The capital city of the Falklands
was the first part of the islands to be invaded by Argentina
in the 1982 Falklands War
... and in the end the hills around Stanley were the site of the final battle before the Argentine surrender to Great Britain
's task force sent to retake the islands. Numerous war relics and memorials are dotted around those hillsides. But Stanley itself also features some important legacies of the war.
More background info:
Port Stanley, or these days more often simply Stanley, became the capital of the Falkland Islands
around the same time as the first serious permanent British
settlement of the archipelago began some 150 years before the 1982 war.
It is in fact the southernmost capital in the world – if, that is, you accept this status. Argentina
, unsurprisingly, does not ... and considers Ushuaia
on Tierra del Fuego to be the place that the islands should be administered from – see the separate Falklands territorial dispute chapter
. The Argentines even cling on to an alternative name for Stanley: "Puerto Argentino", and you can still find it referred to under that name on Argentine maps and in museum exhibitions (such as the ex-presidio/maritime museum
De facto, however, Stanley clearly is
the administrative hub of the very British Falkland Islands and also the seat of islanders' own government. They stress the fact that, despite the islands' status as a British overseas territory, they are not only self-governed but also largely self-sufficient – in everything except for defence (which gives the Falklands
a second "capital" of sorts, namely the large military base at RAF
With just over 2000 inhabitants (and only a bit over half that in 1982) Stanley can hardly be regarded as a capital city, though. It's more like a small town or largish village. It does, however, boast all manner of features worthy of a proper capital: the main businesses are based here, it has a hospital, a large school, a prison, a newspaper publishing house ("Penguin News"), a radio station, a range of pubs, the islands' only full-service hotel, supermarkets, a tourist information bureau, a race track, a public swimming pool, a golf course and so on and so forth.
But Stanley is in fact the only settlement of any such size in the entire archipelago – the second largest settlement in "Camp", Goose Green
, has only about 70 to 80 inhabitants. Only the military base at Mount Pleasant has more residents, over a thousand, but almost all of these are there on a temporary basis only, of course.
In the Falklands War
, Stanley was both the first and the final "theatre" of the conflict. When the Argentines landed on the islands on 2 April they chose a couple of spots close to Stanley, and the first thing they then did was head for the town and "take" it. The small defending force of Royal Marines had been summoned by the governor, Rex Hunt, to come to the defence of Government House – as he had had a forewarning of the imminent invasion.
There was a small-scale battle of sorts, i.e. the Argentines and the Royal Marines did exchange fire, but eventually the outnumbered defenders had to give in and the governor was forced to surrender. There were only a few casualties and only one fatality (on the Argentinian side).
All through the invasion, the Falklands' radio station, manned by Patrick Watts, served as the hub for information, as he stayed in contact with the governor for as long as was possible and also disseminated all the information he could gather from incoming phone calls from the civilian islanders. Eventually, the Argentines arrived at the radio station and took control. Patrick Watts had gone through a 13-hour broadcasting marathon before the Argentines seized the station. He stayed on the job under the new bosses after that – partly so that he could relay the Argentines' orders and announcements to the populace in a voice the islanders knew and trusted rather than in some broken English, Spanish-accented Argentinian voice, which may have triggered disobedience rather. So he told me on the battlefield tour around Stanley – see below
But back to the war. After the governor's surrender and the disarmament of the Royal Marines, the Argentines settled in and set about fortifying the area around Stanley ... in particular after it became clear that the British would not just give up the islands (as the Argentinian miscalculation had been) but would send a naval task force to retake the Falklands.
After the British had landed near San Carlos
and won the Battle of Goose Green
, the advance on Stanley to recapture the capital began as the final and most significant part of the operation.
The troops had to cover the distance over the boggy inland terrain on foot mostly (which introduced the soldier banter word "yomp" to the general English language), after most of the transport helicopters had been lost in the Argentine attack on the transport ship Atlantic Conveyor.
