Have you ever wondered what it would be like if nature made it’s very own house of illusions? Well, The Faroe Islands is pretty much that. You get everything from mystic waterfalls to lakes literally hanging over seas. However, before I get into all that, let me introduce you to our travel group:
Maddie: A veiled British Muslim convert, also my wife by the way!
Victoria: Quarter Indian, quarter Chinese, quarter Scottish and quarter English, you might remember her from South Africa.
Al-Mostafa: Sudanese, and most probably the only one in The Faroe Islands at the time (if you know any others, tag them below!)
Myself: Egyptian with a messy beard that screams out dodgy!
So basically, what I am trying to say is, our group was a bit sketch which is why none of us were too surprised when we were greeted by the Faroese police right off the bat. Don’t get it twisted though, I’m not saying the Faroese are racist or intimidating or anything, I actually think the guy who stopped might have been the only cop in the whole island!
Things did get a little more complicated though. So apparently, The Faroe Islands (and Greenland for that matter) are part of the EU and the Schengen territories; HOWEVER, the visa must have a little note specifically mentioning that The Faroe Islands is included. Plot twist: Al-Mostafa got his visa via Spain and didn’t have that little note so the cop kindly suggested that we meet him in four days. Of course that was not an option so let’s just say we had to feel like we were underage again trying to convince the club’s bouncer to let us in. Eventually, the cop agreed to look into it back at the station (located right across the road from the airport) so I stayed behind to pick up the rental while they sorted the visa out. We rented our car from Avis/Budget (same company at the Faroe Islands) via Expedia and I won’t bother linking you to any of their websites because the service was absolutely rubbish.
Anyway, with all that drama finally behind us, it was time to begin an adventure we would never forget.
Day 1: Introduction to Sheep & Waterfalls
If you have ever researched The Faroe Islands, chances are, you’ve seen several pictures of the famous Gasadalur waterfall; it is actually the second main reason I chose to visit the islands. So as soon as we picked up our 2005 Kia Optima, that is exactly where we headed. Gasadalur is what you’d call a ‘cute little town’ since it consists of no more than 20 houses. However, it is home to one of the most scenic waterfalls in the Faroe Islands and maybe even in the entire world. So there I was, driving down the winding roads with green mountains spotted with white fluffy sheep to my right and a steep drop to the sea on my left. In case you didn’t know, the Faroe Islands actually has more sheep than people, so you always have to be careful driving there because those suicidal maniacs will not hesitate to run across the road at any second. So anyway, there I was driving, enjoying the view when I spot a little sheep stuck in the fence; so of course, I thought to myself, here is my chance to be the hero I always knew I was! Before anyone in the car could brace themselves, I slammed down the brakes, fought off my seatbelt and stumbled half breathily out the car as I broke off into a full sprint (must admit, I am over dramatizing this a little :P) So I am full on hauling towards this sheep because I don’t want it to cut itself on the fence or something before I get to it and just as I get close enough, plot twist!!! This little a****** just trots off… little guy was just itching against the fence… had to do the walk of shame all the way back to the car as Maddie, Vic and Mostafa laughed their heads off. Moral of the story: don’t get cocky, these sheep know what they’re doing and they ain’t waiting for some tourist whose only been on the island for an hour to save them.
Anyway, to get to the Gasadalur waterfall, head west from the airport towards the village and take a left on a dirt road right before you actually get there. You won’t need to hike or anything for this one, just set up your tripod, sit back and take in this spectacular creation.
Our next stop was Sorvagsvatn which was the number one reason Faroe Islands initially made it on my bucket list. However, getting there wasn’t going to be as easy since it requires a bit of a hike and the weather looked like it was about to take a turn for the worse. So we decided to stop by our apartment to check in, refresh a little and get changed into something a little more hiking friendly. Now, two things we learned about the islands at this point: 1. You’ll read this on almost every travel website and it is actually true, if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes because it is just constantly changing. 2. Google Maps goes a little cuckoo here; since every island is full of lakes and little villages, the navigation will often try to get you to either drive straight into a lake, or just take you to the wrong side of it. So after a little bit of driving around and a few games of directions charades with the locals, we finally checked into the Pakkhusid Apartments in Midvagur; a lovely apartment in a great location which I definitely recommend.
