Puffins are without a doubt the cutest seabirds you could wish to see, and it had long been a dream of mine to observe them in the wild. I researched where I could see them in the UK and found out that one of the largest puffin colonies was in Wales.
Seeing the puffins on Skomer Island Nature Reserve in their natural habitat is one of the best things to do in Pembrokeshire, and so I booked a holiday to West Wales so that my dream could become a reality!
I have written this puffin post to answer some of the questions I had when I started looking into how to see puffins in Wales. It will give you an insight into what you will encounter on Skomer Island, some cool facts about puffins, plus heaps of fantastic puffin photographs to make you smile from ear to ear.
I had an incredible encounter with wildlife on my day trip to see the Skomer island puffins, and I hope to share the magic with you and inspire you to book a trip for yourself!
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Frequently Asked Questions
It took me a while to figure out how to see the puffins in Pembrokeshire, and to help make things easy for you, I have tried to answer as many questions as possible that were vital for me.
When is the best time to visit the puffins on Skomer Island?
Trips to see the puffins on Skomer Island are available from April to September. The island is awash with bluebells during late spring, and it looks sensational. I arrived in early May when the puffins were preparing their nests for laying eggs. It is an incredible experience to watch these beautiful seabirds interacting with each other and going about their daily business.
When is the Skomer Island puffin season?
early April: puffins arrive on land, and nest building begins
mid-April to mid-May: egg-laying
mid-May to mid-June: eggs hatch
late-May to mid-July: adults feed chicks with small fish and sand eels.
late-June to late July: chicks fledging
After the egg hatches, the chick, called a puffling, stays in the burrow and awaits food from its parents. In about six weeks, the baby puffin grows to full size and then flies away from the island to spend its next three to four years floating on the open ocean.
late-July to early August: adults leave (The timing of the puffin breeding colonies is highly synchronised, so the departure of all adults takes place within a few days). Puffins live on land for only four months, and then they are off, back to the ocean.
How do I reach the puffins on Skomer Island?
There is only one way to get to Skomer island, and that is with Pembrokeshire Islands Boat Trips. As this is one of the most popular wildlife trips in Wales, tickets sell out quickly. Buy tickets online as soon as the booking facility opens, or you may risk disappointment.
Where does the boat leave from for Skomer Island?
Head to Martin’s Haven, and you will find Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre. Park your car (pay and display), check yourself in and grab last-minute provisions before boarding the boat for Skomer. On the way down to the jetty are toilet facilities.
When do the Skomer Island boat trips run?
Boat trips to see the puffins on Skomer Island run from April until late September.
Boat trips to the island run from Tuesday to Sunday.
Timings from 10 am, 10.30 am, 11 am, 11.30 am, 12 pm, 12.30 pm.
Cancellations for Skomer boat trips are unavoidable in certain weather conditions. If this happens, you will be contacted by the boat operator and given alternative options.
How long is the boat journey to Skomer Island?
The 15-minute sailing will take you across the water to Skomer. There are steep stone steps to walk up to get to the Wildlife Trust welcome area on Skomer.
How much does it cost to see the puffins?
The boat crossing will cost £40 for adults and children over 16 and is worth every penny. This fee goes equally to the boat operator and The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.
How long can I stay on Skomer Island?
You will be allowed to spend five hours on Skomer Island. Please take my word for it when I say you won’t want to leave; five hours fly by (no pun intended!) Keep an eye on the time as the temptation to sit and gaze out to sea is strong, but you must get back to your boat at the given departure time.
How big is Skomer Island?
The Skomer Island Trail is approx. 4 miles (6.5kms), taking approx. 2.5 to 3 hours. Some parts of the trail have an incline, while others are on the flat or along boardwalks.
What other wildlife is on Skomer Island?
Skomer Island is a magnet for seabirds, and in addition to the puffins, you are likely to see Manx Shearwater, Gulls, Crows, Waders, Cormorants, Gannets many many more birds. And let’s not forget the rabbits which can be seen hopping about or the grey seals in the waters around the island.
Are there any facilities on Skomer Island?
Skomer is isolated, so there is just one toilet in the middle of the island at the Old Farm. Once on the island, you are there until the boat returns five hours later.
What should I take to Skomer Island?
Take a picnic with you and lots of water. There are some lovely places to stop to eat with fantastic views out to sea. Keep an eye open for dolphins, porpoises and seals that frequent the waters around Skomer.
Don’t forget your camera, a sun hat and sunscreen for sunny days, and a jumper and coat for colder days. Skomer is a small exposed Welsh island and can be very windy, so come prepared for all eventualities.
