Before I left for Iceland, I had prepared quite a list of things to do and see while I was there. But if you had told me I could only pick one thing on my list, I would have very definitively stated it was the opportunity to go whale watching. I’d been on dolphin tours several times around the US but had never seen a whale in the wild. And with Iceland being one of the top ten places to see whales in the entire world, I had high hopes that was about to change.
This post is not sponsored or endorsed by North Sailing in any way. However, I used North Sailing for my whale watching excursion in Iceland and could not have been more pleased. I want to give them a shout out and highly recommend them for your upcoming whale watching adventures. You’ll find their website here – https://www.northsailing.is/. I recommend visiting both their website and Facebook page to get a good feel for tours you can take and exciting pictures of wildlife.
When doing research before heading to Iceland, I read where you could whale watch at the capital in Reykjavik or you could head north to the town of Husavik. This sleepy town is known as Iceland’s whale watching capital. Although I haven’t tried whale watching in Reykjavik, I’d highly recommend making the trek north to Husavik. North Sailing offers a variety of whale watching excursions. I chose the three-hour tour called the Husavik Original Whale Watching Tour. You are able to purchase your tickets online ahead of time, as suggested to ensure availability. This is especially important during the busiest months of July and August.
Although we visited in August, we went out in the morning and it was in the 30s. I wore three layers and a coat with winter running tights. Make sure to also bring a hat, gloves, and a scarf. They will also give you a pair of extremely thick and warm overalls to wear over all your clothes as soon as you board the traditional Icelandic oak boat. These overalls are similar to a full-body snowsuit and a lifesaver. Remember when you head out on the water and add wind, the temperature drops even more.
As our boat pulled away from the shore, we were greeted with a breathtaking view of the entire town. Other than the whales, this was one of my favorite parts of the tour. It was one of the very few days the sun was out, making it even more picturesque. I just kept thinking to myself how beautiful this part of the world truly is.
At the same time we were pulling away from the harbor, I snapped this picture of two women, also headed out on the ocean. It was a temperature that not many would be moving around outside back home; yet here they were out on the water headed out for a day of exploring. This is one thing I loved so much about the people of Iceland – cold does not mean much to them. You’ll also notice this when you walk around the towns. Although it was anywhere from 30 degrees to mid-50’s while I was there, outdoor restaurant tables were packed with people in coats, enjoying the outdoors.
For the first hour, our guide told us all about Iceland and the whales we hoped to see. She kept telling us to keep our eyes open at all times and that it is never certain when you’ll see a whale. And so for the first hour, I kept my eyes peeled and my mind optimistic. About an hour in though, I started to have thoughts like “what if we don’t see one?” and “why is this taking so long?” Luckily the landscape was so vastly beautiful with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains that it easily kept my mind off not having seen a whale yet.
As we pulled away from the shore more and more heading out into the Arctic Ocean, the views got even more stunning. Everything felt so crisp, so clean, so striking. Standing on the edge of the boat, I glanced down into the water and saw something I never expected to see that day or in Iceland in general. It was a jellyfish! The water here was so unpolluted and clear that you could easily see straight down into the water. Such a neat sight to see!
Our guide told us that when anyone spotted a whale, he or she was to call out the whale’s location by using the hands of a clock. For example, you’ll call out “12 o’clock” or “6 o’clock” depending on the direction of the whale from the front of the boat. Not long after we arrived at the location the boat was going to stop to watch for whales, someone yelled “nine o’clock” and we all rushed over to the left and middle side of the boat. A minke whale had been spotted. It was my very first whale sighting!
As the dark body rose smoothly out of the water, it just as quickly descended back to where it came from. Whale watching requires patience as I soon discovered. You spend a lot of time waiting for them to come up to breathe again. You also learn to watch the dark spots of the water after the whales surface, as you can follow the direction they are going by the shadow they cast with their bodies. That way you are ready and watching the exact spot when they do decide to make their quick appearances once again.
Over the next hour or so, we spotted several minke whales and several humpback whales! Over and over again they would surface and go down, surface and go down. I loved how whenever a whale would come up, a chorus of voices of different nationalities would chime in the same excited tone but different words. Every language says “oooh” and “ahhh” a little bit differently, and it was a magical moment to hear the excited expressions in many ways.
It was so neat to be able to get so close to the whales in their natural habitat. I lost track of the number of times I saw a dorsal fin on an arched back or a fluke being flipped, as the whale once again went under the surface. I also loved hearing the “whooosh” sound the whale made as it exhaled air from its blowhole. Hearing that sound made the experience that much more real.
Considerably too soon it was time to turn around and make the hour or so journey back to Husavik. Although I wasn’t at all ready to head back, I did enjoy the hot chocolate and pastries they passed out to all of us.
Those three hours whale watching on the Arctic Ocean were three of the best hours I’ve ever spent. To say that Husavik is the whale watching capital of Iceland is no exaggeration. If you’ve ever had a dream of whale watching, I’d highly recommend you do so in Iceland in the tiny town of Husavik.
Paths Less Traveled Ranking: 2 footprints
Paths Less Traveled Ranking Explanation: You share your whale watching experience with a boat of several dozen whale watchers and your experienced guide. Although your location is remote, you aren’t alone and so I give it 2 footprints.
*In each of my articles I will provide a Paths Less Traveled Ranking. This ranking system is from 1 footprint to 5 footprints with 1 footprint being very remote and off the beaten path and 5 footprints being very populated.