The Falkland Islands are a pretty special place, and truly one of a kind. One thing for sure, most people outside the Falklands actually know very little about them, and that would include myself before I visited. During a recent trip to this southernly part of the world, I had the opportunity to learn about its history, culture and way of life, and discover some curious, fun and truly interesting facts about the Falkland Islands.
If you are planning a trip to the Falkland Islands or are simply interested in this remote destination, and would like to know a bit more about it, this post is for you: continue reading to discover the most interesting facts about the Falkland Islands.
The Most Interesting Facts About The Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are close to the Antarctic
The Falkland Islands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean. This archipelago is located around 300 miles (480 kilometers) east of the coast of Southern Patagonia, and 752 miles (1,210 kilometers) from the most northerly part of mainland Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula.
Falkland Islanders actually use two time zones
When locals told me, I found this to be one of the most fun facts about the Falkland Islands!
The Falklands is officially in the UTC-3 time zone, meaning it is three hours behind UTC (or GMT). However, many people in West Falkland use the UTC-4 time zone, which they call “Camp Time” (“Camp” being the word for the countryside), as opposed to “Stanley Time”, which is in East Falkland.
There are many islands
The Falkland Islands is an archipelago of islands with an area of around 4,700 square miles (12,000 square kilometers). The main islands are East Falkland and West Falkland, which are separated by a strait called the Falkland Sound.
These two islands are surrounded by 776 smaller islands, some of the larger ones being Saunders Island and Pebble Island.
The Falkland Islands has a long, interesting history
In prehistoric times, the Falkland Islands may have been visited by Fuegians – indigenous people of the Tierra del Fuego who lived tens of thousands of years ago. However, it remained unsettled for centuries.
The islands are thought to have been discovered by Europeans in the 16th century, but there is no consensus as to who saw them first. The first undisputed landing was by John Strong, an English captain who explored the area around Falkland Sound on his way to Chile and Peru in 1690.
They were not inhabited until 1764, when the French captain Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville, established the settlement of Port Louis. Louis-Antoine de Bougainville called the islands Îles Malouines, which later became Malvines. The 1764 landing by the French was followed in 1766 by the establishment of Port Egmont on Saunders Island by British captain John MacBride, which was later captured by the Spanish.
Problems with ownership of the Falkland Islands began to arise when France ceded its settlement to the Spanish (also in 1766), who called it Puerto Soledad. War between Spain and Britain was narrowly avoided when Spain recognized British sovereignty over the islands.
The two settlements co-existed until Britain’s activity on the islands dwindled; they left only a plaque, erected in 1774, claiming the Falkland Islands for King George III. Thereafter, the Spanish Viceroyalty became the only governmental presence in the islands.
They established a prison at Puerto Soledad. Eventually, during the Napoleonic Wars, the island’s governor and Spanish colonial garrison left in 1807 (and left their own plaque, removing the British one and shipping it off to Buenos Aires). This left only farmers and fishermen living on the islands.
Over the following century, things got a little more complicated. In 1820, an American privateer, operating on behalf of the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, arrived and told ships in the area about Buenos Aires’ claim to the islands and former Spanish colonies in the South Atlantic. Buenos Aires installed Louis Vernet, a German-born merchant, as the governor in 1823, who enforced military and civil command on the islands.
Vernet lasted until an accusation of piracy by the United States and a subsequent punitive raid by the USS Lexington in 1831, in which the Americans also declared the dissolution of the islands’ government. Buenos Aires, in a last-ditch attempt to control the archipelago, installed a garrison the same year.
However, in 1832 the troops mutinied. This was followed in 1833 by the arrival of the British, who re-asserted their claim and established a formal Crown colony in 1840.
Scottish settlers arrived, setting up farms in a mainly pastoral community. In 1844, the main settlement was moved to Port Jackson – soon renamed Stanley – which was considered a better location for the government.
The Falkland Islands were an important military base. They were the site of the Battle of the Falklands (1914) during World War I, a naval confrontation fought between Britain and Germany. During World War II, the islands retained their naval importance; during this time, it was feared the Japanese would seize the archipelago.
