Part of the
Hurtigruten Group

A traveller's guide to the Falkand Islands

Dive into the fascinating history of the Falkand Islands, discover what the islands look like today and what you can do there.

6 mins read

West Point, Falklands

Many of Hurtigruten's Antarctic voyages make a stop at the Falkland Islands. However, some people aren't that familiar with this small group of isles in the south Atlantic. If you've never dived into the exciting history of this archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, north of Antarctica, now's the time to learn all about it. You can also read more about what the Falkland Islands look like today, and what you can do on these amazing islands.

Discovery and early settlements

Though most of the land European explorers discovered during the Age of Exploration was in fact already inhabited, no one lived on the Falkland Islands until the mid-18th century. In fact, records don't show anyone even seeing the islands until 1592, when they was spotted by John Davis, an English sea captain. Nearly 100 years later, another English sea captain, John Strong, made the first landing. Strong set the gears in motion for naming the islands - although he didn't give the landmasses themselves any particular name, he called the waterway between them the "Falkland Strait" after the Navy's treasurer at the time.

In 1764, France (which called the islands "Iles de Malouines," after the voyage's starting point) founded the islands' first colony. The settlers created Port Louie on East Falkland. Just a year later, England created a settlement of its own on West Falkland, called Port Egmont. The leader of the English expedition that made Port Egmont, John Byron, then claimed the islands in the name of England. Byron was unaware of the French port that had been created on the eastern island, though some historians think this fact wouldn't have changed Byron's decision to claim the land.

The British were only at Port Egmont for a short time, however, before they were forced out by competitive neighbours. Not the French - in fact by this time, France had ceded its settlement on the Falklands entirely. Instead it was the Spanish, who by 1770 had taken over the French port (which they renamed "Puerto de la Soledad") and pushed the British out of Port Egmont. As was often the case with these Age of Exploration settlements, however, areas changed hands frequently and quickly - Spain returned Port Egmont to England the very next year.

These back-and-forth disagreements continued until 1820. At this point, Spain owned the island, and had been the sole claim on the Falkland Islands for decades. However, Spain's South American colonies were revolting during this time, and Argentina - then known as the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata - took over the islands. This might have been the end of things, had the British ever officially renounced their claim on the islands. They hadn't, however, and in 1832 England came back to take the land that, in its eyes, already belonged to it. British troops were able to peacefully evict the Argentinean settlers there, and a long period of peace on the islands began.

The Falklands War

Nearly a century and a half later, however, the Falkland Islands experienced a serious conflict. Though the land wasn't the site of any actual fighting after British forces removed the Argentineans living there, Argentina continued to dispute British claims on the archipelago. In 1964, the issue was brought to the United Nations. Though the U.N. attempted to get Britain and Argentina to come together to discuss the situation, the countries made little progress. In 1982, war broke out.

Argentinean troops were initially able to beat back British defences with a 5,000-soldier attack. Margaret Thatcher responded by declaring a 200-mile exclusion zone around the region. Thatcher announced that anyone within that zone would be considered hostile, and attacked accordingly. Shortly after this announcement, British forces torpedoed an Argentinean ship, killing 368 people onboard. This was an incredibly controversial moment in the war, as there were allegations that the ship in question was not in the exclusion zone at the time of the attack, and that it was actually sailing away from the islands.

The rest of the war was short, but brutal. Just a few months after it began, Argentina had surrendered, having lost 655 men in the interim. The defeat rocked Argentina's political landscape, which was already shaky at the time. Argentina's leader, Leopoldo Galtieri, stepped down and was replaced by Carlos Menem. Menem called for peace talks between Britain and Argentina, and though the negotiations took some time, the conflict between the two countries officially ended in 1995.

The Falkland Islands today

Today, the Falkland Islands are entirely self-sufficient and nearly self-governing. People have settled there from all over the world to work in the island's lucrative farming and fishing industries. It's also a popular tourist destination, as there is plenty of unspoiled nature to explore and fascinating towns to learn about. Moreover, the Falkland Islands have a plentiful penguin population, so they're sure to delight animal lovers of all ages. Whether you're spending a whole vacation there or simply stopping by on your cruise to Antarctica, you're sure to fall in love.

What to see during your time on the Falkland Islands

While the beaches on the Falkland Islands may be a little chilly, this incredible little archipelago has a rich collection of attractions for visitors to discover. The following is a list of our favourite things to see and do during a trip here:

Rare wildlife

Just like Captain John Strong more than 300 years ago, visitors who find themselves on the Falkland Islands today have the opportunity to spot a great selection of indigenous wildlife during their outdoor excursions - especially birds. Avian species are incredibly abundant on these sprawling isles, giving guests a great opportunity to see some of the world's rarest and most interesting birds.

Penguins everywhere

The Falkland Islands are home to four different species of penguins - king, rockhopper, Magellanic and gentoo. King penguins look very similar to their larger brethren - the emperor penguin - and display the same yellow-orange colouration on the sides of their head and under their beak.

These flightless birds are the second largest type of penguin in the world, and they normally congregate in large colonies around the Falkland Islands. Rockhoppers, gentoo and Mangellanic penguins are all much smaller in size, only growing to reach about three to four feet as an adult. Like other species, they tend to congregate in groups so spotting these little avian oddballs shouldn't be very tough at all.

Other stories

Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

Sign up for our newsletter

Be the first to hear about our latest offers, exciting itineraries and inspirational articles.

Sign up here