Fresh and ready to get going, we made our way to Sorvagsvatn which turned out to be a mere 5 minute drive from the apartment. Here is the part you won’t find on most websites though, the actual viewpoint which allows you to see the lake hanging over the sea is actually a 1 hour hike from the car parking. It could get a little confusing because you don't see how the lake can hang over the sea until you get to the very end of the hike. I highly recommend a wide-angle lens to capture the glory of this place, it is a shame we didn't have one back then.
Once you’re at that final peak, you gotta really get as close to the edge as possible to get the viewpoint; be careful though because it is a steep drop. I have a phobia of heights so my adrenaline was pumping as I took these pictures… totally worth it though!
Honestly, as I sit here writing this blog, my mind keeps drifting back to that point: sitting right at the edge of what must have been a 200 meter drop, blankly staring at one of God’s most beautiful creations. You can hear the roaring sea crash against the rocks, raging like a titan at war. Meanwhile, the lake sits calmly on top, not a single wave, not a single ripple; almost like it’s the Disney princess waiting to be saved by the fearsome sea. It is almost ironic how the two can be so close together, yet so far apart at the same time. And as I sat there, the wind picked up, the clouds gathered on top of us until it started raining, I turned around to step away from the edge only to find one of the biggest and most perfect rainbows that I have ever laid eyes on. I wrapped my arms around myself, trying to keep warm since the jacket clearly wasn’t doing the trick; no matter how cold it got though, none of us ever wanted to leave this place.
Day 2: Change in Plans, We’re Visiting Mikladalur
According to our plan, we were meant to visit Mykines on day two; however, you can only get there via ferry or helicopter and that is highly dependent on the weather. Of course, with our luck, I received an email the night before saying the ferry was cancelled due to bad weather so it was time to improvise. Ideally speaking though, you’d wanna do Mykines on day two so if you’re planning your own trip, skip over to day 4 now and then come back here when you actually get to day four (does that even make sense???).
Our alternate plan, which is actually day 4 on the itinerary, was to drive all the way to Kalksvik and take the morning ferry to Sydradalur. This ferry runs multiple times a day no matter what the weather is like and you cannot pre-book the tickets; just get there 20-30 minutes before the ferry timing and you’re good to go! Of course, Maddie decided she NEEDS a jacket on the way which ended up with us having to wait until 10 AM for all the shops to open, which eventually led to us missing the morning ferry. So, we continued driving north to Vidareidi Village to take on the Enniberg hiking trail. Honestly, this new plan wasn’t too ideal because of all the time wasted on the road, and not to mention the fuel consumption; however, the weather does as it pleases and we just had to find our way around it. One of the best thing about the islands though is that you’ll never get bored on the road. You’re constantly distracted by the sheep, waterfalls and little picturesque villages.
Anyway, Vidareidi is a small village on the island of Vidoy and it is also the northernmost settlement in the islands. The Enniberg trail actually takes you to the highest cape in Europe, but only experienced rock climbers can actually get to the very top. Nevertheless, you can still hike up to the end of the trail for breathtaking views which is exactly what we did. It is a pretty long hike and don’t expect to find any restaurants in the area either so I strongly recommend you grab a bite to eat. I think my friends wanted to kill me by the end of this trip because of two statements:
We’re almost there, this is a short hike I promise, more like a chilled-out walk even; not sure if we can call it a hike (lies)
This is the last hike planned in the itinerary, we’re done (some more lies… they shoulda checked the spreadsheet!)
Honestly though, you cannot visit the Faroe Islands without sneaking in one or two hikes per day, so check out this extremely useful Guide for all the hikes in the Faroe Islands!
It did rain a couple of times during our hike so the ground got nice and muddy… just the way Al-Mustafa likes it. Watching people slip and fall is just an added bonus to be honest and Mustafa’s rants were gold; can’t blame him though, he went from two hikes in his entire life to hiking twice per day!
Now I wish I can say we all got to the top, sat back and enjoyed the view while munching on snacks and sandwiches; however, we did have a ferry to catch so that is not how it went. I ran ahead to get to the end of the trail, and as soon as I did, it was time to head back down. I think I must have slipped and landed on my butt at least 4 times on the way down.
On the way back to Kalksvik though, we came across one of the most interesting/ controversial things I have ever witnessed in my entire life… some of you may know it as ‘The Grind’. While driving, I spotted what looked like 10-15 boats chasing after a large group of what we thought were dolphins. Naive as we are, we thought they were just tourists on a dolphin watching tour. Out of curiosity though, I parked on the side of the road and decided to investigate the matter further. What we soon discovered was insane! If you are at all sensitive to blood or if you are squeamish, then just keep reading on and ignore this; but if you want to know more about why they hunt whales in the Faroe Islands, then check out my blog post "The Grind" for the full story.
