On a coastline full of islands, Fogo Island Newfoundland is surely one of the most fascinating. With beautiful scenery, great hiking, occasional icebergs, a surprising amount of wildlife (both on land and in the water) and some of the strangest claims to fame in all of Newfoundland and Labrador, wild Fogo Island is a great place to visit.
Measuring in at around 25 km by 14 km, Fogo Island could either be considered quite large (compared to the hundreds of rocky islets scattered up and down the Newfoundland coast) or quite small (compared to many other inhabited islands).
Despite the fact that there are only around 2,000 permanent residents on Fogo Island (down from close to 3,000 less than 20 years ago), there are still 12 separate communities and one of the most expensive hotels in Canada. And if you are one of the people who still isn’t quite sold on that whole solar system malarkey, well, Fogo is also where you’ll find one of the four corners of the “Flat Earth”. Which makes it pretty important, I suppose.
The word “fogo” is Portuguese for “fire”, although it isn’t clear how that applies here. There are no volcanoes, it doesn’t get all that hot (we can certainly vouch for that) and their fireplace industry seems about what you’d expect from a tiny, remote island (i.e. basic). Most likely it was named by sailors who saw similarities to Fogo Island, Cape Verde, or maybe it just earned the nickname based on an early campfire gone astray.
However it got its name, though, Fogo Island is home to some of the oldest European settlements in Canada, making it a hotbed of national historic sites. First settled by indigenous tribes, then by fishermen and, eventually, organized fisheries, over time the island has transitioned somewhat from cod fisheries to crab and lobster, although the local fish packing plant is still an essential source of jobs.
Even more recently, Fogo Island has become an artistic destination, drawing in creative types from all over the world who come for inspiration and the opportunity to make use of the impressive, secluded studios.
Our visit was surprisingly varied, involving an iceberg that nearly made it right to shore, some outstanding hikes, lots of foxes, a frigid morning in historic Tilting and mild shock at the unappealing brown colour of the Fogo water. A little bit of everything (except for an authentic Fogo caribou sighting).
What is so Special About Fogo Island?
Fogo Island is one of the best places in Canada to icebergs and whales, plus it features a rich Irish history as one of the first European settlements in North America, is quickly becoming a world-renowned art destination and is home to one of the most extravagant hotels in the country.
It also just happens to be the largest secondary island in Newfoundland, is full of beautiful natural scenery and even has its own resident caribou population.
Fogo Island Map
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The Main Towns of Fogo Island
The town of Fogo is the main settlement on the island and is home to around 750 residents – practically a metropolis by Fogo Island standards. There are records of a fishery in town as far back as the late 17th century and it was officially settled by the 1720’s.
For us, the best parts about Fogo were the variety of nice hikes right around town (more on that later) and simply wandering around the picturesque harbour. However, many buildings from the early days of the town still exist there today where you can go to learn more about the fascinating history of the area.
From 1888 to 1969, the Roman Catholic parish ran a school in Fogo. Now known as the Old School Museum, it is a perfectly preserved, classic example of early 20th century schoolhouses.
Meanwhile, Experience Fogo is filled with exhibits showing the daily life of early European settlers and the 1816 Bleak House Museum gets you inside the home of wealthy local merchant, John Slade.
After the original Methodist Church was destroyed in 1875 in the Great Fire of Fogo, a new one was built by the resilient residents. Then, in 1925, the United and Methodists churches of Newfoundland amalgamated and the name changed to the Fogo United Church. It was eventually shut down in the 90’s but has since been revived as the United Church Cultural Centre as an intriguing museum and art gallery.
The 2007 Marconi Wireless Interpretation Centre is a great monument to one of the oldest wireless communication centres in Canada. The original Marconi wireless station dates back to 1911 and for years was an essential communication tool for fisheries in the area.
A smaller village located just off the main road between the Stag Harbour ferry terminal and the rest of the island, Seldom and its neighbour, Little Seldom, have a combined population of less than 500. They are both nice places for a short wander, with pleasant harbours and impressive ocean views.
You can also visit the Fogo Island Marine Interpretation Centre, featuring the Fishermen’s Union (F.U.!) Trading Co. Museum, Cod Liver Oil Factory and the Funk Island Great Auk Exhibit. As well as boasting one of the most extensive historic exhibits on Fogo Island, this multi-purpose facility also offers a craft shop, picnic areas, wifi, public showers and even serves as a dock for private yachts.
Tiny, atmospheric Tilting, population 250, has been designated as both a National Historic Site of Canada and National Cultural Landscape District. Tucked away on the far east side of Fogo Island, this 18th century Irish settlement still holds strong to its culture, traditions and architecture.
