Puffins on the Edge, Iceland

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Puffins are “on the edge” both figuratively and literally.  Dwelling atop towering cliffs they make their underground burrow only a step and a few flaps from the cliff edge where they quickly attain flight.  And increasingly, in many locations they exist on the edge of environmental calamity, experiencing sharp population declines caused, in part, by climate change and increasing competition with humans for dwindling fish resources.  But Northern Iceland, by contrast, still has the most robust and accessible Atlantic puffin colonies I have seen—anywhere!  As one of my favorite birds, puffins also rank near the top of wildlife I love to photograph.  In all of my travels to shoot northern seabird colonies, the name of the game has been to pick out the few puffins from the throng of other seabirds.  But, in Northern Iceland it is just the opposite.  At this northern stronghold, home to more than half the world’s Atlantic puffins, it is still possible to visit colonies and see a thousand puffins in the air at once.  At remote Latrabjarg, some of the puffins are so unwary that it is literally possible to touch them!  Straddling the Arctic Circle, Grimsey Island is one of Iceland’s largest puffin colonies. There is no place else in the world that compares to photographing Atlantic puffins in Iceland, and there are no better locations to photograph puffins in Iceland than Latrabjarg and Grimsey!  We can take you there!
   —Joe Van Os
"It truly was the 'Ultimate Puffins' trip. Loved the puffins and having never seen one before, am smitten. You can't get better, in my opinion, than doing a trip with Van Os - all his guides/tour leaders are world class and I’m looking forward to the two I am doing next year."
- L. Lofgren

Located only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, Iceland attracts great numbers of colonial seabirds to nest on its precipitous cliffs and offshore islets. Each spring, millions of breeding birds converge on Iceland, forming some of the most spectacular nesting colonies to be seen anywhere in the world. We concentrate on two locations best-known for their impressive and highly unwary Atlantic puffin populations, where we also expect to photograph common and thick-billed murres, razorbills, black guillemots, northern fulmars, red-necked phalaropes, black-tailed godwits, arctic terns, black-legged kittiwakes and other nesting gulls, ducks and shorebirds.

Our trip is timed to coincide with the middle of the Atlantic puffin nesting cycle. Now, the chicks are hatching and the birds begin foraging for numerous small fish to feed their voracious hatchling dwelling deep in its underground burrow. During the course of the nesting season the parents may bring as many as 2,500 fish to their solitary chick. A prize photo is a bird with numerous small sand eels draped from its colorful bill. Others, still awaiting the chick’s appearance, spend more time loafing on the cliff—and they allow prolonged shooting opportunities. At this time of year, puffins frequently stand just outside their cliff-top burrow, often among tiny but prolific bouquets of dwarf wildflowers, as they scan for predators.

Atlantic puffinOn our way towards our first puffin shoot at the immense Latrabjarg bird cliff we pass through a variety of dramatic and bucolic Icelandic landscapes on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. There we board a ferry to the Westfjords and drive to Breidevik. Breidevik (Broad Bay) is our home for the next three full days on Iceland’s northwestern coast at the Latrabjarg cliffs. From our small, comfortable hotel we have a short commute to this extreme western tip of Iceland and experience its many moods during summer's long daylight hours.

We travel east and board a small ferry at Dalvik and set sail to Grimsey—a tiny island located 25 miles (40 km) off Iceland’s north coast and home to one of Iceland’s largest puffin colonies, as well as one of its largest Arctic tern breeding sites.  Only 90 people live in Basar, the island’s small fishing village.  A visit there is reminiscent of the rural life in times gone by.

If you’ve ever wanted to work on photographing one charismatic species (along with a variety of others to add to the excitement) with the time to thoroughly capture it with your camera, then this trip is for you.  The photography and warm Icelandic hospitality, coupled with Iceland’s natural scenic beauty, the cry of the seabirds, and the smell of salt air blend marvelously in this concentrated “summer” puffins photo tour.


Check out Joe Van Os' trip report from our 2017 Ultimate Puffins photo tour

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart from the US. Most flights from the US are overnight flights that depart in the afternoon or evening and arrive the following morning. However, some flights depart earlier in the day and arrive Keflavik Airport late at night, requiring an additional hotel night and expense, in Reykjavik.