Farmers, e.g. from Estancia or Brookfield Farm, as well as Stanley residents who had taken refuge with friends and family in the remote "Camp", helped the British troops in transporting heavier equipment by means of their tractors and jeeps, even right up to the start line for the attacks, thus taking an active part in the war effort themselves (and even came under fire themselves during the night).
Eventually the British approached and took the various hills around Stanley – and these (together with Goose Green
) were the fiercest and bloodiest land battles of the entire war
. I cannot go into the full details of this (that's the point of the battlefield tours anyway – or you can read up on all this in various sources elsewhere). But the place names involved have become quite legendary: Mt Longdon, Mt Tumbledown, Mt Harriet, Mt Kent, Goat Ridge, Two Sisters, Wireless Ridge ...
Even after the battles for these mountain positions had been won, the British were still being shelled by the Argentines from Stanley – quite a proportion of the British casualties at the end of the war were attributable to shrapnel wounds as a result of that random shelling.
Stanley also saw the only civilian casualties of the conflict, three women who were killed when a shell hit their home in the western part of town. Ironically it was "friendly fire", i.e. British shelling. It was probably assumed that this part of town had been evacuated, also due to the large Argentinian 155mm gun in the vicinity, which may have been the intended target. This happened during the night of 11 to 12 June.
Eventually, having lost all their defence positions around the town to the British forces, it became clear to the Argentine command in Stanley that this war was lost. So on 14 June the Argentine commander General Mendenez signed the surrender to the British. Over 10,000 Argentine troops were taken POW
and disarmed. Then the clear-up of the battlefields began. Many of the minefields, however, remain in place to this day (though now safely marked), including at what used to be Stanley's most popular beach, so I was told ...
After the retaking of Stanley and the Falklands, the British began strengthening their military presence to deter any further Argentine attempts to take the contested territory by force. First Stanley airport was prepared so that modern F-4 Phantom
fighter jets could use it. Soldiers were stationed on floating barracks (i.e. ships converted to accommodate them – including the damaged RFA Sir Tristram
(see under Fitzroy
). The civilian islanders also offered rooms in their private homes to military personnel. Today a special lodge is set aside for such visitors which is run by the Falklands Veterans Foundation.
Eventually, though, the military relocated to the newly constructed air base at Mount Pleasant (which now also serves as the islands' international airport for the once-weekly civilian flight from Chile
). In Stanley, civilian life returned. In fact the town grew to almost twice its pre-war size and still is growing. The population too has more than doubled.
For tourists, Stanley is a key attraction in its own way too, and cruise ship passengers on a stopover at the Falklands
may see only Stanley during their short stay, when they may even outnumber the local residents. For those who stay longer on the islands, Stanley may only be a stopover between inter-island FIGAS flights, especially for those who are after wildlife-watching on the more remote smaller islands. But for the dark tourist, Stanley is also an important point of interest in its own right.
What there is to see:
It is often remarked how English Stanley looks, and that is in part certainly true. There is a distinct British
atmosphere about it in many ways, but looks-wise it is also different from a typical English village of its size. It does have churches, red telephone booths/postboxes and pubs and all that, but some of the older colonists' houses look almost Scandinavian, being built from wood. The typical monochrome red, blue or green roofs also don't look particularly British, really. With one very notable exception: a house whose entire roof surface is painted like a Union Jack! (I think it's on Brandon Street, but am not entirely sure.)
As far as more official attractions for the dark tourist located within Stanley itself are concerned, the following are all worth a mention:
The main Liberation Monument
is found towards the western end of the town centre on Ross Street just beyond the Malvina House Hotel and the town hall and post office. It sits at the foot of the slope that the Secretariat building stands on. The monument consists of a central column topped by a classical Britannia statue in victorious pose. Behind this is a wall forming a semicircle that bears various memorial plaques. The central one shows an elaborate relief celebrating various scenes from the war, from the Black Buck raids to the long "yomp" of the ground troops towards Stanley (see Falklands War
). Note the name of the little road that goes up right behind the monument: this was named Thatcher Drive, obviously after the then British Prime Minister and "Iron Lady" who is still held in very high esteem by the Falklanders for her political role in the retaking of the islands for Britain.
