Puffins were the number one thing I said I WOULD SEE before leaving the Faroe Islands.
And according to my research, the best odds of seeing puffins would be on the (promisingly named) Island of the Birds: Mykines.
As one of the Faroe Island’s outlying islands, a visit here required more planning. Accessible only by air or by sea, the number of people allowed to visit each day is strictly controlled in order to preserve both the remote charm of the hilltop town as well as the hillside homes of the resident breeding puffins.
We visited just at the start of shoulder season and only just managed to grab a spot on the solo departure ferry. The original day we had wanted was sold out, which fortuitously led us to book the following day for the full-day trip, which happened to be our sole blue-bird day.
For booking your ferry, I highly suggest booking in advance using this website: http://www.ssl.fo/en/
As we waited to cast off, we saw many ticket-less hopefuls turned away at the quay.
Having now visited, it was the highlight of our entire trip- and one of the best travel experiences we have had to date (and we’ve swum in the open ocean with humpback whales!) I would be extremely disappointed if I was not able to go because of overbookings.
Before jumping in, here are the highlights:
1.) Book your ferry ahead of time. Spots are limited
2.) Pack water. Our day planned to be overcast and chilly and it ended up being very warm and sunny. Its a few straight hours of hiking and our one small bottle went quickly. We were parched.
3.) Pack extra batteries because you will use them
4.) Prepare for all weather, but pack smart. Weather moves in quickly and unexpectedly. You cannot leave anything on the ferry, as it leaves. Once you leave the village, there is NO cover until you return. Make sure you don’t come back soaked.
5.) This hike is suitable for children and beginner hikers. However, wear good, nonslip hiking shoes and keep the kiddos close. We had some hikers in Converse and slick rain boots. They survived, but I still wouldn’t suggest it.
6.) Be respectful to the land and wildlife- this is an incredibly rare place. Protect it.
As is to be expected, the ferry ride out to Mykines is stunning. You pass by some of the Faroe’s most famous rock structures, the remote town of Gasadalur, and long coastlines of jaw-droppingly sheer cliffs. After arriving at the rocky quay, you must first hike up to the small village where you will be rewarded with views of bright red cottages and sounds of cascading waters. Welcome to Mykines.
It should be noted that there have been recent restrictions to visiting Mykines that have been imposed in an effort to protect the birds and their breeding grounds. Expect to pay a small fee for conservation and be required to follow a guide, who will ensure that you stick to the designated paths. As these restrictions are new, they are still being set in stone. Find more information here: http://visitfaroeislands.com/plan-your-stay/transport/new-guidelines-mykines/
Leaving the village on the main path, you will take a steep climb directly up to the monument for lost Faroese sailors. This first vantage point affords a stunning view of the sharp cliff edges that house rare birds and back towards the main islands.
That was the most physically strenuous part of the hike. From here on out, there is little elevation gain, but there are certainly more harrowing paths that will make your palms sweat (if, like me, heights aren’t really your thing).
Continue following the well-trodden path. As the ferry is small, you and your fellow hikers will eventually disperse along the trail and you will have large patches to yourself where you can enjoy views of the tufted green island stretching out in front of you. Breathtaking only begins to describe it.
And the best part is: these little cuties pop up to greet you all along the way. With mouths full of slick, silver fish, they bop around from rock to rock, duck into their green hillsides before popping out to plummet back down to the sea. And your face will probably look like this too! A stunning hike with a side of adorable entertainment, who can complain??
After a bit of flat walking, you will reach the edge of the main island. If you are squeemish about heights, you can turn back here and spend the rest of your time in the village. I am uncomfortable about sharp cliffs and steep falls, but I managed this hike just fine. Certainly, I was uncomfortable, but the trail is very well kept and is actually not as treacherous as it initially looks!
If you chose to continue, you will climb down and around the back side of the island.
More jaw-dropping views.
Then continue back to the front, where you will see rock formations covered in puffins, gannets, and gulls. You can walk to the edge of the cliffs here.
More jaw dropping views.
Sensing a theme?
Finally, before reaching the lighthouse at the very end of the island, you will cross a suspension bridge over a ravine. This is a perfect spot to stop and listen to the music of the island: crashing waves mixed with the squeals and squaks of rare sea birds as they nestle in the cliff and dive into the waters.
Now, press on to the lighthouse! This lighthouse was constructed in 1909 and manned day and night by a keeper who would tend to the burner and the weight system that automatically rotated the light- though it had to be reset every three hours. At some points, there was a small village at this end of the island that was supplied by ships at sea before the bridge was built. During WWII, the British occupied the islands and only allowed the lighting of the island’s three houses at certain times- all three came under attack at some point. This particular light house was attacked three times. The caketaker was injured once.
Now, if you are smart, you packed a picnic of meats, cheese and water to enjoy at the end of your hike. You can nestle into a fuzzy cliffside and enjoy your lunch with the entertainment of swooping gannets.
(Truly, there were so many puffins speckling the sky that I thought I just had dust on my camera lens!)
Don’t be surprised if you are joined for your lunch by some curious sheep! It wasn’t until the end of our meal that we realized that we were sitting in a seat made by bedding sheep. We looked up to find a sheep peeking out over the hill, looking at us like we had stolen his spot….
Now you get to do it all over again in reverse! As we came back up on the village, we joined a group of people who were sitting on the hillside as puffins curiously walked up to them. For about 20 minutes, we just sat and giggled at these hilarious tuxedoed birds as they boped and soared and crammed as many fish into their little beaks as possible.
The perfect end to an incredible day.
No, just kidding. The perfect ending is a Faroese lager from the local convinience store, enjoyed by a pristine creek in the middle of a charming village.
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