A Quiet Paradise
The Westfjords were first on our list. It was simply because of the kayaking trips offered. For a few years we had been looking at a few kayaking trips around Iceland, but were more interested in a vacation that had a variety of activities and an itinerary that was a little unstructured so we never committed to a tour. We felt that an aquatic approach to viewing the wildlife and the geology was something that would impact our visit all that more dramatically, so we searched for day trips for kayaking in Iceland and after writing to five separate companies, Arctic Adventures was the only company to write us back. They run trips out of their own office in Reykjavik and also help book tours with other companies throughout the country. We booked a Westfjord paddling trip with them (which was provided by one of the three companies from the same building: North Explorers / West Tours / Borea Adventures). It has been a little confusing as to the division of each of the companies and it seems like the same people work for multiple companies here, but between the three websites you will find just about everything.
Where to Stay
After signing up for the trip, we then booked a hotel near North Explorers in a town named Ísafjörður . The choice seemed top be between an Edda hotel which is a school dormitory that they rent out during the summer, and Hotel Ísafjörður which seemed expensive, but normal for Iceland and had a restaurant which makes our lives much easier. It was the right choice as we got in very late and there are not open restaurants in this town later in the season. The hotel was easy to find in the tiny town when we accepted what looked like sidewalks were really roads. The accommodations were clean and modern and the quality of food was above average. The staff at the front desk were always very helpful with directions, suggestions, and weather reports. They also have local hiking maps for sale at the counter.
The other option we looked into when we had some time to drive around the area was the local campground. We got there from the inner side of the fjord if you drive past the golf club house. It was on beautiful land, very tidy, and had showers, washers, dryers, and at the base of a hiking trail. It is near the base of a waterfall and has a stream running through the grounds. The drive from the center of town to the campground was perhaps 10 minutes but probably less. It is also close to the grocery store which we inaccurately call the Piggly Wiggly (It is called Bonus) because it has a pink pig as its symbol but to the point has bread and juices and fruits. This has one of the two gas stations in the fjord, the other is the N1 near the Hotel Ísafjörður. We certainly see the Tungudalur campground as the place to stay next time we come to the Westfjords.
There is far more hiking in this little town of Ísafjörður than we had time to do, never mind the entire Westfjords. Hiking maps are available to purchase at the Hotel Ísafjörður or you can order them online from the Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft online shop. We did a few short hikes including Naustahvilft and the loop road by the treatment plant (photos below). There is hiking further in if you take the loop road by the treatment plant and hit the unpaved road by the church and keep going. The trail head is well marked. Another easy to access trail is by the campground. You take a turn on to the road to the Golf Course by the Bonus grocery store and just past it is the campground and the trail head to the waterfall and through the forest.
We spent most of our time in the Westfjords kayaking with West Tours. It was money well spent and the experience of being close to marine life and to see the fjord from inside the fjord was priceless. We did The Two Fjords Tranquility (Seyðisfjörður and Hestfjörður) trip and a custom half day to Önundarfjörður. There was a lot left for a second visit some day in the future. I can't even start to imagine how much paddling is available in this area. The two trips we did were very easy paddling and the waters were mostly calm like glass and we were able to move along at our own pace which included stopping to look at animals and starfish every few minutes.
To note on future trips, we found that West Tours rents bikes, does guided hikes and trips, and also has several listings for Horseback Riding. I think if we knew about this before we went, we may have booked a few more things to do, but we found it hard to figure out what to look for from home and did not get well connected until after our visit. At the time of our planning, Google Maps did not even have road maps for Iceland, (It does today), and many of the companies were closing for the season. Now that we have been there and have connections (which we have shared with you), planning will be easier next time.
This was a bit of a challenge late in the season. Our guide explained that people do not go out to dinner often (can't blame them - it is very expensive) so there are not a lot of restaurants to pick from. In September, we had our hotel's restaurant which was good, and Tjoruhusid which is in the old part of the town (at the very end of the land), a few minutes walk from the hotel. It does not have later hours - we showed up at 10 the first night and left disappointed - but when it is open, it is exceptional.
Tjoruhusid serves the catch of the day. It makes for easy selection. We got what they caught, but it was the most fantastic meal we had in Iceland. The building is rustic with wood benches and tables, a low ceiling, and the weather inside is the same as outside minus any rain. We wore our coats inside as it was September but it was worth it.