hat called a “macaroni.”
All of these penguins are considered threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, climate change, and other factors. The Falkland Islands government and various conservation organisations work to protect and preserve these unique birds.
Every species of penguin lives within a reasonable distance (although some roads are not the best) of Stanley, making this a perfect destination for shore excursions to see the penguins.
The most coveted Falkland Island tour is one to Volunteer Point, where masses of King penguins live. Bertha’s Beach is another popular tour location where Gentoo penguins are the main species spotted, and at Bluff Cove you might see three of the five types of penguin.
Unfortunately for us, we were in port with not only our ship, but the Norwegian Star and another smaller Hapag Lloyd expedition vessel. Our combined visitor numbers would have been somewhere in the realms of 5000 people, ascending on this small place all at once. Even most staff members got off here after seven days at sea!
But there are only so many people to run tours, and only so many buses on the Falkland Islands to use – so demand far outstripped supply and the tours were all sold out months ago.
HINT: If you are planning to come to the Falkland Islands, especially on a cruise, book these tours as soon as possible. You can book with companies like Viator who often offer cancellation up to 24 hours in advance, and a book now, pay later option too.
So we weren’t going to Volunteer Point or Bertha’s Beach!
Luckily there is another option, which I almost argue is better than the tours.
A Self-Guided Tour to see Penguins in the Falkland Islands
Your arrival to the Falkland Islands will be by tender to a small dock right in the heart of Stanley. You will be greeted by tour buses, guides with signs, and people milling everywhere. Look out for the buses with signs in the windows saying “Gypsy Cove”, and the nearby ticket sellers – who had a flag announcing just that.
This bus is simply a shuttle, to the nearby Gypsy Cove, located 8km out of town. It left right from the dock and cost $20USD return. We instead chose to pay $10USD for one way and walk back.
Gypsy Cove itself is home to a colony of Magellanic Penguins. There is a short walking trail through the rocks on the cliff top above the cove – there is no access to the cove itself though as it has not been cleared of landmines that may be left there after the 1982 war.
During the war more than 30,000 land mines were were installed across the Falkland Islands. It is believed the last mines were removed in November 2020, but there is still some ongoing work checking some areas, removing fencing and signs. Even so, it is still a good idea to stick to pathways and roads as you move around the islands
It works out that the penguins are not heavy enough to set the landmines off so they haven’t yet come to check this area which has no other use than penguin habitat – which I think is a perfect way to keep tourists out of it and give the penguins some peace!
Before we got to Gypsy Cove we had seen photos of the Magellanic penguins on the beach in the cove below, but during our visit there weren’t any there. Magellanic Penguins build burrows though, like our Little Penguins in Australia, so we were able to spot a few of the babies waiting in holes amongst the vegetation for the parents to come back with food.
I would say 90% of the people who caught the shuttle jumped straight back on the buses and returned to town. But I had heard that the beach to the right was actually the place to see penguins. It was confirmed as I had a chat to a local customs officer before I got off the ship.
This long, white beach is called Yorke Bay, and from our vantage point above Gypsy Cove we could see a handful of people walking along the beach, so we joined them.
Yorke Bay has yet another hazard to deal with as you walk along the beach – quicksand. We personally didn’t see any, but we did make sure we were following in the path of the people in front of us and not wandering off into the dunes.
It was a good 30-45 minute walk before we came across a crowd of people photographing a single King penguin. It was so exciting, these large penguins are what everyone wants to see. I took dozens of photos of this one guy who wanted all the attention! At this point I was thinking this would be the only penguin we would see.
Around a little headland though was the real penguin colony! First we saw Gentoos, then more King penguins, and even more Gentoos. There were no fences here, this was entirely free, and absolutely awesome. And I am pleased to say, everyone there was very respectful of the penguins and kept to a reasonable distance – not something you see every day.
The penguins are curious little critters with so much personality. Just sitting still in the sand would see them creep forward for a closer look. Someone had left some equipment in the sand (possibly the people stand-up paddle boarding at the beach) and it was funny watching the penguins all go up and check it out.
We had a great day weather-wise, it was around 14 degrees and while it was cloudy in the morning we had mostly blue skies in the afternoon – I even got a touch sunburnt. So for penguins, it was hot. And when penguins are hot, they do three things. They pant like a dog, they stand with their wings out, and funniest of all, they lay face down in the sand to cool off. The first penguin we saw doing this we genuinely thought was dead.
