Los Glaciares National Park

My Top Five Wild Hikes

I just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” a dark, raw and fiercely humorous book on how one woman finds herself during a three-month long trek through the wild Pacific Crest Trail. The book is powerful, emotional, honest and inspiring, and Strayed uses her brilliant memoir to take a hard look at self-discovery, heeling and change.

Of course when times are tough, we can’t always pick up our bags and leave town. Yet, I often find that there is no better way to escape and reflect upon life than to go on a hike, and the more remote and wild, the better. I have been fortunate to have done many wonderful adventurous hikes over the years.  Although every hike I’ve done has been special and has brought me to a new place, there are a select few that have truly inspired me and are unforgettable.

Here is a list of the top five wild hikes that are bound to get your mind thinking.

Adventure Travel Argentina Chile Guatemala Iceland Nepal TRAVEL RESOURCES Trekking/Hiking
Myrdalsjökull Glacier

A Sea of Ice: Iceland’s Myrdalsjökull Glacier

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Perhaps one of my most memorable adventure travel experiences thus far has been my hike across a real live sea of ice. There is nothing quite like strapping on a pair of crampons and moving at a snail’s pace straight into unimaginable winds and icy cold rain across one of the world’s most beautiful and magical glaciers. Sure I’ve done plenty of amazing hikes around the world ranging to such far off places as Peru, Patagonia, The French Alps and Nepal. Yet nothing was quite like walking across a wide, moving sea of ice.

Myrdalsjökull Glacier

First steps onto the massive Myrdalsjökull Glacier. Unfortunately there was no way possible to show the enormity of it all. This is just the beginning.

Adventure Travel Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY Trekking/Hiking Weekly Photo Challenges

Into the Mystic of Iceland

“We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic”   –

 Lyrics to one of my favorite Van Morrison songs, “Into the Mystic”

I just couldn’t resist including it with the post…listen along and view my photos into the mystic….

There is no place more mystical than Iceland. Come take a look for yourself and let me know if you agree that there is no place quite like it.  The mystical land of fire and ice.

Adventure Travel Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

A return to Iceland

I felt like I needed to spice my blog up a bit.  Lately I’ve done an awful lot of posts on Minnesota and even have another one in the queue.  When I started this blog it was mostly for sharing my stories and photos from traveling somewhere else.  Yet I came to realize that many of my readers have never even been to Minnesota and perhaps don’t realize how incredibly beautiful it really is.  Hence my recent focus on places around the land of lakes (we do have over 13,000!).

This morning I wanted to share some photos I’ve reworked from my trip to Iceland back in the summer of 2008.  Iceland truly appealed to me.  It has all the nature you could ever desire, loads of hikes, and not many people.  I found a lot of peace and serenity in such a beautiful, magical place.  It is my hope that I can return someday as there is much to see in this gorgeous land.

Here are some photos that will help illustrate what I mean.  Hope you enjoy!

Adventure Travel Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Getting down and dirty at the Blue Lagoon

A visit to the world-famous Blue Lagoon is something that cannot be missed when visiting Iceland. Located only 8 miles/22 km from the Keflavik Airport and 24 miles/47 km from downtown Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon is a perfect way to spend your first jet-lagged hours in Iceland or a fantastic send-off before boarding your flight back home.

We opted to go to the Blue Lagoon at the end of our week- long hiking vacation in Iceland, and the geothermal spa’s hot, mineral rich waters were the perfect treatment for my aching body and my enlightened soul.

The Blue Lagoon is quite a unique place. Located in the middle of an enormous lava field in the Reykjanes Peninsula in Southwestern Iceland, you would think at first you were visiting some kind of freak of nature. The drive to the spa itself makes you feel like you’re on the moon. Fallen black lava dots the rugged, barren landscape and you truly feel that you are out of this world.

