The Land of Fire and Ice

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I am not sure I ever imagined travelling to Iceland. At least it was never on my short-term travel radar, but somehow I ended up there at the end of April 2011, ready for 10 days of adventure and exploration and loving every second of it.

There is a fundamental and stunning beauty in a place where the scenery changes with the blink of an eye. One instant there will be beaches, next cliffs with snow-capped mountain backdrops, and flat rolling lava fields overgrown with grass.

Travelling by car and using the well maintained ring road is a great option to see a great deal of Iceland. We travelled there during the spring, so the last of the winter ice was just starting to thaw and many guesthouses were just opening in preparation for the busy summer season. It was a trip of a lifetime and I cannot wait to get back! Here is a list of wicked adventures to check out:

1. Using Reykjavik as a starting point, check out some of the popular attractions just North East of the city. Travel to Thingvellir National Park, the site of the first parliament in Iceland. It is a really beautiful area with views of the surrounding mountains as you pass through cliffs.

2. Aside from walking around this area, a must-see is the Silfra Fissure. It is a narrow underwater canyon with 100+ m visibility in glacier water, right between two tectonic plates. You can do it as a short day trip snorkeling tour from Reykjavik or combine the adventure with a caving tour. The fissure has a small current that pulls you through as you explore. Take head, you will get cold, even though you’ll be in a dry suit! …or a wet suit if you are as brave as the locals!

3. Continue on exploring the so-called ‘Golden Triangle’, known for a famous waterfall called Gullfoss and the Geysir Hot Springs. Both are very popular attractions with easy access.

4. Heading out counterclockwise on the ring road, check out the Seaside town of Vik. And en route to Vik, check out the waterfalls Skogafoss and Svetifoss. These are two of the countless named and unnamed falls in the country. Both are just off the highway and impressive as you get up close and personal with the roar and spray of the tumbling water. Svetifoss is unique in that you can walk behind the falls, placing you between the water and a cliff. A trail to the right of Skogafoss allows you to walk up to the top and get a bird’s eye view.

5.  The gem of Vik are its beautiful volcanic, black sand beaches, which seem to contrast with cloudy and dark skies when the waves are fierce and tumbling recklessly.

6. From Vik, enjoy the scenery on the way to Skaftafell National park to check out the many glaciers around the country. The glaciers are visible from the highway and from many side turnouts. Of course the greatest appreciation for the glaciers comes from suiting up in crampons and ice axes for a trek on the slick surface.

7. Follow this up with a hike to Svartifoss. This waterfall is impressive from both near and far. As you walk the trail, the waterfall comes into view in a small canyon and as you get close, the architecture of the rocks becomes evident. Finish off with a tour of Jokulsarlon, a lake with glacier blue water and floating Icebergs.

8. Continuing North and also just east of Myvatn are other waterfalls called Godafoss and one called Dettifoss (north of Grimsstadir). Godafoss is a high volume fall and you can explore up and down the river from the falls. I do not recommend heading to Dettifoss unless the roads are completely ice-free. There is also a Geothermal Power Station at the Krafla volcano and many sites to see other geothermal activity/bubbling mud pits etc.

7. On the North side of Iceland is Lake Myvatn where you can check out some of the geothermal springs (Jarobodin) and do some more hiking. Soaking in the hot pools is a nice break from extensive hiking. Another interesting aspect is hiking to see the Pseudo craters. These are essentially small dwarf volcanoes that are overgrown with grass and look like huge mounds next to the lake.

8. Stroll through the Dimmuborgir, which are weird rock formations and a slightly eerie experience, especially if no one else is exploring the area. You can also hike to the top of and around the top of a dormant volcano.

9. If you have time, drive out to the Latrjabjarg bird cliffs on the far west end of the Island. The cliffs are stunning and you’ll pass some beautiful and rare golden beaches along the way. The drive is a bit long and the roads are narrow. If you do this, you can then take a car ferry from Brjanslaekur to Stykkisholmur.

10. If the weather is in your favor, make a last stop on the Snaefellness Peninsula and explore some of the magnificent sea arches that back drop against the emerald-green ocean.

Honestly, there is no shortage of activities to do. You can raft, scuba dive, and take 4X4’s into the interior highlands. I guarantee one trip will not be enough.

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