Day 2 (Jul 7)
Typically, overnight flights from the US to Iceland arrive at the Keflavík Airport in the early morning. Most flights from Europe arrive midday or later. Take the FlyBus or Airport Express shuttle to our Reyjkavik hotel. We meet for dinner this evening. (D)

Atlantic puffin perched on rockDay 3
After breakfast we travel to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The major peninsular landmark is the Snaefellsjokull glacier which is renowned for its “mystical powers” that captured the imagination of people all over the world as the entrance to the prehistoric subterranean world in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth published in 1864. Depending on our timing we squeeze in a bit of photography before we catch the afternoon ferry at Stykkishólmur crossing Breiðafjörður, a large shallow bay, where we are delivered to the scenic Westfjiords. Here, on the westernmost point of land in Iceland, we have our first encounters with puffins this evening if weather conditions are good. (BLD)

Days 4–6
Allowing for a variety of weather conditions we spend these three full days at Latrabjarg and its unwary resident puffins. Standing at the farthest western tip of Iceland this immense cliff is more than eight miles long—and a stunning 1,500 feet high in some sections—and teems with birds. Latrabjarg offers great opportunities for photographing in soft light with wonderful backlighting possibilities in the evening "midnight sun" as the sun does not set below the horizon at this time of year.

Puffins are somewhat mysterious as to their daily schedule—usually dependent on wind and tide conditions—and it is possible to arrive at the cliff when only a few are present. At other times the top of the cliff is packed with birds! Whether they all decide to head out to sea to forage at the same time, or to just socialize offshore, there is no predicting when they are on the cliff en masse. So we have built in an ample amount of shooting time to make sure to hit the "mother lode!" Even if only a few puffins are present at times—when we return a few hours later the birds may all be there in big numbers. In the meantime we are occupied by photographing all the other local species of birds whose presence is a bit more predictable. Arctic terns, red-throated loons, red-necked phalaropes and common eiders nest right on the expansive hotel grounds. There is always something available to occupy our attention. (BLD)

Day 7
Traveling east from Breidavik along the scenic Bardastrond we drive to Iceland’s north coast and reach Dalvik in the evening. Dalvik is the departure point for our ferry voyage to isolated Grimsey. If we find a good situation during our drive we may photograph some Icelandic horses in pastures along the way. (BLD)

Puffins on rock ledge in IcelandDays 8–11
The ferry delivers us to Grimsey by early afternoon of Day 8. After disembarking the boat we settle into our comfortable guesthouse and then begin our island exploration. Grimsey is a mere 2 square mile (5 square km) speck in the vast and tempestuous North Atlantic. Although Grímsey is located on the Arctic Circle, the North Atlantic Current brings warmth from the Gulf of Mexico, promoting a surprisingly mild climate despite its northerly position. This serenely beautiful bucolic island is ringed by one giant bird colony and puffins are easily photographed at numerous locations. Fulmars, murres, razorbills and kittiwakes nest on these same cliffs. This island provides particularly noteworthy opportunities to photograph puffins in flight. They are joined in the air by a throng of these other colonial nesting seabirds that are found here in big numbers. Also vying for our attention are the nesting oystercatchers, sandpipers, plovers, jaegers, terns, wagtails, wheatears and buntings that are widely distributed across the island. (BLD)

Day 12
After a morning photo session we sail back to the mainland in the afternoon and then drive and overnight in Akureyri. (BLD)

Day 13
We have the best part of the day to explore as we return to the Reykjanes Peninsula for our overnight stay in Keflavik near the airport. This drive has lots to offer from impressive sea stacks, gauzy waterfalls and one of the country's largest concentrations of Icelandic horse farms. As we make our way south we will search out one or all of these intriguing photography possibilities as time, weather and subject matter allow. (BLD)

Day 14 (Jul 19)
Participants depart at any time today. (B)

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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Puffins on the Edge, Iceland

Jul 06, 2019 - Jul 19, 2019

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days priors to departure and must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:
90 days or prior:
89 to 61 days prior:
60 or fewer days:
Cancellation Fee:
100% of deposit
50% of trip fee
100% of trip fee

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to info@photosafaris.com.

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in air schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 4) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Puffins on the Edge, Iceland: Easy Activity Level

Trip Details
Jul 06 - Jul 19, 2019
Deposit: $800
Limit: 11 participants
Activity Level: Easy
  • Atlantic puffin photography at two of the world’s premier puffin photography locations
  • Trip timed to median puffin egg-hatching date and the start of adults delivery of fish to the chicks
  • Photograph puffins standing amidst profuse coastal wildflowers
  • A highly-concentrated shoot offering more than six days of Atlantic puffin shooting at the superlative Latrabjarg seabird cliff and remote Grimsey Island
  • Shoot thousands of nesting terns, murres, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes 
Tour Leaders
Joe Van Os

Joe Van Os

Daniel Bergmann

Daniel Bergmann

“Another outstanding trip. Joe Van Os and Daniel Bergmann make the trip fun as well as educational. Many thanks to both.” 
—P. Craig
“It would be hard, if not impossible, to find a better tour to photograph birds and puffins.” 
—C. Smith