Tilting Harbour and Pigeon Island are included in the Tilting Registered Heritage District, the first of its kind to be designated in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are also a wide variety of old buildings to check out while you wander the quiet lanes, traditional garden paths and classic docks of Tilting.
Be sure to check out the Dwyer Premises, Old Post Office, Lane House Museum, Old Irish Cemetery and Sandy Cove Beach. Of course, you’ll want to temper your expectations a bit. These are mostly old wooden homes and fishing shacks – the weight of history is noticeable but dramatic sights are few and far between.
We did enjoy taking classic harbour photos (nets, docks, shacks, boats) and visiting Squish Studio, one of the four art studios located around Fogo Island, with its impressive views of both the sea and village.
Joe Batt’s Arm
The other main population centre on the island, the somewhat surprisingly named Joe Batt’s Arm is roughly the same size as Fogo. My main question, however, was if there was any connection between this scenic little village in Newfoundland and legendary Blue Jay Jose Bautista’s nickname, “Joey Bats”. Probably not but it may warrant further investigation…
Most visitors come to Joe Batt’s Arm to hike to the Great Auk statue, stay at the ostentatious Fogo Island Inn, venture out to see Tower Studio or experience the uniquely English Brett House Museum.
Things to Do on Fogo Island
Now that you have a general overview of the towns on the island, here are some more ideas for things to do on Fogo Island during your stay.
Check Out the Unique Art Studios
The island hosts an artist residency program for a wide variety of creative projects, from painters and sculptors to writers and filmmakers to musicians and designers. Fogo Island Arts (FIA) had 4 unique wood studios built in traditional island architectural fashion, all in somewhat secluded locations. They are designed to minimize environmental impact using solar power, composting toilets and wood stoves and are available to applicants through the organization’s international residency program.
While the studios are private and not open to the public, you are welcome to appreciate them from the outside as long as you take care not to trample off-path among the delicate natural surroundings and limit the amount of times spent peering in the windows to that of a relatively incompetent stalker.
The 4 different studios are each located in a beautiful, natural spot:
Our personal favourite with its off-kilter design and picturesque location in the middle of a marshy area just off Shoal Bay.
There is a small parking area just off the highway and from there it is an easy 5-10-minute walk on a basic boardwalk.
Overlooking a small lake roughly 10 minutes walk uphill from Deep Bay, it is easy to see how you could find inspiration in the remote feel of this spot.
It is easily combined with the short walk to the spectacular Deep Bay Lookout.
Located just up the hill behind Lane House Museum in Tilting, Squish Studio has both the best name and pretty epic ocean views.
With nothing between it and, oh, probably Iceland, it gets pretty windy, but of all the studios it is the closest to the relative convenience of town.
Featuring a commanding location overlooking Joe Batt’s Arm, the aptly named Long Studio is easily the largest of the four, although maybe the least attractive (in our very unsophisticated opinion).
It does provide another interesting highlight along the Joe Batt’s Arm hike, though.
See Icebergs and Whales
The entire coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is famous for the icebergs that make their way south in spring (heading for the beaches of the Caribbean, presumably) and the whales that migrate past throughout the summer (to the big summer festivals of Labrador?). And Fogo Island, jutting well out from the rest of Newfoundland, is part of Iceberg Alley, so you can imagine it gets its fair share of sightings.
The icebergs usually start arriving in late April and, it just so happens, we were lucky enough to spot a nice one within minutes of arriving on Fogo Island, just offshore in Island Harbour.
Thanks to the helpful fellow iceberg-lovers on the Newfoundland Iceberg Reports Facebook group, we knew to head straight there when we got off the ferry where we were able to see it close up and personal from the end of a small point (and not another soul around). You can also use the helpful IcebergFinder website to see the latest iceberg sightings in a handy map form.
As for the whales, every year many different species stop off or pass by Fogo Island, including humpbacks, fins, minkes and orcas, plus the occasional pod of dolphins. Humpback whales are the most common, with more than 10,000 making their way to Newfoundland each summer. Whether you are hoping to see whales or icebergs or both, get in touch with Fogo Island Boat Tours to organize personalized trips to see whatever is on display at the moment.
Go For a Hike
For such a small place, there are a surprising number of good hikes on Fogo Island (supposedly more than 200 km worth). From flat coastal walks to short, steep climbs to expansive lookouts to longer forest walks, it is easy to get out and get active on Fogo.
