Látrabjarg bird-cliff is the largest bird-cliff in Iceland and along with Azor islands one of the western most parts of Europe (24°32´3" west). It is up to 441 meters high and 14 km long. It is considered one of the most spectacular bird-cliffs in the world.
Látrabjarg is sheer-sided and there is a painted white line to warn people against not falling off the cliff. It is prohibited to cross the line - and I can tell you that you will not even want to cross it. I lay on my stomach and looked down at the birds as to not lose balance.
I have never been as close to puffins as I have been at Látrabjarg, it almost felt as if I could touch them. And they were so fearless and tame, knowing that we could not touch them.
The Atlantic puffins are in Iceland from mid May until late in August each year. The largest puffin colony in the world is in Vestmannaeyjar "Westman islands", which is a volcanic island just off the south-shore of Iceland. All in all there are ca 10 million puffins in Iceland during the summer time.
There are some great photo-opportunities here to say the least. Látrabjarg is visited by myriads of guests every year and even though it is a bit remote then it is so worth the visit.
Látrabjarg is divided into 4 parts: Keflavíkurbjarg, Látrabjarg, Bæjarbjarg og Breiðavíkurbjarg.
The road leading to Látrabjarg is a ca 36 km long gravel road. And fill up on gas before going to Látrabjarg as there is no gas-station in this area.
I have added more photos of Látrabjarg in a travelogue.
Dynjandi is the biggest waterfall in the Westfjords of Iceland and has been called the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland.
Below Dynjandi are 6 other waterfalls, counting from below are: Bæjarfoss, also named Sjóarfoss, Hundafoss, Hrísvaðsfoss, Göngumannafoss, Strompgljúfrafoss and Hæstahjallafoss. I add a photo of Hæstafjallafoss to my Dynjandi tip.
To get to Dynjandi there is a bit of a hike and on the way are all these smaller waterfalls. There is a man-made path leading up to the waterfalls and quite a climb getting up to Dynjandi. Volunteers made the path back in 1996.
The waterfalls come from lake Eyjavatn which is 350 meters above sea-level, from which Dynjandisá river runs.
Dynjandi waterfall is the jewel of the Westfjords - and in my eyes it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.
Dynjandi, or Fjallfoss as it is also sometimes called, cascades for 100 meters. There are 6 other waterfalls below Dynjandi. Dynjandi looks like a bridal veil - on top it is 30 meters wide and widens up to 60 meters at the bottom.
It is said that a supernatural being lives in every waterfall. I can agree with this, at least there is amazing energy by the waterfall.
The names of the other waterfalls are, from above: Hæstahjallafoss, Strompgljúfrafoss, Göngumannafoss, Hrísvaðsfoss, Hundafoss and Bæjarfoss, which is also called Sjófoss. I have added another tip on the other waterfalls, but my last photo here is of Hæstafjallafoss right below Dynjandi.
Foss is the Icelandic name for a waterfall.
Dynjandi is preserved. There is a man-made path leading up to the waterfalls.
I had wanted to see Dynjandi ever since I was a little girl, but then the roads were in a lot worse condition than they are today, so my family always skipped going to the Westfjords, even though my mother´s mother was born and raised there. So it wasn´t until in the summer of 2013 that I finally was able to visit Dynjandi and it was all I had ever expected. It is just awesome!
There is a natural hot pool in Reykjafjörður fjord, called Reykjafjarðarlaug.
There are actually 2-3 pools here. One of them is molten and is a swimming pool really, built in 1975 by volunteers. The temperature of the water in the pool is 32 degrees C, but much hotter water runs into the pool from a hot spring and a well in the vicinity, which is up to 52 degrees C hot.
The other pool is located close to the molten pool. It is a 6 meter´s long sitting tub located in a hot stream which has been jammed by rocks. The temperature of the water is 45 degrees C.
When we visited it in July there were tourists in the pool, a young couple, and they were not happy to see us. I wanted to go in, but didn´t want to disturb them.
The natural pools are open all year round and there is no entrance fee.
There is a ship on one of the beaches in Vestfirðir by road 612 (the road leading to Látrabjarg). It is the oldest steel ship in Iceland, 180 tonne, built in Oslo, Norway in 1912.
