Sunday, June 15, 2008

By Land or by Sea?

Last year, in an extensive survey, National Geographic Traveler rated the Falkland Islands among the best preserved of 111 island destinations, "retaining sense of place, with a few surmountable problems." The islands are, according to one of NGT's anonymous reviewers, "Quiet, delightful, and authentic. The market is limited because of cost and difficult physical access. For these reasons, there is every chance for the destination to be sustainable and to maintain its attractiveness."

This month, the magazine has followed up with an article (not yet posted on its website) by Rolf Potts, who interviewed me a couple years ago about Patagonia in general and the Falklands in particular. Having finally made it to the South Atlantic, Rolf chronicles an archipelago where, unlike the better-known (and more diverse) Galápagos, land-based visitors can get up close and personal views of penguins, albatrosses, and marine mammals (he mentions the Commerson's and Peale's dolphins but not, surprisingly, the elephant seals that are so common on Carcass Island, one of the sites he visited).

The most remarkable thing, of course, is that he encounters few visitors except at Volunteer Point, which has the Islands' largest concentrations of king penguins and is easily accessible from Stanley, the capital. I hadn't seen the latest statistics, but according to Rolf some 63,000 cruise ship passengers, most of whom take only day trips (such as Volunteer Point) en route to Antarctica or on 'Round-the-Horn cruises between Buenos Aires and Santiago, visited the islands this last season. The number of land-based passengers, by contrast, was only about 700 - ensuring an intimate experience with the islands' abundant fauna.

In related news, a consultant to the Falkland Islands Tourist Board remarked on "the small scale of the Falklands tourism infrastructure." Land visitors, of course, may well see this as an advantage, and it means getting to know the people, as well as the landscape and wildlife, better.

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