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Most of the people with any awareness of the Falkland Islands are either:
C. Old enough to remember the Falklands War of 1982
D. Planning a South America cruise.
The islands (East Falkland and West Falkland) are so remote that they are easily overlooked except for the above reasons. Sparsely populated, windswept, boggy and treeless, they are geographically part of Patagonia but are located about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina. In fact, Argentina considers the Falklands (what they call the Malvinas) theirs and waged a war in 1982 to claim them (they've been under British rule since the mid-1800's). The war lasted 74 days, the Argentines were defeated and the islands remain resolutely British.
Stanley, the capital city of the Falklands, is located on East Falkland and is the only "town" in the islands. The entire population of the Falklands is 2,500, with 1,700 calling Stanley home.
The area is so windswept and the seas around it so fierce that only about half of the cruise ships scheduled to call at Port Stanley actually make it. Since there is no dock, even if the ships themselves can get into the harbor, the tenders are often unable to handle the wind and high seas. It's no great surprise, then, to discover that the harbor itself and the areas surrounding it has more shipwrecks from the 19th-century shipping trade than any other harbor in the world ... some 20 hulls are actually visible from the town when the tide is out.
Anyone lucky enough to have fair seas and the ability to arrive in Stanley Harbor is immediately struck by the view of the colorful corrugated metal roofs of the town's structures, which are visible from the ship. Stanley's main street follows the waterfront; the town rises somewhat behind it. There are no traffic lights, no department stores, no movie theaters or bowling alleys. Everyone knows everyone else and is more than likely related in one way or another to every other person on the islands.
What's most striking about visiting Stanley is that the residents are cheerful, happy, helpful and really glad to see you. Stop for a drink in one of the pubs in the town and strike up a conversation with a local; see for yourself how genuinely glad they are that you're visiting.
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Other South America Cruise Ports:
Buenos Aires • Lima • Manaus • Montevideo • Puerto Montt • Punta Arenas • Rio de Janeiro • Santiago (Valparaiso) • Santos (Sao Paulo) • Stanley • Ushuaia
English is spoken in the Falklands.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the Falkland pound, on par with the British pound. British pounds and U.S. dollars are welcomed; most items are priced in both pounds and dollars.
Falkland Island postage stamps: Because they are so rare, and so colorfully executed, postage stamps have become such an important tourist purchase that a Philatelic Center has been opened adjacent to the post office. The center sells stamps of not only the Falklands, but of the South Georgia and Sandwich Islands as well. You can also buy postcards already stamped at the Visitor's Centre for about $2 each.
Falkland Island wool products: Almost all of the shops in Stanley (and even the Visitor's Centre) sell hats and sweaters made of Falkland Island sheep's wool.
Where You're Docked
The tenders arrive at the Jetty, in the center of town and just across the street from the Visitor's Centre.
The Visitor's Centre is directly across from the tender dock; inside are international telephones and Internet stations, as well as maps and access to island tours. There are also several shops within a few steps of the dock, and a pub, the Globe Tavern, located less than a block away.
The areas around Stanley that you'd want to visit are all within a few short blocks of each other and easily walkable. There is a rise as you travel away from the waterfront, but it isn't steep and can be maneuvered by wheelchairs.
Note: The town is relatively accessible, but the tenders may not be. Even on the best of days the seas are rough, and although the dock is easy for most to negotiate, wheelchair-bound guests may have a real problem getting off the ship and back on.
Cabs are available at the Visitor's Centre and will take you on a drive around Stanley and out of town a bit for around $25.
Watch Out For
Dress in layers for a visit here, and bring a waterproof jacket or an umbrella. The weather is fairly unpredictable, although you can almost always count on wind.
Penguins! Any opportunity to go on an excursion that includes penguins is a not-to-be-missed adventure. The Falklands are home primarily to Gentoo penguins, but there are a few colonies that include King and Magellenic penguins as well. Tours can be purchased at the Visitor's Centre across from the Jetty (the tender dock) or onboard; the off-road 4-WD trip to Bluff Cove is only available as a shore excursion.
Britannia House Museum: Historic artifacts from the maritime history of the region are but a small part of this museum's attractions, since life on the islands is represented here by way of donations from the residents. It's almost a living memoir of the past and the present, and features a low-key exhibit on the 1982 conflict.
Christchurch Cathedral: Its whalebone arch welcomes visitors to the southernmost cathedral in the world. The church was built in the 1890's and the whalebone arch was a gift from South Georgia to the Falklands in 1933 as part of the centennial celebration of British rule. The cathedral comes under the governance of the Archbishop of Canterbury and is Anglican.
Been There, Done That
If you've been there and done that in Stanley, you've done almost all there is to do. Still, there are a few options for those who might want something out of the ordinary:
Cape Pembroke Birding Walk: This is a half-day walk that takes you to a restored 19th-century lighthouse and introduces you to the many bird species that call the Falklands home, including albatross, grebes, hawks, petrels, Magellenic snipe, Falkland pipit and peregrine falcons. You can learn about it and get a map at the Visitor's Centre.
Sea Trout Fishing: The introduction 50 years ago of "salmo trutta" into the waters of the Falklands has created a game-fishing bonanza for this eerily beautiful landscape. If the weather isn't too frigid and if the winds aren't howling, a day spent in one of the remote estuaries can be beyond peaceful. Locals are allowed to keep up to six fish a day, and since ships don't allow you to bring your catch onboard, a barbless-hook-catch-and-release program works for visitors. Check www.visitorfalklands.com for more information.
You can go classy or "pub" for lunch in Stanley, depending on your mood.
Uplands Goose Hotel: (Ross Road along the waterfront) The oldest and most venerable of the hotels in town, the restaurant is open for lunch and serves a fairly British menu (fish, lamb, shepherd's pie) using fresh Falkland ingredients.
Falklands Brasserie: (Philomel Street, just up from the Jetty) Reputedly the best restaurant in Stanley, the Brasserie serves a continental menu with steaks, seafood and fresh fish. The restaurant is handicap-accessible, too.
The Globe: (Philomel Street opposite the Jetty) Pub food at its finest ... fish and chips, chips with gravy, burgers, bangers-and-mash, washed down with British ale. On cold days, a peat fire warms the entire establishment.
Bluff Cove Penguin Rookery: This excursion is only available via the cruise ship's excursion desk since it's an off-road excursion using 4-WD vehicles, which are reserved in advance. Not for the faint of heart, the vehicles go up and down over roadless bogs and through a lagoon to get to Bluff Cove on the beach. Gentoo and King penguins are people-friendly and curious (no touching, though); a little hut provides tea, coffee, cookies and cakes. The scenery is unbelievably beautiful.
Maritime Mystery Tour: Take a small boat around the harbor and learn about the many wrecks (some are visible) that litter the bottom of the sea. Photo opportunities abound on this tour, with the Falklands monuments visible from the water and the probability of dolphins following in the boat's wake.
Self-Guided Audio Walking Tour: Pick up your audio wand at the Visitor's Centre and go at your own pace around the town with a map and itinerary provided with the audio device. The program is available in five languages.
Staying in Touch
The Jetty Visitor Centre has both telephones and Internet service. It's located directly across from the tender dock.
For More Information
Falkland Islands Tourism: www.tourism.org.fk
Cruise Critic Boards: South America
Independent Traveler: Central & South America
-- by San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.
--Photos are courtesy of www.tourism.org.fk.