The ship, now named Garðar BA 64, was once used as a whaler in Norway and the Faroe Islands. It was sold to Iceland during WW2 and was bought in 1973 by Jón Magnússon, fishing operator, who used the ship for fishing. When the ship was 70 years old the Maritime Institution of Iceland ordered Jón to reform the old ship, but that would have been too costly for Jón.
Jón decided on digging a canal for the ship and sailed it ashore. Jón painted the ship every year and kept it in good condition as a small private "maritime museum".
The ship is located on the beach in Skápadalur walley in Patreksfjörður fjord.
There are two stone men on the heaths of the West Fjords, Karlinn and Kleifabúi. They were made by road construction workers in their spare time. Kleifabúi was made by the road construction group of Kristleifur Jónsson in 1947. It is located on Kleifaheiði heath.
Einar Einarsson and Guðjón Jóhannesson stacked the rocks and Kristján Jóhannesson made the head. And the road construction group provided them with the rocks needed. The head is made of concrete.
The road here was built manually with hand-tools under difficult circumstances and after the construction workers had finished building the road they decided on building a big cairn in the liking of a man. They named it Kleifabúi. It is a ca 5 meter´s tall.
I like the story behind the making of this statue. One of the road construction workers had raised up a pillar of rock which was laying on the ground. A lot of people came up to the heath to have a look at the road construction work. They stopped by the pillar of rock and somebody put a bandana on the pillar of rock and it was called Kleifagudda (a woman´s name). From there the idea of making a stone man was conceived.
Kleifabúi has an extended hand to help people travelling on the heath. There is a poem by Kristleifur Jónsson on a sign by Kleifabúi: "Hátt á bergi Búi stendur, býður sína traustu mund, horfir yfir heiðarlendur, hár og þögull alla stund".
There are several heaths on the West Fjords, which make it difficult driving there in winter time and sometimes the heaths are impassable. The heaths in the southern part of the West Fjords are not paved. One of them is Dynjandisheiði heath.
The road on Dynjandisheiði heath, Vestfjarðavegur road, was opened to traffic in 1959 opening up the route to Ísafjörður the capital of the West Fjords.
The height of the road is up to 500 meters and the length is 30 km from Flókalundur to Dynjandisvogur cove.
The road workers and bridge constructors built a stone man in their spare time while working on the road in 1958 - it is said that it looks a lot like one of the workers, Gísli Gíslason from Hvammur. The stone man, which is called Karlinn, is located next to the road by the bridge over the river Penna.
For the occasion of the opening of the road Guðmundur Ingi Kristjánsson from Kirkjuból wrote a poem, which begins with these lines: "Vegir hækka, vegir tengjast. Vegum nýjum héruð tengjast. Réttir ungur aðra hönd, Ísafjörður Barðaströnd". There is a sign by the stone man with these lines in the poem.
There are several natural geothermal pools in the West-fjords. By Flókalundur there is a natural pool just by the ocean, Hellulaug pool.
It is lovely sitting there with the view of the ocean and Vatnsfjörður fjord. Unfortunately there are no changing facilities, apart from a stonewall, but it is ok undressing there. Wear your swimsuit under your clothes, so you don´t have to strip naked there.
It is a nuisance really when visitors bathe naked in the natural pools. This is not customary amongst Icelanders and it for sure bothers me. On the occasion when my photos were taken there were 2 naked French tourist in the pool. I am told that this is happening more often now that more tourists are visiting Iceland. Just keep in mind that this is not a local custom.
Hellulaug cannot be seen from the road, but there is a parking lot above the pool and a good path down to the ocean. The pool is 60 cm deep and the temperature of the water is ca 38 degrees C. The geothermal water comes from a borhole above the pool.
The pool is always open and there in no entrance fee.
Hellulaug is a preserved pool.
Just outside of Tálknafjörður village there are very popular natural thermal pools up in a mountain side. They are called "Pollurinn" in Icelandic by the locals, or the Pool.
There are 3 concrete blue-painted pools here, 2 a bit shallow and one deeper. And the temperature of the water varies up to 46 degrees C, if it gets too hot one can add colder water from a hose to the pools.
