Booking A Skellig Michael Landing Tour in 2019
We get it. Booking a landing tour to Skellig Michael is not always easy. Even moreso now thanks to its appearance as Ahch-To in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. So, being locals, and knowing this process very well, we’ve put together the Definitive Guide to Booking a Skellig Boat Landing Tour so that you know exactly how to maximise your chances of getting to land on Skellig Michael island this year.
So scroll down to learn about:
The Absolute Bare Minimum You Need To Know
- Landing Season is currently only from May 15th – September 30th. Tours around are available outside of this but not landings.
- All bookings are subject to cancellation due to weather.
- Boats land on Skellig Michael, typically, 100 days out of a 130 day season due to adverse weather conditions preventing the boats from landing. Therefore, landing is not guaranteed.
- A maximum of 180 people per day can visit, on one of the 15 licensed landing tour boats carrying only 12 passengers each.
- 13 boats leave from the marina at Portmagee. 1 from nearby Ballinskelligs. 1 from Derrynane further down the coast.
- The price is typically 85 euros per person with some larger boats charging 100 euros.
- Each boats handles their own bookings individually. There is no centralised booking system.
- Some boats have online booking systems, some have booking enquiry forms, some only have email and one is only contactable by phone.
- There was unprecedented demand for tickets in 2018 in the wake of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We expect this popularity to continue in 2019.
- The earlier you book, the better your chances.
- Some boats will not accept bookings until they’re sure they have been awarded a landing license, or until the landing tour dates have been officially announced.
- Boats leave as early as 8:30 am so we strongly advise that you Stay Local and book accommodation in the local area the night before at the very least.
- If your booking is cancelled because of weather, because of current demand, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be put on a boat later in the week when the weather is fine.
- Cancellations can occur later in the season and free up spaces. Some operators make those dates available on their booking system. Some use waitlists and some fill those spaces with people staying locally or people showing up at the marina in the morning.
- Boats have individual cancellation policies but tend to require at least 3 days notice for a full refund. Check with each individual operator.
- Availability tends to be better later in the season.
- If all the boats appear booked up for your desired date, try contacting a local accommodation provider who may have a long-standing relationship with one of the boat operators.
- Alternatively, there are days when passengers don’t show up at the departure point in time. You can get lucky and get their place. Arrive well before 8 a.m. to maximise your chances.
- If you can’t land on the Skelligs, Eco Tours around the island are available throughout the day from a number of providers.
- There is also the nearby Skellig Experience Interpretive Centre which provides historical context on the islands.
- The Skellig Coast Region is a fantastic destination to visit with plenty to do even if you can’t land on the island itself.
Confident That You Already Know Everything?
Otherwise, let’s continue…
The Landing Tour Season
The Landing Tour season was from May 15th to September 30th in 2018. We expect this to be the same in 2019. This is dictated by the Office of Public Works, the official custodial body for Skellig Michael, who provide guides for landing visitors and oversees conservation and safety on the island. The OPW also decides which boats receive licenses to land. If you are under the impression that you can land on the island outside of these times, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.
There are calls to extend the season back into April to both reflect the traditional landing season that existed for many years prior to official regulation and to accommodate the huge increase in visitors following Skellig’s recent rise to prominence thanks to Star Wars but there has been no official change of policy this year so far.
Some operators offer Eco tours from mid-March onwards but these do not land on the island.
The best way to be notified of any season changes is to follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SkelligMichael_
Skellig Michael Passenger Number Limits
In order to protect the integrity of this ancient site, only 15 boats are licensed to carry 12 passengers to the island, once daily. That’s 180 people per day. On an average season, that’s between 15,000 to 17,000 people. By contrast, Petra in Jordan, receives between 500,000 and 900,000 visitors annually and Macchu Piccu in Peru receives about 2.1 million visitors a year. If you land on Skellig Michael, you are among a very, very select club.
The Influence Of The Weather on Landing
Ah, Irish weather. As abruptly capricious as a baby goat, the weather is the final arbiter of whether or not you get to the island, even if you have a booking. The island is 8 nautical miles out into the Atlantic and landings are only possible if the sea is on its best behaviour.
The odds of landing in any particular season vary but, typically, boats expect to land on the island about 100 days out of a possible 130. Last year it was a little lower, in the low to mid-90s. So, while it can be disappointing, it does make getting to the island all the sweeter.
The Full Range of Skellig Booking Options
We’re seeing a lot of this type of misunderstanding this year.
