By Octavio Serrano
After experiencing what it is like to be homeless for two days, I stepped outside of the Keflavik airport and inhaled the fresh air of Iceland. Being a comfortable Arizonan, I didn’t take well to the freezing weather, and quickly retreated inside.
Our travels were unfortunate, as flying to Iceland took more than a day. We’ll get into that later.
Iceland is a Nordic island nation and home to many natural spectacles like volcanoes, Aurora Borealis, hot springs, enormous waterfalls and glaciers the size of mountains. Its urban culture is deeply rooted in Viking history and Norse mythology. One thing we quickly learned was we could tuck away the Google-Translate App; nearly everyone speaks English.
Because of a broken seat on our original flight, we were moved to a different airplane and a layover in England was added to our schedule which delayed us an entire day. Fortunately, Delta Airlines did their best to accommodate us in the best way possible, but we did spend two days eating junk food and overpriced drinks in airport bars.
To truly delve into what Iceland has to offer, a rental car is a must, as we traveled roughly 2,000 miles in one week. We began our Viking quest in the small town of Grundarfjörður.
Grundarfjörður is not a common name, but its mountain, Mount Kirkjufell, has been attracting photographers for years as it is one of the best places in Iceland to watch the Aurora Borealis. Although Aurora did not welcome us during our stay, waterfalls, hiking trails and restaurants with fresh food sure did.
We enjoyed the local restaurant Bjargarsteinn and its lamb dish, accompanied by carrots, sweet potatoes and roasted vegetables. Wine is recommended to complement it.
The adventure continued with Þingvellir (Thingvellir), a national park with cultural and environmental significance. As Iceland’s first national park, Thingvellir lies in a rift valley, sitting between two tectonic plates. In Thingvellir, people can walk in the middle of the rift and explore its graceful waterfalls.
Over on the southern coast, tourists experience a plethora of hikes, waterfalls, and canyons.
First on the list is Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall that drops 60 meters into a pleasant pool. The waterfall is a spectacular sight from afar, but make sure to get up close for the full experience.
Following the paths around the pool, a series of steps took us behind the waterfall. Luckily, we had waterproof jackets. That called for lunch and hot chocolate from local food trucks.
The southern coast of Iceland calls, again, for waterproof clothing because of Skógafoss, another massive waterfall with a drop of over 60 meters. The waterfall features a pool that segues into a long stream. If the sun is out, a rainbow forms along it. Don’t even think about taking pictures, as my lens was soaked by the time I had it in focus. Instead, follow the steps to the right side of Skógafoss. We traveled up the mountain to its very brink.
Enough with the waterfalls. We fueled our car and ate 30 minutes past Skógafoss in the town of Vik, which is laden with black sand beaches.
One of our favorite spots was Diamond Beach, where the melting glaciers and the ocean meet. As a result, giant crystal-clear pieces of glacier wash up on shore. The beach looks like it’s covered in diamonds as small as a wedding ring or as big as a car.
Want a little more danger? An ice cave expedition is a must-do. Reserve a tour guide at iceguide.is before heading to Iceland to make the most of the trip—and to survive. The tour begins inside what can only be described as a monster truck. We went off-roading in the beast, running over rocks and small streams. With boots to the ground, we secured our harness and helmet and began a 20-minute hike.
I’d never hiked on a giant ice cube, and that’s essentially what we did on this tour. With a set of spikes attached to our boots, we began our ascent. Make sure and stick with the guide. It would be unfortunate to step in a deep hole covered by snow.
The glaciers are always changing, so each experience is different. As we ascended, we reached one of the caves. We descended into it, using a rope to secure our grip, being careful to not stand too long under an icicle.
Inside, ice surrounded us and created every piece of the structure. The sun illuminated the ice walls in blue. It’s important not to break icicles or disrupt the glaciers.
Looking for civilization, we headed to Reykjavik. Downtown is highlighted by remarkable food, shops, bars and clubs. We spent the last night of our trip at the Blue Lagoon, a natural hot spring, bluelagoon.com. This isn’t the typical spa. The whole experience is as important as the lagoon itself.
After we changed into our swim suits, we stepped into the water. The lagoon is naturally kept warm from the volcanic earth. It remains true to its name, as the lagoon was a deep blue from the water’s minerals.
From the comfort of the lagoon, we ordered beverages from the bar using a wristband linked to our credit card. Another station offers facemasks. The lagoon offers a natural steam room for a quick break.
As I sat down on the plane, my feet ached and my shoulders were sore. More than a vacation, Iceland is an adventure everyone should try at least once.