There are changing rooms by the pool and a shower. They are free of charge provided by the rural district.
The view from the pools is amazing. There one has a clear view of the beautiful mountains of Tálknafjörður fjord. On our visit we watched the sun set and the mountains where bathed in beautiful red and golden light. Very romantic, it just warmed up my heart.
There is a borhole by the pools, dating back to 1977, and the water from it is also directed to the swimming pool in Tálknafjörður and heats up the school and gymnasium there. The distance to the swimming pool is 3,6 km. The pools were built in 1985.
On one side of the changing rooms is written in big letters: "Hugsaðu vel um náttúruna, dreptu á bílnum" meaning: "Care for the nature and turn off the car engine".
Opening hours: always open.
Entrance fee: free of charge.
Driving onwards from Súðavík the road will lead you to Skutulsfjörður fjord in which the capital of the Westfjords, Ísafjörður, is situated. It has a population of ca 3.816 (2012) making this a relatively big town in comparison with the other villages in the Westfjords.
In Ísafjörður you will find one of the largest compounds in Iceland with most of the houses dating back from 1757-1784. These were the houses of Danish merchants back then and most of these houses are now preserved.
The main street reminds me a bit of Akureyri, the capital of the north, with a lot of stores and cafés and has got quite an urban feel to it. There are 2 hotels here and quite a few guesthouses. It has got a hospital and all school levels. On the outskirt of town is Bónus supermarket, which is ever so popular here in Iceland.
There is a prominent building in Ísafjörður (see my first photo) which used to be their hospital - it is a lovely building and now houses The Art gallery of Ísafjörður, The Photographic gallery of Ísafjörður and Ísafjörður library. My grandmother was born in the Westfjords, in Sæból in Ingjaldssandur, and worked at the old hospital when she was a young woman :)
There is an airport in Ísafjörður with connections to Reykjavík.
The sun doesn't shine in Ísafjörður for 2 months during the darkest winter months. When it finally shows up Ísfirðingar celebrate with sólarkaffi or "sunshine coffee" on the 25th of January...but all depending on the sun shining that day or not, it might be snowing on that day. The sun first shows up in Sólargata street, Sun street, which got its name from the first appearance of the sun. Then people celebrate with pancakes and coffee. Some of the inhabitants celebrate on the 25th of January, sunshine or not, but others wait for the first rays of sunshine to shine through their window, and they might have to wait for a fortnight for the sky to be clear. Ísfirðingar, who have moved away, f.ex. to Reykjavík, celebrate on that day and 400-500 people show up in a restaurant in Reykjavík. They belong to a group called Ísfirðingafélagið.
Now, Súðavík is the first village in the Westfjords since Hólmavík if you are driving the northern route in the Westfjords. From here there are villages in every fjord. There is an information sign on top of the mountain leading to Álftafjörður "Swan-fjord" where Súðavík is situated. The view from there is breathtaking, so I would recommend a stop there.
Here is a shop, restaurant and a gas-station all in one place.
In Súðavík there are ca 205 inhabitants. There is outer and inner Súðavík and the outer part is only used in the summer time due to avalanches. In these parts there is a real danger of avalanches and the last one was on the 16th of January 1995 with 14 people losing their lives :(
There are museums in almost all the villages in Iceland, which make them so special - in Súðavík is the "Melrakkasetur Íslands" or The Arctic fox centre.
There is a small tunnel between Súðavík and Ísafjörður town called Arnarneshamar (see my photo).
If you drive further on and pass Skrúður then you will reach Núpur in Dýrafjörður fjord (see my hotel tip). Driving along road 624 to the very end of it you will reach Ingjaldssandur by Önundarfjörður valley. The drive will take you 12% up a mountain on a small gravel road. The first time I went there we drove into the clouds so it was pretty scary. But on the other end of the mountain a beautiful valley opens up - Ingjaldssandur. This is what I call remote here in Iceland and this is where my grandmother was born. I went there on a family reunion in the summer of 2010.
Ca 100 people used to live and work in the valley in the early 20th century, but now only a handful of people live there. There is a lovely small church here and a social club called Vonaland. There people from the neighbouring villages and farms meet at Sandaball during Verslunarmannahelgin, the first weekend in August, and make a barbeque and sing and dance and have fun.
