By: Krishna Gunturu
Visiting Iceland has been a travel wish for me for a long time. I was mesmerized by the landscapes, flavorful food with focus on presentation and of course Northern Lights. We knew it would be expensive, but longed to see the nature before the landscape changed too much. The trip was worth it.
Let me take you on this untamed and beautiful journey in the Land of fire (volcano) and ice (glacier):
Itinerary of the trip:
Landed at Keflavik airport, blue lagoon and stayed at Grand Hotel,Reykjavik
Golden circle tour, with Thingvellir(Pingvellir) National Park, Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfalls and snowmobiling on second largest glacier,Langjokull. Stayed at UMI hotel, Hvolsvollur
Glacier hike on Myrdals-jokull, Black sand beach,Vik. stayed at Icelandair hotel, Klaustur
Ice cave tour of largest glacier in Europe- Jokulsarlon glacier, glacier lagoon,Diamond beach and . Came back to Klustur, Northern lights
Dyrholaey, southernmost point of Iceland with black sand beach, skogafoss waterfalls and drove back to Reykjavik. Stayed at Grand Hotel.
Explored Reykjavik more and flew back home.
Day 1: We landed at Keflavik airport and took WiFi hotspot in the airport which we pre booked. From there we rented a car and drove to blue lagoon. Driving in Iceland winter is not for feeble heart with icy roads.
Blue lagoon is a natural geothermal pool with it’s milky blue waters in the backdrop of mountains. Water temp is 100 F and it renews itself in 40 hours. Water is sea blue because of the silica in the water. It’s a beautiful sight with all the volcanic mountains in the background. Before you get in the water, dump a lot of conditioner on your hair so that hair won’t be tangled up as much when you come out. There will be still tangles and coarse, but little better with conditioner.
When you walk from showers to the lagoon, it’s so cold before you step into the beautiful blue waters. The minute you step in, it’s so soothingly warm 100 degrees and you don’t want to come out. There will be an hour for you to pick the check in time and after you enter, you can stay as long as you like till closing time. There are multiple options you can pick from which includes silica mask, algae mask, massage etc.
Picture. Blue Lagoon
We came back to the hotel and all the restaurants were closed. We enjoyed scrumptious meal at the hotel itself.
Day 2: Christmas Day- Icelanders most commonly gift books for Christmas.
We took golden circle bus tours to the famous Geysir geothermal area with Strokkur hot spring, 2 step Gullfoss water and pingvellir (Thingvellir) national park where scenes from game of thrones were shot. This golden circle is one of the most visited tourist routes. This was the only bus tour we booked and rest of them we booked on our own and travelled in our rented car.
Pingvellir National Park
Pingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site and world’s first parliament was set up in 930 AD. It is also a national park where eurasian and American tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of 2-3 cm each year. You can snorkel in the fissure between two plates. Visitors climb up the hill near parking lot and get a view of the rift valley and the area.
From the parking lot, you can walk to the geysir. Path is very icy and North Face winter hiking shoes came in handy. You know you are near hot springs when you smell H2S, rotten egg smell. This is geothermal water emitting 200 degree water fountain every 3-5 min intervals like old faithful in Yellowstone. Nothing can beat the majestic Old Faithful, but this geysir is beautiful on its own and erupts every 3-5 minutes. It shots up water to 30 meters.
Gullfoss is a beautiful 2 tier waterfalls.You can walk up the stairs to the waterfall or walk from the cafe depending on where you parked. It was surrounded by snow and sunlight was shining on the water, making it a marvelous sight. There is a wooden walkway that provides a great view of waterfall.
Snowmobiling on Langjokull
From the parking lot, we boarded the huge black truck with mountaineers of ice to go on snowmobile ride on Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjokull. This was one of the highlights of our trip. It was an hour ride to the glacier and they provide all the equipment. It’s an adrenaline rushing ride with spectacular views of the glacier,moon on one side and sun on the other side in bone chilling wind blowing in your face. Whizzing through the glacier with white land as far as we can see was exhilarating. Despite 2 layers of gloves and hand warmers, our hands were still freezing, but it was an amazing experience.
We came back to Reyjkavick. Pho, a Vietnamese place, was open and we enjoyed the nice, warm Pho before we drove to UMI, our next stay.I enthusiastically looked the whole ride for Aurora Borealis and thought didn’t see Aurora.
Welcome desserts were waiting at the hotel room when we checked in. Icelanders for sure know how to present food.
Glacier hike – Myrdals-jokull
We checked in dark at 9:30 AM to go on the much awaited glacier hike. We put on the gear and finally some light started coming. We started our 2.5 mile hike to the glacier tongue.It was an amazing walk on the glacier with crampons and ice chisel. You can see the layers of volcanic ash in between the layers of ice. Our guide showed us how the glacier receded in the last year or two. Twinge of sadness hit with the thought of human destruction of nature and by the time our kids grow up there won’t be many of these natural wonders left.
Picture. Glacier hike
Reynisfjara beach (Black sand beach)
After the glacier hike we drove to Black sand beach and had lunch in the cafe. I never saw black sand in my life and was ecstatic to see the black sand. There was basalt rock on the beach carved into caves, and petrified trolls by the wind, fire and ice.
