Iceland – How NOT to go whale watching…

When you visit the Old Harbour the first thing you will see is the vast amount of boating companies offering you the “best” whale watching experience in Iceland…

Don’t listen to them. They’re all lying.

Kidding, they’re all probably great companies. Iceland is considered as one of the best destinations in Europe for whale watching, clearly shown through the number of boat trips leaving the Harbour every day.

But somehow we managed to draw the naff end of the stick, and the result was not pretty.

Walking down to the Harbour we I began to regret suggesting we should book a whale watching trip. It now seemed like a hasty decision made on the spur of the moment, when safely on land and baking in the 40ºC heat… But I’d read the reviews, and seen numerous people making bold assertions that whale watching was a “must” and a “once in a lifetime experience“. I honestly don’t know what they experienced, but it couldn’t have been anything remotely like our boat trip.

“You don’t think it’ll be choppy on the boat do you?”

“Do you think we’ll get seasick?”

“What if the weather changes when we’re out at sea? Do you think it will?” – My continuous questions must have been driving James up the wall. By the time we actually reached the Harbour, he was probably close to just pushing me into the sea. I almost wish he had, then at least I would have had a valid excuse to not get onto that bloody boat. Unfortunately, I was convinced the weather was not going to change and that I would not get seasick.

We were wrong.

Only the first hour… of hell.

The first sign that we should have turned around and gone straight into the nearest cafe for some tea and cake was the reallocation of our departure point. As soon as we arrived at the check-in desk we were quickly ushered onto a coach with a vague explanation that no whales had been seen this morning. Apparently, we were going somewhere else, in the hope of a better chance of whale sightings. The operators were very dismissive when everyone asked how far away this new destination was. “Ahhhh not far, not far at all. You’ll be there in no time”. Doubtful, we said goodbye to Reykjavik and began our mystery coach ride.


1 hour and 40 minutes later we arrived. We appeared to be in some sort of coastal quarry, surrounded by lorries and large mounds of dirt. This was definitely not what they advertised to us in the brochure… It was the second sign that we should have stayed on the coach for the scenic ride back to into Reykjavik. Again we ignored this. Everyone climbed on board the cramped boat with people vying for ‘prime positions’ on the viewing platform on the top deck. As the boat left the Harbour all seemed well and all precautions had been taken:

Thermal overalls

Seasickness tablets

Within minutes of setting off, the reality of being stranded out at sea, on a small fishing boat, for the next 5 hours began to sink in. We didn’t look like we the only passengers starting to clock onto this. The initial enthusiasm from everyone as they climbed onto the boat had long gone.

The sea began to get choppy and the boat started to rock side to side. Each time the boat bounced up and proceeded to crash back down onto the sea, stomachs were jolted up and a tiny bit of hope went away with it… It was never ending! James eventually migrated to the galley and from there to the stern of the ship, where he would spend the next 4 hours desperately trying not to be sick! Occasionally I’d dare to move away from my perch on a lone bench at the rear of the boat to offer James a sympathetic rub on the back, telling him it would be over “soon”. Clinging onto the railings trying to get back to my seat, I sat down next to another man whose girlfriend was a few feet away from James retching into the sea… We gave each other a nod and then a glance toward the figures who were lined up side by side leaning over the railings. No words were spoken, but to be honest I don’t think either of us had enough mental energy to form a coherent conversation anyway.

The sea was not his friend…

2 hours into the trip, no whales had yet made an appearance, and 90% of our fellow tourists had retreated to the galley lying across the floor and chairs… It looked like an aftermath scene from The Day After Tomorrow. Safe to say that the viewing platform (once packed like a tin of sardines) was now desolate. Although there was one lone bearded man who for the whole trip proceeded to sway and stumble around the boat with a pint of beer in his hand, not once showing the slightest sign of seasickness. Maybe the rest of were doing it wrong? Perhaps we should have all been on the beers since 10am as well?

One hour before the boat was due to turn back to dry land, we had still not seen the elusive whales… Just as the tour operator spoke over the loudspeaker informing us the boat was turning back, the captain spotted something in the distance. Hopes of this sea sick hell ending were shattered as we sailed further back out to sea. Devastated was an understatement at this point.

It turned out the ‘whale-like figure’ was nothing of the sort. “Ahhh look to your left everybody! We can see some juvenile dolphins! The juveniles, the lovely juveniles dolphins have come out to play” – At this point, I didn’t care about the “juvenile dolphins”. I wanted to get to dry land and to never get on a boat again!

5 hours, no whales, many seasick passengers and a pod of dolphins later we reached our destination – the beautiful, beautiful Harbour (despite the fact it looked like one big waste ground). It was glorious! After everything endured I was absolutely gutted that we never got a sighting of any whales. Though on the bright side I did gain a new appreciation of solid land, so I guess there is a silver lining in all of this.

Perhaps whale watching will be one to try again at some point in the future. Once I’ve had time to recover from the trauma of rough seas, -1C degrees, and sitting on a boat covered in sick! 

But on a more positive note if whale watching isn’t your cup of tea (after I’ve just put you off with my description) the Harbour is still worth a visit. There were great views and a few restaurants that looked really nice.

Maybe just check the weather reports out at sea before you climb on board the boat…

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Great post 🙂 thanks for the tip


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