Alex Cote, a personal view of Aran
The longer I’ve lived on the Emerald Isle, the more I’ve become fascinated with its incredible landscape. Perhaps what’s most impressive is how hard Ireland works to preserve it.
During my visit to the West Coast of Ireland, I set out with Wild Atlantic Day Tours to see two of Ireland’s most majestic natural attractions: The Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. From the spotless beaches of Inis Oirr, to the thriving Wildlife of the Cliffs, these sites are a must-see for eco-travelers and nature lovers.
Prior to heading to the Galway, Connemara area, I was really only interested in seeing the Cliffs of Moher (like most tourists in Ireland). My partner and I decided we’d like to do a day tour by bus, since it was the most eco-friendly option and we didn’t have a car. Also, we were looking to learn about the history of the area and landscape.
I’m not a fan of massive tourist buses that stand out like eyesores driving through country roads. So, I knew I found a perfect fit when I came across Wild Atlantic Way Day Tours. Since the tour bus is smaller and only accommodates around 20 people, we had a much more personal and authentic experience during our day tour.
I saw that the company did a day tour of the Western Coast, including visiting the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher by boat. Once I saw how gorgeous the Aran Islands looked, and also the incredible view of the Cliffs of Moher from the sea, I was sold.
Our day tour started bright and early from Galway, Ireland. Before reaching the Aran Islands, we drove through the town of Doolin, and stopped at the ‘Baby Cliffs of Moher’.
Our guide, Phil, was full of enthusiasm and fun facts about Ireland and each little town we drove through. For example, did you know that St. Patrick created the Irish Christian cross with a circle around it? He did this to symbolize the merge of Christianity and Ireland’s pagan roots.
We took a small ferry to the one of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr. This quant, fishing village is known for its traditional Irish charm and untouched nature.
The island itself is only about square 2 kilometers, however there’s so much to see! Though locals are pretty pushy about taking tours by horse buggy (which I find ethically questionable), you can easily see the Island by biking or walking.
We decided to walk, but by the end of it, we wished we decided to rent bikes. The Celtic countryside’s narrow roads are ideal for cycling, and taking in all the nature this place has to offer.
Inish is committed to sustainable farming practices to preserve the natural landscape, as well as local traditions. The AranLIFE Project, in partnership with the EU LIFE Nature Fund, works with local farmers to improve conservation and sustainable water quality management of island farming.
As we walked along the beach and took in a view that looked more like the Bahamas than Ireland, an unexpected visitor greeted us. We saw a large fin coming out of the water. At first we thought it was a shark, but it was actually a wild dolphin! He came so close to the shore, we were worried he may have been lost.
It turns out, her name is Dusty and she is just a very friendly local dolphin who likes attention. Meeting Dusty in his wild habitat was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had during my travels.
After the thrill of encountering a wild dolphin, we headed to the legendary Cliffs of Moher by ferry. These folklore legends stretch over 8 Kilometers long and tower up to 200 meters above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
As we approached the Cliffs, I suddenly felt like our boat was only a tiny spec in the ocean. I was at a loss for words and could only stare at these massive structures in awe.
The Cliffs of Moher were formed nearly 300 million years ago during the Upper Carboniferous period. They are the second biggest tourist attraction in Ireland, and are a proclaimed Special Protected Area (SPA) under Irish and EU legislation.
The legislation is also in place to protect wildlife. Specifically, the Cliffs are home to over 20 different bird species, including Puffins, Razorbill, and Peregrines. From the ferry, we could see several flocks of bird circling around the base of the Cliffs. No wonder it is said to be a bird watcher’s paradise.
The Ferry docked in the Burren region, and we took a short drive to the actual Cliffs of Moher. As part of our tour, our admission was free, so we were able to go right in. To hike the entire Cliffs would take hours, and so we only had time to hike in the central area.
There are specific walking paths that tourists must stay on, to preserve the site and also to prevent anyone from getting too close to the edge. Some tourists have been a bit too daring and it has ended in tragedy.
The site is actively involved in sustainable tourism and takes conscious efforts to protect water, buy local, and prevent waste. They also ask that bird watchers take part in minimal impact bird watching and enjoy them from a far.
While visiting, the Cliffs ask that you take part in leave no trace behind to keep the site clean. Minimizing waste and environmental impact is what has preserved this incredible formation for millions of years!