The Best Place to See Puffins in The UK: Skomer Island, Wales

Packing list: 

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Daypack
  • Water
  • Snacks/ lunch
  • Raincoat
  • Camera
  • Close toed walking shoes 
  • Binoculars (optional) but highly recommended

Skomer Island is an island off the coast of Wales situated along the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This island is home to some of the world’s most important burrow-nesting seabird colonies, as well as some of the largest. While it’s the puffins that grabbed my attention, it is important to note that the island has an incredible variety of animals, including but not limited to numerous species of seabirds, a handful of mammals, and the island even harbors some significant marine life, such as seals.

My husband and I planned a trip with my brother and his wife back in the summer of 2019, and, despite the fact that I had been looking forward to this experience for about a year, and so building up the hype and anticipation just a little bit for myself, I can say that it lived up to our expectations!

But, we are suckers for animal encounters! I literally planned this trip because of a screen saver that popped up on my Microsoft Surface! A picture of a puffin appeared on my screen after it has locked, so I did a little googling to find out where we could see these cute birds, and thus discovered Skomer Island! 

Lodging

We spent a couple nights in an Airbnb in Haverfordwest, Wales which is 30-40 minutes drive from Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre. The Visitor’s “Centre” (or center!) is where the boats depart for both Skomer and Skokholm Islands. And this is also where to get the tickets for the boat. Make sure you get there early as sometimes they run out of tickets, and that would be a true bummer to come all this way and to miss seeing the puffins.

Notes:  

  • Have cash on you, as there are a couple times in which they would prefer you pay in cash or require it. Be prepared to pay for parking, boat tickets (11 pounds per adult), as well as landing tickets (11 pounds per adult).
  • There is no advanced booking, so tickets are first come first served. It is advised that you arrive early, especially if planning for a weekend! The visitor’s center opens at 8:30 but the queue starts forming before then on peak days. (They limit the number of people on the island per day as an effort to control erosion)
  • Landings only operate during April through September, Tuesday through Sunday (no sailing on Mondays) with departure times at 10am, 11am, and 12 noon, returns start from 3pm onwards depending on your departure time. 
  • There are a couple places to camp if you are looking for that option. In fact, you can even spend a night on the island in a hostel if you would like, but I assume you would have to pre-arrange this. 
  • There are bathrooms on Skomer but no food. Be sure to bring a pack lunch, plenty of water and snacks. There is also very limited shelter or even shade on the island so bring appropriate sun/weather protection (we learned this the hard way and all ended up pretty sunburnt by the end of the day)

Our Day

We planned on arriving to the visitor’s center by 8:30 but it ended up being closer to 9 and it was a good thing it wasn’t any later. We stood in a very long line and by the time we got to the front, there were only a few options left for boat departure times. We ended up getting one of the last departure time slots of the day (noon) so we decided to walk along the coast by way of the Pembrokshire Coast Path, which was incredibly beautiful and worthwhile in itself.  

Me and my husband
(I was 36 weeks pregnant!)

When 12 o’clock rolled around we boarded the ferry and took the 10-15 minute journey to Skomer. Upon disembarking we were given a short wildlife/ island orientation talk by a wildlife specialist. 

Note: Most important piece of direction was that in order to keep Skomer’s wildlife protected we needed to NOT stray from the path. Because Skomer is home to so many ground burrowing birds, staying on the trail was the biggest thing we could do to help protect their habits. You’d hate to destroy one of these guys’ home!

After the talk we were given an opportunity to rent binoculars so we decided, why not!? It was nice at the beginning when we were only seeing wildlife at a distance but we didn’t realize that the path practically goes right through the middle of a colony on the south side of the island so the binoculars were not necessary there! We got some cool photos of puffins through the binoculars though!

Photo taken by phone through binoculars
Photo taken by phone through binoculars
Don’t be fooled, we only rented one pair of binoculars! 😉

So after we finished our binocular rental, we were set free to roam about the island at our own speed. We decided we wanted to walk around the entire island so we decided to walk counterclockwise. (We had been told that most people go to the southside of the island first so we wanted to avoid those crowds and end with the southside. We were happy with this decision although we did wish we had left ourselves a little more time to enjoy the southside colonies because we didn’t totally understand what was in store for us there!) 

The path takes you directly to the only accommodation on the island. It is a hostel type accommodation which is self catering. Be sure to stop there if you need a water fill up or need to use the loo. From there you can decide to walk around the south coast, north coast or walk right through the center of the island. 

Image retrieved from Google

On the west coast of the island we spotted a few seals through our binoculars in the water. As we made our way around to the Southside of the island we came upon a colony whose nests were directly on either side of the path. We literally had puffins walking between our legs. It was more than any of us expected or could have asked for!

There are wildlife specialist near the Southside that will urge you to not stay too long, but if you strike a conversation with them they tend to be a bit more patient, plus they’ll point out the other native birds that nest on the coastlines. After taking plenty of pictures, we made our way to the boat dock to take one of the last return boats.

Skomer Island is a must for any animal lover, bird watcher, or outdoor enthusiast. These birds really are remarkable, and I’m sure they will find a special place in your hearts as they did ours.

Cheers,

CK

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