It is a very interesting thing to consider going to a country that is named Iceland, conjuring up images of places totally covered in thick ice, with a temperature that will not allow you to go out without thick jackets or several layers of clothing. But it is actually a contradiction, since one of the closest islands, Greenland is the one where three-fourths of the land area is covered in ice, whereas Iceland is generally warm and covered in greenery. Located at the juncture of the Arctic and the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland belongs to continental Europe. It is the world’s 18th largest island, but only has an estimated population of 325,671 as of 2014. Historically, the island’s economy relied heavily on fishing, but today Iceland’s tourism industry is a major contributor to the country’s economic viability.
What is so fascinating about Iceland?
It has places that are difficult to pronounce, several active and dormant volcanoes and a hip music scene, with top music personalities and groups such as Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men and Björk as the country’s famous exports. Iceland has plenty of waterfalls, lava fields, glaciers and hot springs. It is a paradise for nature lovers, with a landscape that is unspoilt, stunning and almost surreal in its beauty and diversity. Summers are green and mild, characterised by long daylight hours and winters with long nights providing opportunities to see the famous dark night light show, the Aurora Borealis.
Iceland is the home of the now often lazy Geysir and the very active Strokkur that erupts every five to ten minutes or so. It is a place for whale watching, and for viewing spectacular, out-of-this world landscapes and nature’s wonderful creations such as Maelifell Volcano, Myrdalsjökull Glacier Park. Kirkjufell Mountain, Skaftafell Ice Cave, the milky Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, Gullfoss Waterfall and even man-made wonders, such as the unique architecture of the Hallgrímskirkja, the Black Falls-inspired church in Reykjavík. Everywhere you turn, there is something fascinating to see in Iceland, opportunities for the whole family to have a great adventure and enjoy a culture that is truly Icelandic.
There are only a few places on earth where you can find a multicoloured landscape, not from the area’s flora but from its soil. Landmannalaugar is a very colourful mountain made up of volcanic rocks called rhyolite, which give the mountain such a wide variety of colours including white, brown, black, purple, yellow, green and pink. It is a great place for hiking and exploring, with the valley in between the mountains blessed with other geological elements, such as cold and hot springs where the waters combine to provide a pleasantly warm pool where tired hikers can have a soak to ease their muscle soreness.
You can easily arrange for a one-day tour of Landmannalaugar using a specially-modified jeep the includes a stop at the warm bathing pools, a trip to Mount Hekla, the Ljótipollur crater and a ride up to the side of the mountain up to a height of 950 metres.
Gullfoss, which means Golden Waterfall might not shine like gold, but it is truly something that is worth like gold. The two-tiered waterfall drops 32 metres into a 2.5-km long and 70-metre deep narrow canyon. Depending on the person viewing it, it could be as impressive as Niagara Falls, maybe not that massive in terms of sheer size, but impressive because of its breathtaking beauty, which allows spectators to see the intricate topography of Iceland, peeking through and shaping the water current gushing around. It is located on the White (Hvítá) River in South Iceland, fed by Langjökull, the island’s second biggest glacier. The water of the river runs southward then makes a sharp right turn and flows down to a three-step tier before plunging into two stages. A crevice that is 20 metres wide and 2.5 kilometres long is hidden from view as you approach the falls, giving the impression of it suddenly vanishing.
Gullfoss was once owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson and in 1907 foreign investors wanted to buy the waterfall from him to harness its power for energy. His daughter Sigriður Tómasdóttir vehemently vetoed the idea. She hired a lawyer, staged protests and even walked barefoot from their farm to Reykjavik to make follow ups on the case. She also threatened to jump into the waterfall. Although her case failed in court, the contract was eventually dismissed as payments of rental fee were not fulfilled. A stone memorial for her had been erected above that falls as a reminder for Iceland’s inhabitants to protect nature. Gullfoss had been bought by the government and made it a public property.
There are many spectacular phenomena that nature provides for us but one of the most intriguing and fascinating are the Northern Lights or what is usually called the Aurora Borealis. You can see the Northern Lights from various countries in the Arctic Circle, such as Finland, Greenland, Canada, Norway, Scandinavia and Alaska, but Iceland is a cheaper destination that still gives you several opportunities to see the wonderful, glowing, mysterious, ethereal, elusive and nocturnal multicoloured rainbows.
It is a cosmic display, an otherworldly light show that swirls and twists like a very sophisticated lava lamp of great proportions, only seen at certain times of the year and choose to appear only when the darkness is widespread. Best times to see the Northern Lights are from late September to the early part of April. The optimum months are October to November and again from February to March.It’s difficult to wait for the Northern Lights to appear. Staff at hotels in South Iceland offer a wakeup call for guests if the Aurora Borealis do appear.
Eyjafjallajökull, which was buried under an ice cap woke from its 200-year slumber to erupt in 2010, bringing the world’s attention to it. Together with the amazing video footage of its eruption, it was maybe to its very-difficult-to-pronounce name that it gained international notice. Eyjafjallajökull is on the smallest of Iceland’s many glaciers, but the 1,666-metre tall volcano makes an impressive presence several kilometres away. Although the eruptions in March, June and May 2010 were considered small, the massive ash cloud it created affected air travel across northern and western Europe. Nearly 20 countries had to close their airspace to commercial flights, which affected close to 10 million passengers for several days. It was only in October 2010 that the eruptions completely stopped.
Today, the volcano is once again asleep. A tour will show you the areas affected by the most recent eruption and tour operators provide jeep, hiking, bus and airplane tours around Eyjafjallajökull to see awesome sights, including nearby villages, black sand beaches, waterfalls and bird cliffs.