The other main memorial sight can be found towards the other, eastern end of town, namely in the form of the memorial gardens/arboretum next to the main cemetery. Here a tree was planted for every single one of the British servicemen who lost their lives in the conflict.
Another semi-official monument of sorts is what they call the "totem pole" by the road towards Stanley airport. This was originally begun by soldiers in 1982 to mark on signs the distances to their respective home towns and has since been added to by travellers as well.
Yet another official monument unrelated to the 1982 conflict is the 1914 monument
, commemorating the WWI
naval battle between the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy (see Falklands
). It is to be found to the west of the town centre near Government House. The latter is worth a look too, of course, though the inside is not publicly accessible.
You may also want to see the shipwrecks in Stanley harbour, although they too are all unrelated to any wars. The largest one is the marvellous red-rusty steel hull of the Lady Elizabeth, still complete with masts. It lies stranded on a sandbank to the east of town towards the airport. At low tide you can even walk right up to it. By the old bridge from the airport a couple of older, much less spectacular wrecks can be seen, and to the western end of town the remains of the Jhelum wreck are still there (although slowly fading into insignificance, visually speaking ...).
In addition there is the Falkland Island Museum
, now located at the Historic Dockyard in the heart of Stanley (admission:£3; opening times between April and September 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; and only 1 to 4 p.m. at weekends; between October and March the museum is closed on Mondays and on Saturdays the museum opens earlier, from 9 a.m., but there's a lunch break between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.). Amongst the rooms covering all manner of Falkland-related topics, the museum has a small but important section on the 1982 conflict too. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to visit the museum in person during my short week on the islands because I had to give priority to other, more remote places (see Falklands
). But for many visitors, in particular those on short shore leave from cruise ships, this museum section will actually be their only exposure to the topic other than in the form of monuments. Going by what I read about it and the pictures I've seen, the museum does not have that many artefacts on display (mainly due to lack of space) and is a bit short on accompanying information (unless you ask the staff for explanations). But some of the items on display are quite significant. This also includes a few pieces taken from wrecks of planes shot down in the war (cf. the plane crash sites
near Port Howard
UPDATE: the museum is currently fundraising to establish an all-new Exhibition Hall and is looking into aquiring/refurbishing some large exhibits, including whole aircraft.
All of the above places can easily be done on an independent basis, provided you have the time. The most significant sites related to the 1982 war, however, can only really be visited with the help of a competent guide and driver on one of the battlefield tours offered from Stanley. Driving across the rough terrain of the hills around Stanley really does take great skill and experience. So don't attempt it on your own. Without knowing where to find what, you would certainly not get much out of such solo independent touring anyway.
The main destinations for these battlefield tours are Mt Longdon and Mt Tumbledown, where the most decisive battles took place and where many relics as well as post-war memorials can be found. More relics, including old gun positions, can also be found on the hillside right above the town itself. But most of the other sites require 4x4 Jeeps to get to them.
When I got to Stanley at the end of 2013 (literally – on New Year's Eve!), my FIGAS plane was a bit delayed so the planned full-day battlefield tour had to be cut shorter. My guide was Patrick Watts (yes, the same Patrick Watts who did that radio marathon session on 2 April 1982 – see above
). He's probably the most seasoned and most expert battlefield guide in the Falklands. And that really showed! His in-depth expert knowledge on every detail of these battlefields is amazing. But because time was short, he decided to concentrate on Mt Longdon only, as this is apparently where the best relics can be found and where some of the most dramatic episodes of the battle for Stanley took place.
I won't even attempt retelling all those stories (I couldn't tell them as well anyway even if I wanted to), but instead only highlight the most important individual sites and relics:
We saw two large Argentine 105mm recoilless guns left on the hill's crest in their rusty state, but still looking quite menacing. There were also machine-gun positions, sans the machine guns themselves, but with various other bits and pieces still in situ. Furthermore there were remnants of communication shelters, bits of tarp and blankets as well as old rails that had been used in the makeshift construction of some of the positions. All these are relics from the Argentine side.
