On July 29, our family of four took our first trip out of the country since before the pandemic to the magical, surreal landscape of Iceland. I had first visited Iceland back in 2008 with my father and was spellbound by her unearthly beauty and astonishing mystique. While I had wanted to return to this phenomenal country and explore it more, the idea quite frankly did not pop back into my head until late in the Spring when our family had all been fully vaccinated and heard the news that Iceland with its small population of roughly 368,792 hearty souls was welcoming back vaccinated tourists. As someone who follows travel news closely, Iceland’s clever tourism pitch got my attention.
Icelandair has long had direct flights from Minneapolis to Keflavík, and to meet the increase in demand, Delta Airlines also launched a non-stop flight from my home town airport as well. The flight to Iceland from Minneapolis is roughly six hours. The only downfall is that the flight is too short to really get any sleep and the time change is a difficult five hours ahead meaning jet lag was going to be an issue that first day. The good news is we would have nine full days to adjust.
We landed at Keflavík International Airport at approximately seven in the morning to yet another endless summer day. At this time of year, Iceland has almost 24 hours of daylight and on sunny days it feels like the sun never truly sets.
Landing in Iceland feels like landing on the moon. The airport is located on the southwestern tip of Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula, one of Iceland’s most volcanic regions. As you land, you are completely in awe as you witness endless plains of black, barren lava fields, smoky geysers misting up into the air and cone-shaped volcanoes off into the distance. It is one of the craziest landscapes we had ever seen and it set the tone of adventure for our amazing ten days exploring the land of fire and ice.
After going through the lengthy line at customs and and getting our rental car, we were off on our way to Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, approximately 40 minutes northeast from the airport, driving through the very unusual landscape we had seen only hours before from the plane.
Below is some footage of what the landscape looks like. it is definitely worth spending a day exploring all the fascinating sights on the Reykjanes Peninsula. There is more than just the Blue Lagoon!
We arrived at our rented two-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city and were soon off to sleep. We knew we needed some rest to not only battle jet lag but also for something even more exhilarating. That afternoon we had hired a private guide through locally-owned Troll Expeditions that would take us on a five-hour hike up to see Iceland’s newest volcano, Fagradalsfjall. And if we were lucky, we would see the volcano doing its magic before our very own eyes.
The highly anticipated eruption in the Geldingadalur Valley began at 8:45 pm on March 19, 2021 when a reported 700 meter long fissure opened near Fagradalsfjall. Since then, it has been putting on a surreal, volcanic show of molten lava rivers and spurts ever since. It is the most accessible eruption in Iceland given its location making it an instant tourist attraction for thrill-seekers and curiously-minded adventurers. (Tip: For those who love volcanoes and want the full history of Fagradalsfjall along with spectacular photos and video check out this fantastic, insightful article).
We knew when we booked the tour that there was a chance we would see absolutely no volcanic activity but took the risk. The thought of seeing a live volcano in full eruption made it worth the fatigue and cramming too much in on the first day in Iceland.
Around 3 PM, we were back on the Reykjanes Peninsula once again in the town of Grindavik awaiting our guide at the local N1 gas station. As we pulled into the tiny parking lot, I looked around and only saw a young man wearing a blue t-shirt standing outside and he looked barely older than my teenage son. I thought for sure it couldn’t be our guide but of course I was wrong (I never heard the end of it from my teenage daughter!). At once we were introduced to our enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide Siddi and we were on our way.
We drove about fifteen minutes to reach one of a handful of parking lots for the volcano. Having a good guide was key at that moment as apparently the best routes to reach the volcano are changing constantly.
It was an unseasonably warm day by Icelandic standards with the sun shining and the temperature reaching approximately 65 degrees F (18 C). We were surprised that it was so warm and never once during our trip had to use our rain gear or warm jackets. I guess we had hit the jackpot on Icelandic summer weather.
We began our walk following an uneven gravel path leading us to the start of the expansive black lava field that flows like a river down towards the sea. When you see it for the first time, you are in a bit of disbelief at its massive size (width and length) and can only imagine what it must have looked like with crimson red molten lava flowing down it. Siddi told us that as the lava shoots up out of the volcano and travels down through the valley, it cools rapidly and actually doesn’t take long to change colors from red to black as it hardens and dries. You can often see vents of hot steam seeping up through the lava fields reminding you of how ungodly hot the rock is just below the ground. Siddi told us stories of how tourists naively thought it would be a good idea to roast marshmallows over the steaming vents. Obviously it is not advised to walk on the lava at all as it is still changing and there are hidden vents of dangerously hot steam all around. But of course we saw tourists walking on it anyway.