The spa itself is actually man-made yet the waters, the heating process and the minerals are all natural. Believe it or not, the lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant! The seawater originates about 6,500 feet beneath the ground where it is heated by lovely Mother Nature and then cools a bit as it is pushed upwards to the lagoon.

The water’s temperatures at the Blue Lagoon are a perfect 98-102 degrees F/37-39 degrees C, and the six million liters of geothermal seawaters are renewed every two days.

Inside the Lagoon, is a fancy spa, a restaurant, and a showering area where you must shower completely nude before entering the lagoon. Icelanders take hygenine very seriously!

The Lagoon itself is enormous and bathing in it is quite an invigorating experience that is unique to Iceland. The hot waters are magical and the steam rises off the lagoon giving the place an eerie, mystical appearance. There are two bars inside where of course you can get drinks (probably not the best thing to do when you are getting so dehydrated but “when in Rome”). There is also a pile of mineral-rich mud that you can apply liberally to your face, arms, and wherever else you’d like. You let the mud dry and form into a nice facial mask before washing it off. It is quite a sight to see hundreds of people, bathing together and covered in mud. But that all leads to the fun and the experience of the Blue Lagoon.

When I was finished with my visit, my body felt like butter and I was as relaxed and happy as a clam, all ready to board my 5.5 hour flight back to Minneapolis.

All in all, my trip to Iceland was one to remember. It was by far one of the most beautiful, peaceful and unique places I’ve ever traveled to and am looking forward to someday going back. There is so much more to explore!

For more picture, information and a visual tour of the Blue Lagoon please visit their website at: www.bluelagoon.com

Here are some photos from my visit:

Leaving Reykjavik and heading to the infamous Blue Lagoon

Driving on the moon! The entrance to the parking lot of the Blue Lagoon:

 

 

 

Stay tuned…thirdeyemom is on vacation and it is a mystery location that I am certain will be interesting all the same. Secret hint is that it is not that far from my home!

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION

Entranced in Iceland: A visit to the remote Skaftafell National Park: Part II The Hike

Enrapture me dear God

Captivate my soul

For thy am not worthy

For not believing in you so.

Enrapture me nature

Captivate my soul

For your beauty is eternal

And I will always love you so.

——————————————————————————————————————

We woke up to the sun casting her glorious light through the thin wool shades draping over the windows.   My heart smiled.  It was sunny!  Although I was tired from the long drive and late night meal, I could hardly wait to get up and put on my dirty hiking shoes and clothes.  It was going to be a grand day.  I could tell.

I jumped out of bed, walked over to the shade and pulled it gently aside.  It was picture perfect.  Not a cloud in the sky and the sun was beaming brilliantly across the verdant green hills.  I knew that this was going to be a day to remember.   One of those quintessential postcard-perfect days of hiking in Iceland.

Rise and Shine…what a perfect morning for a hike!  Picture below of the view outside our hotel window.

Setting off…

There are two options for lodging:  Either staying at the Hotel Skaftafell or camping (unless of course you want to sleep in your car!)

The vast sand deltas called sandars off in the distance remind you how remote you truly are.

The vast tongue of the ice cap appears to jet out from the sky.

It is barren, vast, remote yet so alive.  It feels like life and death are dancing together in perfect harmony.

The start of the hike is easy.  In fact, there is not much elevation gain.  Just walking and making sure you keep your eyes on the trail which is hard to do when you are completely awestruck by such incredible beauty.

The clouds roll in yet it doesn’t seem to dampen the beauty of this place.  In fact, perhaps the clouds even make it more magical and surreal.

The green rolling hills are lush and alive.

As we get higher you can see the meandering rivers created by the melting glaciers.

We keep hiking up through the fields of joy, having no idea what an incredible view is awaiting on top.

As we climb higher, we realize how truly out there this place is.  We are officially Lost in Iceland.  There is nothing but dead sandors for miles and serpentine rivers making their mark across the land as they have done for thousands of years.