Finally, we drove back to Kalksvik and were the first in line to board the ferry to Sydradalur, the southern port of Kalsoy Island. After disembarking the ferry, we made our way north until the road ended in a town called Trollanes. This is a particularly interesting drive because you go through several single lane tunnels, i.e. let’s play chicken with oncoming traffic! You’ll easily spot where you’re meant to park and there is also an open community house where you can use the restroom and prepare for your hike. When you’re ready, walk along the fence until you hit a small red gate, go through that and then head up the hill towards The Kallur Lighthouse. You will be walking along a pretty steep side-incline for sometime which isn’t very forgiving on the ankles, so make sure you’ve got proper support in your shoes. Nevertheless, the lighthouse sits in the middle of a cross formed by sheer cliffs and offers one of the most jaw-dropping views I have ever seen.
For those of you who regularly read my blogs, I’m sure you know by now that I’ve got a bit of a phobia of heights (which is known as acrophobia btw). Walking across some of these cliffs was an adrenaline rush on its own because they get extremely narrow with a shear drop on either side; its guaranteed to get your blood pumping in the morning. Good news is, you don’t actually need to walk across them to get to the lighthouse; bad news, you’ll need to walk across to really see all the magnificent views this place has to offer. Maddie skipped her way across like she was out of a scene from the Sound of Music, while Victoria and I crawled across clinging onto earth and rock for dear life. On the way back, a photographer asked me to stand on a rock right at the middle where it gets narrowest for a picture; the result of course… jelly legs and terrible photos.
It’s a lot more intimidating in reality, I promise!Straight drop down to the rocky bottom
On the way back to Sydradalur, make sure you stop by Mikladalur to visit the famous Selkie/ Sealwoman Statue. Although the rest of the group weren’t too interested here, I found the statue quite fascinating with a strange sense of allure. I think being the only one who actually knew the story behind it might have had something to do with that. Here is how the story goes:
Selkies (seal-women or mermaids) were once believed to be former humans who commit suicide in the ocean. Once a year, on the Twelfth Night, they were permitted to walk the land once again as human beings, enjoying themselves as they danced the night away. A young farmer from Mikladalur decided to go to the beach one night and watch the selkies dance (bit of a creeper if you ask me). There, he spots a beautiful selkie maiden as she was shedding her seal skin and before he could look away, he felt an intense wave of lechery, lust and love rush over him all at once. In his desperate moment of desire, he hid her skin to prevent her from going back to sea at the end of the night. He then confronts her of his plot and forces her to marry him, hiding her skin in a chest and withholding the key at all times (called it, definitely a creeper). Several years went by, they lived as a family and had many children together but he never went anywhere without that key; he knew deep inside that she still longed to be back in the sea. One early morning though, when he was out fishing, he realized that the key was no longer with him. He rowed back home as quick as he could but as his heart feared, she was no longer there when he arrived.
Months later, the Mikladalur men were planning to go deep into one of the caverns along the far coast to hunt the selkies who lived there. The night before though, the farmer had a dream where his selkie wife appeared to him with a grave warning. She urged him that if he was to join the hunt, he would not kill the great bull selkie that would be lying at the entrance, nor would he harm the two selkie pups deep inside the cavern for those were her husband and sons. Obviously, the farmer didn’t heed her warning, he joined the hunt and they killed all the seals they could lay their hands on (why do men never listen?! :P). When dividing the catch, the farmer received the large bull selkie and the flippers of the two young pups.
That same evening while the farmer cooked the selkie’s husband and children, their scents filling up the air; there was a great crash in the smoke room and the selkie woman appeared in the form of a terrifying troll. She sniffed at the cauldron in disbelief and cried the curse: ‘Here lie the head of my husband with his broad nostrils, the hand of Hárek and the foot of Fredrik! Now there shall be revenge, revenge on the men of Mikladalur, and some will die at sea and others fall from mountain tops, until there be as many dead as can link hands all round the shores of the isle of Kalsoy!’ When she was done crying out her curse, she vanished with a great crash of thunder, never to be seen again.
Until this day, men from the village of Mikladalur suffer from her curse, occasionally drowning at sea or falling from the tops of cliffs. Until the number of victims is great enough to link arms around the entire island, the statue of the selkie stands as a painful reminder… to not force women into marriage.
