Stanley, Falkland Islands
The fact that the capital city is referred to “Town” and everything outside the city is called “Camp” gives travelers a clue to the small town atmosphere that pervades the Falkland Islands. This remote group of islands (consisting of two large islands and many small islets) lies 300 miles from the coast of South America’s Patagonia, a British outpost that’s as unique as it is petite.
Although their English name is the Falkland Islands, the Spanish name for this island group is Islas Malvinas. It is a name derived from the French name Îles Malouine given to this location in 1764 by the French who first colonized these uninhabited lands. Spain soon drove the French out of the islands and later established a penal colony at Port Louis, eventually abandoning it. Argentina made a claim but then the British Navy took charge of the islands in 1833. Argentina’s designs on these islands weren’t over, however; in 1982 a military junta from Argentina occupied the islands for two months during the Falklands War which resulted in return to British rule.
Today the islands rely heavily on fishing (especially squid) as well as sheep farming. Although the human population here may be small, nearly 600,000 sheep populate the pastures of these many islands.
Tourism is a growing part of the Falklands’ economy; visitors are drawn to the islands for their unique history, remote location, and many ecotourism opportunities. Located less than 600 miles from Antarctica, the Falkland Islands are an important stop for many ships who call here to view the wildlife. Five species of penguins, the world’s biggest colony of the black-browed albatross, southern fur seals, elephant seals, sea lions, killer whales, and many other species make their home in these islands. Some of the top spots for nature watching are Sea Lion Island, Volunteer Beach, Penguin Walk, and Gypsy Cove, located near Stanley. The beaches at Gypsy Cove are plagued with landmines buried by Argentinean troops so they remain off limits to humans; the much lighter penguins can’t set off the mines and enjoy the protected terrain as their home. Human visitors can view the birds from protected viewing sites.
The city of Stanley itself boasts many attractions, including several historic sites. The city dates back to 1843 and it became the capital of the Falklands just two years later. Named for Lord Stanley, at the time the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, the city was an important port before the construction of the Panama Canal and has a long history as a ship repair port and as a whaling port.
The whaling heritage of the region is recalled at the city’s Whalebone Arch, a popular photo stop that was created from the jawbones of two massive whales. The adjacent Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1892, is the world’s southernmost cathedral.
The rich natural and social history of these islands is the focal point of the Falkland Islands Museum. The sometimes turbulent past of this location is remembered at two memorials: the Battle of the Falklands Memorial which honors a World War I naval battle here and the 1982 War memorial. Both recall the tumultuous times when these quiet, remote islands drew the attention of the world.
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