Want to see puffins in Iceland? The Látrabjarg Cliffs in the West Fjords are where you need to go!
Every summer an unfathomable number of seabirds nest and raise babies along the walls of the Látrabjarg Cliffs. Puffins spend their days dive bombing into the sea for food and living without fear of arctic foxes (the only land mammal in Iceland).
PUFFINS IN ICELAND
Why are puffins such a big deal? Um, hello they are adorable! Why else would a cereal use them as their brand?!
Puffins are unique because they spend most their life at sea. They come to land to nest and raise their young. Seeing puffins is relatively easy because almost 60% of the world’s population reside in Iceland during the summer baby-making months.
Puffins are strikingly gorgeous. With bold red and black beak, grey cheeks, and orange feet, it stands out among it’s environment. They are sturdy and appear invincible as they sail through the sky and endure freezing Atlantic water temperatures.
Don’t you think they’re so beautiful?!
Although there is a seemingly large population of puffins, they are on the decline. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the species as vulnerable.
OUR EXPERIENCE SEEING PUFFINS AT LÁTRABJARG CLIFFS
As soon as we parked the car the pungent smell of guano permeated the sea air. Wind whipped up the jagged rocks. Seabirds, including puffins, were everywhere!
The fluttering sound of puffins’ wings filled my ears, as they took off from their grassy perch to hunt in the sea. Waves crashed onto rocks below, creating an optical illusion where the water appeared to instantly turn black as it spilled into the shallow lagoon pools.
The puffins are easy to spot. Their homes are made in hollowed out spaces under the edge of the cliff, closest to the lighthouse. Some were resting. Others were walking on top of the grassy edge. But some puffins were testing the strength of their beaks with a “combat” fight with another.
We were so close we could have touched them! Except then we’d likely fall to our deaths with the collapse of the cliff wall. Seriously, don’t stand beyond the rope and painted-white rock barrier. There is a chance that you will fall through and become an unwelcome visitor in the puffins’ home or into the sea.
The puffins were so fearless. They owned the cliffs and were aware of their supremacy.
We located an assortment of other seabirds, swooping from the sky. I am not a bird expert, but the cliffs are known to be the home of arctic tern, northern gannets, guillemots, razorbills, and others.
Walking along the ridge leads to incredible views of the ocean, waves, and magnificent contrasts in color among the landscape. Take an hour or two to hike along the 14km ridge along the water.
The “Látrabjarg” Cliffs are the largest bird cliffs in Europe. Four cliffs make up the 14km ridge: Keflavíkurbjarg, Látrabjarg, Bæjarbjarg, and Breiðavíkurbjarg. You can hike along the ridge for views on views of the sea and birdlife.
It’s also the most western point in Europe! There’s a plaque to prove it.
Látrabjarg is the most popular attraction in the remote West Fjords. Capturing images of puffins at is basically bird photography for dummies, so you won’t have the cliffs to yourself. Everyone wants to see puffins in Iceland! The car park was full when we arrived.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
After parking the car and beginning the walk toward the cliff wall, the intensity of the wind quickly rose. I’m glad I wore my winter jacket, scarf, and my ear muff. Turns out, I was not over-dressed for this overcast July day!
There are no gas stations or restrooms on Route 612 (just a porta-potty). Be sure to have a full tank and an empty bladder.
Right before you get to the cliffs there is a small cluster of homes. The speed limit quickly descends from 70kph to 50 kph to 30kph. There is a hidden camera that will take a photo of your license plate and issue a speeding ticket if you are surpassing 30kph.
For any travel in Iceland check road conditions with the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration before departure. In the West Fjords, many of the roads are only open May-September. Plan accordingly.
Our drive to Látrabjarg was an adventure. It was a rainy summer in 2018. Fog engulfed the car as we drove up every tabletop mountain along the route. At so many points, I thought we would be swallowed by the fjord spirit and be taken to Asgard. (That’s the home of the Old Norse Æsir gods.)
The GPS said it would take about 4 hours from our Airbnb in Búðardalur. Instead it took us about 5 hours and 30 minutes to arrive at Látrabjarg.
Take it slow and use caution! Roads in the West Fjords are wind up and down craggy mountainsides. Tabletops are fog-filled. The roads are gravel and narrow (about a car and a half in width). Most of the ride is guard rail-less. The conditions leave your knuckles white.
We were fortunate to ride behind a construction vehicle resurfacing the gravel roads on the heath. Going only 5km per hour for a short spell was the reprieve we needed, since we were experiencing the thickest fog. We could barely see past the hood of the car.
Google Maps says the drive from Reykjavik to Látrabjarg is 6 hours. We drove from Búðardalur (2 hours from Reykjavik) and it took over 5 hours. I suggest planning for a 7-8 hour drive from Reykjavik. Or break up the drive with a day on the Snaefellsnes Penninsula!
Despite treacherous stretches of road, it was impossible to not be stunned by all-consuming beauty. Wild purple lupines grow in clusters on the mountainside. Clouds criss-cross the deep fissures on along the mountains, resembling the lines on an old woman’s finger. The narrow and deep inlets, caused by centuries of intense glaciation are a spectacle not soon forgotten, that penetrates the soul.
Once we descended each of the plateaus, the world opened up and we were able to witnessed the feat (at least in our eyes) we had just conquered. The fog intensifies the mystic nature of the quiet and isolated trip. To add to the surreal nature, play Sigur Ros. You won’t regret it.
Are you planning to see puffins in Iceland? Venturing to the West Fjords? If you are leave a comment about what you are most looking forward to!
Pin and share this post with your travel buddies! (You’ll want friends in the car to giggle with after your spend 5 hours on your way to see puffins in Iceland.)