According to a recent study* all travelers that visit Iceland are obsessed with puffins. And why wouldn’t you be? They are cute, kind of silly looking and easily confused with penguins it seems (if you have never seen a penguin in your life, that is). In the winter people get all disappointed when they learn that the puffins only hang out in Iceland in summer (until they walk into one of the many puffin shops in downtown Reykjavík, buy a stuffed one and just pretend that they saw one) but in the summer, on the other hand, all people want to know is where on earth to find them.
First of all, you don’t need to go far to see a puffin – we have thousands of them chillin’ just outside of the Reykjavík harbor but if you want to see them close enough to get good photos then you’ll have to go somewhere else. But where?
You can find Puffins in far flung places like Látrabjarg or Borgafjörður eystri to name a couple, the Westman Islands if you don’t mind the ferry or if you are going to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, on one of those epic Icelandic summer road trips, you can do a puffin tour in Ingólfshöfði like the family and I did last weekend.
Ingólfshöfði is located about half an hour before Jökulsárlón, if you are driving from Reykjavík, between the farms Hofsnes and Fagurhólsmýri. It’s like an island, isolated headland I think it’s called, in the middle of this sand desert almost and to get there you need to take a tour with the nice people at Hofsnes who have decided to call their company the beautiful, albeit hard to remeber, name: From coast to mountains.
The drive from the meeting point to the cape is around 6 km through sand and water and you do this drive in a hey cart at the back of an tractor that really adds to the adventure. The drive is about 25 minutes and it goes by surprisingly quickly. Once you are at the cape you will need to walk up a steep hill in the sand to get to the cape itself and then there’s a very chilled hike around the cape for an hour to hour and a half dependent on weather and the conditions.
We really enjoyed this tour. Not just because we saw a lot of puffins and other birds but because it was so relaxed and easy going. The guide was friendly and ready to answer any questions the guests had but instead of telling you all the little intimate details of everything you were seeing she also just gave us space to enjoy our time there the way we wanted. She made sure we got there and back, and that we were safe while we were there, but it wasn’t a guided tour in the traditional sense. And for this tour and these surroundings that’s kind of what I liked the most about it.
I don’t know if we were just lucky (I’m usually not very lucky when it comes to wildlife in Iceland, like any person who’s ever done a whale watching tour with me can confirm) but there were a lot of puffins around. And you could get pretty close to them. By mistake I left my longer lens in the car so I ended up taking my photos with a 50 mm lens and my phone, which any photographer will tell you is not the way you photograph birds. But the puffins were all cool about getting photographed and didn’t mind me crawling closer to get some photos where they were not just dots in the distance.
Another cool thing about Ingólfshöfði is the fact that it’s named after the first settler in Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, who spent his first winter in Iceland there before making his way west. So it’s historic too.
One thing I will say about the Ingólshöfði puffin tour though is that although the ride to the cape is easy and the hike on the cape itself was also very easy – the hike up that first hill was not. It wasn’t terrible but even the guide warned us that it would be more difficult than it looked. So I would think that this tour is not very suitable for people that have problems with their knees and hips and such and even people that seemed to be in relatively good shape were wheezing by the time they got up. It wasn’t that steep actually, it was mostly just the sand that made it tedious. The guide was very nice about it though and said she would wait until the last person was up and so she did. Just for the record: I was not last. There were like 6 senior citizens behind me!
On a completely unrelated note I’ve noticed it’s actually not my big ass that is my biggest hurdle when it comes to hiking but my brain. Not because it’s so big (#humblebrag) but because I psych myself out of things before I even try them. I tell myself I can’t do things that I easily can do – it may just take me a little longer. And I allow the fear of being last stop me from even trying. But you know what, somebody has to be last and it might as well be me. So more hiking on the horizon for sure. Wow – I’m getting so wise with all my grey hairs! *End of self-motivational speech*
So if you are super into puffins, or even kind of indifferent but the sound of the tractor ride sounds appealing, I would definitely recommend this tour. I actually wasn’t that excited about it before we did it, I kind of just wanted to check it out since I was in the neighborhood and the lovely people that run it had invited me to join them a long time ago, but it ended up being a really fun way to spend some time with the family while hanging out with some puffins. Even the princess, who’s hard to impress these days (unless you’re Harry Potter or a Broadway Musical), didn’t complain once. That’s like a 5 star review on Tripadvisor from her.
Oh and I definitely recommend you make a run for it on the way back down that hill. So. Much. Fun.
* conducted by myself by reading Facebook and Twitter comments – so highly unscientific and probably completely unreliable