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South Atlantic islands : Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are a group of about 200 sub-antarctic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, off the east coast of southern South America. They are a United Kingdom Overseas Territory, but nearby Argentina claims jurisdiction under the name Islas Malvinas. Most visitors to the islands come between October and March to enjoy the spectacular wildlife and quaint rural lifestyle.
Life in the Falklands can be divided between living in Stanley or living in camp. The two main islands of the territory are East Falkland and West Falkland, with numerous smaller islands providing additional destinations.
"Town" is a relative term in the Falklands. While the population of Stanley hovers near two thousand, the populations of other settlements usually range from the single digits to perhaps twenty people, with a noticeable increase during the busy sheep shearing times.
The Falklands are a UK Overseas Territory and are an associated territory of the European Union. The Falklands are also claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas and were the site of a major conflict between the two countries in 1982.
Although first sighted by an English navigator in 1592, the first landing (English) did not occur until almost a century later in 1690, and the first settlement (French) was not established until 1764. The colony was turned over to Spain two years later and the islands have since been the subject of a territorial dispute, first between Britain and Spain, then between Britain and Argentina. The UK asserted its claim to the islands by establishing a naval garrison there in 1833.
Argentina invaded the islands on 2 April 1982. The British responded with an expionary force that landed seven weeks later. After fierce fighting in what is often known as the Falklands War, the Argentine occupation force was overrun and forced to surrender on 14 June 1982.
The economy of the Falklands was formerly based on agriculture (mainly sheep farming), but today fishing contributes the bulk of economic activity. Income from licensing foreign trawlers totals more than $40 million per year, with squid accounting for 75% of the fish taken. Agricultural activities mainly support domestic consumption, with the exception of high grade wool which is exported. Surveys have revealed oil deposits within a 200 mile oil exploration zone around the islands, but thus far this resource has not been exploited. The British military presence provides a sizeable economic boost.
Tourism is being actively encouraged and increasing rapidly, with about 30,000 visitors in 2001, a significant part of the increase is from visiting cruise liners. The majority of visitors are from the UK but efforts are being made to encourage wildlife and adventure tourism. The main season is November to March but angling for sea trout is most favourable outside of this period.
Flora and fauna
The most popular reason to visit is for the scenic beauty, flora and fauna, and conservation is high on the Islands agenda. Bird and marine species are the most prevalent fauna and include five species of penguin, four species of seal, albatross, petrels, the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck (Logger Duck), other duck species, geese, hawks, falcons; the Striated Caracara (Johnny Rook) is a rare bird of prey found only on the Falkland Islands and some islands off Cape Horn. Porpoises and dolphins are often sighted with the occasional sighting of whales.
The terrain is rocky and hilly, with some boggy terrain. Peat is found throughout the islands, leading to potentially dangerous fire conditions; once ignited, a peat fire can burn for months. The deeply indented coast provides good natural harbors. The highest point in the islands is the 705 meter Mount Usbourne.
Strong westerly winds are a constant in many parts of the islands. It is more likely to rain in the southeastern part of the islands, with the far western islands getting very little yearly precipitation. Temperatures are cool, and snow may occur at any time except for January and February, although accumulation is rare. Most visitors come to the islands between November and March.
The Falklands is a victim of the Antarctic ozone hole, so it is important to wear sunscreen on sunny days during the early summer.
All visitors to the Falklands must show that they have a return ticket, accommodation, and sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the islands. A major cr card will be accepted as proof of funds. Visas are not required from citizens of Britain, North America, Mercosur, Chile, and most Commonwealth countries and the European Community; all others should check their particular situation. A departure tax of £20 is charged when leaving the territory from Mount Pleasant airport.
The main airport is Mount Pleasant (MPN), which is also a military base. The only international carriers to use this airport are LanChile on a weekly flight from Santiago via Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas and the UK Royal Air Force who carry commercial passengers direct from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom. These flights last eighteen hours including a stop on Ascension Island enroute. The RAF operates six Tristar flights every four week period which are subject to military priorities.
The airport is 56km (35 miles) from Stanley. Falkland Island Tours & Travel (Tel: 21775, email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)) operates a shuttle bus that meets all flights and can take visitors to and from the capital for £13.00 per person (one-way). Taxis will also take passengers to the airport and may be available for travel from Mount Pleasant to Stanley.
Large cruise ships stop at Stanley's port throughout the summer. These boats may also stop at some of the outlying islands. While cruise ships can dock at Stanley, be prepared to come ashore on a zodiac when landing on most other islands.
Traveling between islands in the Falklands is generally done using the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS). The planes are Britten Norman Islander aircraft, capable of carrying eight passengers plus pilot. Be aware, however, that passenger load may be reduced depending on the condition of the airstrips being visited; with the exception of Stanley and Mount Pleasant, all airstrips in the Falklands are either dirt strips or grassy fields. Be prepared for slight delays while livestock is cleared from airstrips prior to takeoff/landing!
FIGAS flights leave twice daily from the airstrip just outside of Stanley and travel to a variety of locations throughout the islands. There is a baggage limit of 14 kg per person which is strictly enforced - you and your baggage will be weighed prior to boarding in Stanley. For those with more than 14 kg of baggage there is an additional charge of £0.60 per kilogram, space permitting. Note that unless the plane is flying to an island with a very poor landing strip there are almost never weight constraints that would prevent traveling with a few extra kilos of baggage.
Reservations are required for travel and should be booked at least 24 hours in advance. Booking reservations can be done either by calling the airport (Tel: 27219), emailing email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org), or visiting the airport in person when it is open (hours vary depending on flight schedules, but mid-morning is usually a good time). Flight schedules are announced the night before departure and are also available via a fax service; most lodges will post the schedule as soon as it is announced.
