The Magic of Iceland: The Cliffs at Latrabjarg

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On the Baldur ferry to the Westfjords

This is the third story in our series on the Magic of Iceland.

Nora and I were about to make the first “fork in the road” decision of our journey and it was a big one.

It was 7:30 PM as we approached the intersection of Routes 62 and 612 in the Westfjords near the town of Patreksfjordur. Our day had started with an 11 AM departure from Reykjavik in southwest Iceland, and our northward track had included a 3-hour ferry ride from Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur, a port in the Westfjords. Our destination for the evening was Isafjordur, which was a few hours away driving further north through the mountains. Unknown to us was how much of the trek ahead would be treacherous, although we had just gotten a flavor of it on the way up from Brjanslaekur.

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The cliffs at Latrabjarg

For the locals, driving on roads etched into the side of a cliff without the comfort of guard rails is considered standard. But for us it was very much a white knuckle experience, even as we were awed by the beauty of our surroundings.

If we decided to turn onto Route 612 and make the trip to Latrabjarg, it was going to add at least 3 hours to our journey. Although it was cloudy, the sun was visible. With weather not a factor (at least for the moment) we had a wonderful opportunity to experience the beauty of driving with the midnight sun through the raw landscape of the Westfjords. Our great hope was Iceland’s 24-hour sunlight would be our friend for the next several hours. Of course, fatigue could be a factor as the night wore on.

“Let’s do it,” I said.

Nora and I were excited as we ventured onto the bumpy dirt road that would take us all the way to Latrabjarg’s famous cliffs. Yes, we were going to see the renowned Atlantic puffins in their natural habitat, along with all the other bird species! Or so we thought. As we drove, we passed 2 large tour buses going in the opposite direction. Was it too late in the day? What if Iceland’s notoriously unpredictable weather had taken a turn for the worse?

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Puffins congregating at Latrabjarg

At 14 kilometers in length, Latrabjarg is the largest bird cliff in Europe and the home to more than a million seabirds during the summer months.  As we later learned, you don’t need to be a bird connoisseur to be awed by the spectacle of Latrabjarg. But if you are keeping track, the other bird species on the cliffs include the guillemot, the razorbilled auk, the fulmar and the kittiwake.

The 36-kilometer drive on Route 612 was long, bumpy, winding and hilly. Yes, don’t forget hilly! Remember, the cliffs at Latrabjarg reach as high as 440 meters above sea level. It’s easy to get restless and be filled with anticipation on the way. A welcome sight is the Hotel Breidavik, which is near the beach and can be seen from a distance. It means Latrabjarg is not too far away.

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Late summer night at Latrabjarg

We reached the cliffs shortly before 8:30 PM. Although we didn’t spend as much time there as we would’ve liked (we stayed for just over an hour) it was more than worth the trip. The birds were fearless and seemed to enjoy our company. Getting up close to them was not an issue. They even appeared to pose for some pictures! Our experience at Latrabjarg was one of the highlights of our stay in Iceland.

Check out the entire Magic of Iceland series right here:

Part 1-Overview, Part 2-The Golden Circle, Part 3-LatrabjargPart 4-Midnight Sun DrivePart 5-Westfjords and IsafjordurPart 6-Fire and the MountainsPart 7-Date Night at HverfellPart 8-Surreal SaturdayPart 9-Beyond Fire and IcePart 10Taking the 939Part 11-Lost in SkaftafellPart 12-F208 DilemmaPart 13-Volcanic HighlandsPart 14-Homestretch to Remember

More Magic of Iceland:  1. Jokulsarlon – Glacier Lagoon

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Three’s not a crowd with puffins

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