Skellig Michael landing tours went on sale at 7pm tonight. The website was initially down due to volume of traffic, and now they are all sold out. I'l have to swim out instead.
— Noel Hayes (@BigCityBanker) February 21, 2018
This is actually due to people confusing one landing tour operator site’s booking system with a centralised booking system for all the boats. It’s an easy enough mistake to make unless you’re familiar with the booking landscape.
The main thing is that you realise that you have lots of options for booking. Just because you see a site or multiple sites with online booking systems all booked up for the date you want, that doesn’t mean that all the boats in the fleet are already booked out.
Of the 15 landing tour operators only 11 have dedicated websites. Of those 11, only about 3 or 4 will surface on your average Google search within the first 2 pages of results.
8 sites have full online booking facilities, where you can see availability ahead of time, secure your booking with a credit card etc. like you have on your average hotel site. Most of those were only added this year.
Other sites use booking enquiry forms which ask you for pertinent information about your bookings – Date, Number of Passengers, Email Address etc – and then submit that information to the boat owner so they can check if they have availability. If they do, they will reply to you to confirm the booking, sometimes asking you to secure the booking with your credit card details.
The remaining boats who do not have websites are primarily receiving enquiries via email or, in one instance, phone call.
Of course, we here at SkelligMichael.com provide a convenient enquiry interface to a large number of the Skellig boats as well as providing a list of available Skellig landing tour operators.
Not All Boats Take Bookings At The Same Time
Because there are different boats, with different web sites and different booking systems, not all of the seats are available to be booked at the same time.
Some boats have open booking windows. You can enquire from them at any time. Others have online booking systems with specific dates that they make their seats available. Some in Late January. Some in mid February. So, while one site might appear to be booked out for the season, another boat can be completely empty because it hasn’t opened its booking system yet.
There are two main reasons some boats hold off on taking enquiries:
- Waiting for the Office Of Public Works, who are in charge of the site, to officially announce the date of the starting season
- Waiting for confirmation that they have received a landing license for the year in question.
Last year, remedial work to a walkway damaged by Winter storms meant that the opening season was held back from May 15th to May 23rd.
The situation is complicated further by the awarding of landing licenses every 2 years. Licenses have yet to be awarded for the 2019/2020 season and are subject to the licensing decision process which, theoretically, could result in an operator losing their license to land and being replaced by another boat owner who qualifies.
The Different Departure Points
In 2018, of the 15 boats:
- 13 left from Portmagee
- 1 from nearby Ballinskelligs
- 1 from Derrynane, which is slightly farther down the coast.
A small number of the boats also collect passengers from the nearby Skellig Experience, just across the bridge in Valentia.
There are arguments in favour of the different locations.
The trip is fastest from Portmagee and Ballinskelligs. The tour offered from Derrynane is a longer time spent on the boat – about 1 and a half hours of a journey compared to Portmagee’s 45 minutes – but also includes some fishing and food along the way, so it could be argued that it’s not simply a standard Skellig Landing Tour.
Portmagee is your best chance if you just want to show up on the day of a sailing without a booking in the hope that one of boats there has had a cancellation or a free space. But Ballinskelligs and Derrynane will, accordingly, have less competition. Perhaps the best approach is to contact the Ballinskelligs and Derrynane operators directly to let them know you’re available the next day, if needs be, and then take your chances in Portmagee.
The different boat types
For years, all Skellig boats typically looked the same. Typically, 30 foot boats where passengers sit out in the elements. Recently, some operators are differentiating themselves through the provision of larger boats which provide inside seats as well as outside seats which is great on the days that the elements are a little too bracing. From what we understand, there may be an extra charge associate with this with prices rising to 100 euros in some cases.
In general, though, boat quality is largely secondary to just getting on a boat. Any boat that gets you onto the Skelligs is a good boat.
Skellig Landing Boat Tour Cost and Payment
Traditionally, an email exchange between you and the boat owner would have been sufficient to secure your place. That still is the case for some of the operators but, increasingly, because of the huge demand, booking systems which accept credit cards are being used to secure your place. This is so that boat owners are covered if passengers who have booked fail to show up and leave them with empty seats. In general, though, it is still advisable to bring enough cash with you on the morning of your trip to cover the cost of the tour in case the operator is simply holding your credit card details rather than charging them. Some operators prefer to be paid in cash. You also need to be aware that there are no ATMs in Portmagee so make a withdrawal in Cahirciveen if you need to. A quick email to your boat operator will clarify this.
