I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I can’t seem to edit down any more than what’s already been cut out. Trying to share all the details of this magnificent country in just a few words is harder than I thought, even though most of the sites initially left me speechless when I was there. I guess it takes some time to recover and process everything that was seen, then some more time to come up with the best words to capture exactly what was felt and experienced so that others can feel and experience it just the same.
When people ask me what Iceland was like, my answer goes something like this:
Iceland is like seeing Earth the way it’s supposed to be, without human depreciation. Mountain ranges, glaciers, lava fields, lakes — just masses of land, all untouched. But where you do see human impact, it’s mostly positive. The citizens of Iceland are working with the natural world to preserve it and renew it, while simultaneously benefiting from it. They aren’t just looking to take advantage of it and the resources it has without giving anything in return, like most countries do.
Anywhoooo (not trying to get political here), in this half of my Iceland Post, I’m going to fill you in on the rest of our time in Iceland, mostly spent gallivanting about at some of the incredible natural locations I just spoke of, places like the Blue Lagoon, the Langjökull Glacier, and Þingvellir (pronounced Thinkvellir). Enjoy!
If there was a right way to rebound from the whirlwind that was our first day in Iceland (read that post here), it was with a nice, long soak in the Blue Lagoon. We woke up on Sunday a little groggy after a restless first night sleeping in the hostel, very ready for a day of relaxation.
When planning our trip to the Blue Lagoon a few months prior, we made sure to do a little research and from it decided that mid-morning was our best shot at a smaller crowd. We dressed, packed up for the day, snagged some breakfast from a local café, and then walked to Reykjavik’s central station (only a short fifteen minutes from our hostel by foot) where we hopped on a scheduled bus for our reservation just before noon.
[Note: If you’re planning a trip to Iceland and want to make a stop at the Blue Lagoon, make sure you book well in advance! Reservations fill up fast and aren’t open for those on-a-whim decision-makers like myself.]
The drive from Reykjavik was decently long (just about an hour and a half) and with only dark lava fields as far as the eye could see, there wasn’t much to look at. Once steam started rising in the distance, a tell-tale sign we were getting close, our eagerness grew. We pulled onto the grounds and were welcomed by a large white wall with only the words “Blue Lagoon Iceland”. Just beyond it, we got our first glance at the geothermal water. It was a gorgeous shade of pale blue that you really can’t imagine exists in real life.
I think the excitement over the pretty pools at the entrance and the anticipation for a relaxing day got to us, because we ended up upgrading our reservation package from the standard option to Comfort. With it, we got one included drink and an extra face mask. If we were doing this, we were doing it big!
Walking out of the dimly lit, scenic locker rooms to where the main pool of water was, we were first overwhelmed with just how bright everything was outside. And it didn’t take long to notice the subtle smell of sulfur in the air, too. Once our eye’s adjusted to the sunlight, we were then hit with the sheer immensity of everything — the property, the lagoon’s size, and the beauty of what was around us. It was unlike anything I’d seen before. It truly was otherworldly.
Corinne and I spent well over four hours walking around and sitting in different areas of the pool, putting on and washing off a trio of natural face masks, venturing in and out of waterfalls, spending time in the steam rooms and saunas . . . but not without first enjoying a mid-morning glass of sparkling strawberry wine.
The pool’s temperature varied from location to location, but typically remained somewhere between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. With the crisp, Icelandic air surrounding you, the warm water was entirely welcomed.
Learn more about the water on their website, here.
After our time in the pool, we showered, dressed, and enjoyed a late lunch on the patio by the pool. We then hopped on our bus back to Reykjavik, where we enjoyed ice cream before dinner down by the little mariner’s village. With the burgers that we didn’t get on our first day finally in our bellies, we retreated early for the night to rest up before the next day’s early-morning excursion to the second-largest glacier in Europe.
The Langjökull Glacier
Growing up along the coast of Southern California, it shouldn’t be too surprising that I was (and still am) more of a beach girl than a mountain one. Snow wasn’t something I was too familiar with, let alone a slowly moving mass of ice. Glaciers seemed to only exist for me as a quick geography lesson in grade-school — not anything that I imagined I would be able to see in real life. Which is why waking up the morning of our glacier excursion was a bit surreal.
After dressing in layers for the frosty adventure ahead, we enjoyed a quick breakfast in the lobby of the hostel before waiting outside for our bus to pick us up, and soon we were on our way. There were five of us on our tour that day, including the driver, so the experience was a bit more intimate than what’s accustomed. Eleven hours on a bus tour was loooong, and the extra space in the vehicle was an unexpected perk.
On our excursion (we booked it through Extreme Iceland), we were scheduled to make four stops before reaching our ultimate destination at the Langjökull Glacier. Along the way, we saw valleys created by retreating glaciers (called fjords), geothermal power plants, and gorgeous waterfalls.
After the waterfalls, we made a late lunch stop and prepared for the longest leg of our journey. Most of the ride was off the beaten path on gravel-y roads where, over thousands and thousands of years, the glacier had retreated and sculpted the land as it made its way back towards the ice cap. It was pretty unreal to see the power of nature in that sense, and in retrospect, I wish I would have taken pictures so you could see exactly what I mean.
Once the van came to a stop at the base camp, it took all of my power to remain composed and not stumble out the van doors. For someone who didn’t consider herself much of an adventurer, I was a bit taken aback at my own enthusiasm. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
Outside, the air was brisk and clean and stung my nose and throat a bit as I breathed in deeply. It was also decently windy, which wasn’t a total shocker once I registered how high up we were. We made our way to the staging area where we wiggled into waterproof jumpsuits and boots, then hopped onto the military-grade truck that would take us to the entrance of the glacier. The wheels on this thing were about three-fourths my height to put its size and prowess in perspective. And I’m glad about that, since the trek up the side of the glacier was filled with massive crevices that could have swallowed any other car whole.
