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Látrabjarg-the bird’s paradise

Látrabjarg is the largest bird cliff in west Iceland and one of Europe’s largest bird cliffs as well. The cliff is 441 meters high and it has a length of 14 km. It is known as the best place to spot and photograph puffins and many other sea birds that are nesting there. It is also the westernmost point in Iceland and one of the westernmost points in Europe. The sea bird life there is as its most abundant point, lots of bird species are nesting there during the summertime and one of the most famous of them all is the Atlantic puffin.

The Atlantic puffin is known also as the unofficial national bird in Iceland and is a bird that comes to Icelandic coasts during spring and summer for breeding. According to National Geographic “, These birds live most of their lives at sea, resting on the waves when not swimming. They are excellent swimmers that use their wings to stroke underwater with a flying motion. They steer with rudder-like webbed feet and can dive to depths of 200 feet, though they usually stay underwater for only 20 or 30 seconds. Puffins typically hunt small fish like herring or sand eels. In the air, puffins are surprisingly fleet flyers. By flapping their wings up to 400 times per minute they can reach speeds of 55 miles an hour.”

The puffins are also known as ‘sea parrots’ because of the color of their beaks. But their beak is orange only during spring and summer and during the winter the color fades to a drab gray. National Geographic explains about puffin breeding: “The birds often select precipitous, rocky cliff tops to build their nests, which they line with feathers or grass. Females lay a single egg, and both parents take turns incubating it. When a chick hatches, its parents take turns feeding it by carrying small fish back to the nest in their relatively spacious bills. Puffin couples often reunite at the same burrow site each year. It is unclear how these birds navigate back to their home grounds. They may use visual reference points, smells, sounds, the Earth’s magnetic fields—or perhaps even the stars.”

Although the largest colony of puffins can be found in south Iceland in Westman Islands, in Látrabjarg you can see them very close. But there are some aspects that you need to know about seeing the puffins very close and those regards the fact that once you are in Látrabjarg to see and photograph puffins you have to keep a safe distance from the cliffs and from the puffins as well. As the puffins are in their natural environment there you should not disturb them by approaching them too much. They are used to human presence but that doesn’t mean you have to harass them for a photo. Be gentle.

Puffins are friendly and they may approach you without fear, even so, do not try to pet them. They have some natural oils on their tails that help them protecting the feathers while they are swimming so if you will touch them you will take those oils on your hand. Also, the puffins can bite very hard so you better admire them without touching them.

Once on the cliffs in Látrabjarg follow the rules and do not cross the safety white line that is drawn on the grass. The purpose of the line is to keep you safe and to keep the puffin’s nests safe as well. Puffins are not making nests like other birds we know, they are digging holes into the cliffs that are up to 1 meter long and lay there just one egg. So the edges of the cliffs are like traps because of the underground holes.  Follow the line and photograph the puffins from the designated place. You will see them very close so you can take amazing photos with your camera or even with your phone.

While you are in Látrabjarg respect nature you find there and this includes the birds also. Látrabjarg was declared a protected site in March 2021.

Látrabjarg is a remote place in West Iceland but it can be accessed as it is the most visited place in Westfjords. There is a proper road that will take you to the cliffs. There is no public transportation so you can visit Látrabjarg in a rented car. If you are traveling from Reykjavik, drive all the way to the town of Borganes, then after you pass by Glanni waterfall follow road 1 until you will see a second road on the left side, that is road 60. Follow road 60 all the way to Patreksfjordur. There you will see a turnoff to an unpaved road 612. Follow the road to its end for 45 km and you will found the cliffs. During the summer the place can be accessed with a 2WD, but during winter you will definitely need a 4X4.