Dotted around the hillside battle locations are various memorials to the fallen, mostly for individual British soldiers, but also a few more "communal" ones where whole groups of soldiers are remembered together. One simple cross dedicated to the fallen on both sides stood out in commemorating the fallen Argentine soldiers as well.
Most of these memorial cairns and monuments are quite official, but visiting veterans (and later members of the respective units) also left lots of "unofficial" mementos. Amongst these are text notes, photos, beer cans and bottles and in one place even a Hindu or Buddhist figurine (I couldn't quite tell which).
There are also a few Argentine mementos or crosses here and there, but at these sites they are not really welcome from the Falklanders' point of view. And we saw some vandalized Argentine crosses. Patrick explained that the people of Stanley believe that the Argentines should restrict their commemoration to the plot especially set aside for them, namely the Argentine military cemetery near Darwin (see Goose Green
), and should not interfere with these sites on the hills around Stanley. It only goes to show that it is still a genuinely touchy issue even over 30 years after the conflict.
Down at the foot of the hill, more Argentine positions were to be seen, including one exceptionally well-preserved one that even had a little plaque attached – the only form of permanent physical "commodification" for visitors that I spotted anywhere in the actual battlefields. The plaque basically said what the position was and that it should be left undisturbed and no items should be taken away. Indeed, many battlefield sites, like those plane crash sites near Port Howard
, have been pilfered by souvenir hunters over the years. Whether little plaques like the one at this site will be enough to stop such depletion of authentic relics remains to be seen.
Patrick was able to retrieve a number of quite stunning relics, such as soldiers' personal belongings, from hidden places (and he took great care to put them back into their well concealed places afterwards!) ... amongst these was a tube of Argentine toothpaste ... in Argentine colours!
The remains of an Argentine field kitchen was another special highlight towards the end of the tour. The sight was made all the more poignant by lots of left-behind shoes, slowly rotting away in the cold damp.
Many more such relics are probably to be seen on Mt Tumbledown and the other hills in the environs too. But for my tour there was no more time left and we had to head back into town, where Patrick pointed out a few more locations of significance in the story of the Falklands War, including, for instance, the house that was hit by shells claiming the only three civilian casualties of the conflict.
The next day, when we were picked up for our tour to Volunteer Point (see below
), Patrick, who again drove us part of the way, also pointed out various war-related sites en route. Amongst these were yet more former Argentine positions in the rocky hills as well as the remains of a crashed Chinook
helicopter wreck that were visible from the roadside.
Back in Stanley, do also pop into the souvenir shops. They're worth it for dark tourists too, because amongst all the wildlife-related items (including hundreds and hundreds of fluffy penguins) there are also items such as fridge magnets with mine warning signs reproduced on them, or patriotic statements such as "keep calm and keep the Falklands British" (as a variant of Churchill's famous line "Keep calm and carry on" – cf. Churchill War Rooms
). Furthermore, these shops offer loads of books and DVDs about the Falklands War
as well – quite probably in a greater concentration and range of choice than anywhere else in the world.
near the north-eastern end of East Falkland
, the archipelago's main island.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs:
fairly easy to access from within the remote Falklands
but transfers from/to the airport will have to be arranged. Prices for accommodation and tours are significant, though not necessarily as high as in other parts of the archipelago.
Details: Even though Stanley is the capital of the Falklands, its airport is only the second-most important one on the islands and used only by FIGAS planes that provide the domestic air transport between the islands and remote settlements. The main airport for international flights it at RAF Mount Pleasant, i.e. the military air base which has the Falklands' only runway suitable for passenger jets.
So when arriving there from Chile
(see under Falklands
) you either have to get a pick up to drive you into Stanley or get on a pre-arranged FIGAS flight to somewhere else in the archipelago – some of which may first drop into Stanley too.
Within Stanley there are taxis, but most things within the confines of the town itself are pretty much walkable. You may have to be prepared for the unpredictable Falkland weather though, even within the relatively sheltered streets of the town. When the westerlies roar, though, there is no escaping it and walking in one direction may take significantly longer than in the opposite direction, depending on the wind!
