The Falkland Islands are relatively free of red tape apart from the usual entry formalities. All travellers arriving on the islands should have a valid passport, a visa if required and return air tickets or evidence of prepaid onwards travel arrangements. The visa requirements are broadly the same as those for the UK.
Visitors must also have sufficient funds to cover their stay on the islands and have pre-booked accommodation. Before the baggage is collected every passenger is gathered in the baggage-retrieval lounge to listen to a briefing on the current minefield situation. This includes displaying some of the mines that were used during the 1982 war and the general whereabouts of the minefields.
A Falkland Islands Departure Tax will be levied on the islands for those visitors who have not paid this in advance through their tour operator. One further restriction that visitors should be aware of is that, as all the land on the Falkland Islands is privately owned, permission should be granted from the owner before crossing land for whatever reason.
Getting there and away
There are two air routes to the Falkland Islands: from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England or via commercial airlines to Santiago, Chile, then connecting with the LATAM Chile flights via Punta Arenas to Mount Pleasant Airport. The LATAM Chile flights operate every Saturday. Travelling from England, the Royal Air Force flights are now operated for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) by a company called Air Tanker.
These flights leave the UK twice weekly, but are sometimes subjected to delays if adverse weather conditions are prevailing on the islands; a comprehensive travel insurance package is advised. Typically, this means leaving the UK on Sunday and Wednesday evenings and returning on the corresponding Tuesdays and Fridays. This schedule may change during bank holiday periods.
If planning to travel independently on the RAF flight you must deal directly with the travel co-ordinator at the Falkland Islands Government office, where full information and a travel form can be obtained.
An alternative is to travel via Chile. Tourists can board the LATAM Chile flight in Santiago, via Punta Arenas to the Falkland Islands. There is also a monthly flight via Argentina which calls at Rio Gallegos on the second Saturday of the month on its way to the islands, returning one week later.
From Rio Gallegos, it is possible to fly to Buenos Aires and other destinations in Argentina as well as Punta Arenas in Chile. Connecting with the LATAM Chile service is a Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) flight from Mount Pleasant to Port Howard on West Falkland, and on to Pebble Island. This flight is designed to give short-stay visitors the maximum time with wildlife, and must be pre-booked with FIGAS or with one of the local tour operators.
An increasing number of visitors are reaching the islands on board cruise ships that call in on their way to South Georgia and to the Antarctic. The sheer size of the larger ships restricts their visits to Stanley. Ships typically anchor out in Port William and then use their tenders to come through Stanley Narrows to land at the public jetty in front of the visitor centre. These visits range from a few hours to a full day depending upon their itineraries.
The smaller ships, usually termed Expedition cruise ships, can land at a variety of sites. They most often stay around the islands for one day on an outer island followed by another day or half day in Stanley. The weather plays a major role in how successful these landings are with some cancelled because of strong winds.
It is also possible to sail to the islands on a private yacht, but it is essential to contact the Customs and Immigration Department and the Harbour Authorities at least 24 hours before arrival as well as seeking clearance by customs and immigration in Stanley before continuing elsewhere in the islands. For those arriving from South America the islands are typically more than one day’s sail from ports such as Ushuaia in Argentina.
Travelling around the islands is much easier than it was prior to the early 1980s. The quickest way to get between the islands and settlements is by air on the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS). These planes operate from their base at Stanley Airport and can take up to eight passengers plus pilot, although many airstrips are only capable of accepting planes with a reduced number of passengers.
The Concordia Bay ferry between New Haven on East Falkland and Port Howard on West Falkland has opened up travel opportunities between these two islands. For those hiring vehicles in Stanley, this is an alternative to flying between the two main islands, but note that it is advisable to check that the car-hire company allows its vehicles to be taken to West Falkland before hiring.
The journey takes 1 hour 45 minutes and the schedule is regularly updated as the ferry also delivers cargo to all inhabited islands.
The road network has been improved so that as of 2013 it now links all of the major settlements on the islands; all others can be reached by traditional routes over the camp on the rough, rather difficult-to-drive tracks that can only be driven using a 4×4. Local knowledge is essential in finding the correct route.
Although the distances between settlements are not great, driving over camp is slow going with average speeds of five to ten miles an hour typical so it is a good idea to allow plenty of time if doing such a journey.