Once we reached the lava fields, we began our very steep ascent up the side of the mountain where we would get a bird’s eye view of the volcano and if we were lucky, catch an eruption.
The hike up was challenging and steep with the strong smell of sulphur in the air and an incredibly, voracious wind hitting our face. Despite the jet leg and challenge of the rigorous hike up, we were all elated and thrilled with excitement. Siddi talked along the way telling us more about the volcano and its history. The reason for the huge excitement about this volcano is it is the first time in over 800 years that this area has seen an eruption and it is also one of the most accessible active volcanoes Iceland has ever had. We knew it to be true given the hordes of fellow hikers, drones, and even multiple helicopter tours from high above all wanted to catch a glimpse of the world’s newest rock being formed on earth.
After about forty minutes or so, we reached one of the first of several viewing areas where we captured our first view of the steaming volcano. Siddi had been up there earlier in the morning with some other guests and they witnessed an eruption. There was a chance we would see one too.
We continued our walk for another three hours heading down to the freshly made lava fields where we saw tiny brilliant red lava rivers that looked like delicate strings of a spider web. Unfortunately they were too far off in the distance to capture them on film. We hiked on past the tourists to the end of the valley where the landscape became perhaps the most mystical of all. It felt like a set from a Marvel movie it was so incredibly surreal.
As we hiked back, we marveled in awe at what an incredible place Iceland is. While we had not seen the volcano erupt, we had seen some of the newest rock created on the earth and the experience was an unforgettable delight. It was a fantastic way to start off our ten day trip driving around the Ring Road. We could hardly wait for the next day for our adventure to begin!
Want to learn more?
While you don’t necessarily need a guide to go on the hike, it does make the experience much more personal and rewarding. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and told us a lot about the history of the Geldingadalur Valley and the Fagradalsfjall Volcano. Here is the tour we did with Troll Expeditions: Fagradalsfjall Volcano Day Tour and we chose the private tour so it was just for our family of four. Even better!
To see the massive scale of the lava field, I put together three short video clips and had to take out the sound since the wind was howling so loud. This gives an idea of the vastness of this breathtaking place. My favorite view is at the end as you feel as if you are on the moon! Unfortunately I couldn’t capture the tiny rivers of lava in my phone camera but they were there reminding you that an active volcano was right next to us.
Since we didn’t get to see the volcano erupt, I became a little obsessed with watching the live feed on YouTube. Check it out here! Also, I found this magnificent video that shows the volcano at its peak.
Thanks for sharing your trip. We have been quite often in Iceland on our way to Greenland or Svalbard. Now we don’t stop there any more because of all the tourist there.
All the best
The Fab Four of Cley
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Yes it was quite a shock to visit Vik and see how much it has changed since I first went to Iceland 13 years ago. The good news is we were in some more remote places where we saw not a soul! Just takes longer to drive there!
We mostly rented a four wheel drive to go inland.
65 degrees?? Lucky You…. Great post sk
What a great idea! Looks like a great time……
Thanks Ruth! It was a great trip and quite frankly we got there when it felt “safe”. I am not sure when I will feel comfortable traveling out of country again with numbers going up again. Hope you are doing well! 🙂
What a grand adventure, Nicole! I’m so happy you could finally and that I could go with you. 🙂
Thanks Janet! It felt so good to have an adventure. I hope all is well for you and you are enjoying life in Arizona.
We’re doing well, Nicole, although I’m ready for cooler weather. 🥵
Awesome adventure, Nicole! Your kids are getting the best education with your travels. 😀
Thanks Jane! It was really a wonderful trip and I’m glad we got to go given the fact that both my kids are in high school and I know they will soon be out of the nest. I want to instill a love of culture, other people and seeing the world on them. The pandemic has been tricky!
What an adventure! I would love to do this one day. The landscape looks so surreal.
Thanks Alison! We actually really wanted to do our Vancouver trip but it still was not open for us. I am really glad we went as it looks like numbers are again ticking back up so who knows when travel will be possible again. I hope you are doing well!
We are well thanks. Yes, numbers going up and we’re going back into mask/vaccine mandates. Good thing you went to Iceland when you could!
Yes very true. Thinking back about it I actually felt safer on the flight there then I do flying here because I knew everyone had to be vaccinated on the flight and also we all had to have a negative test to board. In the US there are no regulations at all so you are just taking your chances. I was really hoping we were turning the corner on the pandemic but so much of the world still needs to be vaccinated. The good news is I know of people here who held off and then finally gave in to getting it since the new variant.