I visited Skomer in May, and although the sun was out, it was still chilly. I wore layers – a t-shirt, jumper and waterproof jacket and removed them as I got warmer walking.
Can I sleep on Skomer Island?
Yes, there are a couple of places to stay on Skomer Island, run by the Welsh Wildlife Organisation.
Try the Lobster Pot in Marloes or Collingwood in Haverford West for a B and B near Skomer Island. Alternatively, the West Hook Farm camping site near Skomer Island is a 10-minute walk away from the Lockley Lodge visitor centre. It has pitches for tents, caravans, motorhomes, and one static caravan to rent.
How many walking routes are on Skomer Island?
There are several walking trails you can take to see the puffins.
Wick Farm Loop – 2.5miles / 1.5 to 2 hours
South section from Landing Place to Skomer Head – 3.2 miles / 2 to 2.5 hours
North section from Landing Place to Garland Stone and Skomer Head – 3.4miles / 2 to 2.5 hours
Island circuit from Landing Place to Skomer Head – 4 miles / 3 hours
Please remember the following:
Keep to footpaths at all times as the fragile Manx Shearwater ground burrows are all around the island.
Take care on paths as the terrain is rough in places, so you need to watch for burrows underfoot.
Keep away from dangerous cliff edges.
An island ranger is always on duty for emergencies at North Haven (Warden’s House or Landing Place).
How to Spend a Magical Day with the Puffins on Skomer
I was so excited to have the chance to finally see the puffins, and we eagerly set off from our holiday accommodation in Saundersfoot for the one-hour drive to Martin’s Haven. On arrival at Lockley Lodge, we had to show our online booking form, and we were given a booklet containing several small maps showing five different routes to take around the island.
Before boarding the boat, we grabbed a coffee and some chocolate from the lodge. When we were near our boat departure time, we made our way down to the water’s edge (with a quick stop at the toilets on the way!).
We queued up, the boat arrived, and we sailed across to Skomer island.
Once on the island, a ranger was waiting to give us information about the wildlife on Skomer, what to look out for on our visit and which route to take around the island.
On my visit, the circular walking trail had been changed. The spot where the puffins hang out was now the last thing to see on the route, not the usual first port of call. The Welsh wildlife trust had decided this would stop visitors gathering to see the puffins on mass.
There are four types of puffins throughout the world. On Skomer island you will see the Atlantic puffin recognisable by the orange, yellow and blue beak.
Skomer Island Bluebells
We chose to do the Skomer island circuit route, and the first part led us through swathes of beautiful bluebells in full bloom in May – how lucky were we! Bluebells carpeted the landscape in deep purple and green for as far as the eye could see, and with the sunshine illuminating the bluebells, I got some fabulous photographs – what do you think?
If you want to see the bluebells, they flower from late April to early June, with the peak flowering season being in May.
Once through the bluebells, we found ourselves in the island’s centre at the Old Farm. These buildings are where you will find the toilets – there are no more on the island, so I suggest you pay a visit!
We continued our journey to Payne’s Ledge, a craggy cliff edge with views of the Atlantic ocean. It is a breezy point on the island but also perfect for stopping if you have a picnic with you. We perched on rocks and enjoyed our cheese sandwiches, crisps and drinks. If you choose to bring a picnic to the island, please take all litter home with you. There are no bins on the island (for obvious reasons).
Baby puffins are called ‘pufflings’ – how cute is that name!
After around 20 minutes of gazing out to see in the hopes of seeing a puffin, seal, porpoise or dolphin ( sadly, none came to say hello), we continued along the cliff to the Bull Hole. We heard the gulls before we saw them, and when we did, we were shocked at how many there were. They had found favour with a dramatic sea cliff and were busy circling the waters to catch lunch.
We continued wandering along the route and noticed that all around the island were wooden direction signs that help you find your bearings.
We went off course a couple of times, even with a map, so these pointers are great to get you back on track. They also give you an idea of how long it will take to walk from point to point so you can make sure you give yourself enough time to get back to the boat at North Haven!
I have to say we got a little paranoid at one point that we would miss the boat. The problem with being on Skomer is that it is so delightful that time slips away, and you want to stay there forever – at least that’s what we felt.
We headed to Skomer Head and saw a shortcut back to the Old Farm and the boat. If you feel that you can’t make it any further, this is your escape point.
I didn’t realise that the puffins don’t reside all over the island but only in a specific area, and on my visit, that spot was at the end of the route! For me, the anticipation of spotting a puffin gripped me the whole way around the island.
Over 10,000 puffins breed each year on Skomer Island!
