Although at first when planning my trip around Iceland, I saw Westman Islands as this bunch of seemingly tiny spots on the map, upon first hours of arriving there I realized how actually charming and diverse it is and hence instead of spending just a day there, I ended up staying there for more than 4 days exploring this quiet yet undoubtedly beautiful and remote place – a perfect spot for a traveler who is tired of liveliness of Reykjavik but also do not want the complete solitude of Icelandic countryside. To be more precise I’d like to point out that all the sightseeing highlights are located on Hemaey which is the only inhabited island from the group of Westman Islands. The Westman Islands consists of around 15 islands and 30 skerry’s yet Hemaey is the only one that can be so easily accessed and where visitors can stay (be it camping, staying in hostel or hotel – I was relieved to find out that the options are various)
Hemaey known for isvarious reasons and not only its natural characteristics and location makes it so attractive for visitors but also all the crazy turns in its past is story worth finding about. Once you get to extend your knowledge regarding this place you will be surprised of all the stunning information. For example, very little did I know of the significance it holds in terms of housing puffins. It turns out that Westman Island holds the largest puffin colony in the world (take a stroll along the coast and you will spot them easily). Another significant fact that actually raised whole world’s attention to Westman Islands was the eruption that occurred in 1973. On the historic day of January 23 when a volcanic eruption started opening a large crevice on the earth. There was no preparation for this eruption as it began with no sign of warning. Hence I find it very impressive that all the people could be evacuated immediately once the lava started to gush out from the earth. The eruption then lasted for several months (untl June) and the loss of nearly 1/3 of the houses who were buried under lava and ashes, can be considered the largest of damages. Since then the island have changed significantly – firstly the eruption created Eldfell volcano (which is a site worth seeing) and secondly it extended the size of the island for nearly two square kilometers!
Despite the vast damage and changes in landscape of the island, till this day the islanders have managed to rebuilt and recover Hemaey quite successfully and there is plenty to do and see for a curious, modern-day traveler. Take a boat tour around the islands, go hike up the volcanoes, rent a bike, explore the local museums (Folk Museum Sagnheimar, Volcano Museum Eldheimar or the Aquarium and museum of Nature Sæheimar) and simply enjoy the hospitality of incredibly friendly locals.
The most common and cheapest way of reaching Hemaey is by taking a ferry which usually (on summer season) sets off from Landeyjahöf and the journey lasts for a little bit more than half-an-hour. However, in my case I had planned my trip during a particularly stormy weather and hence my boar set off from the harbor of Þorlakshöfn from where the ferries also go during the wintertime. In that case the ride took much longer - nearly 3 hours.