Iceland is simply incredible…!
No amount of superlatives can do it justice, and even the most stunning of images pale in comparison to the sheer magnificence and diversity of the country’s raw natural beauty. Where else can you get drenched under a waterfall, stand gazing down into the sparkling waters of a volcanic crater lake, trudge across a glacier AND stroll across a beach, ALL IN THE SAME DAY!!!
I travelled to Iceland in the last week of August, and though it is already touching two months since I returned, I simply cannot get over it! I’m still gushing about it to anyone who cares to listen, and I’m still dreaming about all the stunning vistas we encountered over the course of our 7-day Iceland road trip.
Since I’m still giddy over my trip, here are the highlights from a week spent driving around the Land of Fire and Ice…!
A Nordic island country, Iceland is located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean between Europe and North America, and is easily accessible by plane. Lots of leading European National carriers now have a tie-up with Iceland Air for flying in to the country and getting in is a breeze.
Coming off 2 days gallivanting around Helsinki (Finland) by myself, courtesy an extended stopover I worked into my Finnair travel itinerary, I was eager to meet up with my travel companions and (well, quite literally) get the show on the road… ! As luck would have it, the timings of our early morning flights to Keflavík International Airport, Iceland’s main International Airport, coincided beautifully, and I met up with my friends less than 2 minutes after I walked off the plane.
A profusion of hugs and a smidgen of balderdash later, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the small airport coffee shop and were ready to get on with it! We rented a car from the Airport itself, on the spot, through the Avis Budget Car Rental kiosk, armed ourselves with a local data-enabled sim card to navigate around with, and punched our first destination into Google Maps.
Photo Courtesy my friend Solonie, whose selfies and panorama shots were part of the highlights of the trip
Day 1: Arrival in Reykjavik & Blue Lagoon Shennanigans
Quite possibly one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, the jury’s out in the travel blogosphere on whether the Blue Lagoon is worth a visit or not. But to all the cynics who want to write it off as a tourist trap and let it pass, let me just say this – please don’t. Sure, it isn’t a “naturally occurring wonder” and is in fact, a man-made phenomenon but well, so is the Taj Mahal!
A man-made lagoon in southwestern Iceland, the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa has come into existence due to the geothermal power plant nearby. The plant harnesses superheated water originating 2,000 meters below the earth’s surface and uses it to run turbines that generate electricity and hot water for nearby communities. As the water passes through the many geological layers underground on its way to the surface, it picks up silica, algae and minerals, believed to give it many medicinal properties as well.
The waste water from the geothermal plant is then fed into the lagoon and voila, you have a giant outdoor swimming pool filled with heated water, full of frolicking locals and tourists alike. It’s fun, therapeutic and has healing powers. What more could you want!
Conveniently located a 20-minute drive away from Keflavik International Airport or 45-minutes from the capital city of Reykjavik, its best visited either on your way from or on your way to the airport.
Most people plan a visit towards the end of their trip, often on their way to the airport for their flight back home, which isn’t a bad option. But we did it the other way around and I cannot recommend it enough.
Had we left it for the last day, I’m pretty sure we would have been hard pressed for time. We would have set aside 2-3 hours at best for spending here, and as a result, we would have ended up rushing through the entire experience, stressed at having to make it back to the airport in time to catch our flights.
But by going across to the Blue Lagoon on our very first day itself, with no other plans for the day, we could make the most of our time here, and truly enjoy ourselves in an indulgent and leisurely manner. What with the novelty of the entire experience and the soothing warm waters of the thermal bath to lounge around in, not to mention the swim-up poolside bar to refresh ourselves with, we spent the better part of our day here. We arrived around midday and it was well past 6 in the evening when we decided to make our way out, but I’m truly convinced there could have been no better start to our trip!
We drove on to Reykjavik, checked in to our Airbnb rental apartment, made our way to a lovely restaurant for dinner, and called it a night!
Don’t worry, I’ll be detailing all my Iceland Eats in a separate post, so stay tuned!
Day 2: The Golden Circle
A 300 kilometer / 190 mile loop from Reykjavik into central Iceland and back, The Golden Circle is like Iceland in miniature, or like a mind-blowing theatrical trailer before the feature length motion picture. Most of the things that people come to Iceland to see – waterfalls, rugged landscapes, volcanic craters, geothermal activity – can all be found condensed into this close circuit as well. The three most popular attractions along the Golden Circle include Gulfoss (Golden Falls), the Haukadalur geothermal field (for the geysers & hot springs), and the Þingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
Our first stop for the day, however, was one not many people go to, and you won’t find it mentioned very often as part of the Golden Circle route, which is a shame! We chanced upon it quite serendipitously, and loved the detour so much we returned to it the next day as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The name Hveragerði caught my eye as we drove past a sign leading to the town. A quick Google search showed that there was a river nearby, one of the best places for Trout fishing in Iceland apparently, by the name of Varmá, flowing on the outskirts of the town.