As we approach the top of the overlook, we are anxious about what is to come.  Below we see the earth-colored remains from the terminus of the glacier.

We reach our destination and are completely in awe and disbelief.  The beauty of this place is breathtaking.  It is like no place on earth.

We spend a few moments here, awestruck and euphoric.  This is why we hike.  To  go down that road less traveled.  To see the things that make everything that is bad in the world seem good.  To see God’s creation in all its glory.

We wish we could stay here all day but unfortunately it is time to go.  Despite my desire to sit here and embrace this vast landscape until it is forever engrained in my mind, we must leave and finish our hike.

The hike continues in a loop around the monstrous terminus of the ice cap.  We walk up another brilliant, green landscape wondering what awesome view we will find next.

When we round the corner, we can tell we are in for a wonderful surprise.  The rolling hills stop as did the other hikers.  And, there it was, a massive, frozen mass of a glacier that shone in the sunlight like a gleaming, sparkling diamond of ice.

Next to the late summer greenery, it was absolutely stunning.

The remains of powder-puff flowers blow gently in the wind, reminding me of the wildness of this place.

It is hard to fathom that this is just one of many glacial tongues flowing off the mighty Vatnajokull ice cap.

The last view of a hike of a lifetime….from a trip that I will never forget!

Stay tuned…next post will be about my last day in Iceland and a visit to the Blue Lagoon!

Adventure Travel Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Entranced in Iceland: A visit to the remote Skaftafell National Park: Part I The Arrival

After a day of driving filled with natural wonders, I couldn’t wait to finally reach remote Skaftafell National Park.  Europe’s largest and perhaps grandest national park is a hiker’s delight filled with awe-inspiring glacial tongues, waterfalls, twisted birch trees, verdant grass, and the crème de la crème, the aquamarine Vatnajökull at it’s glory.

As you get further along in the drive, there is nothing but glaciers and the haunting dead, black sand deltas known as sandars juxtaposed against the brilliant green-covered hills and plains.  It is quite a sight to see!  Life against death could never be so sensationally beautiful. 

We pull into our lonely hotel, Hotel Skaftafell (the ONLY hotel for hours) close to dinner time.  The undistinguished hotel has 63 small, clean rooms.  There is nothing luxurious about this place.  However, unless you want to camp, it is the only option.

Here is a photo of Hotel Skaftafell which in my opinion looks a little more like a military base than a hotel.

A glimpse of the hotel from above.  Note there is nothing in the horizon except the sandars, the brownish, gray or sometimes black sand deltas.

Looking the other direction outside of our hotel room is a lovely view of what awaits….

As you walk a bit further behind the hotel, you are suddenly and surprisingly encountered by Svinafellsjokull, another gigantic glacier lurking off the immense ice cap:

Looking back again on the hotel, you can see and feel the remoteness of the place.  Lost in Iceland, is anybody out there?

After a fine dinner (nothing fancy, but wholesome good food and of course at a price, given our remoteness), we head out again for a short hike beyond the hotel.  For some reason, I love this picture of my dad walking off into the distance.  It is mysterious, magical and intimidating all at the same time.   Also, it is about 10:30 pm….and it is still light!

And this is what we find…..

The sun slowly dips behind the clouds and it is almost bedtime.  We have a big day ahead of us of hiking and exploring this unbelievable land.  I can hardly wait!

Goodnight glacier…we will see you tomorrow!

Stay tuned….next post will show the outrageously spectacular photos of our day hike in Skaftafell National Park.  A hike of a lifetime!

Adventure Travel Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Driving in search of glaciers in southeastern Iceland

Nothing prepared me for the drive along the Ring Road from Vik to Jökulsárlón.  Located at the southeastern tip of Iceland following the immense Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap outside of the poles, is a drive of some of the most spectacular glacial scenery on earth. 

