There is perhaps no other more mystifying place on earth than Iceland. Known as “the Land of Fire and Ice”, Iceland is home to extreme geological contrasts being blessed with some of the largest glaciers in Europe and also some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Iceland’s extreme beauty has captured the world’s attention making this small Nordic country one of the hottest tourist destinations in the the world. Many travel companies have opened up shop to support the growing tourism industry especially in a sustainable, responsible way. Hidden Iceland is one small tour company that is breaking the way in sustainable travel.

I went to Iceland in the summer of 2008 filled with anticipation. I had heard so much about Iceland’s stunning natural beauty of rushing waterfalls, massive blue icebergs, and her expansive, mysterious landscape. I wanted to see for myself if this magical place was real and within the first day I fell in love with her mystical power and beauty. While there were tourists around most of the sights during my visit, it wasn’t as popular ten years ago as it is today. Over the past few years, tourism has exploded which of course has its pros and cons. Per the Icelandic Tourist Board, “The total foreign overnight visitors to Iceland was around 2.2 million in 2017, a 24.2% increase from 2016, when foreign visitors numbered around 1.8 million”. With Iceland’s small population of approximately 338,000 this surge in popularity has not come without its price and there have been lots of people wondering how to travel to Iceland sustainably and protect its unique culture and environment.

One way you can travel responsibly is by choosing a sustainable tour company that offers off the beaten path tours to lesser visited areas, employs local guides and also takes care of the environment and culture. Hidden Iceland is a boutique travel company that focuses on immersive experiences with passionate guides in remote settings such as glaciers, volcanoes, Northern Light spots and ice caves.  Hidden Iceland is also a Certified Climate Neutral Partner offsetting their carbon emissions, and also maintains a strict sustainability policy of offering only small guided group tours. They are currently ranked number 3 in all of Iceland on TripAdvisor out of 386 tour outfitters (with all five star ratings!), and their unique approach to combining personalised service, expert knowledge and a love of all things Iceland is what makes them stand out as one of the best.

Sólheimajökull Blue Ice.

Sólheimajökull Blue Ice. South Coast. Photo credit: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

I had the opportunity to learn more about Hidden Iceland from Ryan Connolly, one of the co-founders and here is what he has to say about what makes their trips unique.  

Meet Ryan Connolly, co-founder of Hidden Iceland

Ryan Connolly, one of the co-founders of Hidden Iceland

My name is Ryan Connolly, I am one of the co-founders of Hidden Iceland along with General Manager, Scott Drummond and CEO Dagný Björg Stefánsdóttir. Myself and Scott are Glacier Guides by trade who travelled the world for years, finally settling in Iceland. It was here that we met Dagny, our local expert. In the summer of 2017 we set out to develop a company that focused on creating adventurous, but accessible trips we’d be proud to take our friends and family on. We believed that the guide leading you across glaciers, into ice caves and onto volcanoes can make the difference between something great and truly unforgettable.

Scott’s background in Geology, Dagny’s local insights, and my adventurous past allowed us to come up with itineraries that would tick off the must see spots, but also include something immersive, and sometimes hidden. Iceland is the perfect travel destination for these types of trips as it often appears overcrowded from the view of Reykjavik. But joining us on small group trips that take you away from the more celebrated areas into the less explored parts of the country allow the influx of tourists in Iceland to benefit the whole country and be more sustainable.
Here is our list of Hidden Iceland’s top tours that will immerse you in her raw beauty and authentic culture.

Hidden Iceland’s List of the Top Things to Do In Iceland:

Hiding from the Crowds in Iceland:  Finding the Hidden spots.

Landing in Reykjavik at the height of summer and spending the majority of your time in the centre will certainly give the impression of Iceland being too crowded. But the reality is there is still so much more to explore, if you’re willing to go just a little further. If you have time on your hands then the West Fjords is a forgotten part of the country with a small local population, and even smaller tourist numbers. Searching for Puffins, spotting whales, bathing in secret hot pools, and walking along the 440m cliff tops at Latrabjarg can be done with only minimal other people around. Perfect for the returning traveller or people who are wanting tranquility and raw nature.
Latrabjarg. Photo credit: Scott Drummond Hidden Iceland

Latrabjarg. Photo credit: Scott Drummond/Hidden Iceland

“In Iceland, you can see the contours of the mountains wherever you go, and the swell of the hills, and always beyond that the horizon. And there’s this strange thing: you’re never sort of hidden; you always feel exposed in that landscape. But it makes it very beautiful as well”. Hannah Kent, writer

Westfjords View, Hidden Iceland

Westfjords View – Wild Westfjords 4 Day Tour Photo credit: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

Abandoned West Fjords Ship. Photo credit: Hidden Iceland

Abandoned West Fjords Ship. Photo credit: Hidden Iceland

Melting Glaciers: How hiking on a moving glacier teaches clients about climate change. 

It’s important to experience Iceland and not just photograph it. True immersion is necessary to really walk away with an understanding of how Iceland, and the rest of the world, is currently changing. Walking on a moving glacier that is currently melting faster than it ever has due to climate change will certainly give you that. Our experienced guides focus on safety and fun while exploring the cracks in the ice, or discovering ice caves, but are also acutely educated on the effects of climate change and can point out with great accuracy the changes they personally see year to year. A truly humbling experience.
Solheimajökull Glacier, Hidden Iceland

Solheimajökull Glacier. Photo credit: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

Solheimajokull Blue Ice. Hidden Iceland

Solheimajokull Blue Ice. Photo credit: Hidden Iceland

How to search for the Northern Lights without disappointment. 

