Puffins, these charismatic little seabirds with their bold black and white plumage, round bodies, and vibrant beaks, have long been a magnet for wildlife enthusiasts across the globe. Iceland, in particular, is a haven for these creatures, as over half of the world’s population of Atlantic puffins nest here. The fascinating mating rituals, their incredible diving skills, and their endearing, clown-like appearance captivate thousands of visitors each year. If you’re an aspiring birdwatcher or a seasoned ornithologist, Iceland’s vast landscapes offer a plethora of locations and timings to watch puffins in their natural habitat. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the best puffin-watching locales in Iceland and the ideal times to visit.
1. Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs, Westfjords
Located on the westernmost tip of the Westfjords, the Látrabjarg cliffs are one of the most significant bird cliffs in Europe. These towering cliffs, spanning over 14 km and reaching heights of up to 441 m, are home to millions of birds, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise. Puffins, in particular, are plentiful here from mid-May to August when they breed and raise their chicks. The cliffs’ size and the puffins’ fearlessness of humans make Látrabjarg an excellent place for close-up views and photography.
2. Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve, South Iceland
The small peninsula, or promontory of Dyrhólaey, is located on the south coast of Iceland near the village of Vík. Dyrhólaey is known for its staggering beauty and diverse birdlife, including a substantial puffin colony. The puffins are most active between May and August. Birdwatchers can enjoy not just the puffins but also the spectacular backdrop of black sand beaches and basalt sea stacks.
3. Papey Island, East Iceland
The uninhabited island of Papey, off the coast of East Iceland, is another superb puffin-spotting location. The island is only accessible by boat from the town of Djúpivogur during the summer months, from June to August. Its remote nature ensures a peaceful, undisturbed environment for the puffins, and visitors get the added bonus of seeing the island’s quaint wooden church and lighthouse.
4. Akurey, North Iceland
The charming northern town of Akureyri is a gateway to Grimsey Island, which lies on the Arctic Circle and hosts a large puffin colony. Ferries and flights to Grimsey operate year-round, but the best time to spot puffins is during the summer months, particularly in July and August. Here, you can not only watch puffins but also experience the midnight sun and cross the Arctic Circle.
5. Heimaey, Westman Islands
The Westman Islands, located off the south coast of Iceland, have the world’s largest puffin colony. Heimaey, the only inhabited island of the group, is particularly notable for puffin sightings. You can get to Heimaey by ferry from Landeyjahöfn or by flight from Reykjavik. Puffins nest here from April to September, with August being a great time to witness the fledgling pufflings.
To make the most out of your puffin-watching experience, consider visiting during the early morning or late evening hours when puffins are most active. They often go fishing during the day, making sightings a little less common.
It’s important to remember that puffins are protected species in Iceland, and disturbing them or their nests is illegal. When viewing puffins, maintain a respectful distance to avoid disturbing these delightful creatures or their delicate habitats.
Birdwatching Etiquette and Tips
When birdwatching, a few guidelines should be followed to ensure a pleasant experience for you and the birds. Always keep a safe distance from puffins and never try to feed them. Puffins’ diets are very specific and human food can harm their health. Use binoculars or a camera with a good zoom to watch them without intrusion. Be silent and still, abrupt movements and loud noises can scare puffins and other wildlife. Lastly, follow designated paths to limit impact on the nesting grounds.
For a guided experience, various puffin watching tours are available. These tours usually include transportation, an expert guide, and often have binoculars on hand. The Puffin Watching tours from Reykjavik harbor, such as from Arctic Adventures, are popular and convenient if you’re based in the city. For a more adventurous experience, consider boat tours around the Westman Islands, which provide a different perspective on the puffin colonies and stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.
Iceland, with its rugged cliffs, offshore islands, and rich marine life, offers some of the best opportunities in the world to observe puffins. Each location mentioned has its unique charm, offering more than just puffin sightings. From the towering Látrabjarg cliffs to the enchanting Westman Islands, your puffin adventure can easily be combined with other awe-inspiring Icelandic attractions.
Remember, the best times to see puffins in Iceland are between May and August, when they come ashore to nest and breed. By visiting during this period and following the suggested guidelines, you can ensure an unforgettable birdwatching experience, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
No matter where you choose to go puffin spotting in Iceland, you’re in for a real treat. These charming birds, with their quirky mannerisms and striking appearances, are a joy to watch, and seeing them in their natural habitat is a true testament to Iceland’s incredible wildlife.
Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or a casual tourist, a visit to Iceland isn’t complete without catching a glimpse of the country’s most famous feathered inhabitants – the iconic puffins. So, pack your binoculars, your sense of adventure, and embark on a unique journey through the puffin paradise that is Iceland.
Lonely Planet: Best Places to Visit in Iceland – URL: [https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/best-places-to-visit-in-iceland] TourRadar: Fully Guided Tours & Trips in Iceland – URL: [https://www.tourradar.com/i/iceland-fully-guided]