It was a day filled with long drives, adventures, hikes and laughter; but it was time to make our way back to Sandavagur and call it a night. On the way, we stopped by a Bonus for some grocery shopping and finally got to our Airbnb apartment in time to cook some steaks for dinner.
Day 3: Taking to the Skies!
Something you need to know about The Faroe Islands is, everything is ridiculously expensive… I’m talking something like $7 or more for a snickers bar, and that is from Bonus which is supposedly the cheap option. So you’d expect a helicopter ride in the Faroe Islands to cost you a kidney and liver and normally you’d be totally correct to assume so. Ironically though, it’ll probably cost you less to take a helicopter ride in the Faroe Islands than it would anywhere else in the world because they are actually subsidized by the government. The reason behind this is that locals often need to take helicopters to get from one island to another, some kids even use them to commute to school! The downsides though:
To control traffic, each person is only allowed one helicopter ride per day. So you’re gonna have to fly one way and then take the bus back which could get a bit annoying
Although it’s still an amazing experience and you’ll get to see some spectacular views and scenery; it is still public transportation in a sense. So don’t expect a touristic sightseeing tour
Anyway, the plan was to drive to Klaksvik and take the helicopter all the way to Vagar, which is around a 20-25 minute trip; however the bus ride back is around 2.5 hours long. If you don’t wanna be stuck in a bus for that long, you can take the helicopter to Torshvan instead which is a 10-15 minute trip and the bus ride back is only around 1-1.5 hours long. We wanted to be up in the air for as long as possible, so we went for the first option. You can check the helicopter’s timetable and book your trip on Atlantic Airways. It is worth mentioning that the helicopters don’t operate every day and that advanced booking is mandatory.
The helicopter out of Klaksvik is at 14:40 so we had plenty of time to check out some of the other sights the islands have to offer. So after grabbing some croissants from the gas station (they’re so nice and fresh), we made our way to Sornfelli. Sornfelli is a mountain plateau on the island of Streymoy and is the site of a military station at 725 m asl. The great thing about Sornfelli is that there is a road that takes you all the way up (nothing can stop me), so you don’t actually need to do any hiking! However, if you try find it on Google Maps, you’ll get a completely wrong location which is what happened to us; so we ended up on the complete opposite side of the island trying to find this mountain. Getting lost isn’t always so bad though… highlights of this little adventure:
Victoria hyping herself up to cross the river (hop from one rock to the other)
Mustafa searching for another way to cross the river before just walking through it
We did end up getting to the actual place after the helicopter ride but the weather was terrible up there and we decided to turn back and call it a day. However, to save you the drama, this is the right location!
We finally made it to Klaksvik in time for our helicopter ride but I need to say something here! Before boarding, I left my hiking shoes and slippers underneath the car to dry up; if you think that’s not a good idea, you’re wrong because the Faroe Islands is actually extremely safe. When I got back though, they weren’t there (now I know you’re think you told me so but just wait). As I drove away clearly ranting about who would steal my worn out boots, Victoria found them in the car! I know for a fact that I didn’t put them in their, and they all swore they didn’t either; so who went through the effort of breaking into our car just to put my boots back?!
Although it did take us ages to get back to our car from Vagar Airport, the helicopter ride was really fun and overall, I think it is worth the effort. The real question still stands though: who put my boots in the car??
Day 4: Hey Mykines, Where Dem Puffins At?!
Again, ideally speaking you wanna keep this as your plan for day two to avoid all the needless driving; however, if the weather decides to screw you like it did us, this is your alternative.
So today’s plan should’ve been pretty simple; drive back to Sorvag and take the ferry to Mykines where we’d hike (actually the last hike I promise) to the lighthouse and just chill there until it is time to take the ferry back. All in all, today should have been a laid back day! However, we didn’t get to visit Slaettaratindur yet which is the highest peak in the Faroe Islands and one of the most beautiful views in the world… goodbye laid back day. Instead, we woke up around sunrise and made our way to the peak. There are two hikes that you can take; one takes four hours and the other takes an hour, obviously we went for the second option. To start this hike, park here and then walk up towards the peak; there is no trail since this isn’t an actual hiking path but walk along the fence and you’ll eventually link into the trail.
