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Bird-Watchers Paradise in Vestmanna
Disembarking off of the ferry from Iceland, we had no idea what to expect in the far-flung Faroes except for a beautiful landscape and abundant bird-watching opportunities. We couldn’t go to a set of islands and not take a bird-watching tour, so one of the first things we did is get a map and drive to Vestmanna bird cliffs.
The Vestmanna Bird Cliffs Boat Tour
To sign up and pay for the Vestmann Cliff boat tour, you must go to the visitor’s center. We hadn’t made reservations and found out that sometimes it can be difficult to get a seat. The cruise ships land at Klaksvik and the Vestmann Cliffs is one of their excursions. Wouldn’t you know it, the day we were there the cruise ship had garnered most of the seats. Luckily when traveling as a pair, we were able to squeeze in with one other lone traveler and a bunch of cruise ship passengers.
Have you been to the northern Atlantic? It can get stormy pretty quick. There had been some rain showers already, and fog was clinging to the hillsides as we made our way to Vestmanna so we worried that the boat would be canceled and it almost was, but amidst a misty rain we all boarded and had a quick safety talk before sailing the pristine inlets and contours of the fjord that separates two of the eighteen Faroese islands, Streymoy and Vágar.
As a protected water, the ride was smooth and all of us on board were excited to be able to see puffins. The Vestmanna Cliffs are home to many species of birds including skuas, kittiwakes, fulmars, shags, petrels, and guillemots, but all of them together don’t hold the imagination as the colorful puffin.
Having lived in Alaska for eight year, we have seen many puffins, but they are so much fun to watch. While flying it looks like their wings are twisted like with a rubber band and are let go so that they go in circles. Also, did you know that a male puffin grows his colorful beak covering each spring and sheds it after the mating season? Puffins are just fascinating creatures, and we were definitely among those that wanted to get a glimpse of them nesting in the cliffs.
A surprise for us is when we were shown some ropes hanging from the cliffs. What were they for? To hunt for puffins. The Faroese eat puffin, but not as much today as in the past. At the National Museum of the Faroes there is an old black and white photo depicting a man who had at least twenty of the birds hanging from his belt. He had to keep his hands free in order to climb back up the cliff.
With the weather not really cooperating, the fog was low, and the waves were a little choppy making it difficult to spot any birds. Some other types of birds such as gulls and guillemots were nesting on the cliffs, but the only puffins we spotted were in groups floating on the water.
The boat ride lasted about two hours, and we learned a quite a few interesting things about the fishing industry in the Faroes. Understandably it is the largest percentage of income for these hardy people living so far from major distribution channels.
Vestmanna is easy to get to from Tórshavn or from Klaksvik. Even though they are all on different islands, they are connected by tunnels. From Tórshavn, it is only about a half hour drive, and from Klaksvik a little over an hour.
The cost of the tour is about U.S. $43.00, depending on the rate for Danish Kroner.
As I mentioned before, it’s a good idea to make reservations before arriving in the Faroe Islands to ensure the day you would like to go on the boat tour, it is available.
The Vestmanna Information Center is a great stop, because not only do you take the tours off of their dock, there is a nice restaurant right there that serves up a pretty good lunch.
There is plenty to do, but traveling is a little different that other places. For tips and hints check out Faroe Islands Travel: Everything You Need To Know.
The scenery through the fjords is absolutely breath-taking, and you are so close to the shore that landscape photos are no problem. However, if you want to take good photos of birds, you will need to have a long lens. I had my 400 mm lens, and it still really was not close enough.
The boats hold about 20 people, so there are a lot of folks vying for the edge to get a clear view. Only one man had a selfie-stick, and he was able to take photos the entire way, not dependent on which side the boat was facing.
Are you an avid bird watcher? Would you ever consider the Faroe Islands?