If there was ever a country on Earth that should be awarded for feeling like you’re on a different planet, Iceland should win it hands down! I just returned from spending 10 days on this amazing island, and easily felt like I could have used 10 more!
Iceland is a Nordic island nation that stretches across about 40,000 square miles (roughly the size of Kentucky). At its widest part, the country measures 305 miles east to west and 185 miles north to south. Which means it’s relatively small. But don’t be deceived, travel time can be longer than you think!
Though often called the “Land of Fire and Ice,” we decided that it would be just as appropriate to call it the “Land of Waterfalls and Rainbows”. Iceland’s natural beauty comes from it’s various geological shapes and colors. It is is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe and some of the world’s most active volcanoes. That contrast has created intriguing land formations and unique natural sights around every turn.
My boyfriend and I enjoy active travel, which is what drew us to Iceland in the first place. We were fascinated that one small island could pack in so many adventures and active experiences. And we wanted to do them all! (If only that were possible!)
Here are a few of our favorite experiences during our visit:
• Hiking in the highlands. We’ll never forget driving through a river and hiking the sulfur wave trail in Landmanalager where the green moss, black lava rocks, and orange and red sulfur patches made a rainbow-like pattern on the rocks. It was incredible!
• Waterfalls were everywhere. We couldn’t get enough of the waterfalls. Gullfoss was the largest one, with more water flowing than Niagara Falls. The water from Gullfoss could fill 60 shipping containers in one second.
• Discovering hidden waterfalls. As I said, we loved the waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall was also amazing. Many people may recognize it because you can walk behind it. What we loved most about this area is finding nearby Gljufrabui Waterfall. We rock stepped through a little stream into a cave to see this most beautiful waterfall inside.
• Glacier hiking, repelling and climbing! We can’t say enough about this experience. The scale and mass of the glaciers were awe-inspiring. The thrill of repelling down and then climbing (complete with pick axes and crampons!) up to the top was a challenge, but epic.
• Whale watching. We hung out with three humpback whales who swam right next to us, underneath the boat, and blew air out of the blowhole so close that we were sprayed by the ocean water.
• Sea angling. After watching the whales, we went fishing for cod and haddock. We caught tons of fish, and even took enough meat with us for three complete meals. Eating our fresh catch is a highlight of its own.
• Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon. This was the most incredible blue water where seals were swimming all around and big iceberg chunks were calving off the glacier. It created the most beautiful little escape.
• Whitewater rafting. We ventured on the East River Canyon to take on the Class 4+ rapid. We both took a spill from the wild ride and braved the frigid 44-degree water. It was amazing.
• Geothermal hot springs everywhere! We enjoyed “doing like the locals do” and getting in lots of relaxation time in at various natural hot pots around the country. This proved to be a fantastic combination with the cool air and our tired muscles!
There are so many unique activities to experience in Iceland...and we couldn’t get to them all. Pique Travel clients have also enjoyed dog sledding, horseback riding on the famous Icelandic horse, experiencing the Aurora Borealis and relaxing in the Blue Lagoon (although it’s become a bit saturated with tourists).
Here are a few other fun facts you might not know about this fascinating destination
• Iceland was the last country in Europe to be settled.
• The majority of settlers came to Iceland from Norway and emigrated because of a combination political and socio-economic factors. Others hailed from Denmark or Sweden, or from Viking settlements around the British Isles.
• Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, following Great Britain, and the 18th largest island in the world.
• More than 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers.
• Iceland is a leader in using renewable geothermal energy for electricity production and space heating. In fact, it is used to heat more than 90 percent of the country’s buildings and most of the swimming pools.
• The country has emerged as one of Europe’s leading gastronomic destinations...various fish and seafood (including fermented shark), slow roasted lamb, dark rye bread, Icelandic ice cream and often on the menu.
Interested in learning more about traveling to Iceland? Email Liz Matassa at LizM@PiqueTravel.com.