Falkland Islands

As with many of the places I've been talking about in Place Notes, the Falkland Islands can, in theory at least, be reached by either boat or plane.

In practise, however, if you want to spend any substantial time visiting the islands, the Falklands are only really accessible by plane.

Cruise ship Veendam off Stanley
A number of big cruise ships do call into the Falklands each year as part of ‘Around South America’ itineraries, but it's only practical for them to visit Stanley, and even there weather will quite often prevent the ships being able get their passengers on shore.  Smaller expedition ships will call in at some of the smaller islands around the Falklands in addition to Stanley. These will in most cases have started their itineraries in either southern Chile or Argentina, and will be visiting the Falklands as part of longer itineraries including South Georgia or the Antarctic Peninsula.  Both of these options, on either large or small ships, will give you a flavour of the islands but they aren't a good option for getting to the islands for an independent visit.

Expedition cruise ship, Plancius
After the Falklands War in 1982, the UK government funded the construction of a major runway at Mount Pleasant about 30 miles from Stanley.  This airfield services both military traffic and a limited number of long-haul commercial flights arriving into the islands.  The military flights include the ‘Air Bridge’ flights from the UK, which take a few fare paying passengers alongside the military personnel.  There are typically two or three flights each week from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.  These flights fly directly to the Falklands with a short refuelling stop on Ascension Island just south of the equator – the total flight time is 16-18 hours.

If you want a slightly more circuitous (but a bit cheaper) route to the Falklands your only option is to fly into Santiago in Chile, and then fly on to Mount Pleasant.  There are several flights each day between Europe (mostly from Madrid) into Santiago, but only one flight a week (operated by LAN Chile) from Santiago to the Falklands.  This flight isn’t direct, but includes a stop in Punta Arenas and sometimes an additional stop in Rio Gallegos in southern Argentina.

Overall this route takes longer than the direct flight route from the UK, and any costs savings are likely to be largely eaten up by the overnight stops in Santiago that are required in each direction. It is however a good option if you want to spend some time in Chile as part of the same trip.  The flight via Rio Gallegos can get caught up in politics occasionally – the Argentine authorities have been known to claim that the flight between Rio Gallegos and Stanley is an internal Argentine flight. If you choose to leave the flight in Rio Gallegos en route from the Falkland Islands you could find yourself tangling with the immigration authorities when you do finally try to leave Argentina.

Falkland Land Rovers
FIGAS at Sea Lion Island
Once you are in the Falkland Islands, your further travel is going to most likely going to be by plane too. On the map, at least, there is network of dirt roads around the islands, but you very soon discover why the locals have both great patience and Land Rovers.  Most visitors get shuttled (by Land Rover) to Stanley or Darwin from the airport, and then continue their journeys by air. The Falkland Island Government Air Service (FIGAS) run an excellent air taxi service around the network of, mostly grass, airstrips in the islands.  There isn't a published schedule, you simply book to travel from one place to another on a specific day. On the day before you’ll be told (or more likely the folks who are putting you up will be told) at what time one of the little Britten-Norman Islanders will land on the local airstrip to whisk you off to your destination.  The route it takes may not be direct – you might well stop off in one or two other islands en route, and if you get lucky you’ll get a low-level tourist flight along the coast, and possibly even get to sit in the co-pilots seat (with instructions not to touch anything).

These local flights are, of course, prone to weather disruption so recommendations will also include advice to be flexible about your travel plans, and you will always be advised to get back to Stanley a day or two ahead of your flight out the islands.

For more about my trips to the Falkland Islands in 2009 and 2011, follow the links.

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