The hike up takes about an hour but it is pretty steep and extremely windy; you go through the clouds at some point too so the air does thin out a little making it slightly more difficult to breath. Saying that, it is extremely beautiful and worth every bit of effort. We all slipped once or twice on the way up too which is just an added bonus; but this is the real joke: I was up ahead of everyone trying to get to the peak as quick as possible, Victoria was not far behind me, Maddie fell behind because she stopped to take some pictures and Mustafa decided he was just gonna chill half way up and not get to the peak. Around the end of the hike, there are a number of different routes but they all do lead to the peak. Maddie however lost us and when presented with the different options, freaked out and decided she wasn’t gonna take any of them, she then heard our voices on the complete opposite side of the mountain which further strengthened her decision. What she didn’t know though is that Slættaratindur literally means flat peak so we were just walking from one side of the mountain to the other. She walked all the way up but didn’t actually make it to the peak so of course she was furious. She stormed back down, all while ranting and complaining to herself and just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse… her boots got tangled together sending her rolling down the mountain. As she told me what happened, I think a part of her wanted some sympathy but we all knew 30 minutes of laughter was a more realistic expectation.
Meanwhile, the peak was insane! I totally forgot that I was still on earth. It was a fairly clear day too so I got to see Iceland (although some people say its actually just a mirage). During the longest day of the year, all the locals actually climb up to this peak and enjoy watching the sun set and rise within 30 minutes; that’s gotta be on your bucket list.
It was now time to head to Sorvag for the ferry to Mykines. There are only two ferries per day, one heads out of Sorvag at 10:20 AM and the last ferry back from Mykines is at 17:05. Also, the entire island only has two cafes and I must admit, their food is not great. We had a ‘meat sandwich’ which turned out to mean burger; however, its one of those frozen patties thats slapped onto a frozen bun with a bunch of other frozen stuff. Therefore, I recommend you pack some sandwiches for a picnic up at the lighthouse; you’re gonna be there for ages anyway since you’ve got time to waste before the ferry back so you might as well spend it stuffing your face.
Although we were exhausted from our morning hike, the walk to the lighthouse is actually fairly easy and you’re accompanied by great views and sheep along the way. We got to cross a cool hanging bridge too from which you could take some cool shots. However, the most thing I was excited about was to see all the puffins that Mykines has to offer which is why I was quite disappointed when I saw none! Turns out those photogenic birds migrated out a couple of weeks before we got there, so make sure you take that into consideration when planning your own trip. Nevertheless, we still got to spend a nice time at the lighthouse and more importantly, I got to enjoy the best nap ever! Nothing like sleeping on fresh green grass with the sun out, keeping you nice and warm. Minus of course the fact that the grass was covered in sheep shit.
A few hours later, we hiked back to the village and ‘enjoyed’ that so called meal I told you about earlier. Finally, we took another little nap on the benches until the ferry got back. There was something I noticed though that really got me thinking; when we were all lined up waiting to get back on the ferry, I watched the locals as they arrived onto the island bearing gifts. It was clear they have been gone for a while and their families were thrilled to see them again. What caught my attention though were the gifts they brought back. You’d think iPhones, PlayStations, diamond necklaces, bracelets, etc. Instead though, they were carrying boxes of bananas and other fruits and vegetables that clearly aren’t available on the island. At the most, they were bringing back fridges and washing machines, things that we consider necessities where we live. It was humbling in a sense, to see how those people live happily with so much less than we do; just imagine if your parents came back from holiday bearing bananas!
On the way back to Torshvan, the capital of the Faroe Islands and it’s only actual city, we drove past a field of windmills close to Sornfelli Mountain. I must admit the weather wasn’t great but I was still able to get a couple of cool shots.
Torshvan definitely has a cool and laid back vibe, what you’d expect of a city in the Faroe Islands. As we walked through it’s roads, I heard some great music coming from what seemed like a bar, only it wasn’t actually open yet. There was a local band called Marius Ziska just playing there to a bunch of people and of course, we joined them.
Before flying out to Iceland, Faroe Islands had one last surprise in store for us. We were obviously late to the airport so I dropped everyone off at the entrance before circling back to park the rental car. However, while waiting for them to unload the baggage, I spotted a woman tumbling over her bag and screaming. I thought to myself ‘damn who shows up drunk to the airport at 8 AM’; however I looked up to realize that woman was my wife! Her hiking boots got hooked into one another yet again giving her a ‘superman flying’ moment.
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog on the Faroe Islands. All in all, it is definitely one of the most magical places that I have ever visited and will always be a remarkable memory. I literally found myself reminiscing back to those mystical waterfalls as I was typing this. So if it is not on your travel bucket list, I beg you to reconsider!