The Westfjords (or, in Icelandic, Vestfirðir), is the name given to the enormous peninsula jutting out from Iceland to the northwest, towards Greenland. In these fjords are some of the most remote places and unforgiving terrain that Iceland has to offer. Only Iceland's interior is more difficult to travel through. After having driven the long road through Sprengisandur, I can personally attest to this. Now, I realize that most people don't give much thought to the geography of Iceland unless they themselves are going there. So, if you don't know where the Westfjords are, this map that I found on the Internet should help you out...
Pretty far off the beaten path right? If you're wondering what's even up there, the answer is that most of the Westfjords falls into 1 of 3 categories:
- Cliffs (and/or extremely steep rocky slopes)
- Frigid, rocky tundra at the top of those cliffs
- Water in between two of the aforementioned cliffs (this is called a fjord)
It's pretty much just that stuff. Land that is flat and has any sort of agricultural potential at all is hard to come by in the Westfjords, and that's why it's the least densely populated province in the country. Most villages here have, traditionally, sustained themselves on fishing. This region was also a hub of the whaling industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which should give you a peek into the average person's diet.
The Westfjords are a massive area—8,599 square miles—and less than 7,000 people live there. To put that in perspective for you, it's about the size of Belize, but more people live in Bryan, Ohio than in the Westfjords. Do you know where Bryan, Ohio is? Neither does anybody else. People who live in Bryan probably don't even know.
The Westfjords are virtually uninhabited, except for a brave 7,000(ish) people who's families have been there for generations. However, in the early 1980s, that number was more like 10,500. So the population is dwindling fast. Ísafjörður, the region's largest city and capital, is home to barely more than 2,000 people, and that number too is decreasing quickly. The region's population has fallen 34% in the last 34 years, with many of these people flocking to Reykjavík and the surrounding area.
So what does that all mean for the road trip that we were about to take through the Westfjords? It meant that we were truly stepping into the wilderness. We'd be lucky to be driving on paved roads more than half the time, and luckier still to see actual people. I actually ended up being pretty impressed with the quality of the roads most of the time, but we still had a few scary moments on cliffside mountain passes. Still, the views we saw from these roads were absolutely stunning—beautiful enough that I felt that they merited their own article, so here is some of what we saw...
Photos From A Road Trip Through Iceland's Westfjords
After this, there will be 3 more articles about the Westfjords. We spent 10+ hours in the car everyday that we stayed here and I spent as much of that time as possible taking pictures out the window. Fun fact: we only had 1 CD in our car during our entire time in Iceland. It was a compilation of Icelandic folk music. We listened to that goddamn CD hundreds of times by the end of the trip, and I could even sing along to it in broken Iceland.
The photos above are a highlight reel of the our time in the Westfjords, and are in no particular order. Below you'll see the amalgamation of our route through the Westfjords. It was along these roads that these photos were taken...
Our Route Through The Westfjords:
From here, we'll be moving forward into our series on the Westfjords. Our first stop will be the capital of the Westfjords: Ísafjörður. It's a tiny little town, but it's the biggest city in the province. It was in this city that my brother had been living with a host family for the months prior to my arrival, so we had free place to stay waiting for us, out here at the edge of the world.