Just Back From
It was my daughter who had the Northern Lights on her bucket list, but what we found on our four-day visit was so much more than a spectacular natural light show, though we did get to see that too. I would describe Iceland as the Northern Hemisphere’s wilderness/adventure capital—a place teeming with amazing outdoor experiences much as New Zealand is to the Southern Hemisphere. Of course, there are major differences, starting with the climate, the food and the level of hotel properties (New Zealand has super luxurious options and Iceland does not), but for those who love being outside and marveling at pristine landscapes and adventurous activities like walking on a glacier, descending into a volcano, cruising to see whales, fjords and puffins or glamping in remote wilderness, then Iceland is a must visit.
In the past few years, the country has experienced a meteoric rise in tourism. Since 2012, the numbers of visitors coming to experience its natural wonders has increased to an expected 1.5 million visitors this year, which is close to five times the number of Icelandic citizens. This is a boon to the economy that was devastated by financial crisis in 2008; however, it means that the only way to enjoy the spectacular wilderness without crowds is to go with a local guide who can take you off the beaten path. New hotels such as Hotel Husafell and Marina Residences have opened and next year a five-star resort hotel will open at the Blue Lagoon with an array of spa offerings. And thanks to a collaboration of the country’s top geologists, glaciologists, engineers and architects, you can now explore the longest ice tunnel in the world under Europe’s second largest glacier on the Into the Glacier experience.
On one of our days exploring, we were picked up by an expert guide in a Super Jeep. He took us into the Thingvellir National Park where we hiked into a natural ice cave. All around us were lava fields, volcanoes and waterfalls. It’s no wonder that directors have chosen to shoot otherworldly series and films like Game of Thrones and Interstellar here. In the absolute silence, the appearance of a White Walker or a unicorn would not have seemed out of place. In the course of the morning we hiked on deserted trails over passes with snow and past walls of moss dripping with icicles. We stopped for a delicious barbecue lunch at a cabin before driving up to the glacier that now covers the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano, whose eruption caused the air traffic nightmare in 2010. It felt like we were literally on top of the world as we stood eye level with the drifting clouds and could see across the coast. Our last stop was the Öxarárfoss Waterfall, where a rainbow appeared as if on cue.
At Indagare, we often talk about how trips can be built around the works of man (great cultural tours) or the works of god, but how, when done well, either will leave you inspired with gratitude for the experience and the ability to share them with your fellow travelers. Iceland is one of those great destinations. It's the type of trip that embodies 'transformative travel'—transporting its visitors to a magical, other-worldly setting that does not cease to amaze.
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