Brimstone Head Hike
1 km / 15 min / 50m elevation gain
4 km / 1.5 hrs / 85m (continuing down along coast)
Very short, kind of steep, but with some truly amazing views from the top. There is a whole park, campground and picnic area at the bottom, as well as an extended trail that follows the bay along the bottom past the abandoned community of Simms Beach.
Oh, yeah, this dramatically rocky hill is also one of the four “corners” of the flat earth, according to the illustrious Flat Earth Society, so watch your step.
Fogo Head Hike
4 km / 1.5 hrs / 150m
A nice, easy hike with excellent scenery. It is pretty exposed and can get windy at times but the views from several different viewing platforms are well worth it. The trailhead is near Brimstone Head and you have three route options. You can hike up to the best viewpoints and back along the gentle incline of the rocky path. Or, if you want to make it a loop, you can start or return along the road (an easy stroll with nice harbour views).
If you hike the loop clockwise you will have a more gradual incline, then descend via wooden stairs. This is probably the easiest way. But if you want to get the hard part over with quickly or have knee issues and want a more gradual descent, you can start along the road and do the loop counterclockwise.
Lion’s Den Hike
7 km / 2 hrs / 215m
Starting at the Marconi Wireless Interpretation Centre, the Lion’s Den loop offers the most variety and most rugged scenery. It meanders through a mix of hills, forest and marshes while passing by several ponds and the abandoned villages of Eastern Tickle and Lion’s Den.
There are several great lookout points with platforms, each offering very different views, as well as information panels providing history along the way.
Joe Batt’s Point Hike
5.5 km / 1.5 hrs / 45m
A classic coastal walk that starts at what must surely be one of the most scenic ball diamonds anywhere in Newfoundland. From there you are treated to amazing views out to sea and across the bay to Joe Batt’s Arm and even the Fogo Island Inn. You’ll soon pass the weird, elongated form of Long Studio, then a picturesque cove with a seemingly unnamed green shack and eventually reach the statue of the extinct Great Auk.
From there, it looks like you can continue on to a lighthouse (which is not on AllTrails or Google Maps) – it is probably about a kilometre farther and there is a sign showing where the trail goes.
The Courting Trail
1.5 km / 30 min / 50m
Formerly called the Deep Bay Footpath, this is an easy walk up a rocky trail and wooden stairs to a lookout over Deep Bay (5 min each way). Then you return to the main path where you can either head back down or hike farther up to the Bridge Studio, which overlooks a large pond / small lake.
The path also continues past the studio toward the coast if you are looking for something more extensive.
Waterman’s Brook Trail
8 km / 2-3 hrs / 200m
This long-ish but flat and easy trail through the (small) hills starts just south of Fogo and takes you all the way to the north side of Deep Bay, where most of the year you’ll find an impressive waterfall.
Other hikes you can try around the island include Turpin’s Trail and Oliver’s Cove, both close to Tilting.
Look for Wildlife
As we mentioned earlier, a steady stream of whales pass by the island from June to October and can be seen either from shore or closer up on one of the Fogo Island Boat Tours. There are birds on Fogo Island all year round, but it becomes a veritable twitcher’s paradise of migratory species (including puffins) from April to November.
Fogo Island also has a surprisingly large permanent herd of caribou that can sometimes be seen. Normally caribou migrate but I suppose the whole issue of living on an island has forced the Fogo herd to adapt. In the winter they often appear closer to the towns in search of food but in summer they tend to stick to the more remote areas of the island. Your best chances of spotting them are near Tilting in May where they come to give birth, and in the open fields near Shoal Bay.
And, for whatever reason, there are loads of foxes wandering around right in the town of Fogo. Exactly why there are so many in town may not have been obvious but the reason they spent so much time just outside our window became clear when we realized the neighbours throw their leftovers out onto the ground everyday. Apparently, foxes really like French fries.
Visit the Museums
Fogo Island is filled with charming little museums providing fascinating details and images from the island’s long history. More detail on each museum is provided above in the town sections, but here is the overall list:
Fogo Island Marine Interpretation Centre (Seldom)
Old School House (Fogo)
Experience Fogo (Fogo)
United Church Cultural Galley (Fogo)
Bleak House Museum (Fogo)
Marconi Site Wireless Interpretation Centre (Fogo)
Brett House Museum (Joe Batt’s Arm)
Dwyer Premises (Tilting)
Lane House Museum (Tilting)
Old Post Office (Tilting)
All of the museums have the same hours and prices. They are open everyday from June to September from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission is $5/person or you can buy a pass to visit them all for $15/person, $25/couple or $40/group.