Very cool addition to an Iceland trip! Glad you were able to get away at just the right time.
Yes me too Lexi! Right after we got home, the US Govt listed Iceland as Level 4 do not travel due to high covid rates. This pandemic has been so crazy. No idea when I will leave again as we had a scare with a false positive test two days before our return back. I thankfully retested and it was negative but I would have had to stay there for 14 or more days!!!
Iceland is such a wonderful place to explore.
Yes I’m glad we got to go, especially now since Covid cases are on the rise again.
If Iceland were closer to Indonesia, I would probably have planned a trip there since it’s one of very few countries that accept visitors who have been vaccinated with Sinovac (the vaccine most people, including me, got here in Indonesia). Iceland and Indonesia are very similar in the sense that both countries have a lot of volcanoes, although the types are different. Glad you could take this family trip, Nicole. I think I’ve said this before, but I can’t believe how much your children have grown!
Yes I’m really glad we got to go. The past 18 months sure have been crazy with the pandemic. Have things improved in Indonesia? I haven’t read much about it in the news so I’m assuming that the cases have decreased. It has really been a horrible pandemic. I would love to visit Indonesia some day. Not sure when life will resume back to “normal” but I have always wanted to go to Indonesia. My uncle lived there once and visits frequently to enjoy its diving. As for the kids, yes! It is crazy. I started this blog when they were toddlers and my son is now almost 17 and daughter almost 15. I am so glad I’ve been able to take them on some trips! Hope all is well for you. I’m sure you miss traveling just as much as I do!
In Jakarta and most of Java the situation has improved following the strictest lockdown we’ve had since June last year. In Jakarta alone, about 60% of its residents have received both doses of vaccination. But the vaccination rate varies greatly from one province to another, from one island to another. I’ve started looking up options for international travel, but because of all the hassles it looks like it’s better for me to wait until next year. We’ll see. We surely do miss traveling, so I hope after the Iceland trip you’ll be able to do more domestic and international travels whenever possible, and safe.
Yes I can imagine how challenging it is getting the vaccine out to so many people and islands in Indonesia! I am so glad that things have improved. The lockdown is so hard. We only had one right back when Covid started and never had one again. We lost a lot of lives in this country and I know many were preventable especially now with the vaccine. It has been a challenging time.
I too went there on the 29th of July (arriving on the 30th) via Boston. But instead of going to sleep, I went straight to the volcano and was rewarded handsomely for one of my top 3 bucket list items, real lava and an eruption. And yes, it was hot. I probably could have worn shorts for my entire stay in iceland.
so lucky!!! I wish we had the energy for that. I know there was lava in the morning but we missed it. I guess I will have to try again someday. I was disappointed in not seeing it but still enjoyed the adventure! 🙂
Absolutely Beautiful! And Great to see u’s on the road again!
Thanks! Yes, I have hardly traveled or written much in past 18 months. I felt my soul come alive again on this trip. Hope to share more soon when life opens up and isn’t so busy! 🙂 Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate it!
Pity you missed the lava, but what you did get to see seems no less spectacular. Glad you added that video for a perspective of the scale of this amazing site. Super post Nicole.
PS: Like I mentioned on IG, can’t get over how much your children have grown!
Thanks Madhu! It really was such a good trip. So nice to be on an adventure as a family. I feel like time is on high speed now. I also can’t believe how much my children have grown! It is scary. I am almost 50 myself which is hard to even believe (except the wrinkles remind me!). My son only has two years left at home until he is off to college and my daughter is a freshman in high school already! When I started the blog, they were toddlers! It is nuts. I hope you are well. I can’t wait until the world opens up again. So much more I want to see. I’ve been so inspired by the incredible people I’ve met through WordPress too. 🙂
If you’re going to go off to travel in these times, make it special 🙂 And you have done this perfectly, great photos and video to share and such a perfect location (I still dream of Iceland one of these days). Such memories and made richer due to the circumstances the past 18 months, and of course family travel holds magic in itself (which is what I loved about the photos!). Cheers to a great autumn ahead.
Very true indeed. These past 18 months have been so incredibly hard. It was nice to get a beautiful special time with our kids. They are growing up way too fast. The pandemic was a way to slow down and appreciate our family time more but now life is crazy busy again. Isn’t that how it always is? I hope you are doing well! 🙂