At each slightly bending turn, one is rewarded with an enormous frozen valley of ice jetting off from the ice cap down into the black, hardened lava fields and dead gray sand.   It is such an impressive sight that the drive took us double the amount of time to account for each and every stop along the way to take photos of these mammoth glaciers.  The glacial tongues seemed to be everywhere and go as far as the eye could see.    I continually had to pinch myself to see if I was really here in such an unbelievable place, in a world that is still in the process of being created.

Following are some pictures from along the way…

Sometimes pictures speak louder than words. 

After leaving Vik, we soon encountered our first glacier off in the distance.  Initially we thought it was a cloud.  As we moved closer, we realized to our delight it was an enormous glacier sliding down off the mighty Vatnajökull ice cap.  Covering area of 8,100 km², the ice cap represents 8% of the total area of Iceland!  It is absolutely enormous and is loaded with frozen glacial rivers, lakes, and volcanoes.

A closer view of our “first” (of many) glaciers:

Driving along the Ring Road is a bit scary at points.  You are constantly awestruck and enthralled by the sightings of so many glaciers that it is hard to keep your eyes on the road.  Yet, you must pay attention!  One-lane bridges like this one pictured below tend to sneak up on you fast.

The eerie landscape reminds you that you are in one of the world’s newest countries.  Iceland is constantly forming and evolving every day.

Suddenly, we turn the corner and WOW!!!! We are shocked to see not one, not two, but four glaciers off in distance like clouds tumbling down a hill.   I have never seen anything like this before.

Somehow or another, we are able to remain on the road (though it is really difficult to concentrate on driving!) and head off in the distance, in search of the glaciers.

Rivers are common in this part of Iceland.  As the glaciers melt and flow down off the ice cap, rivers form bringing in glacial gray sand, rock and dirt.  The sun tries to peek out from under the clouds, uncovering just the tip of the ice cap that goes beyond one’s imagination.

Another long, one-lane bridge brings us closer to our destination.  This time we see a car!  But thankfully they saw us too and waited on the other side until we passed safely.

At times the clouds are so dark and threatening that we are certain it will rain.  But only a few drops trickle out.  The heavens are not quite ready to release a downpour.

Then it suddenly and magically clears up, letting the sun cast a brilliant sparkling glow across the ice.

When we finally reach the parking lot of Jökulsárlón, the clouds dispersed, releasing the jubilant, glorious sun.  Judging by what we had seen along the way, we knew we were in for a real treat.

As we walked up the dark mass of sand and rock, we had no idea whatsoever what awaited us behind those gray walls:

My heart raced in excitement and anticipation.  I had never seen pictures of Jökulsárlón.  All I knew was that glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón was supposed to be a photographer’s paradise.    I had heard about the brilliant diamond blue icebergs that floated gracefully across the lagoon.  But nothing prepared me for my first sight of this slice of heaven.

Off in the distance as far as the eye could see, the glacier tumbled down off the ice cap and into the aquamarine lagoon, leaving icebergs the size of buildings drifting slowly and peacefully across the water.

The magical sculptured icebergs bewitched my soul.  They glistened like diamonds in the brilliant sun.

I’m not really a religious person.  But if there is a God, he must have cast a spell on Iceland:  There is no place quite like this on earth.

Stay tuned….next post will continue to follow my adventure with a stop-over in surreal Skaftafell Park.  About as far out there and “lost in Iceland” as you can get.

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION

Attack of the puffins

At the southern tip of mainland Iceland, only a few short hours drive from Reykjavik, we reach our destination:  The lovely, quaint coastal village of Vik.  The sparsely populated town (there are roughly 350 hearty souls who live there) is a beautiful place surrounded by long black sand beaches, lush green mountains, sharp sea cliffs and the trademark which this place is most known for:  Reynisdrangar, a row of pointed basalt sea stacks that legend holds were created by trolls who turned to stone at sunrise.