After about forty-five minutes of driving on ice (yawwwn), we finally arrived at the entrance to the glacier. The only thing that made up for the unanticipated length of the ride was the smokin’ hot Icelandic tour guide that chatted throughout the whole thing (amirite, Corinne, or amirite!?).
My first thought was that it looked an awful lot like the entrance to a sewage system. A large, steel cylinder jutted out from the glacier’s surface and one glance in yielded nothing but darkness after a few yards. A little daunting, really. We gathered outside of the pipe-like opening as the tour guides divided the group in half (sad face — Corinne and I weren’t in Hot Tour Guide’s group) and we made our way into the dark depths of the second-largest glacier in Europe.
Along the tunnels, lights illuminated the pathway through the ice, casting a mesmeric blue glow around us. It was one of the most beautiful, enchanting sites I have ever seen. Not sure words can properly do it justice, so I’ll let the photos below do the talking.
We spent what I’m guesstimating was about forty-five minutes to an hour in the glacial tunnels, learning about the process of creating it (read more, here) as well as a dismal lesson on the future of Langjökull (we’re talking only 100 more years of its existence). It was pretty awesome (and sad) to know that we were part of a small group of people lucky enough to go into this glacier during its lifetime.
After emerging from below the surface, we were greeted by a (mostly) clear sky and good visibility, so we snapped some more pics before getting back onto the big truck and heading down to the base camp. Once at camp, we shed our winter jumpsuits, said a woeful goodbye to Hot Tour Guide, and hopped into our van for the two-hour drive back to Reykjavik. We had another day-long adventure the following morning, so didn’t waste any time getting showered and into bed.
The Golden Circle Tour
How we were able to wake up and basically do it all again, I’ll never fully comprehend. When taken care of and nourished, our bodies are amazing machines, and that became apparent for the duration of our trip. There were maybe two days out of the sixteen we were gone that we didn’t have to catch a flight or be somewhere at a certain time. Looking to the future, maybe I won’t be so concerned with preplanning every single activity and excursion. But it was, without a doubt, the perfect way to travel in Iceland.
Once again, Corinne and I rose early for a day-long expedition around some of Iceland’s most iconic attractions. After breakfast in the lobby of our hostel and nearly missing our bus, we were on our way to our first stop at Hellisheidi Power Plant, where we would learn about the use of geothermal energy all over Iceland. I’m not scientific in the least bit, so most of the information went in one ear and out the other. But the major fact that stuck? Iceland uses 100% renewable energy, which in this day and age is an incredible feat. Read more about it with this Time article, here.
After the geothermal power plant, we settled into the bus again to make our way around Iceland’s Golden Circle, stopping at Faxi Waterfall, Kerid crater, and Geysir for an extended period of time.
After Geysir, we witnessed the incredible power of Gulfoss Waterfall. This is considered the most popular waterfall and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and it’s easy to see why. Right out of the bus you were damp from the thick mist in the air, and rainbows were visible at almost any angle because of it. The roar of the water was nearly impossible to hear over, and that alone was a reminder to be careful about your movements. One slip or wrong step could be disastrous. But it was easy to admire the force of nature.
One thing that’s great about these bus tours, as opposed to renting a car and driving yourself, is that the tour guides share incredible information that you otherwise would not have known. Much of it is factual (along the lines of something you’d read in a brochure), but a lot of it is anecdotal which is much more engaging. Also, if you’re lucky enough, they may stray away from the set path of the tour and take you places you would have never stumbled upon.
In our case, our tour guide was a replacement for who was originally scheduled to take us around Iceland, and I will always be thankful that the stars aligned this way on that day. He was such a pleasant person to be around, and he made each of us feel so welcomed in their country. I wish I remembered his name (Icelandic names are SO hard to remember/pronounce).
Anyways . . . Gulfoss was supposed to be the last stop on our tour before we made the trek back to Reykjavik, but with the approval of everyone on the bus, he had a few more stops in mind. One was an ice cream farm off the beaten path, where we ate the creamiest, most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had. We stopped to feed treats to the wild Icelandic horses.
Then we made our way to the national park, Þingvellir, that sits on a rift valley caused by the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Our main destinations there were a couple of waterfalls and the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. But before we reached them, our tour guide suddenly pulled to the side of the road and ordered us off the bus with our empty water bottles. We were all a little bit confused. Maybe another bathroom break?
We walked down a small dirt path and came to the edge of the lake, called Lake Þingvallavatn. The tour guide took my bottle and loosened the top, pointing to the water. We all looked at him a little skeptical, but I took the initiative and began filling up my bottle. Pulling it up from the chilly lake, it had already built up a layer of frosty condensation on its exterior. The water was perfectly clear, not any dirt or sign of a microorganism in sight.
I took a sip, and the rest, as they say, is history. I quickly chugged what was remaining to fill it up again. And again. And again. One by one, the rest of the group followed suit and we stood around for another fifteen minutes, drinking the crispest, freshest water we’ve ever had and refilling once more before heading further into the park.
It was truly an exceptional experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Thanks for bearing with me on this lengthy post. It’s easy to conclude it by saying that Iceland is by far the most awe-inspiring, remarkable place I’ve ever seen, and I hope that came through with the pictures and what I had to say about it. We only experienced a small part of Iceland, so I can’t wait to go back and see the rest of it, as well as revisit some of these incredible landmarks.
Next up on A Thousand Candid Words — Ireland and Portugal. Until then, thanks for reading!