Explore Iceland: Best Locations in the South!
by Lukrecija Balbierytė
Last summer I was given a golden ticket – a trip to Iceland. I have never imagined to find myself in such a country, I have never planned or dreamed of it, simply because I knew that a further trip from my home country Lithuania can get quite expensive. I was already grateful to get to see nearby destinations. However, one Saturday morning I was in a café at IKEA with my family. Suddenly, a remarkable idea popped into my mom’s head – she offered to visit my godfather, who has lived in Iceland for some time. I didn’t expect it all to work out, but one thing led to another and the next thing I knew was when we were on our way to the country, known as the land of ice and fire! It was a week of discovering and exploring and afterwards I came back home, I applied for a job in Reykjavik, which led me to the next three months of living and working in the country, getting a chance to see more of what’s out there in Iceland and I would like to share my discoveries with you.
Transport, accommodation and weather
To travel around Iceland, I recommend renting a car or a camper van as the most convenient choice. It would allow you to explore destinations and take breaks when needed. However, Icelandic roads can be challenging in some areas, so the driver should be skilled and experienced. Note that some paths may be closed during the winter. Also, a safe and secure option would be to book a trip by bus, guided tours are available to the most popular places. Depending on your travel route, you can stay in Reykjavik and take day trips from there or you can stay at smaller towns or campsites while you are on your way. I would also strongly advise researching and studying routes and destinations thoroughly before you go, so you would be ready for any weather or unexpected situations. Make sure you bring weatherproof thermal clothing and footwear, even waterproof cases for your electronic devices during all seasons in Iceland, because the weather conditions shift quickly and can be hardly predictable.
To shake up your body and soul, go for Reykjadalur, the hot spring valley, which is just 45 km (27.9 mi) away from Reykjavik. It is a large active geothermal area, with a 3.5 km (2.175 mi) hiking trail leading towards the hot river. The hike takes about an hour and, depending on your physical strength, can be a bit steep and narrow at some spots in the beginning. Though, after that, it is almost a walk. From that point, while wind rushes through your hair, you get astonishing views of the mountains around the area and the valley below, as well as the Djúpagil canyon, where the graceful Djúpagilsfoss waterfall rushes down to the slope. While you admire the majestic views, the forceful wind challenges you to stand firmly on the ground. And as you reach the hot springs, you can enjoy bathing in the warm soothing water, surrounded by beautiful Icelandic nature. After going back to the valley, you might come across the company of Icelandic sheep! You will definitely relax your mind and body.
The Golden Circle
It is an exciting 300 km (186.3 mi) loop from Reykjavik to the most visited sights that nearly define the country. The first stop is the Thingvellir National Park, which is located in a rift valley, where the two tectonic plates, Eurasian and North American, have been and still are separating – therefore, you can enjoy a walk between the two continents. The second stop would be the Geysir Geothermal Field, welcoming to the famous geysers, erupting with boiling bursts of water from the ground below. And the final stop would be the Gullfoss waterfall, manifesting the power of the water element. These are the main destinations of the Golden Circle, where you will find yourself in escalating excitement, yet possibly filled with respectful fear of the powerful natural forces.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach And Vik
One evening after work in August, I got a call from my godfather, inviting to go for a two-day road trip to visit the remaining two famous locations in the south coast that we didn’t get to see before, so the next day we set off. After several hours of driving, we reached Vik, which is a fishing village, surrounded by menacing mountain chains and accessing the ocean by an exotic black sand beach. The Atlantic roams here with full force, waves crashing vigorously to the sharp, towering cliffs. It is dangerous to swim there, however, when we came there, we enjoyed a barbeque while watching the sunset – the black pebbles of the beach were glimmering in the light. Walking around the beach area in April – August, you might get to see puffins, little birds often liked by tourists by their brightly-coloured beak, sitting on the basalt stacks by the cliffs or flying around a cave of the same basalt rocks. Also, there is a campsite with laundry, bathroom and kitchen facilities. We stayed there for one night.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and the Diamond Beach
Our next stop after Vik was a glacier lagoon. Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, lies close to it. Melted water from the glacier naturally forms the lagoon, which gets bigger each year. The lagoon is filled with large chunks of ice, which tumble down from the glacier. The lagoon is linked to the ocean and the ice bricks gradually drift to the sea. There is also a volcanic black sand beach, known as the Diamond Beach, because of ice segments, reminding more of natural sculptures, lying around and shimmering in the sunlight, while the frigid Atlantic waves, one by one, crash to the coast. The translucent blue-ish ice and seawater highly contrast with the boldly black sand. It was thrilling for us to experience all of this, but, personally, I wouldn’t call it the end of the trip. On our way back, the picturesque landscapes of mountains, waterfalls, green fields took my breath away.
The sights in Iceland can hardly be described in words, they can only be experienced. I strongly recommend visiting the country.