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Puffin Adventures in the Westfjords

For travelers venturing to Iceland, spotting puffins often ranks high on the must-do list, with puffin-themed souvenirs filling many a suitcase. The Westfjords region is home to several good spots to see puffins, including three impressive bird cliffs: Látrabjarg, Hornbjarg, and Hælavíkurbjarg.

But what makes these adorable birds so special?

The Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) has rightfully claimed its place as a symbol of Iceland, with approximately 60% of the global population nesting in Icelandic territory. Often affectionately dubbed 'sea parrots' for their stocky build, vibrant plumage, and comical demeanor, puffins are simply irresistible to behold. Puffins spend the majority of their lives at sea, only coming to land during the breeding season to nest in large colonies on cliffs and steep hillsides. These birds have an average lifespan of 20 years and typically form lifelong mating pairs.

When to Spot Puffins

The best time to see puffins is from April to July, which aligns with their nesting season. During these months, these migrating seabirds flock to Iceland’s shores, setting up cozy nests in cliffside homes to breed. However, if you miss the peak season, don’t worry! Sightings can continue into August and September as the adorable pufflings mature before heading back to sea.

Where to Find Them

Puffins nest in large colonies on grassy islands and cliff slopes, creating intricate burrows with two chambers: one for nesting and one as a lavatory (because even puffins appreciate a tidy home!). The Westfjords, with their steep cliffs and rocky outcrops, are prime puffin territory. The Látrabjarg cliffs are particularly famous for their large puffin colonies. The area is accessible by car during the summer months,Stretching 14 kilometers and soaring up to 441 meters high, these cliffs are one of the best spots in Iceland to get up close and personal with puffins. The birds dig burrows in the soft soil at the cliff tops, where they lay their eggs and raise their chicks.

Hornstrandir is another fantastic location to see puffins up close, and it can be accessed by boat from the town of Isafjordur. Two bird cliffs, Hornbjarg and Hælavíkurbjarg, are located by Hornvík in the Hornstrandir nature reserve. Hornbjarg is a towering cliff rising to 534 meters above sea level, and Hælavíkurbjarg is slightly smaller but equally impressive. During summer months, scheduled tours go from Ísafjörður to Hornstrandir, so make sure to check the boat schedules from Borea Adventures and Sjóferðir.

In addition, the island of Vigur is also a great place to see puffins. This small island is home to a large puffin colony and is accessible by boat from Isafjordur. Book a tour to Vigur.

Puffin Etiquette

While watching these social birds is a delight, it’s important to be mindful and not disturb their delicate habitats. Remember, you’re a guest in their home!

Puffins in Icelandic Culture

Historically, puffin meat and eggs were staples of Icelandic cuisine. Nowadays, conservation efforts have thankfully reduced this practice, emphasizing the importance of preserving these charming creatures for future generations.

So, next time you find yourself in Iceland, head to the Westfjords and make sure to carve out some time to see the puffins. With their endearing looks and playful antics, they’re sure to win your heart and make your trip unforgettable.