When you chance upon a river in a faraway land that shares its name with your family name, you don’t just drive past. You go to it! And that’s how we found ourselves walking through a verdant green garden, beckoned by the sound of the gurgling stream ahead.
Photo once again courtesy my friend Solonie; I think I should take her along on all
my trips as a personal photographer 😛
But the River Varmá isn’t the only thing the town of Hveragerði is known for, it’s coincidentally also known as the Hot Springs Capital of the World. Spread across a 5000-year old lava field and built over a geothermally active hot zone, earthquakes (minor ones) are a frequent phenomenon here. But the most striking aspect is that the area is peppered with volcanic hot springs. Everywhere we looked as we drove through the town, we could see columns of smoke snaking their way up out of the ground.
We even came across a restaurant in the town that uses this geothermal heat for some of their cooking and baking. We were a bit hard pressed for time though, but we made our way back here the next day to sample some of this “unique earth cooking”. But that’s a story for another day! 🙂
Onwards we drove to the first stop on Iceland’s famed Golden Circle. The Golden Waterfall, or Gullfoss, is a spectacular waterfall and it’s easy to see why some call it one of Iceland’s best. With a proud roar, the Hvítá River cascades down in two breathtaking drops, and if you’re lucky enough to get a bright and sunny day in Iceland’s famously unpredictable weather, you’ll be rewarded with a vivid rainbow arching across the drop. Maybe even two! 🙂
From Gullfoss, we made our way to the Haukadalur Geothermal Field, a geological wonder really, full of bubbling mud pots, hot springs and erupting geysers. The most famous of the lot is Geysir, sometimes called The Great Geysir, and the one that all geysers around the world are named after. When it was active it had been known to erupt to a towering height of over 70 meters.
The Geysir has apparently been sulking like an aging celebrity off late and rarely ever erupts anymore, but Strokkur is a reliable ol’ fellow and is happy to put on a show every 5-8 minutes. Strokkur erupted 3-4 times in the short while we lingered, but I could have just as easily stayed longer to watch it erupt over and over again.
Photo Courtesy my friend Solonie, since I was too busy trying to get a decent video for Snapchat :/
Up next was Þingvellir (Anglicized as Thingvellir), probably the most important cultural heritage site in Iceland. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir is the National Park where the Alþingi (Anglicized as Althing), was established in 930. It is one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world and the remains of it, including fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone, are still visible.
But what makes the Thingvellir National Park truly remarkable is that it lies in a rift valley ‘that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’. Basically, the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates extends through Iceland, within the Thingvellir National Park. These tectonic plates are drifting apart every year, inch by inch, and the rift is actually visible here in Thingvellir.
How cool is that?
But this is Iceland, after all, and just when you think the show’s over, Iceland goes and amazes you some more.
One of the fissures formed by these diverging tectonic plates is called Silfra. It is one of the largest and deepest fissures, in fact, and lies at the edge of Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Water from the lake flows into the fissure, and the adventurous from all over the world go Snorkeling in Silfra!
Because where else in the world do you get a chance to snorkel in between tectonic plates? You’re actually floating in between the two continents… its remarkable! The water has passed through a 30 to 100-year natural filtration process, seeping through the underground porous lava rock before reaching the lake, and is thus clear as glass. The visibility is remarkable.
But it’s also numbingly cold, with temperatures averaging 2-4 degrees Celsius. It is glacial water after all, originating in Langjökull (Iceland’s second largest glacier). The wet suit and thermal layer that your guides provide you keep you relatively warm, but there’s no underwater life in these freezing waters, so if finding Nemo is what you’re after, this isn’t the place for you. The point here is to marvel at the clear blue clarity of the water and the unique underwater topography.
Silfra has some of the clearest water on Earth, where underwater visibility can go up to 100 meters in some places.
Deep crevices, lava rocks, underwater caves and giant boulders are what make this experience truly unique. And if that wasn’t enough, there was bright green and neon algae in there as well, adding a surreal touch of colour.
Disclosure: You need to book a snorkeling / diving tour beforehand, with any one of the companies offering the trip, to be able to enjoy this truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. We opted to book with DIVE.IS basis the great online reviews.
I received no compensation of any kind for this post, and paid full price for my Snorkeling in Silfra experience. All underwater pictures from Silfra are courtesy Dive.is (although I wish our guide had taken pictures of everyone in our group during the snorkel, rather than just the person right in the front. It was one of my friends so yay for her though!).
I’m going to stop here because I’ve already rambled on for close to 2000 words, but Iceland deserves it. Watch this space for Part 2 and Part 3 of the series, as I’ll continue the highlights from the rest of our Iceland Road Trip.
Have you been to Iceland? Did you love it as much as I did?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
This post is part of Wanderful Wednesday; you can link up your post here!
I’m also linking this post up to the #WeekendWanderlust travel blog party; find them here!