STANLEY, Falkland Islands -- "This is not the end of the world, but
you can see it from here" is a standard joke in the Falkland
Islands, an archipelago of 400 islands, 15 of them inhabited by
2,220 people and 650,000 sheep.
Further in the numbers game, the Falklands lie at latitude 52
south, the same parallel as London is north; they are 350 miles off
the tip of South America, and 1,000 miles from Antarctica, whose
expedition cruise ships landed 3,000 passengers in the Falklands in
Other interesting numbers: Among 300 visitors who came as
tourists in 1996, 65 were Americans.
Mother Nature is still in charge here: 162 species of birds are
regularly seen in the islands, five species of penguins breed here,
congregating in colonies easily approached by man, and, in season,
sea elephants and sea lions galumph about the beaches while whales
and dolphins cavort off shore.
The traditional frontier life in Stanley, the capital, and the
countryside, called Camp, can be as appealing to the American
visitor as the island's wildlife. Consider: Sheep raising is the
main occupation, and you can visit the sheds at harvest time (in
February) when a professional shearer can clip one sheep every two
For cooking and heating the natives use peat, cut into bricks by
local residents, who each have their own plots. Residents also have
flower and vegetable gardens.
The dentist makes island "house calls" every six months, but
doctors fly into settlements every other month. Furthermore, there
is no neon, no fast food, no traffic lights. And since Falklanders
are generally of British Isles origin, everyone speaks English.
In the Falklands, visitors travel as the Kelpers (original
islands settlers) do: overland by Land Rover. Roads, where they
exist, are mostly of gravel.
International flights land at Mount Pleasant Airport, which is
part of Britain's Royal Air Force base. Local air travel
(connecting 40 landing strips, all but two of grass) is provided by
Falkland Islands Government Air Service, which flies, weather
permitting, eight-passenger aircraft.
The names of passengers on local flights are read on the 7:30
news the night before, and passengers showing up for check-in are
weighed in along with their luggage.
Last year at this time, the only way to get to the Falklands,
other than the RAF flight from England, was by sea.
The new key to tourism in the Falklands is the weekly Saturday
flight of Lan Chile, launched last August. Flying time is six and a
half hours from Santiago, with stops in Puerto Montt and Punta
The Falklands are less than two hours from Punta Arenas.
On arrival, visitors have a choice of two hotels in Stanley: the
newer and more comfortable, 18-room Malvina House Hotel and the
historic 16-room Upland Goose Hotel. Both have rooms with private
bath, friendly service, bars and restaurants. Additionally, there
are a half-dozen guest houses with two to five rooms.
In Camp, travelers will stay in guest houses -- often the former
homes of farm managers.
Accommodations, on full-board basis, have twin-bedded rooms,
some with shared bath, and a guest lounge and bar. Meals include
hot English-style breakfasts; boxed lunches on request, and
John Fowler, director of the Falkland Islands Tourist Board and
longtime island resident, said the islands are ready for more
tourism. "Anchored by very good local tour companies, we have a
small but user-friendly infrastructure that operates well below its
potential," he said. "Increasing tourism is a government priority,
and it helps that we are now called the Galapagos of the sub
Fowler is eager to work with U.S. tour operators and travel
agents to bring more Americans to the islands. A visit to the
Falklands complements a trip to southern Chile's Patagonia,
although other options could be available if plans go through this
spring to launch additional weekly air service between the
Falklands and Montevideo, Uruguay, and on to Sao Paulo in