Traveller's Guide to Latrabjarg, Iceland

The Látrabjarg Cliffs are a must-visit in Iceland's Westfjords. These stunning cliffs provide wonderful views and are home to a huge population of birds including puffins. This is the place to go to get up close with the puffins. Visiting the 14 km long cliffs (441 m high) is an adventure but is well worth the journey on a summer trip to Iceland. Today's post covers what you need to know about Látrabjarg before you go.

There is no public transportation to the area, so visitors will need to have their own vehicle or book a tour. The road leading off of the Ring Road is not paved and, and full of potholes. It will take at least an hour to make it up a steep (16%) hill to the cliffs. We were driving a 2WD campervan and by taking it easy, we had no problems driving the road. There are no fuel stations on this road, so make sure to have a full tank before leaving The Ring Road.

Along the way, there will be many places to stop for photos. We were quite fascinated by this place with all sorts of mechanical wrecks.


Látrabjarg is a really off-the-beaten-track destination, so accommodations along the way are quite scarce. There are a few seasonal guesthouses. The closest town to Látrabjarg is Patreksfjörður. The town has grocery stores, fuel stations, restaurants, and a decent selection of hotels. We had a campervan and chose to stay in the campground at The Breiðavík Hotel and Campground. Kárnafit is also a free and very basic campsite just before reaching the cliffs. Note that it only has toilets in the parking lot and there is no running water, however, it is Iceland so the water is the creek is fine to drink.

The Breidavik Campground costs 2,400 ISK (about $23 CAD) and includes barbeque grills, electricity, WiFi, free coffee and tea, and laundry facilities. Campers are invited to enjoy all the hotel's amenities during their stay.

The hotel and campground is next to a stunning beach which could be accessed by climbing over these fence ladders provided by local farmers that allow visitors to get onto their property without using (and perhaps forgetting to close) gates. The hotel and campground is next to a stunning beach which could be accessed by climbing over these fence ladders provided by local farmers that allow visitors to get onto their property without using (and perhaps forgetting to close) gates.

Látrabjarg is another 12 km from Breiðavík along the bone-rattling gravel road. Upon arrival, the first thing you will see (aside from the stunning views) is a lighthouse. The Bjargtangar Lighthouse marks the westernmost point of Iceland and holds the title for being the most western building in Europe. Greenland is only 300 km away. We were there on a beautiful clear day and were able to see it on the horizon.

The first lighthouse was built in 1913 but the building currently on site was built in 1948. The tower is not open to visitors. There are signs around the lighthouse that tell of the history and the birds that frequent the area.

With 14 km of trail and some stone steps along the clifftops, be prepared to do plenty of walking. Puffins nest in the cliffs but many will be on the grass at the cliff's edge. The puffin burrows are dug into the cliff edge. To keep visitors from inadvertently destroying the burrows, there is a line marked on the grass that should not be crossed. Photographers wanting a photo off the edge of the cliff are advised to lay flat on the grass.

The summer nesting season is best between mid-May and the beginning of August. Nesting season is truly impressive with the sheer numbers of birds and clear views across the water. We visited in late July and were treated to literally thousands of birds.

Winter is long in Westfjords, lasting from October ending mid-April. Islandic authorities work hard to keep the main roads passable year-round, but the unpaved side road connecting to Latrabjarg is not considered a main road and may be impassable for days. It is not recommended to drive there without a 4WD and plenty of severe winter driving experience.

We were absolutely thrilled with the photogenic puffins who were completely unfazed by the visitors. We were able to get very close to the birds... one even nuzzled my finger! These gorgeous monogamous birds spend most of their life alone on the open ocean and only return to land during the nesting season to breed and raise their young, called pufflings. Each female produces one puffling each year. They are completely and eerily silent.

Puffins have been a vital food source for locals throughout the centuries. The birds were caught for their meat and eggs. Their feathers were used in pillows and bedding. In 1900 the puffin colony in the Westman Islands was devastated by over-harvesting. Hunting bans allowed the colony to recover. Today, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are the only countries that still allow puffin hunting but both have enacted strict laws to prevent over-harvesting.

Other important bird species include fulmars, one of the most common bird species in Iceland. These birds, resembling sea gulls, nest on ridges on the edge of the cliff. They usually forage around their colonies but have been tracked travelling more than 950 km (600 miles) in search of food for their nestlings. Keep your distance, Northern Fulmars will spray a nasty-smelling liquid from their beaks as a defensive mechanism.


The largest colony of Razorbills is located in this area. These striking black and white birds dive deep into the water (up to 100 m/33 ft) to catch fish. The chicks leave the nest before their flight feathers come in, jumping from the cliff edge into the water far below. The adult male then follows the chick until it can forage for itself. Razorbills can be seen at Látrabjarg year-round.

The kittiwake also looks similar to a seagull but has deep black coloured feet. Kittiwakes don't build a nest per se, instead they use their feathers and moss to create a cushion on the ledge. During times when one gender outnumbers the other, females will sometimes pair with other females to raise the chicks. Males may have two female breeding partners at the same time.

From the tops of the cliffs we were able to see seals sunbathing on the rocks below.

As a self-confessed bird nerd, I was in my glory. ATB is not a bird nerd but she was absolutely delighted with the puffins but found the other breeds less interesting. We both loved the trails and did a fair amount of walking. The amount of time needed to visit the area will be significant, including the drive. We felt the time was well-spent.

 

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