Sky & Sea
Iceland can be attractive in numerous other ways, but the act of gazing at the sky and the sea could tease out two of the important ones.
The first is a peculiar, somewhat clownish-looking bird that’s around on this island on a part-time basis. These are the puffins, and although they can be found in most places on the island, you can usually see them only between the months of April and August. These Atlantic puffins, sometimes also known as common puffin, belong to the auk family, and is the only one that’s endemic to the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re a birdwatcher or a photographer on a mission then I suggest you catch the much larger population of these birds in the West or East Fjords, or better still, on the Westman Islands. Of course, like most things touristy, you can definitely book a whole tour that would let you see them up close and get expert lectures on them as your eyes remain glued on to your binoculars.
It’s also good to know that puffin meat (lundi) is a national dish in a few places in Iceland, like in the Westman Islands. You can have your choice of smoked puffin salad or puffin boiled in milk sauce available throughout the country. Having said that, you should also remember that these seabirds are listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN’s Red List, so I urge you to be mindful of the environmental impact of this exercise.
Sometimes these puffin tours are made in conjunction with whale watching tours. Whales around the Icelandic waters are visible in great numbers during June, July, and August, and whale watching tours start as early as April and last late into October.
I’ve always believed that watching whales up close is not only a sobering exercise, it also prepares you to accept the ridiculously small but thoroughly interlinked nature of humanity with the rest of earth’s ecosystem. This becomes even more apparent if you take the time to visit the Whales of Iceland exhibition before you set off to the seas on your exhilarating whale watching adventure. Your kids will especially love the interesting facts presented about cetaceans here, as well as the in-depth, hands-on, and interactive nature of the exhibit. Consider this: located on the far side of the old Reykjavik harbor, this exhibition has on display life-sized models of twenty-three whales. Indeed, this is one of the best family-friendly destinations of Iceland that people often overlook.
The existential threats that these whales face from climate change are also covered in detail in this exhibit, and for children and adults alike there’s a whole trove of exciting information here. In other words, it’s fun and educational for the entire family, and that’s the sort of experience you can hardly beat!
You might have taken your family on vacations to Cape Cod or San Diego area; I know I have multiple times. But Iceland is one of those exotic places where whale watching can take a much more renewed significance. The species of whales that you’re most likely to see in these waters include the humpback and minke, along with large pods of dolphins and porpoises. The tour operators always have a strong focus on conservation and protection of these marine animals, and there are kid-friendly activities on board. The best part is that if you’re not able to sight any whales, your family is entitled to get a full refund.
There are certainly many places of the world that offers whale watching tours, but the one in Iceland promises to be one that your traveling family will remember for a very long time.