The furthest distance between points of interest within Stanley (e.g. from the Lady Elizabeth to the museum) is about 4 miles (6-7km). For battlefield touring on the hills around Stanley you will need a guide/driver. Such battlefield tours cost in the region of 100 to 200 pounds (or more), depending on the length of the tour and range of locations visited. Such tours have to be pre-arranged well ahead of time.
My guide was Patrick Watts, but he said that he's semi-retiring from guiding tours, but you could try your luck. Originally my guide was supposed to be Derek Pettersson, who also comes highly recommended (Patrick was winner and Derek runner-up of the Falklands' "tour guide of the year" award recently). But because Derek could not do the tour on that day in the end, Patrick stood in instead. And he certainly did a most excellent job. But there are also other guides who offer battlefield tours from Stanley, and I'm pretty sure they all have the prerequisite qualifications. The Falkland Islands Tourist Board website will have pointers. Shop around. But remember: planning a trip to these parts requires substantially longer than for most other places you can visit as a tourist – see under Falkland Islands access and costs
Accommodation options in Stanley are more plentiful than anywhere else in the Falklands. There is only one full-service hotel, called Malvina House (in case you were wondering: this is NOT a concession to the Argentinian name for the islands, Las Malvinas, but instead goes back to Malvina Felton, the daughter of the John Felton who built the original Malvina House in 1881). The hotel is also home to Stanley's best restaurant. Both room rates and restaurant meals are quite expensive here.
Other options include the smaller but quite boutique Waterfront Hotel (this is where I stayed), where half board could also be arranged (the Chilean owner is supposedly also a good chef, but I could not put that to the test because during my stay over New Year the kitchen remained closed).
And yet more affordable B&Bs and guest houses also exist. The Falkland Islands Tourist Board website has full listings. It's best to check ahead ... and do make advance reservations in any case.
As for food & drink
, the best choice is the said restaurant at the Malvina House Hotel (I had two outstanding dinners there!), but less classy and more affordable options do exist too, namely in the form of a couple of diners and of course the pubs. Several of these pride themselves on their fish & chips. But reviews vary.
The pubs are definitely worth a dark (battlefield) tourist's time in their own right, most of them feature plenty of militaria decorations on their walls and ceilings (flags, old minefield warning signs, guns even ...), in particular the Globe Tavern and the Victory Bar (do go to the gents in the latter too!).
Stanley also has by far the widest range of shops, both souvenir shops solely for tourists as well as general shops and supermarkets. Note in particular that the Falkland Islands' only bank is also in Stanley, but it has restricted opening times and no ATM! Credit cards are only accepted at some places within Stanley (in the hotels and shops, and also for FIGAS flights), but nowhere in "Camp", i.e. outside the town. So you will need to bring most if not all of the cash you will need during your stay in the Falklands!
Time required: I had only two nights in Stanley (having been on a tight one-week schedule), but the town really deserves at least three, better four nights. That way you'd you have the time (unlike me) to visit the museum, and spend as much time in it as it takes to do it justice, and also for strolling to the memorial gardens, the totem pole and so on.
A battlefield tour around Stanley can easily take up a whole day, in theory even longer than that if you really want to see everything on all the hills in the environs of Stanley that were of significance during the war. How much can be packed into such more extensive battlefield touring will all have to be negotiated with the guide(s). I only had time for a half-day tour to Mt Longdon and some bits of Stanley and that already gave me quite a good impression. Longer touring is really only required for genuine battlefield tourism and military history buffs.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Falkland Islands
in general – most other places of interest to the dark tourist in these islands are best accessed from Stanley in any case, mostly by FIGAS plane, or, as in the case of Darwin & Goose Green
, by car.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Being the hub and administrative centre of the Falklands, Stanley also has the largest number of tourist amenities of a non-dark nature, including a range of really quite good souvenir shops as well as the largest regular shops/supermarkets, several restaurants and pubs (see above), and it even has a swimming pool and a golf course.