We planned to make a short stop in Vik to do a well-known hike along the Reynisfjall cliffs, known as one of the most spectacular short hikes in southern Iceland.  We were looking forward to getting out of the car and stretching our legs.  A hike would be the perfect way to experience the beauty of this unearthly land.

As we pull into Vik, the surroundings were mystical.  We could feel the magical effects of Icelandic folklore run through our veins:

 

As we descended into town, we got our first glimpse of the gorgeous black sand beaches which stretch as far as the eye can see.

There is not much at all to the town except a few houses, perhaps one or two small hotels and a couple of restaurants.

It is as isolated as we have been so far in Iceland.  Really in the middle of nowhere.  I wondered what it would be like to live somewhere like Vik.

The countryside is so lush and green.  The Icelandic horses are in their element and have plenty to eat.

The start of the hike was a bit steep.  We couldn’t find the trailhead so we had to improvise by going straight up, using our hands and fingers for support.

We pass a few horses close up but they don’t even seem to even notice our presence.

Finally, we found the trail.  You can actually drive your car up here as well but in my book, that is cheating.  The best way to reach a spectacular view is by foot!

On a sunny day, you are able to see glaciers off in the distance.  All we saw were the green foothills of the mountains since the peaks were blanketed in clouds.

The trademark of Vik, Reynisdrangar, a row of spiky basalt sea stacks which have long been used as a landmark and navigational point for sailors.  The stalks raise up to 217 feet/66m into the air and local lore believes that they were formed when two trolls were unable to find land and turned into stone at sunrise.

Iceland is famous for its puffins and is fortunate to claim ownership of breeding over half the world’s population of Atlantic Puffin’s in her lush, fertile lands.  The total population of puffins in Iceland has been estimated between 8 and 10 million birds.  That’s a lot of puffins!

Puffins are both beautiful and fun to watch…unless of course, you are getting attacked!  Unbeknownst to us, the lovely cliffs we were hiking on were also the mating and nesting area for these fine, lovely birds.  Nothing in the guidebook told us that one of southeast Iceland’s most beloved, worthy hikes was going through the nesting grounds!  I felt terrible!  But what was worse was the actual attack of the birds!

We had reached the top of the hike, a plateau, which afforded a splendid view of the ocean.  As we were taking in the awesome scenery, all of the sudden, out of nowhere a bird began swarming and scooping down at us at ungodly close levels.  I thought perhaps it was a bird gone mad.  But then another came, and another and soon we had to make a run for it, covering our heads.  It was actually a little awful.  Of course we didn’t want to hurt their nests (nor did we want to lose our heads!)  So we ran swiftly and as quickly as would could off the plateau, and headed back down towards our car, feeling a little bit shaken up by the whole experience.  An attack by puffins was not at all what I had expected.  But then again, nothing ever seems to go as planned when you are traveling in another country.

This picture below is right before the surprise attack!  Little did I know what was awaiting!

The stunning view at the top of the hike was worth it.

Happy to be down, away from the flying attacks!

 

Views like this are priceless.  To see such beauty in the world, lifts my spirits with joy. 

 

We ended our hike within two hours, climbed back in the car and set off for our next adventure.  I was looking forward to the remainder of the drive through southern Iceland.  I was fully aware that we would soon be hitting glacier after glacier and seeing some of the most inspiring beauty in all of Iceland.  I could hardly wait!

 

Stay tuned….next post will cover the glacier-filled drive to Skaftafell National Park and a stop at the iceberg-filled aquamarine lake, Jokulsarlon, probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life!

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION

Heading to the land of gnomes and icebergs: A trip to Southeast Iceland

It is hard to not be completely awestruck by the beauty of Southeast Iceland.  A couple hours drive out of Reykjavik leads to nature as pure and fine as it gets, with little or no signs of civilization except the occasional passing of another car or a herd of sheep alongside the road.  The two hour drive to Vik is renowned for its spectacular views of the ever-changing and always fascinating landscape.  You pass through verdant green farms flocked with white fluffy sheep, craggy mountain peaks loaded with glaciers, brilliant waterfalls and finally nothing but the ocean as far as the eye can see.

