I saw puffins for the first time in Alaska. Beautiful, colorful, adorable, funny little creatures.
We were cruising along the Kenai Peninsula, near the Fjords National Park, when we came across a fairly large breeding colony. Thousands of birds sitting on the cliffs, floating on the water, flying with their short wings flapping crazy fast. Their "crash" landings were quite funny (especially after learning they don't hurt themselves!). Quite a memorable moment.
What surprised me the most about these birds?
HOW SMALL THEY ARE!
Puffins are about the size of a small duck (and weigh about the same as a can of soda). I don't know why I always had this image they were quite large. Maybe because most pictures are close up and you don't have a reference to surrounding objects. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking.
Some facts you may not know:
So why am I talking about puffins?
If you are one of the thousands (or perhaps millions) of people who want the experience of seeing puffins in the wild at least once in their lives, you need to plan! Puffin breeding areas are only found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific regions, and the season to see them is quite short, May through August. This means limited availability which can book up early. Quite often 9-12 months in advance.
Puffins live in cold water areas. Most of the world's puffins are in Iceland, but large colonies are also found in Norway's Spitsbergen, the British Isles, and the Faroe Islands on the Atlantic side and in British Columbia and Alaska on the Pacific side.
It is my opinion that the best way (actually only way) to observe puffins is on a small ship. Having been recently reminded again of their size, I imagined trying to watch a duck from 15 decks up off the water. Probably not the best experience.
A day excursion on a small tour boat is one way to see the birds up close. These can be added to a land based vacation or to a large ship cruise vacation assuming ports of call are close to a breeding colony.
Another option, one I am slightly biased towards, is a small ship cruise, especially in Alaska. These cruises take you off the beaten path where bigger ships can't go, and into quiet bays where you will find all types of wildlife (including puffins!), away from the crowds. Captains know the "secret" spots. Just you, a few others, and nature at its best. A front row seat to incredible experiences.
The key for the best experience? Plan and book early. Whether you are looking at a land based or cruise vacation, plan ahead and book early. Many small ship cruise itineraries are sold out well before March, and hotel options also become limited.