Iceland: Natural Paradise
January 1, 1970
by Amit Grinvald
Almost a year ago, my three flat mates and I made a spontaneous decision that I will never ever regret. Realizing that it is our last year as flat mates, we decided to take a trip together and none other than Iceland was our country of choice. Just as many other passionate travel addicts, I have a bucket list of countries I want to visit and Iceland was always near the top of that list and our trip to this beautiful country was one of the most incredible ones I have ever taken.
I always say that a trip in a country starts not when you step out of the airport but when you can see the landscape of the country through the window of the airplane (or train or bus or car). Yes, I am one of those annoying guys on airplanes that blocks the view by having his head essentially glued to the window at any time when anything is visible thousands and thousands of feet below. Going to Iceland in February, the view out of the plane window in the moments before landing consisted of a stunning array of ice and snow covered landscape – one that winter-loving freaks like myself normally only see in their dreams.
Using the free shuttle bus service from the airport to the capital city of Reykjavik, we made our way into the city to pick up our rented 4×4 SUV, which I must recommend as the best possible way to travel around Iceland. Walking and driving in Reykjavik as we made our way to our hostel started the trip off very well as the colorful buildings and harbor views provided a stunning setting.
The next day, we woke up early with a day full of driving ahead. What was different with Iceland in comparison to other countries is that in previous travels, I often found myself driving from one attraction or sight to another whereas Iceland was essentially one massive sight. Thankfully, I wasn’t the driver of the car as I think I would get incredibly distracted by the insanely gorgeous views of snow-covered mountains, icy lakes, beautiful streams, spectacular waterfalls, and Icelandic horses populating every square meter of the countryside.
As an avid equestrian I had to ask my friends to stop the car on the side of the road so I could hang out with the Icelandic horses. The Icelandic equines were incredibly friendly, allowing me to pet them, hug them and even snap a few selfies. Interesting fact: The Icelandic horse displays two additional gaits to the normal gaits of walking, trotting and catering displayed by other horse breeds, and it is the only breed of horse in Iceland. After a few minutes of hanging out with the horses, we continued on our way to the Black Sand Beach near the village of Vík.
Black Sand Beach
The Black Sand Beach was without a doubt one of the most incredible sights I have ever experienced in my entire life. The rocky black sand is given a glimmering shine by the salty water calmly crashing over it. Looking into the ocean, beautiful basalt sea stacks are visible in the horizon, geologically formed by wave erosion. Walking alongside the beach, stunning geometric rock formations are seen on the seaside cliffs, showcasing the architectural brilliance of mother nature. Looking up towards the sky, flocks of gulls are seen soaring through the skies in circles. Natural paradises like these are the places in which I feel most at peace as the beauty of the Earth which we inhabit is displayed in its full glory. As much as I didn’t want to leave the Black Sand Beach, there are only so many hours in a day and we had to get going toward our next destination: the glaciers at Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park.
Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park
The last stop on this day before making our way back to Reykjavik was Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park. Due to our lack of proper shoes and lack of money to rent such shoes (we are students after all), we could not hike up to the famous Skaftafell waterfall. However, we did walk to the glaciers at the park and they were nothing short of superb. The frozen lake at the foot of the glaciers has strikingly intricate textures and patterns and the glaciers were of a shade of blue with a somewhat conspicuous glow. Walking between the glaciers was an out-of-body experience. Surrounded by walls of beautifully blue ice with the movement of water seemingly captured within them, this experience was unforgettable! After a couple of hours of sheer appreciation, approaching darkness meant we had to commence on our long drive back to Reykjavik.
We spent the next day exploring Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. Being there in February of course meant we would have to face the cold winter weather. The wind blowing at subzero temperatures was like being slapped in the face with blocks of ice, but the beauty of the city and particularly its harbor was worth suffering through the freezing cold. Right across the harbor behind the dark blue waters are tremendous snow covered mountains and behind those mountains are more sights I was waiting to explore the next day.
The next day, we made our way to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall which I think might be one of the most underrated sights in Iceland. Albeit very small in comparison to the numerous other waterfalls throughout Iceland, I found this place to be heavenly. The small size of the waterfall allowed me to fully explore its surroundings. The freezing February weather meant I could carefully walk on the frozen waters toward the partially frozen waterfall and even go behind it to explore the incredible frozen icicles and structures. The experience was almost spiritual, not thinking of anything other than how stunning what I was seeing was. This was a perfect way to end our trip.
Writing a fully-comprehensive article about travelling across the beautiful country of Iceland could easily take the lengthy form of a book. I decided to write of the perhaps-less popular sights the country has to offer as you can read about the hugely popular and touristic attractions in plenty of other outlets. Iceland, all in all, was an impressively stunning display of the magnificence mother nature is cable of producing. To anyone who is a fan of nature, I would strongly urge placing Iceland on the top of your travel bucket list as it will truly be an unforgettable experience. I, for one, cannot wait to be back in the paradise that is Iceland.