We left Reykjavik early in the morning, after a hearty breakfast, expecting the drive Skaftafell National Park (our final destination) to take the entire day.  We had planned to stop along the way, in the small village of Vik to do a couple of hours hike, before continuing on with our drive.  I was immensely excited about the drive for I love to wander and see the countryside.  It is one of my favorite things to do when I’m exploring a new place.  To look at the great big world and breathe it all in, seeing it as if for the first time in surprise and in wonder.   To hold that moment in time inside your heart and soul, and to take every little detail in so you’ll never forget it.  That is what travel is all about.  Those moments in time. 

Heading South on Route 1 towards Vik, you are instantly reminded of how remote much of Iceland is.  Besides the blackened lava fields, lush green farms, and craggy mountains flowing with glaciers, all off in the distance, there are few towns and few signs of life.

The yellow-green grass blows quietly in the wind:

What makes Iceland so incredibly fascinating is that the landscape changes constantly, moving from once brilliant green pastures to dark, fierce lava flows.  This is indeed Iceland, the land of fire and ice.

Geysers off in the distance give an eerie feeling to the drive.  Am I dreaming?

And all those roads that appear to lead to nowhere make one indeed feel far, far away….

Along the ever-changing countryside…perhaps some of the most scenic, “out there” views in Iceland:

The sun slowly peaks through the thunderous clouds.  I am mesmerized…my mind is racing yet peaceful for this is the time I often reflect the most on my life, when I am in my element, exploring and seeing the world.

 

There is nothing in the distance except solitude and sheep.

Our drive seems to take longer than expected as drives such as this one often do.  There are too many incredible views; too many unworldly things to see and admire.  We pass yet another spectacular waterfall along the way, pulling over to the shoulder of the lonely road to take another picture.

The black lava rock field reminds you that one of the world’s largest ice caps irks not far behind…

The glacial remnants against the pale yellow fields are so stark and so beautiful, it almost hurts your eyes to see.

It is almost impossible to believe that we are less than two hours away from Reykjavik.

Yet this is Iceland.  A a land that is so absolute and so pure, it seems like from out of this world.

We are swept away once again by another gorgeous waterfall, Skogafoss in the distance can be seen from the road.

As we approach Vik and see the tiny village away in the distance, I think about Icelandic folklore and ponder on the possibility of gnomes.  Of course it isn’t possible!  But then again, Iceland seems like a fairyland to me.

Stay tuned….next post is titled “Attack by the Puffins: Our short hike in Vik”. 

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION

A Hike in Hengill: A land awash in geothermal wonders

A short distance off the Ring Road along the Golden Circle tour (see earlier post:  Searching for Gold in the Golden Circle) is a fabulous afternoon hike in one of Iceland’s lesser-known spots:  Reykjadalur or the “Smoky Valley”.  Upon arriving at the head of the trail, it is instantly obvious where the name “Smoky Valley” came from:  All the pillars of steam and smoke spiraling up into the sky!

Reykjadalur is a typical Icelandic natural wonder.  The valley is surrounded by geothermal activity.  There are bubbling mud pools, venting steam, boiling hot springs, and if you bring your swim suit, a natural hot pool at the top of Mount Oklelduhnukur.  All this in a couple of hours hike!

As we pulled off the Ring Road and headed into Hengill towards the start of the hike, we were utterly stunned to see a real live golf course in the middle of this incredibly active geothermal valley!  Can you imagine playing golf in the midst of steaming vents and gurgling mud pools?  What if you ball rolled into one?  Would you pick it out or add a point to your score?

Here is a photo of the golf course in the “smoky valley”….Fore!

At the head of the trail:  Feeling a little uneasy about hiking through all this crazy stuff!  But “When in Rome”!

