Of course, they're easy to overlook. Spending time exploring the Antarctic Peninsula will be the highlight, and for those with the time and the budget South Georgia, sometimes called the 'Serengeti of the South' thanks to the incredible concentration of wildlife, will be high on the list. But you should absolutely include the Falklands as well, and here's why...
The wildlife - Jumping penguins and angry albatross
Ok, so it's not quite up to South Georgia's standards, but the Falkland Islands has some amazing wildlife that shouldn't be missed.You can see rookeries of charming rockhopper penguins here - and, on most Antarctica itineraries, only here. Watching any penguin is rather comical, but rockhoppers even more so as they jump and clamber up incredibly steep slopes, after making the seemingly impossible landing ashore amongst the ferocious breaking South Atlantic seas. The Falklands also have the largest concentration of black-browed albatross in the region, a bird with an elegant, almost regal appearance, easily recognisable by striking markings around the eyes that give it a permanent frown. Both species are unafraid of humans, offering excellent photo opportunities.
Stanley - More British than Britain
Stanley is not the most idyllic of locations. Much like the rest of the islands, it is exposed to harsh winds and lacks natural shelter, but I have to say I found Stanley utterly charming. Arriving on Christmas Day we were greeted by an excellent local guide, and the town's small gift shops had opened especially for us. We were welcomed by staff in Christmas hats happy to find out where we were from and more interested in a conversation than a sale, and all of this when they should have been tucking into Christmas lunch. The sight of red post boxes, a bust of Margaret Thatcher and Waitrose signs was particularly surreal so far from home. Add to this some pretty little cottages and a lovely church and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Scotland rather than the South Atlantic, although the addition of a whale bone arch outside the church did serve as a reminder!
The history of the Falklands - Exploration and conflict
In Stanley there is an excellent museum which documents the Falklands War, with an excellent and rather moving exhibition featuring islanders telling their own stories about the conflict. For me it was a chance to understand a little more about a conflict that has been etched into our national consciousness. On the sea day prior to our arrival I also attended several excellent onboard lectures, which put the 1982 conflict into the broader context of the islands' history
The hospitality - Tea and cake for all
The openness and friendliness that you experience in such a remote community is wonderful. The close relationships the residents form in order to cope with the harsh conditions seem to be easily transferred to visitors, and so it was with us. The shops and museums opening on Christmas Day for us was a lovely touch, and when we visited West Point Island, Roddy and Lily Napier opened their home and provided our entire ship (about 90 guests) with an impressive selection of homemade cakes. It was wonderful to hear their stories of farming on this isolated outpost, and of sailing to Antarctica in the tiny sailing boats that were bobbing in the harbour.
If you're going to go that far…
This may seem like an obvious point, but if you've made the decision to travel to the world's most remote continent you should really make the most of your trip. Yes it might mean more time away, and it might mean pushing the budget, but you'll likely never have reason to visit this part of the world again, and to be so close to these fascinating islands and without visiting them would be a great shame.
With the towns, farms and people making a welcome contrast to the rest of the itinerary, you won't regret visiting these wild and pretty islands.