However, simmering tensions over the ownership of the Falkland Islands remained. During the second half of the 20th century, they got more heated until the outbreak of all-out war. On 2nd April, 1982, Argentinian military forces invaded the islands, along with other British territories in the South Atlantic, and occupied them.
The British military were brought in, fighting a war which lasted 74 days, which ended in the surrender of the Argentine. To this day, Argentina still claims that the islands are Argentine territory. However…
They are inherently British
Despite being so far from mainland Britain, the Falkland Islands – which is a British Overseas Territory – have a strong British culture. Trust me, it’s pretty obvious the moment you set foot there. After all, they have been home to nine generations of Falkland Islanders for almost 200 years, and it shows. The predominant language spoken is English, the atmosphere is very much like the British countryside, the food is British, people drink tea and – of course – there are pubs.
In 2013, there was a referendum held in the Falkland Islands, asking the question of whether or not the people would like to remain a territory of the United Kingdom. Out of the 92% of the electorate who voted, an overwhelming 99.8% of them voted in favor of remaining a British Overseas Territory (only three people voted against).
Falkland Islands are very cold (and dramatic)
The landscape of the Falkland Islands is stark and unspoilt. Its climate is windy and cold, and varies throughout the day. Temperatures rarely get very warm; the average mean temperature for Stanley, for example, is 9°C (48°F). The islands get battered by the Roaring Forties, a name given to powerful westerly winds in the Southern Hemisphere, which help to shape the landscape and climate.
Wildlife on the islands is incredible
If you like the sound of being able to get up close to some impressive wildlife, then the Falkland Islands are the perfect place for you to visit. There are a total of 14 different marine animals who live in the waters (and on the beaches!) of the islands. This includes leopard seals, fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals. In fact, the Falkland Islands is the largest breeding site for elephant seals in the world!
And then there are the penguins. The Falkland Islands are famous for their penguins, and it’s rare to visit without seeing at least one penguin. There are a total of five different penguin species that call the archipelago home.
These are king penguins, Magellanic penguins, gentoo penguins, macaroni penguins and, of course, rockhoppers. It’s one of just a few places in the world where you can get so close to so many penguins and other amazing animals. The photo opportunities are amazing.
Aside from penguins, there’s a long list of bird species that frequent the islands. It is home to 60% of the world’s black-browed albatross, for example.
You should also read my post Where To See Penguins In The Falklands.
Stanley only became a city in 2022
Once called Port Jackson, the city of Stanley may not be what comes to mind when you think of a capital city. There are no skyscrapers or central business district, and no public transport, but this is still where most Falkland Islanders live. As of 2016, the city was home to 2,460 people. It’s been the capital since 1845, but it was only declared to have city status as part of the civic honors of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
Stanley takes its name from Lord Stanley, a British statesman and three-time Prime Minister who was, at the time of its founding, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. It grew up as an important deep-water port that specialized in ship repairs at a time before the construction of the Panama Canal. Intense storms would force ships to seek refuge and repairs at the port, thus helping the islands’ economy to grow.
It’s got a pretty small population
As of 2016, the Falkland Islands have a population of 3,200, with an average age of 38. That means that well over two-thirds of all people who live here actually live in the capital, Stanley!
Falkland Islanders aren’t just British in origin
The same 2016 census found that 43% of residents were born in the archipelago, with 49 different nationalities known to be living in the Falklands. This includes people from Chile, New Zealand, Brazil, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe. Most people descend from the Scottish and Welsh immigrants who settled here in 1833. Other Falklands-born islanders descend from English, French, Gibraltarians, Scandinavians and South Americans.
There is a Falklands lingo
It took me a minute or two, and the help of my fluent Spanish, to understand what a local was telling me on my first day on the islands.
Being so far away from Britain, the Falkland Islands naturally have their own set of slang and common words for a variety of things. For example, one vestige of the gauchos who once upon lived here is the word “camp” – this comes from the Spanish campo, meaning countryside. On the islands, this refers to the countryside and to farms as well.