The price for most boats is expected to be 85 euros per person this year. But, as mentioned, some boats are charging 100 euros per person.
Landing Tour Cancellations
Plans change and you can generally cancel your landing tour up to 3 days before the trip without penalty. It’s important to let the operator know well in advance so that they can free up the spaces for other people trying to get to the island. Refund policies vary but, in general, factor in at last 3 days ahead but verify this with the Skellig Boat owner you booked with.
As mentioned previously, this works both ways. Skellig boat captains will cancel the landing trip if the conditions are deemed to be too unsafe for landing. You should expect a full refund in this instance.
What If The Landing Date I Want Is Already Booked Out?
This is an unfortunate fact of life, given the extraordinary demand and the small number of places. But don’t despair. Some operators make cancelled dates available on their booking system. Some use waitlists and some fill those spaces with people staying locally or people showing up at the marina in the morning. This last option is a high-risk strategy since you may not be alone in your desire to get a free seat that morning. But it is worth a shot. Again, we advise people to Stay Local in order to maximise their chance of landing.
You also have the option of doing a Skellig Michael Eco Tour or Cruise with one of the many Skellig Michael Eco Tour operators providing the service both before and during the Landing Season.
Tip: Book Early
Like any sought after event, the earlier you book, the better. It used to be that you could show up at the marina in the morning and you’d have a pretty good shot at getting on a boat. Those days are behind us. Thanks to Star Wars and, in particular, The Last Jedi, we saw unprecedented demand for landing tour spaces in 2018. You still have the odd cancellation freeing up some spots from time to time but it’s a rarer and rarer occurrence.
Tip: Book Later In The Season
Having analysed the data, certain peak periods attract the most interest – July and August, for example. But September is probably the best time of the year to try to get a booking if you’re a little late to the game. If you can get the time off and aren’t hampered by school schedules, it’s a great time to visit with the light being particularly photogenic and giving incredible sunsets. On the downside, the puffins will have already left at that stage.
Tip: Stay Locally In The Area
Look, we understand that, for most people, you want to come to Ireland get as much done and seen as you possibly can. And you might be tempted to try to squeeze your trip to Skellig into a half-day and then back on the road again so you can tick off the locations on your itinerary. But, this is a bad idea for a number of reasons.
- If you don’t have a car and were planning on using public transport, there are no public transport options to Portmagee that will get you there in time for the landing tour in the morning unless you arrive the day before.
- If you’re staying somewhere outside the local area, like Killarney or Dingle, driving down to Portmagee in the morning is an unnecessary risk. You are talking about getting up at 6 am and risking getting caught behind slow moving Ring Of Kerry traffic on your way here. It’s a bad way to start your day and not how you want to start the trip out to this amazing location. Boat owners are also a lot happier knowing you’re close by.
- Boat operators will do their best to wait for you but if they tell you to be at the quay by a certain time, and you’re not there, rest assured that there are plenty of people lined up at the marina waiting to take your place.
Secondly, and more importantly for those who do not have a booking secured, many of the local accommodation providers have long-standing relationships with the boatmen who may be keeping places for guests staying locally that they are not making available online.
Thirdly, you miss out on spending time with us on the beautiful Skellig Coast. We know that we’re not as famous as some other Irish destinations that you’ve heard of but that’s a great reason to come here. We have some of the most unspoilt natural beauty in Ireland, fantastic hiking and walking all over the local area, and numerous attractions such as the Skellig Experience interpretive centre, Kerry Cliffs, Bray Head Wild Atlantic Way Signature Viewing Point, Skellig Chocolates and, in the Skellig Ring Drive, some of the most naturally charismatic and beautiful coastline, according to The Lonely Planet, who named it one of the top 10 regions in the world to visit in 2017. Check out this video for an overview.
So, we thoroughly recommend staying the night before your trip, at the very least, in the local area. This would include:
And, if you’re taking the boat from Derrynane:
That covers pretty much everything you need to know. We’ll be adding to this guide over time if anything relevant arises.
If you want, you can make a Booking Enquiry about a Skellig Michael Landing Tour or check out a List of Licensed Skellig Landing Tour Operators. Or, alternatively, enquire about a Skellig Michael Eco Tour.
Be sure to follow us on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/SkelligMichael_ to stay up-to-date with any Skellig-related news or new content from us.