Try Your Hand at Cod Fishing
Like many communities in Newfoundland, Fogo Island owes much of its existence to the cod fishing industry. In summer it is possible to head out on your own or join local cod fishing expeditions.
Pick Some Berries
Fogo Island is well known for its huge number and variety of berries, with over 20 different types found around the island, including partridgeberries, blueberries and crowberries. Berry picking season is very popular among both tourists and locals and the best time is usually from the beginning of September to the end of October.
The Fogo Island Partridgeberry Festival is one of the biggest celebrations on the island and takes place every October, featuring traditional boil-ups, roasted fish and berry tarts.
Where to Stay: Best Fogo Island Hotels
There are a surprisingly wide range of Fogo Island accommodation options.
Fogo Island Inn
Located in Joe Batt’s Arm, the extravagantly priced Fogo Island Inn is the island’s flagship hotel, attracting the rich and famous from around the world who come to see what you get on a small island in Newfoundland and Labrador for $5,000/night. Yeah, you heard that price right.
Of course, the budget-conscious can opt for a more economical $2,500/night room, saving a little extra cash for a boat trip or, say, a down payment on a house. At least singles get a $200/night discount, so there’s that. Keep in mind, though, there IS a 3-night minimum.
You may ask yourself, why is Fogo Island Inn so expensive? A valid question. The short answer is, we have no idea. The longer answer, I suppose, is partially because it boasts a very impressive location overlooking the ocean and Joe Batt’s Arm, features an award-winning restaurant, solar power, a rooftop spa, communal art studios and uniquely designed rooms.
It is owned and run by Shorefast, a charitable organization that ensures all excess profits from the hotel are reinvested on Fogo Island, so if you do have the kind of cash to consider a stay, at least you know it’ll be going to a good cause.
Supposedly designed to resemble traditional Newfoundland fishing shacks (but on a gigantic, modern scale) we personally thought it looked a little futuristic and out of place in that rural setting, although it was a bit nicer up close. We hoped to get a look inside to see if we were just missing the best parts but, unfortunately, they refused our request and even declined to provide any photos. Mysterious, indeed.
Now, some places to stay for those who don’t have the same net worth as Scotland…
Old Salt Box Co.
The Old Salt Box Co. is a collection of three nice properties in traditional homes located right in the town of Fogo. They are all fully-equipped units with nice views of either the town or harbour.
Payne Efficiency Units
They have several standard, fully-equipped rentals located in different locations around the island. The one we stayed in was in a great spot with a view of Fogo Harbour, very close to the start of Lion’s Den hiking trail.
In Joe Batt’s Arm, Landwash Lodging has a fantastic ocean-front location where you can sometimes see whales passing by.
Brimstone Head RV Park
Brimstone Head RV Park is a fairly basic campground and RV park with an amazing location.
Where to Eat: Best Fogo Island Restaurants
Fogo Island is nobody’s idea of a culinary hotspot, although the restaurant at the Fogo Island Inn is highly rated. Beyond that, it really depends on what you’re in the mood for. As long as you’re in the mood for fish.
If you have a kitchen where you’re staying, there is a Foodland between Fogo and Joe Batt’s Arm and a couple of smaller grocery stores in Fogo.
Vanessa’s – Seldom
Deep-fried specialties and pizza.
Cod Jigger Diner – Highway 333
The most highly recommended fish and chips on Fogo Island.
Beaches Bar and Grill – Fogo
Very good fish and friendly service, although sometimes a bit slow.
Bangbelly Café – Fogo
Friendly, casual summer place right in the centre of town.
Kwang Tung Restaurant – Fogo
Basic place with good, authentic Chinese food. The only place right in Fogo that stays open in the off-season.
Growlers Ice Cream Shoppe – Joe Batt’s Arm
The place to go for your ice cream fix in summer.
The Tilting Cup – Tilting
Café with pastries, coffee (obviously) and homemade pizza.
Fogo Island’s scenic little neighbour is also full of traditional buildings, grassy rolling hills and excellent hiking. Its long-standing fishing culture is still evident at every turn and the islands are popular with artists who somehow find Fogo Island still a bit hectic.
The Change Islands have two main claims to fame, the Old Shoppe Museum with its vast array of 19th and 20th century artifacts, and the Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary, set up to protect the historically important but seriously endangered Newfoundland Pony breed. Pony and buggy rides are available.
Every ferry to and from Fogo Island stops off at the Change Islands, making it easy to add a short detour when arriving or departing.
Fogo Island Festivals
Fogo folks love a good festival, starting with the wildly popular Fogo Island Partridgeberry Festival in October.
