A highlight of our South American cruise was seeing penguins in their natural habitat in the Falkland Islands. I can’t say that, prior to this trip, I’d ever given the Falklands much thought. I had heard of them, of course, but honestly had no idea where they were. I think I vaguely knew they were owned by the UK. But not only are the islands British territories, stepping onto Stanley was like stepping into a tiny English village.
Everyone we met spoke in a crisp, polite British accent, talking about the locally grown diddle dee berries, and gift shop prices were listed in British pounds. When my dad, husband, and I walked into the Globe Tavern to have a quite bite before our scheduled tour, it was like being transported halfway across the world. I dont think we could have conjured a more quintessential divey British pub. My dad approached the bar, asking if they served food, and the bartender responded, “Fish and chips.” So my dad had lunch, my husband ordered a pint, and because they didn’t take credit cards, Justin offered a $20 American bill that the bartender pocketed with a nod.
We lucked out in terms of weather. Apparently, most days are cold and rainy, but we had a clear, sunny day. Windy, yes, but warm and beautiful. Justin and I had put on thermal underwear and dressed in several unneeded layers, but I supposed I’d rather be prepared for the cold and wet weather than be caught off guard.
We had booked the excursion through the cruise company. We were on our way to see 2 of those species at Bluff Cove, a privately owned sheep farm where three varieties of penguins live: 1200 breeding pairs of Gentoos, 15 pairs of Kings, and an unspecified number of Magellanic.
The 25-minute minibus ride was narrated by the driver, providing lots of fun facts and historical tidbits. For example, the entire population of the Falklands is under 3000 people, most of which live in Stanley, and more than half of which were born there. Much of the population is made up of people serving in the British army for 6-12 month tours. The islands are a great place for bird-watching, with over 200 species of birds living there. Also, most of the photos you’ve ever seen of penguins were probably taken on the islands, which are home to more than 500,000 breeding pairs of 5 different species.
Following the minibus ride, we had to take a 10 minute off-road journey in a Land Rover — my first time! — which was quite adventurous with its bumps. I felt like we were driving across Jurassic Park!
Once we arrived at the lagoon where the penguins live, we were given our instructions — stay a couple meters back at all times, don’t touch any of them, and meet at the cafe in one hour for our return trip. Other than that, we were free to roam around, take photos to our hearts’ content, and view all of the natural wildlife. It. Was. Awesome.
Most of the penguins that we witnessed were young, children and teens, waiting for their parents to come back from the day’s hunt (to deposit regurgitated fish into their mouths). They were chasing each other around, making weird noises (almost like donkeys at times), or bothering the parent that stuck around (usually the father). In the King penguin circle, you could even see tiny little babies hiding under the folds of their father’s bellies, staying warm and waiting for their mothers to return.
After 40ish minutes, we walked over to the cafe and gift shop where we enjoyed some tea and homemade pastries (included in the ticket price), baked by one of the owners of the farm herself, and used the restroom before packing up in the 4×4 for our return trip.
All in all, it was a LOT of effort to get to the penguins for a relatively short visit (25 minute tender, 25 minute mini bus, 10 minute land rover, plus the return trips and waiting over an hour for a return tender), and it wasn’t cheap (our tickets were around $180). However, it was WORTH it. It was worth the hassle and the cost to get to view so many penguins in their natural habitat. Highly recommend. 10/10. Would do again.
(Click to expand on any of the photos!)