Falklands' Step Up Tourism Efforts in the U.S.

By Carla Hunt

Reed Travel Features

WASHINGTON DEPOT, Conn. -- The Falkland Islands Tourist Board is making a concerted effort to attract tourists and has appointed Tread Lightly to represent the islands' interests in the U.S. tourist market. In addition to promoting the islands, the Connecticut-based tour operator also will assist agents with commissionable FIT arrangements for their clients' travel to the Falklands, a visit that can be combined with itineraries in Patagonia and the Chilean Lake District. Additionally, Tread Lightly scheduled a Falkland Islands tour, starting on arrival at Mount Pleasant Airport Saturday, Jan. 31, and departing the following Saturday, Feb. 7, for the Chilean mainland.

Audrey Patterson, director of Tread Lightly, is known for her travel products that feature nature and cultural eco-friendly tours and travel arrangements to many Latin American countries. Frequently a speaker on many aspects of sustainable tourism, she described the Falkland Islands as "perhaps the next Galapagos: undiscovered, unpolluted, abundant with wildlife." Only 300 visitors came to the Falklands last year, said Patterson, including 65 from the U.S. Another 6,000 cruise visitors came, but she said "brief shore excursions miss the heart and soul of the islands."

According to Patterson, the islands (some 700 of them) are virtually uninhabited. There are 1,800 residents in the town of Stanley, and 341 people --mostly sheepherders -- living in the countryside and on 15 inhabited islands. She added that there is no poverty, litter, traffic lights or violent crime in the Falklands but neither are there any fast food restaurants and travel is by Land Rover on gravel roads. Most important to travelers, of course, is that the Falklands are a haven for penguins --there are five species, including the majestic King Penguin -- as well as sea elephants, seals, dolphins, whales and innumerable birds.

Getting to the islands means leaving the mainland on Saturdays when Lan-Chile operates the one commercial flight a week serving the Falklands airport at Mount Pleasant (code MPA). The flight departs from Santiago, Chile, and makes intermediate stops at Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, returning on the same routing.

On the seven-night Tread Lightly tour, clients will spend the first night at the Blue Beach Lodge on San Carlos and the next day will visit Fanning and Rabbit Islands, which feature abundant wildlife populations. In the afternoon, tour members will fly to Port Howard in the West Falklands, a sheep town of 30 inhabitants, where there will be nature hikes, a visit to a museum devoted to the British-Argentine war, fishing for those who want to try and golf -- nine holes -- for others.

On Tuesday, travelers fly to Sea Lion Island, spending two days on this most southerly inhabited island in the Falklands that serves as a nesting ground for 47 bird species, including all five penguins. From Sea Lion Island, onward travel to Stanley for two nights is by air, and accommodations are at the Malvina House Hotel. During the stay here, there will be a full day Jeep tour on Friday, visiting several wildlife sites in the area. Lan-Chile's flight back to the mainland departs at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.

The price per person, double occupancy, is $1,295. This includes all accommodations, transfers, dinner on arrival and all meals except on Fridays and Saturdays in Stanley, tours and local air aboard Figas. Air from the U.S. to Chile and from Chile to the Falklands is not included. The roundtrip cost is $610 to $700 from Santiago to Mount Pleasant, $420 to $490 from Punta Arenas to Mount Pleasant. For further information, call (860) 868-1710.

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