Exploring the Falklands

The weather may be unpredictable, but count on penguins

By: Maryann Hammers

Drenched from being caught in sideways-blowing rain, I climbed into a waiting Land Rover after visiting the Bluff Cove penguin colony near Port Stanley in the Falklands. “Is it always this windy here?” I asked, as my hair whipped around my face.

My driver raised her eyebrows in surprise. “What wind? It’s not windy today,” she said, in a perfect British accent. “But sometimes it really does blow.”

I was on a South American cruise aboard the Celebrity Millennium. The crew and staff had repeatedly warned us about the Falklands’ weather, which was likely to be blustery even in January, which is summer in this part of the world.

But I didn’t come to this part of the world to sunbathe, after all. For those who’ve never been up close and personal with a penguin, a visit to Stanley the world’s smallest and most remote capital city with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants is well worth the time and trouble of bundling up.

Almost 500,000 pairs of penguins live in the Falklands, so “penguin tours” are extremely popular. I opted for the Bluff Cove Lagoon Tour. It’s a good choice because it combines soft adventure, British teatime and plenty of penguin interaction all in just over three hours.

My adventure began on the tender from the Millennium. Dozens of frolicking Peale’s dolphins put on an acrobatic show, leaping and bounding into the air and racing us to port. Once reaching shore in Stanley, we boarded buses for a quick city tour. Our guide, an Englishman who fought in the 1982 war, pointed out several fields still roped off due to land mines.

We then piled into Land Rovers for a rollicking ride through a privately owned sheep ranch. Our destination was Bluff Cove, home to a permanent colony of 940 pairs of gentoo penguins, as well as a few scattered king penguins. Magellanic and rockhopper penguins also sometimes visit. With their slouchy stance, funny little walk and occasional futile flap of short useless wings, penguins are adorably silly. They are curious and unafraid, too often walking right up to inspect us.

The humans who managed to stand or squat perfectly still and silent were rewarded with a penguin or two who would come by to say hello. But some overly enthusiastic visitors insisted on barging past the wood-post barriers, even trying to catch the birds, which just sent the poor penguins scattering.

Other than the stupid human tricks, it was all good fun and fascinating. But the weather outside really was frightful. After I had enough of the wind and the rain, I joined the March of the Humans (the other rain-drenched and wind-whipped Millennium passengers) at the nearby Sea Cabbage Cafe, where complimentary fresh-baked cookies, cakes, scones and breads and hot tea warmed us up until the Land Rovers drove us back to the port.

Since the Falkland Islands is a territory of the United Kingdom and most islanders are of British descent, a walk along the water’s edge on Ross Road in Stanley will feel like a stroll through an English village.

I was enchanted by the town’s tidy timber-framed houses, their corrugated metal roofs painted in a rainbow of primary hues. With their colorful English gardens in full bloom, Stanley’s homes were as cheerful as the sky was dreary.
The town of Stanley is small, so people who like to walk can easily stroll by most of the main points of interest, such as the massive Christ Church, elegant Government House and a set of War Memorials. The Brittania House Museum captures the Falklands’ social and natural history. And the post office and Philatelic Bureau, located on the ground floor of the Town Hall building, was another big draw. (Falkland Island stamps are highly prized among collectors).

With more than 600,000 sheep in the Falklands, the islands are famous for exceptionally soft yarn and hand-dyed woolen goods. For a souvenir that most tourists will use right away, handknit sweaters are sold in several shops in town. Given the weather, most folks will want to slip it on before even returning to the ship.


Several “penguin tours” are available through the Falkland Island Tourist Board, which lists excursions and operators on its Web site.
The Bluff Cove tour is offered as a shore excursion through Celebrity and other cruise lines. It may also be offered to small groups through Falkland Islands Tours & Travel and Sulivan Shipping.
Many tour operators in the Falklands deal exclusively with cruise ships, so for guaranteed penguin sightings, it’s best to pre-book a shore excursion through the ship.