Iceland has quickly become one of the HOTTEST travel destinations, and it comes as no surprise to those who’ve been. This country is a natural wonderland, full of history, folklore, Vikings and trolls; yes, trolls. With so much to see and do, one thing you simply MUST NOT do, is stay within the Reykjavik city center. Whether this is a stopover for 24 hours, or Iceland is your only destination, rent a car, book a bus tour, or hire a private guide and get out and enjoy the incredible natural beauty you will find no where else in the world.
This is Iceland’s fourth largest ice glacier, with its highest peak around 4500 feet. What is most fascinating and frightening, is it sits atop an active volcano that is past due to erupt. Katla, has erupted in routine intervals, totaling 20 times since 900 A.D. and has been quietly brewing since 1918. Occasionally, closures to the glacier occur if movement underground is detected. But for now, visitors enjoy snowmobiling, hiking, or exploring the caves underneath, as well as aerial touring.
Head underground and experience a 5200 year old tunnel created by an eruption in the Leitahraun Lava Fields, located in the mountains of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Guided tours take visitors deep into this fascinating cave, adorned with colorful rocks, stalagmites, stalactites, and ice sculptures. Be prepared when the guide cuts the lights to give visitors a glimpse into what pure darkness is–trust me, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Gunnuvher is the largest of Iceland’s natural geothermal mud pools, created by hot gas underground, that comes out of fissures in the earth’s tectonic plates. The legend of this incredibly powerful (and dangerously hot) geothermal geyser, involves a witchy woman, a priest, and a ball of string. I do believe there may be a joke in there, but there’s nothing funny about standing on the viewing platform and watching the smoke billow from underground as the earth boils around you. Stay on the path in this area as you take in the beautiful colors surrounding the platform, created by mineral deposits in the earth.
5. REYKJANESTA ,VALAHNJUKUR,AND REYKJANESVITI
Reykjanesta is Reykjanes Peninsula’s southwestern most point. It is characterized by Reykjanesviti (lighthouse), the Valahnjukur cliffs, sea stacks, and a statue of The Great Auk. The largest of the sea stacks is thought to be a night-troll named Karl, who turned to rock after being caught by daylight. Listen as the waves crash violently against the rocks, watch the sea foam and resident flocks of Arctic Tern, fly simultaneously, and try not to get blown away by the hurricane force winds. If you aren’t afraid of heights and wind, there is a path to get a closer view of the coastline and Eldey Island on a clear day.
Located in the small town of Vik, this black sand beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Reynisdrangar is the name of the basalt stack formations in the waters. According to local folklore, they are thought to be night-trolls, turned to rock in the daylight, while trying to pull ships from the sea. Explore the caves, enjoy the waves crashing on shore or look for Puffins. If you are visiting during Spring or Summer months, do not underestimate the power of the ocean. It is not uncommon for unsuspecting tourists to be swept out to sea and is recommended never to turn your back on the waves here.
Seltun is part of a large Geothermal field, known as Krysuvik. There are several wooden bridges and paths that take you through the bubbling, steaming mud pools. You are surrounded by yellow, red and green hues, created by the reaction of the high mineral content in the soil and the sulfur underground. Several craters have occurred due to the explosion of overheated underground water. Graenavatn is an incredibly beautiful bluish-green lake, created from one such explosion. While beautiful to look at, driving around it is an adventure; there are no guardrails to prevent you from being blown into the lake should a strong Icelandic gust of wind happen along.
Too dangerous for winter hiking, but those who dare can hike behind the falls for a spectacular view in summer. Local legend tells the story of a famous Viking hiding a chest of treasure behind the falls. No one has ever unearthed the chest, but supposedly someone did manage to reach it and rip a handle off. It was donated to a local church and is now on display in the Skokar Museum. This spectacular 200 foot waterfall is supplied by the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier, which sits atop a very active volcano that last erupted in 2010. There are several other smaller falls, all within walking distance of Seljalensfoss, which should also be explored, if time allows. Come hungry and be sure to fill up on hearty meat (sheep) stew from the little commissary on sight. For 15.00 USD, it’s a bargain at standard Icelandic prices!
These majestic falls have a vertical drop of 200 feet and an opening 82 feet wide. This is 35 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Whether you remain on the ground and view from the base, or you venture the 370 steps to view from the top, it’s impossible not to be awed by its power and beauty. As millions of gallons of water spray over the falls daily, it is also very common to experience a rainbow or double rainbow as you view it; as if it wasn’t beautiful enough on its own.