I am head-over-heels, hopelessly, irrevocably in love. Not that cheesy, fall in and out of it lust you feel after a few amazing dates, but that heart wrenching, stomach curling, smile every time you think about it love.
Iceland had me at hello and kept me hooked from the Blue Lagoon to Skatafell to Reykjavik. The love affair was a whirlwind; love at first sight some might say. Iceland swept me off my feet and onto my butt— literally because of the ice but figuratively because I was so enamoured with the country and its people.
As an avid traveller I’ve learnt to appreciate certain things about certain places. I respect different cultures and learn to love the different quirks— but never have I ever been so utterly enamoured with nearly every aspect of a country as I am with the Land of Fire and Ice.
It was early in the morning when the plane touched ground. The brisk air kissed my cheeks, smelling of freshness. The Keflavik Airport serves as the main airport in Iceland and is well-developed, offering plenty of shopping and dining options. The tourism industry is steadily growing surpassing 2 million tourists travelling to Iceland in a given year— this is over 6 times the domestic population of the small island.
THE BLUE LAGOON
I boarded my Destination Blue Lagoon bus at 7:20 in the morning and headed straight to the geothermal pool and spa. The Blue Lagoon is not one of Iceland’s natural hot springs but its geothermal seawater comes from 6,500 feet below the surface and contains natural algae, silica, and minerals. This silica and minerals in the water and mud offer healing properties and have been developed into a skincare line. If you’re looking for relaxation, you can purchase a spa package and choose from a variety of different services including an in-water massage and facial. If you’re not into the whole spa ordeal, in the main lagoon you can apply a silica mud mask free-of-charge.
The lagoon is a breathtaking sight, regardless of it being man-made, offering the perfect warm oasis from the cool Icelandic air.
Floating peacefully, I felt a snowflake land on my cheek. I was soon told this was the first snowfall of the season in Iceland. The flurries fluttered down, melting into the heat. The blanket of white created an eerily beautiful sight flirting with the steam that arose from the surface. Faint colours of purple and blue painted the still dark sky and danced along the horizon in a magical and mysterious manner.
Most of Iceland’s energy is garnered from renewable resources—mainly geothermal. The drive from the lagoon into the main city of Reykjavik is scenic but barren. Surrounding the lagoon is hundreds of year old lava fields that stretch out around the land. Reykjavik itself is quaint and charming with 2 main streets that make the ‘downtown’.
Majority of Icelanders live in Reykjavik and are among the kindest people you will ever meet. Crime is extremely low and violent crime is practically nonexistent—to the point that Icelandic police don’t carry guns. Iceland serves as a country the rest of the world could learn from—they were the first country to democratically elect a female and openly gay Prime Minister, their smoking rate is a low 9%, and beer remained illegal to consume until 1989 and once it was legalized the drinking rate decreased by 20%. Fun fact, though illegal to consume prior to 1989, their oldest brewery is 130 years old! The Icelandic charm the seeps from the country’s bones is quintessential and many Icelanders still believe in elves.
Visiting Iceland is not cheap; I paid nearly $20 for a bowl of soup, which although delicious, is quite expensive. Food in general is pricey because most items need to be imported. There are budget groceries around town if you want to try and cut costs, but if you’re making your way to Iceland prepare yourself to pay a little more. Handy tip: the tap water is drinkable! Don’t purchase water bottles as you’ll be paying a premium for essentially the same water—most of the locals will tell you this themselves!
SOUTH COAST ADVENTURE AND ICELANDIC GEOGRAPHY
Iceland is home to so much untouched beauty. Many of the geological features are raw and still active—earthquakes are quite common and there are 32 active volcanos that erupt every 2-4 years. Thankfully, it takes only 4 hours for an area to evacuate in any given eruption zone.
The land is filled with beautiful contradictions perfectly befitting the nickname the Land of Fire and Ice. The weather can change in a heartbeat and in the winter sunlight shines for only a matter of hours, but in the peak of the summer shines all day and night. From active lava fields to icy glaciers to snow capped mountains and stretching valleys–the atmosphere is other-worldly and unique.
The 2hour trek from Reykjavik to Skógafoss stretches along one main road and is filled with picturesque places to stop. I sipped on my first coffee of the day, taking in the sunrise at one of the truck stops along the route. The orange glow painted the vast horizon, contrasting the tones of blue and white. The sun rose slowly and delicately, bringing to life a day of adventure.
Arriving at Skogafoss, cloud cover had set in atop the falls and snow had begun to fall and stick to the ground. The powerful sound of the rushing water, the beauty of the mist seemingly floating, and the flurries of snow drifting from the moody sky was enchanting.
As the snow turned from flurries to squalls—brief and intense intermittent snowfalls—it was as though Iceland was whispering in anticipation: ‘Winter is coming’. Reynisfjara, Black Sand Beach, or rather somewhere north of the Wall for Game of Thrones fans, is a sight to see. The Atlantic waves are glorious and dramatic as they rush the shore and creep ever so close. Mind your distance from these rolling and roaring waves as sneaker-waves can appear suddenly, dragging people into the ocean’s freezing grip.
The basalt columns of volcanic rocks where lava once flowed gives off a terrestrial impression. Most famously recognized as the location of Game of Thrones’ Night’s Watch. I may have been on the search for Jon but all I found was Snow and utter amazement.
From Vik’s Black Sand Beach, we made our way east to Diamond Beach and the Glacier Lagoon of Jökulsárlón. Seals inhabit the shore and icebergs resembling diamonds of crystal blue offer photographers an utopia of stark contrasting natural beauty.
Close by we made ourselves at home at one of the farms-turned-bed & breakfasts. We enjoyed a delicious meal and a glass of wine before turning in and preparing for the next day’s adventure.
While it was still dark we headed for the glacier. We gathered our gear at one of the expedition check points, strapped on our harness and crampons, learned to properly use the icepick, and began a 5 hour glacier hike.
Exploring Skaftafell was one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. The striking and other-worldly landscape, the spiralling stunning ice caves, and the unforgiving but remarkable crevasses that dipped deep into the glacier left me breathless and awe-inspired. It’s hard to explain how fulfilling this journey into the snowy abyss felt; how escaping the boundaries of my comfort zone and surrounding myself in immense nature excited my soul and sense of adventure.
En route back to Reykjavik we stopped at the 65 metre tall waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. The sun has already faded and a blizzard had rolled in. The beautiful waterfall was lit by large lights and although we couldn’t make the journey behind the falls because of the darkness and icy patches, it was memorizing and the perfect end to a perfect expedition.
As I settled in to my small suite at 41A Townhouse Hotel, I could feel my muscles sore, my fingers and toes defrosting, and a smile that was seemingly frozen onto my face. Everything from Iceland’s natural contradicting and unfathomably beautiful geography to its kind and caring people had quickly stolen my heart.
Iceland is a place where caring for the environment holds precedent over the fast, easy, and efficient; a place that cherishes adventure, activities, and experiences over the superficial; a place that seeks to make you step out of your comfort zone, escape from your daily grind, and ultimately rejuvenate your adventurous spirit.
Iceland, for this and so much more, I love you.