When, how and where should you travel?
Remote, isolated and offering unique wilderness and wildlife experiences, South Georgia and the Falklands make for fantastic additions on Antarctic expeditions from Ushuaia. Whilst the latter may enjoy a higher profile thanks to its turbulent history, the former is usually lesser-known although rated the #1 most-coveted Antarctic highlight of all. Both archipelagos host an exquisite array of unique wildlife with South Georgia’s colonies of penguins and seals being so extensive, they’ve earned the island the nickname of the ‘crèche of Antarctica’.
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Skip through the blog to find what you are looking for:
- Best time to travel
- Where are the Falklands and South Georgia?
- What to look out?
- Can you fly to South Georgia?
- Who lives in South Georgia?
- What to do in South Georgia?
- Are the Falklands safe?
- How many Falkland Islands are there?
- An unforgettable experience
When you include these two exceptional archipelagos on your Antarctic cruise, you’ll be effectively choosing a longer and more expensive itinerary. Rest assured, however, that it will be time and money well-spent. When it comes to wildlife value, South Georgia alone far outranks any other destination, including the Antarctic Peninsula itself. That’s because these islands are isolated and life here is so idyllic (if you’re a penguin or fur seal, that is) that the concentration of animals is quite extraordinary. Colonies of 100,000 nesting penguins, beaches littered with sun-basking elephant and fur seals. So many, in the one cove, that you just don’t know where to set your feet. These islands offer a visual feast that’s impossible to even describe let alone comprehend and a fascinating glimpse a history that spans the last 200 years
Reason enough to explore these dramatic remote islands by expedition ship?
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Best time to go to South Georgia and the Falkland’s (and the worst too)
Antarctica cruising season runs only between October and late March every year, during the southern summer season. This is the only time of year when daytime temperatures can even reach the double digits Celsius, you’d be happy to know. There are specific benefits to visiting on any given month during this period, such as fewer fellow cruises during the first and last two months of the season. You can certainly fly to the Falklands at any time of year, although the extreme climatic conditions of the winter months (how’s -50C for frosty?) may convince you otherwise. A visit to South Georgia, on the other hand, is only possible on Antarctic expeditions.
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Where are the Falkland Islands and South Georgia?
Both island clusters float due-east of the southern Patagonian coast, with the Falklands being about 500km off the shores (about the latitude of Rio Gallegos, Argentina) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (as the archipelago is known) floating a further 1,500km southeast of that. South Georgia is obviously the most remote and isolated group of islands and, as would figure, the most dramatic of all. Both archipelagos were declared British Overseas Territories after the short but bloody 10-week long war between the UK and Argentina which took place in 1982.
There is still a lot of rivalry and controversy over the Falklands in particular, with the subject of its British dependency being a real bone of contention for the two nations to this day and the whole subject, quite frankly, one you may not want to broach with locals on the Argentinian mainland. The Malvinas, as the island are known there, offer fascinating historical and cultural highlights, as well as wilderness experiences that aren’t found on the Antarctic Peninsula.
What to look out for when visiting the Falklands and South Georgia
Both destinations are undoubtedly chosen for their wilderness and wildlife values primarily and, in this regard, they never disappoint. The Falklands are home to five distinct species of penguins as well as fur seals and migrating albatrosses. When visiting on the way south to Antarctic, they will be your first port of call and what a magnificent intro they will offer! The small town of Stanley is home to a very interesting history museum and a few iconic landmarks yet it’s the landscape, geological formation and arresting coves replete with penguins that are the real highlights.
South Georgia, for her part, is absolutely jaw-dropping. The famous home of Antarctic King Penguins (here you’ll find the world’s largest colony) but also hosting plenty of Macaronis (the funniest ones on Happy Feet) and a seemingly endless array of seals. South Georgia doesn’t just look like wildlife day-care, it sounds like one too, Head here at the end of the summer and you may find it might just smell like one too!
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Can you fly to South Georgia?
Ah, that would be a resounding no. Aside from the fact that there isn’t an airport on South Georgia (because there is no town on South Georgia) there wouldn’t be much space to build one either, given the concentration of wildlife. We’d squish them all! The closest airport to this archipelago is on the Falklands so whether you fly from there or hop on an Antarctica expedition cruise directly from Ushuaia, you’d still need to get here by ship.
It pays to note that a huge bonus of cruising to the Falklands and South Georgia on the way to or from Ushuaia is that it offers plenty more days out on the open Southern Ocean, at a time of year where whale migration is at its peak. This is neither the time of year nor the place to be flying anywhere! You’ll want to be as close to the water as possible for whale-migration season.
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Who lives in South Georgia?