Setting off on the two-hour hike.  Easy, right.  Yet a bit on edge about all the natural hazards:

There is even a sign to remind you!

Not a great picture yet it illustrates the perils of this hike!  Plus it shows the surreal experience of hiking through steam.

We were soon passed by a couple of hardy Icelanders, dressed in swimsuits and carrying their towels, on a race to the top for a quick dip in the hot pools.    But the REI group (in picture below) couldn’t pass us!

Looking down below at the boiling, bubbling stream:

The views of the “Smoky Valley” are stunning and quite different from other parts of Iceland that I have seen.

The “Smoky Valley” is stunning!  Look at the color of the black rock juxtaposed to the verdant, green valley.  Incredible!

The end of the hike…we made it without any mishaps!

Soon after our hike, we were back in the car en route to Reykjavik.  All I could think about was what an amazing day it had been!  The Golden Circle tour was quite magical and the hike definitely let off some steam.  I was looking forward to another fabulous dinner, a good night sleep and my next adventure.

As I closed my eyes, I reflected on my day and came to the obvious conclusion that Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is a land of pure wonder and dreams.

Stay tuned….Next post will cover the highlight of my trip to Iceland.  A drive along the coast and visit to the remote, serene Skaftafell National Park.

Adventure Travel Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Searching for Gold on the Golden Circle

If you only have a few days in Iceland, a drive around the infamous Golden Circle is a definite must and often a highlight of any visitor’s trip to Iceland.   There are loads of tour operators based in Reykjavik that can easily and happily take you there on a tour via bus.  Yet, in my humble opinion, the best way (albeit not the cheapest) to experience the Golden Circle is by doing it yourself.  That way you can really get lost in Iceland.  Lost in a metaphorical sense, as the route is fairly easy to navigate.

My father and I rented a car for our stay in Iceland which was not at all cheap.  Gas prices are high, and everything in Iceland at the time was very expensive (remember this was 2008, before the financial crisis thus prices may have dropped a bit since then).   But in order to see and do all the things we wanted, especially to truly see and visit the countryside, we needed our own car.

It was worth every penny; the highlight of our trip to Iceland was the driving and seeing the magnificent countryside for hours on end.  The astonishing waterfalls, endless amounts of glaciers dropping down to the ground like a cloud, the immense black, rocky lava fields, the coastline, the verdant farms and of course the grazing livestock.  None of this would have been seen if we hadn’t left Reykjavik and followed our wonderlust into the wild, pure, untamed nature which is the best part of Iceland.

The Golden Circle Tour is the most popular day trip from Reykjavik, probably for its accessibility (the first stop,Pingvillir, is only about 30 miles/49km northeast of Reykjavik) as well as its “bang for its buck”.  You can see history in Pingvillir which is the birthplace of Iceland’s first parliament in 930 AD; wild nature at the Geysir, a geothermal hotspot; and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, Gullfoss- all within a day’s trip from Reykjavik.

Plus it is your main chance to get outside of Reykjavik and see what Iceland is most famous for:  Majestic, spectacular nature.  The beauty of Iceland’s countryside is as pure and sensational as nature gets.

There are many variations to the Golden Circle Tour yet we chose to stop at the three most popular attractions:  Pingvillir, Geysir and Gullfoss.  Here are the photos along the way.  You will instantly see why it is called the “Golden Circle”.  Unfortunately though, we didn’t see any rainbow or find a pot of gold.  But the views we saw were priceless.

Not far out of Reykjavik, perhaps only ten or fifteen minutes by car, you are suddenly surrounded by nature at its finest.  The Icelandic countryside is accessible, vast and simply put, spectacular.   As you drive along the Ring Road, heading east towards Pingvellir National Park, you are stunned by how green and pure the surrounding countryside is.  If there is a heaven on earth, Iceland easily fits the bill.  It is as close as you can get to a nature lover’s paradise. 