Then there is the Brimstone Head Folk Festival that takes place in early August and features a wide range of folk artists, both local and from distant shores.
The week before that, Etheridge’s Point Seaside Fest takes place in Joe Batt’s Arm.
Meanwhile, The Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back is the most famous Fogo Island event, where competitors row traditional wooden “punts” across the channel to the Change Islands and back (a 16 km return trip). For three centuries, these little boats were the main fishing vessels on Fogo Island and they are now kept alive through this exciting July event. A documentary was even made about it when the first race took place in 2007.
Weather on Fogo Island: When to Go
Fogo Island weather is erratic, to say the least. With a typical Atlantic island climate, it doesn’t get as warm in summer as inland Newfoundland and can be positively frigid in winter when the ocean winds blow.
There is a fair bit of precipitation all year-round (rain in summer, snow in winter) without any notable fluctuations. Temperatures vary from an average low/high of -3/-11C in January and February to 12/21C in July and August.
Fall tends to be much warmer than spring, with September and October being particularly good times to visit.
How to Get to Fogo Island
Most people fly into the international airport in St. John’s, which has flight connections to most major airports.
However, the closest airport to Fogo Island is actually in Gander, famous for its role accepting diverted flights following 9/11 and the subject of the recent documentary, You Are Here: Come From Away Story. Most flights to Gander come from either St. John’s or Halifax, Nova Scotia, although at certain times of year there are daily direct flights from Toronto.
The other option to reach Newfoundland is by ferry from Nova Scotia, arriving at Placentia.
To actually make it onto Fogo Island, though, you will either need a car or pay for a direct transfer from the Gander airport. There is no public transportation on Fogo Island, however, so if you don’t already have a vehicle, it makes sense to rent one.
Fogo Island Ferry
The ferry leaves from the town of Farewell and disembarks at Stag Harbour on Fogo Island. It has a reputation for being unreliable but, in theory, there are 4-5 crossings per day that take just over an hour, including a stop in the Change Islands.
It costs $25.50 for a vehicle and driver plus $8.50 for each additional person and this covers the entire return journey.
To check the latest schedule call 511, 709-627-3492 or 1-855-621-3150 (toll-free).
Driving Distances to Farewell
Gander to Farewell: 85 km / 1 hr
Twillingate to Farewell: 70 km / 1 hr
Bonavista to Farewell: 325 km / 3.75 hrs
Placentia to Farewell: 360 km / 4.25 hrs
St. John’s to Farewell: 415 km / 4.5 hrs
Getting Around Fogo Island
Unless you opt for a guided tour with Fogo Island Bus Tours, you are going to need a car to explore Fogo Island. Luckily, there are very few roads, so it is almost impossible to get lost, and nothing is very far away.
Driving Distances on Fogo Island
Stag Harbour to Seldom: 11 km / 10 min
Stag Harbour to Fogo: 23 km / 20 min
Stag Harbour to Joe Batt’s Arm: 25 km / 25 min
Stag Harbour to Tilting: 35 km / 35 min
Fogo to Joe Batt’s Arm: 15 km / 15 min
Joe Batt’s Arm to Tilting: 10 km / 10 min
History of Fogo Island
Located in Notre Dame Bay, one of the first hubs of European activity in North America, there is evidence of indigenous habitation on Fogo Island starting in AD 1. For several centuries starting around 1500, Fogo was inhabited by the Beothuk indigenous people who were known for hunting, gathering, fishing and collecting bird eggs.
European fishermen began arriving in the 16th century as well, although the first permanent settlements in Fogo and Tilting only date back to the early 18th century. Similar to the pattern across North America, European influence continued to grow, with settlers initially trading peacefully with the Beothuk but eventually decimating their population through violence, disease and by denying them access to important fishing and hunting grounds. Tragically, they became extinct in 1829, when the last Beothuk died of tuberculosis.
The Fogo Island northern cod fishery closed permanently in 1992, seriously harming the island’s economy, which is one of the reasons Shorefast has been working to establish alternative income sources without harming the island’s culture and identity.
Today, the fishing industry is still important, but with visitor numbers growing rapidly Fogo Island is struggling to balance the necessary economic benefits of tourism with the preservation of their traditional values.
Fogo Island Summary
The largest island in Newfoundland (besides the main one, of course), Fogo Island is a beautiful and fascinating place. With surprisingly untouched natural areas, abundant flora and fauna, a surprising art scene and living history scattered throughout the island, Fogo is an unforgettable stop on any Newfoundland itinerary.
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