Rabbit Burrows on Skomer
We noticed grassy mounds all over Skomer, making the landscape slightly surreal.
It turns out they are rabbit burrows. Yes, the island is awash with rabbits introduced in the 13th century and farmed for food and fur. Nowadays, they live in harmony with the seabirds. In particular, the Manx Shearwater colonies love steep grassy slopes where rabbits have formed burrows, and while they are quite capable of digging their own, they will be happy to hide away in these ready-made rabbit burrows for most of the day.
Puffins are also known to use these burrows as temporary homes, but if they want something of their design, they are happy to dig down to form a bespoke burrow; they return to the same one each year. Puffins also prefer short vegetation, and thanks to the rabbits’ appetite, the puffins nest in areas that are well maintained.
We noticed some seabirds gathered on a craggy outcrop walking on Skomer Head. On closer inspection, they appeared to be either Guillemots or Razorbills (a species of the Auk family which includes the puffin). I got so excited, thinking it was our first glimpse of a puffin – it wasn’t (I didn’t have my glasses on!).
We perched ourselves on a rock at the edge of Skomer Head and once again focused our eyes on the waters for signs of wildlife. Visitors can often spot porpoises in this area, but we didn’t get to see one. Even without an appearance, it was still a fantastic spot to soak up the spring sunshine, knowing that we were getting closer and closer to the puffins.
We stayed on the trail towards The Wick, and my excitement was at an all-time high – this was where the puffin colony resided while on Skomer Island; I was finally going to fulfil a long-time dream.
Spotting the Puffins
Nearing The Wick, large sea cliffs came into view, and so did those cheeky puffins! And there were loads of them. Some were flying, some were basking in the sun, and others were wandering around with twigs in their mouths to add to their puffin nests. It was a wildlife lover’s dream to observe puffins in their habitat.
They were oblivious to all the visitors watching their every move and were quite content to go about their daily chores.
As I was there at the beginning of May, I saw the puffins building their nests in preparation for their pufflings to be born. If you want to have a chance of seeing a ‘puffling’, you will need to book a trip to puffin island between late May and July.
Puffins are excellent flyers, and we found it funny watching them take off and land. They look pretty awkward when they do it but can get up to speeds of 55mph!
Puffins’ beaks are not always orange. The puffins’ beaks are duller as the outer layers are shed in winter. The following spring, in time for mating season, the vivid orange colour returns to tempt potential suitors!
Puffins are monogomous having only one partner in their lifetime. A puffin will only have one puffling each year!
A Photographers Dream
This is a fantastic chance for photographers to get some of the best wildlife photographs, and we spotted many telescopic lenses homed in on the puffins and other sea birds all around us.
Of course, you must be careful not to walk on their burrows and destroy them.
Puffins are lovingly known as the ‘clowns of the sea’ or ‘sea parrots’ because of their brightly coloured yellow and red bills and clown-like faces,
Puffins aren’t the only ones to choose The Wick as their preferred spot. We saw many other sea birds flying around the sheer granite cliff face and diving for fish.
This enormous cliff entices Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Choughs, Peregrines and, of course, everyone’s favourite; the Puffin.
As a family, we all had the most fantastic day, and my son took great enjoyment from capturing the puffin images in this post for me. Sometimes my iPhone can’t achieve the desired result, and that’s when my 20-year-old Sony camera comes in handy!
It was hard to drag ourselves away from the puffins as they are so wonderful to observe; however, time was ticking away, and we still had a way to get back to Landing Place and the boat.
We said goodbye to the puffins and wandered across Wick Valley and past High Cliff, another favoured spot for nesting seabirds. We didn’t walk up the hill but skirted past it and along the Welsh way.
The End of Our Trip to See the Puffins
We spotted the sign for North Haven and knew we were on the home stretch of the circuit walk. We were cutting it a bit short, but we saw other people behind us, so we weren’t doing too badly. It seemed that everyone had found it difficult to leave the puffins!
I enjoyed views of the Pembrokeshire coast on the way back to the boat and, of course, the pretty bluebells and wildflowers on either side of the pathway.
We rounded the corner, and we were back where we started. To top off our day, we spotted grey seals basking on the beach. Could this island adventure be any more perfect!
We had experienced one of the most amazing animal encounters in the UK, and as we boarded our designated boat and headed back to the mainland, we were sad to leave.
Back at Martin’s Haven, we discussed the other things to do in Pembrokeshire that we had on our itinerary, although I fear none could compete with seeing the puffins on Skomer Island!
If this post has inspired you to visit this Welsh island and see the puffins, please let me know by commenting below. And if you are ready to book, the link is Pembrokeshire Islands Boat Trips.