Iceland’s Horses (now how could you eat these gorgeous creatures?):

The amazingly green Iceland:  Pictures of hay wrapped in plastic to protect it from all that rain that makes Iceland so green:

The road to nowhere:  Following the famous Golden Circle on the Ring Road:

First stop:  Pingvillir, site of Iceland’s “Parliament Fields” founded in 930 AD.

View of Pingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland:

No one is exactly sure why Pingvillir was picked as the location of Iceland’s first parliament.  It is located about thirty miles from Reykjavik in a rift valley surrounded by cliffs.  Pingvillir is still known as the symbolic heart of Iceland, in which one of the world’s oldest known parliaments met until 1798.   Pingvillir is so important because it is where Iceland’s sense of nationhood actually began; Icelanders’ oral and literary traditions were passed on here in this very spot, and a sense of pride and independence developed which would eventually lead to Iceland’s freedom.

This photo here shows the fault lines.

All that remains of the parliament yet still fascinating to be in a place with so much history!

Views of Pingvillir:

In 2004, Pingvillir was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site:

Back in the car, heading east to our next stop Geysir (73 miles/118 km NE of Reykjavik).  The views of the magical countryside keep getting better:

This photo along the Ring Road reminded me of why you commonly see the phrase, “Lost in Iceland:  Is Anybody Out There”:

Besides the spectacular nature, the only other distractions to the drive were the crossing sheep, a common experience when driving in Iceland:

Finally we safely arrived in Geysir, without taking out any sheep for dinner.

Geysir offers a phenomenal display of geothermal activity all in one spot.  There are mighty erupting geysirs, steaming hot creeks, bubbling mud pools, and springs of boiling hot water.  The main attraction of the place is of course the big geysir which once erupted up to 80 m/262 feet!  A visit to Geysir is a great way to see one of Iceland’s great natural wonders:  The spectacular geothermal power brewing underneath its surface.

This photo shows the hot springs, steaming creeks and bubbling, boiling mud.  Wouldn’t want to walk barefoot in there!

Here is a picture of the Geysir before it erupts:

Look out below!

After watching the powerful eruption, we got back into the car and drove the short four minutes to our next stop, Gullfoss, home of Iceland’s most iconic waterfall.  As we drove along the Ring Road, we were pleasantly surprised with the sighting of our first glacier.  Off in the distance, like a cloud appearing from the heavens, flowed mightly magestic Langjokull glacier and Ice Cap. 

 

A closer look confirmed it was not a low laying cloud but a glacier!  Yep, a glacier unbeknownst to us, apeared magically and unexpectedly right before our eyes!  What a spectacular surprise!

The map showing the enormous size of the ice cap and glacier:

 

We finally reached the highlight of the Golden Circle, The Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”) waterfall….words cannot describe how spectacularly beautiful this waterfall is….it is like the heavens released a dam of magical water that casted the most magical spectacle on earth!

thideyemom having a thirdeye moment….Wow!

After a whole day of searching, I finally see my rainbow!  But I still couldn’t find the pot of gold:

As we walk closer, the power and sounds of the waterfall enchant me and I cannot stop taking pictures of this astonishing testement of nature at its finest.  Sometimes words cannot express the true feeling of being at one with the earth and all her wonders.  I am completely and utterly mesmorized….

 

After a splendid day of wondering Iceland’s countryside, we return to the Ring Road and follow it back to town.   The drive is lovely and peaceful.  I feel happy and relaxed to such a degree that can only be obtained after spending a wonderful day outside in beauty and nature.  I am in my element here in Iceland and smile to myself, dreaming happily about the days to come exploring this incredible, astonishing land of fire and ice.  If there is a Heaven on earth, I think I’ve found it.

 

Stay tuned….next post will highlight my first hike into a geothermal area where I see a REI group climbing alongside fellow Icelanders hiking up to a hot pool for a swim!

Iceland TRAVEL BY REGION