There are more borrowed and corrupted Spanish terms that are used in everyday language in the Falklands. This includes “poocha”, which comes from the Spanish puta; in the Falklands it means “wow!” or “damn”. The word “che” is also used; this is used, like in Argentinian Spanish, as a filler word as in “right” or “so”. Spanish color words are also used to refer to the colors and patterns of horses in the Falkland Islands.
Another interesting term is “kelper”. This word is used by Falkland Islanders to refer to themselves, and relates to the kelp which grows in the sea around the islands.
Forget about the internet
You will want to make a not of this, among other facts about the Falkland Islands. The internet is not great in here. It’s slow and it’s expensive; you have to pay extra if you want to use it in accommodation, and there are no free internet hotspots. It’s all about internet detox, here.
There’s one newspaper in the Falkland Islands
This newspaper is published on a weekly basis, every Friday, and it’s called Penguin News. Founded in 1979, the weekly publication keeps Falkland Islanders abreast of news and happenings across the islands.
The FIGAS plane is like an Uber Pool
If Uber did planes, it would probably look something like the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) planes. Based at Stanley Airport, the FIGAS planes have been part of island life since 1948. The service has developed from being a functional air ambulance and mail service to becoming a vital form of public transport.
The planes offer flights to smaller settlements and farms throughout the islands, or anywhere that has an airfield. It’s a small 8-seater plane, hopping from island to island, loading and unloading passengers along the way. Riding the FIGAS plane is something you should definitely do if you want an experience (and some awesome views).
You should also read my post The Best Things To Do In The Falkland Islands.
There are loads of shipwrecks!
Due to its rich maritime history, and the stormy weather experienced around the islands – plus a few wars – there are many shipwrecks here. There are estimated to be more than 300 wrecks around the islands. The most famous of these is Lady Liz: the visible wreck of a ship near Stanley’s harbor that suffered storm damage in 1913.
It has a massive fishing industry – yet people don’t seem to eat much fish!
Just like it was hundreds of years ago, fishing is a staple industry of the Falkland Islands. Today, the fishing industry is huge, and is the major economic activity of the islands. Proceeds from fishing licenses form part of the funding for King Edward VII Hospital in Stanley and contribute around 60% of the island’s GDP.
However, people here don’t tend to eat much of their catch. In 2017, 94% of all fish and seafood caught in the Falkland Islands was exported to the European Union.
The islands’ main economy is sheep farming (for wool)
Of the Falkland Islands’ 1.2 million hectares of land, 93% is dedicated to farming. This is the second-largest industry of the archipelago, with 82 working farms scattered across the islands. Wool is an integral part of this industry, and the islands are known for their high-quality wool exports (and has been for many years). With roughly 500,000 sheep, it works out there are around 156.25 sheep for every person living on the islands!
There are “traveling teachers”
Yes, that’s right. These teachers fly around the islands, teaching and living near families in the “camp”. At the age of 11, kids have to move to Stanley if they want secondary education; in Stanley, they’ll live with another child in their home, or stay in boarding facilities.
At the age of 16, the island’s government pays for children to attend school in the UK to take their A levels. When it comes to university, the Falkland Islands’ government funds the Falkland Islanders’ higher education, which usually is in the UK.
Definitely one of the most fun facts about the Falkland Islands!
They are home to the world’s most southerly marathon
Taking place in March, the Stanley Marathon is indeed the most southerly marathon in the world. It’s been running for over a decade now, and attracts people from all over the world to compete. The marathon is particularly challenging, due to the weather, mainly in the form of prevailing winds and changeable conditions.
There’s also the Falkland Ultra – the ultimate endurance challenge. This is a 100 mile (or 100 kilometer) one-stage race around some epic scenery in East Falkland.
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of The Falkland Island as part of the #ilovethefalklandislands campaign. I wish to thank them and Blogilicious for organizing an incredible trip. The views expressed in this post remain my own.