There are a number of factors that affect your ability to see the Northern Lights; a full moon, street lights, clouds and the sun simply not sending electrically charged particles towards Earth that night. So when most people come to Iceland in the dead of winter with one goal they can often walk away disappointed. My recommendation is to never come for that alone, and never join a tour with that as the soul focus. We couple our 2 day trip along the South Coast with sleeping in a converted Farm Guest House in the middle of nowhere so that at the very least we avoid the things we can control; unnatural light and other tourists. We wander around the farm looking across the sky as late as you’re willing to stay awake. Our guides teach you what to look out for, some of the science behind it, and how to take the perfect picture. But the reality is that sometimes you don’t get lucky. But not to worry, you’ve just spent the day sneaking behind waterfalls, walking along black sand beaches and gawking at building sized ice bergs floating past you. And the following day you will hike on a glacier with beautiful blue ice. There’s never a guarantee to see the Northern Lights but at least we can adventure while looking.
Jökulsárlón Northern Lights. Photo credit: Tom Archer

Jökulsárlón Northern Lights. Photo credit: Tom Archer/Hidden Iceland

Lilja Guesthouse Northern Lights. Photo credit: Tom Archer. Hidden Iceland

Lilja Guesthouse Northern Lights. Photo credit: Tom Archer/Hidden Iceland

To Iceland and back in a weekend. Glaciers, volcanoes & northern lights in 3 days. 

This is where it gets tricky. You want to tick off all the must see sights of the Golden Circle & South Coast, bathe in natural hot pools, walk on glaciers, see the world famous Eyjafjallajokull volcano and somehow spot the Northern Lights. But you only have a long weekend to do it. If you base yourself in Reykjavik then yes, it’s very difficult. So we’ve crafted a 3 day itinerary that includes 2 nights of Northern Lights spotting (or midnight sun chasing in the summer) in secluded farm guest houses, a glacier hike, travelling along the south coast, spending time at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, bathing in the Secret Lagoon hot pool and finishing with the popular Golden Circle spots. It’s an action packed itinerary but perfectly paced and with an expert guide taking care of you along the way.
Gullfoss Summer. Hidden Iceland.

Gullfoss Summer on the Golden Circle Platinum Tour. Photo credit: Norris Niman/Hidden Iceland

Secret Lagoon. Hidden Iceland

Secret Lagoon on the Golden Circle Platinum Tour. Photo Credit: Susana Garcia/Hidden Iceland

Jökulsárlón sunset. Hidden Iceland

Jökulsárlón sunset. Photo credit: Jonny Livorti

While growing tourism is posing a threat at times to Iceland’s proud cultural identity and pristine environment, there are some real benefits. One of the greatest benefits is an increase in economic prosperity especially in some of Iceland’s more remote regions. Ryan strongly believes that the increase in tourism to the more remote parts of Iceland is helping sustain these local communities where traditionally the younger generations would move to Reykjavik to find a job. Thanks to tourism, many residents of small farms and towns now can earn a living as a guide, running a guest house or working as a ranger to protect local areas without relocating to the city.  Thus, they can protect their cultural identity and also share it with tourists.  I believe that is the one of the best ways to travel and hope to personally make it back to Iceland some time soon.

Want to learn more?

Check out Hidden Iceland’s full list of tours.

Visit www.inspiredbyIceland.com to learn more about all Iceland has to offer and take the Icelandic Pledge to be a responsible tourist.

Take Icelandair who has several non-stop flights from North America including one from my hometown of Minneapolis-St.Paul!

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There is perhaps no other more mystifying place on earth than Iceland. Known as "the Land of Fire and Ice", Iceland is home to extreme geological contrasts being blessed with some of the largest glaciers in Europe and also some of the world's most active volcanoes. Iceland's extreme beauty has captured the world's attention making this small Nordic country one of the hottest tourist destinations in the the world. Given its popularity it is important to travel responsibly with a sustainable company. Hidden Iceland is a boutique travel company that focuses on immersive experiences with passionate guides in remote settings such as glaciers, volcanoes, Northern Light spots and ice caves.  Hidden Iceland is also a Certified Climate Neutral Partner offsetting their carbon emissions, and also maintains a strict sustainability policy of offering only small guided group tours.

 

 

 

4 comments

    1. Me too! I really want to go check out the ice caves and the Northern Lights. I loved it there but it was ten years already since I went!

  1. What a huge service you’ve done to your readers with this post — and to the Icelanders as well! I’ve worried in recent years that the small country’s tourism efforts have been maybe too successful. My husband and I visited for the first time in 1996 and found even Reykjavík to be small, charming, and unspoiled. So our visit a couple of years ago came as a shock, with the Keflavík airport stuffed way past capacity and Reykjavik looking more like a United Nations mosh pit (nothing against the U.N. or mosh pits, of course). We’d still love to return and see more of the remote areas, but we also don’t want to contribute to yet another destination being “loved to death.” Here, you’ve provided the perfect solution! Great advice, too, about the Northern Lights. Thank you, thank you!

    1. Thank you! I know that given Iceland’s incredible beauty, only more people will want to go however if they can go off season or to more remote places that will help out a great deal with sustainability. Thanks as always for your lovely comments! 🙂

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