After spending well over half an hour with the penguins, we dragged ourself away for the walk back to Stanley. I would say this is about a 90 minute walk if you don’t dawdle, take too many photos or take any detours – all of which we did, so it took us over two hours.
We walked past the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, who ended up being condemned here in Port Stanley and was turned into a coal hulk. A storm in 1936 saw her break her moorings and ground herself in Whalebone Cove where she is today. She still has all her masts, so is quite an impressive wreck to see.
On our return into Stanley we took a detour to check out the totem pole. It was started in 1982 as soldiers from the Falkland Islands war added their home and the distance to the pole. Since then it has grown a little. I couldn’t see any Australian locations, so someone needs to sort that out.
All in all, seeing the penguins like this, without a tour or crowds or fences was fantastic. The walk was long enough to deter many people, so that there were really only a couple of dozen people on the beach with the penguins. We could have have stayed there all day – but I already took way too many photos!
Not only was the actual experience great, but it was so cheap too, so perfect for the budget traveller if you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a tour.
Still interested in tours? Take a look at a couple of them here:
Gentoo Penguins at Berthas Beach Guided Tour from Stanley
Volunteer Point in Falkland Islands
The Town of Stanley
There is no way to mistake the Falkland Islands as anything but British. You could in fact be forgiven of thinking this was a small town somewhere out in the English countryside. There’s the typical English pubs, the red phone boxes and the locals speak with a British accent.
The countryside itself also reminds me of the rolling green hills of Britain. There are no trees here on the islands (except ones residents have planted around their homes and in town) so it has that windswept moor-ish look about it.
Stanley has long been a port where sailors have stopped for shelter from the extreme weather of the southern Atlantic and to resupply for their journeys further south. Ship repairs were commonly needed too, so that became a major industry for ships travelling through around the bottom of South America.
Once back in town we became part of the huge crowd inundating the place from the multiple cruise ships that had arrived on a single day. I bet the locals are glad this doesn’t happen too often. Simon wanted to try the local beer, but we quickly discovered this was not going to be as easy as it might sound – all the pubs were bursting at the seams!
We ended up going to the brewery itself, the Falkland Beerworks, which still had about a fifteen minute wait to be able to get a beer. The guy who runs it works there all by himself, and he doesn’t normally open on cruise ship days because it is just too stressful with the non-stop demand.
I’m not a beer drinker, but according to my husband and the other customers sitting out the front enjoying their pint, the beers were worth the wait.
We took a bit more of a wander through the town before the weather started to turn. Blue skies suddenly changed into dark clouds, and we scurried back to our tender for the return to our ship. We could have stayed for another 45 minutes or so. But did not relish standing in line, in the rain, with hundreds of other people as we all tried to get back on board at the same time!
Is Visiting Falkland Islands Worth It?
From the small amount of time spent on the Falkland Islands, it’s a resounding “yes” from me. This is an awesome inclusion on a cruise itinerary, and if you had a choice of two cruises, one with the Falkland Islands and one without, you definitely should choose the one with!
The only issue is that a few hours really isn’t enough. Yes, you get a taste, but now that I have had that taste, I would love to go back and spend some more time on the islands.
A longer visit to the Falkland Islands is more of a challenge as there is only one commercial flight to Stanley a week from Chile and one or two military flights (which do take civilian passengers) from the UK. Flights are not cheap either.
Once on the islands, accommodation is also not cheap, nor is getting around. There are not a lot of roads, and just one small plane that hops around the various inhabited islands. Internet is almost nonexistent, and there is no nightlife to speak of. The Falkland Islands beaches may be pristine, but with maximum temperatures of around 15 degrees in summer, it’s unlikely you will want to swim.
But if you have a couple of weeks to spare, love nature the outdoors and exploring rugged landscapes, friendly people and unique experiences, then the Falkland Islands would be an awesome location to totally relax and rejuvenate. It sounds perfect to me!
Doing more travel in South America? Take a look at these posts
11 Important Things to Know Before You Go to Argentina
Visiting La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires
TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs
Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.
Hire a rental car – RentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.
Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.
Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.
Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.
Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.
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