Flights can be paid for in cash or with cr card. Fares vary by destination, but sample fares (one-way) from November 2004 were:
While it is theoretically possible to get around the Falklands by boat, as of October 2004 there was no regular service available to tourists traveling in small groups (contrary to reports in guide books, the Golden Fleece does not taxi passengers around the islands). For large groups it may be possible to charter a boat in advance, thus providing a great way to visit some of the less-traveled islands. Be aware that per-passenger landing fees are charged on many of the islands; contact the island's owner before visiting.
Large cruise ships are the most common means for people to visit the Falklands, and most will make several landings at various islands. Note that aside from Stanley all landings from cruise ships are done using zodiacs (small inflatable boats), and in many cases the lack of docking areas will require a quick wade from the zodiac onto shore.
Within Stanley there are two taxi services that can be hired for travel throughout the town and surrounding areas, including the Mt. Pleasant airport.
Landrover rental may be possible from Stanley. Contact either the Falkland Islands Company (http://www.the-falkland-islands-co.com) or Stanley Services (email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org)) for information. Roads in Stanley are paved, but elsewhere road conditions range from well-maintained dirt roads to boggy mud streams. Unless your travels specifically require having your own vehicle, renting a Landrover is neither necessary nor a particularly good idea.
English is the official language.
The official Falklands currency is the Falkland Pound (FKP), whose value is set equivalent to that of one British pound (GBP). Money can be exchanged at the only bank in the islands, which is located in Stanley across from the FIC West store. British pounds will generally be accepted anywhere in the islands, and within Stanley cr cards and American currency are also often accepted. On the outlying islands cr cards will probably not be accepted, although British and American currency may be taken; check with the owners in advance to determine what is an acceptable payment method.
It is nearly impossible to exchange Falklands currency outside of the islands, so be sure to exchange all money prior to leaving the islands.
Meals in the Falklands are primarily traditional British food. Meat pies, boiled sausages, mutton, and copious amounts of tea are standard fare. While in camp many of the lodges provide home-cooked meals in very generous portions, and the food is generally much better than what is found in Stanley's pubs and eateries. To be completely fair Stanley does have a few good restaurants, but finding a meal that will be fondly remembered for its taste and flavor is almost certainly a hopeless quest.
While most items in the Falklands are expensive due to the cost of importing, there are no taxes on alcohol, thus making beer prices fairly reasonable. Pubs and lodges offer a wide selection, although most drinks will come from a can or bottle, rather than a tap.
Accommodation in Stanley includes numerous bed and breakfasts as well as a handful of hotels. Buildings are generally older, and the warm hospitality also seems to come from a bygone age. While in camp, lodging includes everything from old farmhouses to lodges built specifically for tourism. Camping may be permitted with permission of the landowner. Many places are self-catering, meaning supplies will need to be purchased in either Stanley or from a local source, if one is available. When in camp it is essential that lodging be reserved in advance; in Stanley it is generally possible to find lodging without a reservation, but it is still recommended that reservations be made.
A work permit is required of any foreign national working in the Falklands. Work permits should generally be applied for prior to coming to the islands and will require an employer's sponsorship. Additional information can be found at the Falkland Islands Government (http://www.falklands.gov.fk/workpermit.htm) site.
Crime is relatively unknown in the Falklands, although one should still take the normal precautions of not leaving items unattended or traveling alone late at night. If problems are encountered the police force should be helpful.
Unexploded ordinances from the 1982 conflict, including land mines, are still found in the islands. While it is highly unlikely that a visitor will encounter one, if found it should (obviously) not be touched and the proper authorities should be notified. It is worth noting that no civilians have been harmed by landmines since the conflict ended.
Many animals in the islands can be dangerous when cornered or with young. Elephant seals, sea lions and fur seals are probably the most dangerous; keep a safe distance when viewing these animals. A general rule is that if the animal seems to notice your presence, you are too close.
The Falklands, being located at a far southern latitude, may be affected by the Antarctic ozone hole from August until December. During this time be sure to wear sunscreen on sunny days, as the risk of sunburn is increased significantly. During other months of the year the ozone hole shrinks and the danger from the sun is not significantly greater than anywhere else on the planet.
There are no special medical requirements for visiting the Falklands. There is a large hospital in Stanley, but outside of the capital there are no medical facilities. For serious injuries the costs of being airlifted out of the islands are quite high, and the government may therefore require that you have travel insurance sufficient to cover the costs of a medical evacuation.
Since the population has British roots, customs tend to follow those of the United Kingdom, although in many ways the islanders are more conservative than Britain. Drugs are not tolerated, and travelers should be aware that among some residents there is still a mistrust of Argentines stemming from the 1982 conflict.
In addition to the above concerns, there exists a Country Code that should be followed by visitors to the islands:
The international calling code for the Falklands is +500. The local phone company, Cable & Wireless, sells phone cards which can be used throughout the territory, but international calls cost the ridiculous rate of £0.90 per minute. Internet access is still primitive, but it can be found. Several hotels, as well as the visitor center, offer computers that accept Cable & Wireless internet cards; expect download speeds of 56 Kbps or less. Both phone and internet cards can be purchased from the Cable & Wireless office in Stanley (located on the hill past the War Memorial), as well as in some of the stores downtown. The larger lodges will also sell phone cards and may have internet cards.
The postal service in the Falklands is quite reliable and letters can be easily mailed from Stanley and most settlements. The main post office is located in downtown Stanley across from the FIC West store.