Picture. Black sand beach
We stopped in a small town,Vik. This is also where game of thrones was filmed.
We headed to Kirkjubæjarklaustur a.k.a Klustur from there and checked into the icelandair hotel. While we were having dinner, whole restaurant ran out to see the northern lights. This was not what I expected of northern lights. I was so disappointed. It was just a white cloud to naked eye. I kept thinking to myself that it’s a natural phenomena and I might not be able to see the picturesque northern lights in this trip.
We drove in the dark at 8 AM to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to visit the largest free standing glacier in Iceland and Europe, Vatnajokull. Our guide Aagnes was a riot. She took us in this monster truck to the glacier. Ride was so beautiful and riding in this monster with front of the car almost kissing the road was beyond awesome.
As the glacial river runs through the glacier, it forms natural ice caves. Ice caves are created when glacial river beds freeze over during the winter; each year they’re in slightly different locations, and formed in different shapes. We got down at the ice cave to put on the crampons. Wind was blowing at 60-80 mph and at times I thought I was going to fly away. We managed to put the crampons and looked up facing the glacier face to face. It was a breathtaking view of blue glacier. We got into the ice cave and you can see the picturesque blue ice and trapped 70 or more year old oxygen. You can tell when glacier layers formed in summer or winter depending on the volcanic ash thickness trapped in the layers. Sometimes you can see multiple layers depending on the river making it’s way from the melting glacier.
Picture. Ice cave
Aagnes stopped on the way back so that we can take more pictures of the glaciers and lagoons. It was beautiful to see the glacier with sun rays reflecting on the ice. We also learned from Aagnes that Icelanders celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve at 6 PM and second day of Christmas. They give books as gifts for Christmas. They have 13 Santa clauses with their parents and each one is different. After we came down, we ate donuts in the cafe. Their donuts were so different than ours.
After that we enjoyed the glacier lagoon where the sea meets the glacial water and icebergs floating in the lagoon. We also got a glimpse of a black seal floating in that water along with some birds. This is where James Bond movie was shot. The lagoon is formed from the melting glacial water coming from the largest Vatnajökull glacier. There is a footpath alongside.
On the other side of the lagoon was diamond beach. Ice chunks from the glacier was sitting in the black sand and shining like diamonds in different shapes. It was a perfect contrast with black sand and the ice diamonds.
Picture. Diamond beach
That night we decided to chase the northern lights. We went out of the village to where there was higher probability of seeing northern lights without lights. Aurora finally started dancing in with pretty green/purple colors and like a ballerina across the sky. It was much brighter green in the camera than to naked eye as KP index was only 3 out of 9 scale that day. But still it was beautiful to watch the Aurora dance in the vast sky from one end to the other in green and purple colors. Words were not enough to describe this beauty.
We went back in few hours in the midnight to watch Aurora again and capture some beautiful pictures. Then, we realized we have been watching Aurora since day 2, but didn’t recognize the white cloud to naked eye.
We picked up quick breakfast at a gas station and Started back to Reykjavík.
We stopped at Dyrholaey which is the southernmost tip of Iceland. Lighthouse and black beaches were so beautiful and the yellow grass reminded of Santa Barbara, California. We got a close look at Icelandic horses on the way to the beach.
We continued onto Skoga waterfalls. Nature is amazing. On one side there is frozen ice and these beautiful waterfalls dropping in between the ice. We hiked up the waterfalls which was approximately 475 steps. View of the valley from the top was amazing. We ate in the restaurant and headed back to Reykjavík.
We checked in at the Grand hotel and explored the city.
Even before we realized, it was time to fly back. So many fond memories of Iceland trip and watching Aurora Borealis was my favorite. So long Iceland….
Takk( Thank you) for virtually traveling in Iceland with me and gooan daginn( good day),
They grow their own vegetables in the geothermal greenhouses, but most of the food is exported except for fish and lamb. Icelandic lamb roams freely and eats herbs on the mountain which makes the meat very flavorful.
Food here was flavorful and limited options for vegetarians. You can still get one vegetarian option on every menu.
No need to buy bottled water here. Tap water is pure and tasty.
Sometimes hot water has slight sulfur smell, but it’s plentiful.
Icelanders have son and dottir(daughter) as their last names.
There are no forests in Iceland.
Late May to July there is 24 hours of sunlight.
Their Santas are different. These are 13 troublesome brothers, each arriving in one of the 13 nights before Christmas with their parents Greela and Lappeylooder. One of them is skyr( Icelandic yogurt) gobbler.
It doesn’t get very cold in winter, but weather is unpredictable. You need layers even in summer with good quality windproof jacket.
It’s bad hair day every day in Iceland with the winds. Deep breath of clean, fresh air is taken for granted for Icelanders. As Iceland is located at the border between arctic and temperate seas and between cold air masses of the arctic and the warm air masses of lower latitudes. This makes Iceland’s climate extremely variable.
There are not lot of trees in Iceland, it can get very windy in Iceland. Always remember to hold your car door when you open it.
In December a muted sunlight shines on the island for a few short hours everyday.