The lovely church was raised in 1929 but the previous church, which stood a little higher up, was blown into the ocean in a terrible storm in 1925. There are some old artefacts in the church, the chandelier is from 1649 and is believed to be a gift from a foreign ship crew that got saved here in Ingjaldssandur as written on it are many foreign names. There are seats for 35 people in the church, so imagine a whole reunion of my great-grandparent´s descendants trying to fit in there. My Uncle is a minister and held a service in this lovely church at the reunion. In the summer of 2011 Ingjaldssandskirkja church was preserved.
At the farm Sæból II by the ocean resides a woman called Betty (Elísabet Pétursdóttir) and from her you can buy coffee and knitted sweaters and embroidery. A very lovely hospitable lady :)
Leaving Ísafjörður and going onwards in the west directions will take you first to the small village of Hnífsdalur and then to Bolungarvík village. Here there are rocky mountains and they just opened a new tunnel (September 2010) called Óshlíðargöng tunnel from Hnífsdalur to Bolungarvík, which is a great relief for the people living here in Bolungarvík.
The road by Óshlíð, which I drove in July 2010, is quite dangerous with falling rocks and by the road you will see a lot of levee and small tunnels. And in the wintertime these areas, including Hnífsdalur village, experience avalanches. In Hnífsdalur through out the centuries there have been several avalanches and my great-grandfather was cought in one there and survived.
As you pass Óshlíð on your right hand side you will see timber houses with a turf roof down by the ocean. This is a museum called Ósvör and there is a fisherman's hut and a rowboat with more exhibits - it depicts the life of the fishermen in the old days. If you take the tunnel then you will miss the museum. Bolungarvík was one of the main fishing stations in Iceland in the olden days.
In Bolungarvík you will also find a Maritime museum and a Museum of Natural history, with a stuffed polar-bear on display.
Bolungarvík is the northernmost village of the Westfjords and the population of Bolungarvík is ca 968.
This is as far as the paved road will take you so I turned back to Ísafjörður and went through the tunnel there leading to Suðureyri and Flateyri.
Driving south on road 60 will lead you to the end of the paved road by Þingeyri village in Önundarfjörður fjord. The gravel road which leads you up on the mountain is called Hrafnseyrarheiði heath and is in bad condition (2010) and the people living in Þingeyri village have complained about the road not having been repaired and people on small cars don't venture on this road. I went there but we decided on backing down from it. I hope it will be repaired in the near future as this road leads you to Dynjandi waterfall, the biggest waterfall in the Westfjords, and the south of the Westfjords. So Þingeyri was the end of my journey and I drove the same way back on the north-route.
The population of Þingeyri is ca 265.
In the 19th century Þingeyri was the base camp for American halibut fishermen.
The museum in this town is Gamla smiðjan or The Old foundry from 1913, where you can see how blacksmiths and machinists worked in the olden days. It is the oldest functioning foundry in Iceland and served both Icelandic and foreign ships.
Þingeyrarkirkja church dates back from 1911. There is a hotel called Sandafell, a restaurant, a guesthouse, a few shops and the café Simbahöllin here in Þingeyri and an Information center in the summer time.
Leaving the tunnel from Ísafjörður you will see on your right hand side the village of Flateyri in Önundarfjörður fjord. It is a small village with only 205 people. There has only been a village here for ca 150 years and it built around shark :) And then also on whaling. People in the villages of Iceland have to live on what the ocean offers.
As I have mentioned earlier there is a museum of some kind in almost all Icelandic villages. The museum in Flateyri is in The Old bookstore where you can buy old books measured on a scale. The flat of the merchants there is also a museum. Lovely :)
You will see in the mountains above Flateyri how they have built a levee to keep the avalanches away. Look closely as you will see a big smiley in the lupine in the mountain :) The people of Flateyri have suffered great losses in avalanches - the last one being on October 26th, 1995. Amongst the 20 victims was a family with 3 young children. Very tragic :( By the church at Flateyri you will see a monument with the names of the people who lost their lives in that avalanche.
One can walk up to a observation platform by the moutains to get a good view of Flateyri village.