Architectural sights of note are the red-and-grey stone-built Christ Church Cathedral (the world's southernmost Anglican church) and the whalebone arch outside it (these days a replica), Government House, Jubilee Villas, early colonists' cottages, and the Victory Green at the waterfront is also noteworthy for its ceremonial guns and flagpoles and the display of part of the mizzen mast of the SS Great Britain. There are numerous information panels dotted around town to allow for self-guided explorations. The tourist information and hotel/guest house receptions will have plenty of information brochures as well.
For those into wildlife-watching there are better places in the Falklands
than Stanley, but you can spot quite a lot of birds even right in the middle of the town, and seals and dolphins can be seen in the waters of Stanley harbour. Just a bit outside town, within hiking range, at Gypsy Cove you can even visit a Magellanic penguin colony.
But the kings of all penguins, namely king penguins, require a longer trip to Volunteer Point. This can be done as a long full-day return excursion from Stanley and is one of the most popular wildlife options on offer from Stanley, even though it's not cheap (over ｣200) for the few hours you get at the site – but for just a small extra charge you can stay overnight at Volunteer House and enjoy much more time with these fascinating and beautiful creatures. There are also other penguin species at Volunteer Point, but the kings definitely steal the show here: there are currently about 2000 breeding pairs of king penguins at this colony, which makes it by far the largest in the whole archipelago. To see them in even larger numbers, tens of thousands, you'd have to travel to much more remote islands such as South Georgia
For more things to do and see around Stanley and further afield see also under Falkland Islands
- Stanley 01 - from the air
- Stanley 02 - cemetery and memorial garden
- Stanley 03 - the whole town and cruise ship in the harbour
- Stanley 04 - names of protecting ships
- Stanley 05 - wreck of the Lady Elizabeth
- Stanley 06 - old military bridge and more wrecks in the harbour
- Stanley 07 - Jhelum wreck
- Stanley 08 - cathedral and whale bone arch
- Stanley 09 - old houses
- Stanley 10 - Government House
- Stanley 11 - police station with prison and another church
- Stanley 12 - post office and town hall
- Stanley 13 - waterfront
- Stanley 14 - old-style phone booth and one of the pubs
- Stanley 15 - rather aggressive anti-Argentinian statement on the wall in the gents of another pub
- Stanley 16 - lodging for veterans
- Stanley 17 - oil administration
- Stanley 18 - ceremonial guns
- Stanley 19 - the only full-service hotel of a proper size in the whole of the islands
- Stanley 20 - 1914 war memorial in the distance
- Stanley 21 - main liberation memorial
- Stanley 22 - big plaque at the Liberation Memorial
- Stanley 23 - Operation Black Buck celebrated
- Stanley 24 - the Harrier celebrated
- Stanley 25 - the naval task force celebrated
- Stanley 26 - homage to yomping
- Stanley 27 - guess who this one is named after
- Stanley 28 - patriotic rooftop
- Stanley 29 - yet more patriotic statements
- Stanley 30 - Mt Tumbledown
- Stanley 31 - battlefield tour on Mt Longdon
- Stanley 32 - looking down towards Stanley
- Stanley 33 - rusty remains of an Argentine machine-gun position
- Stanley 34 - old 105mm gun left behind
- Stanley 35 - one of many British memorials
- Stanley 36 - a larger memorial
- Stanley 37 - a single cross dedicated to all of the fallen, on both sides
- Stanley 38 - minefield
- Stanley 39 - another rusty old 105mm gun
- Stanley 40 - remains of an Argentine position down at the foot of the hill
- Stanley 41 - remains of an Argentine field kitchen
- Stanley 42 - with old shoes
- Stanley 43 - another former Argentine position
- Stanley 444 - lots of Argentine relics
- Stanley 45 - even including Argentine toothpaste
- Stanley 46 - a former Argentine position in the rocks south-west of Stanley
- Stanley 47 - crashed Chinook helicopter by the road to Port Louis west of Mt Harriet and Stanley