Aside from the above-mentioned wildlife, only about 30 people live on South Georgia, all involved either with scientific research for the British Navy or to upkeep the fascinating whaling museum on the former Norwegian whaling-station of Grytviken. Yes, it’s utterly bizarre to be ‘meeting people’ on South Georgia and trust that every encounter is a beloved and appreciated distraction for these fine and hardy folks who choose to live in this incredibly beautiful but inhospitable place for several months a year.
Much like Antarctica, South Georgia doesn’t boast a native population, with every person living there not technically being a resident. The distinct lack of human presence yet with the remnants of its past existence, is what makes a journey here so very ethereal.
What to do in South Georgia?
South Georgia is an intrepid explorer’s dream, the archipelago boasting landing sites galore and an astonishing amount of wildlife, much of which you’ll see up close thanks to daily Zodiac excursions. Although one can’t overstate the magical enchantment of Antarctica proper, the wildlife and wilderness experiences here are usually the top highlight for most Antarctica cruise passengers which tells you just how awe-inspiring this maze of isles really is.
An ornithologist’s ultimate paradise, South Georgia is all about the animals, spotting rare and unique species of birds among the top attractions. From the impressively-sized King Penguin to curious Macaroni and the Antarctic petrels, skuas, albatrosses and prions, South Georgia boasts over 30 MILLION sea birds alone (comprising almost 80 distinct species) during the summer season. The amazing penguin concentration is the most famous highlight, as you can imagine, yet you’ll also see the largest seal species in the world (Southern Elephant Seal), the Antarctic fur seal and even a few introduced reindeer who’ve adapted to this harsh but spellbinding landscape.
Are the Falkland Islands safe?
It would seem that life is both too challenging and far too idyllic to get up to any kind of mischief on the Falklands, the islands being perfectly safe. Crime is virtually unknown here and you’ll find few places on earth that are safer. The only ‘safety’ issue people may have derived from unplanned extensive hikes in the Falkland wilderness and getting caught up in a climatic downturn. You’ll also want to keep a respectful distance from the wildlife, naturally, especially when nesting and/or breeding. Seals, in particular, can get aggressive and territorial so simply follow the guidelines set out by your expedition guide and you’ll be just fine.
How many Falkland Islands are there?
The Falklands archipelago consists of over 700 islands. Two of these are major (East with the capital, Stanley, and West) and most others being much smaller islets. The total population is about 4,000 with proud, the resilient (mostly) farming residents surprisingly spread out across several islands. East Falkland is home to about half the territory’s population, whilst a few hundred live on West Falkland and the others scattered among minor islands nearby. An inter-island ferry system and short flights keep the community well-connected and close-knit with renewable energy methods (like windmills) providing much of their power needs. Stanley is a surprisingly modern city, with all the mod-cons you’d expect of a capital, albeit one that is remote and nestled in seemingly inhospitable environments.
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Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands – an unforgettable expedition
Given all the above-mentioned reasons, you’ll understand why South Georgia and the Falklands aren’t regarded as an alternative to an Antarctica expedition but two of its most treasured additions. Once prospective explorers start planning their seafaring journey to the White Continent and realise what else they could experience on the way, the addition of a few days’ cruising seems an almost unquestionable choice. Especially as this is literally the only way most people (except scientists perhaps) can ever visit South Georgia. If not when you’re heading to Antarctica…then when?!
Antarctic expeditions including visits to these outer archipelagos usually add a minimum of 6 days to a classic cruise but there are plenty of expedition itineraries that can last longer, given the sheer number of sites to be visited. The shortest Antarctica cruise which include South Georgia and the Falklands lasts 18 days and the longest, which includes a sailing across the fabled Antarctic Circle line, is a 23-day-long adventure. Do keep in mind that shorter isn’t necessarily cheaper by default: when it comes to cruising Antarctica, the ship’s size, luxury level and amenities play a huge role in determining the price of their expedition.
When you depart Ushuaia bound for Antarctica via the Falklands and South Georgia, you can expect to reach the Falklands after one full day at sea. From there, it’s a two-day sail to South Georgia and just one more day of cruising will see you reach the first Antarctic islands north of the Peninsula. On the way back, you’ll cut across through the Drake Passage, and back to Ushuaia, in two cruising days. Most itineraries will include two full-days’ exploration of the Falklands and spend three full days discovering the hidden nooks of South Georgia.
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For most people, an Antarctic expedition cruise is not only a lifelong dream but also a bucket-list travel expense not to be taken lightly. We totally get that and, for that very reason, rate South Georgia and the Falklands about as unmissable as Antarctica itself. You’re RIGHT.THERE. You’ve come so far to join an expedition to the ends of the world and about to embark on the journey to end all journeys. Why not include a visit to two of the most spectacular and flabbergasting natural treasures on earth as well?
Antarctica cruising season runs from October to March, each year, with only a select few ships taking on the challenge of also visiting the Falklands and South Georgia. Contact us today to know how you can score the best seat in the house to explore the last true pristine frontier left on our planet.