In 2008 I met the first person who had been in Iceland. Scandinavian countries were well known, with their capitals populated by low buildings painted in bright colors and their churches with towers ending in sharp peaks, Lapland plains full of snow and reindeer where Santa Claus lives and the imposing panoramas of Norwegian fjords, traveled by countless cruises in the summer months. But the country whose name means “the land of ice” was a complete stranger. At that time, my capacity as a backpacker was at its best, and the simple fact of traveling to such a recondite land where almost nobody had been was reason enough to be interested in the place, and as soon as I started looking for information and seeing photos, what I was not able to understand was how it was possible that Icelanders had publicized themselves so badly throughout their history, and the only thing that seemed reasonable to me was to think that they did not want the rest of the world to know about the extraordinary beauty of this island. Those who do not know Iceland imagine it as a snow-covered wasteland without the slightest interest and with temperatures so low that are close to the unbearable. I am proud to have been one of those who arrived before the hordes, and I do not mean the Vikings who discovered it a thousand years ago, the number of tourists that now visit it is much worse than those hosts: in 2009 I was one of the less than 450,000 foreign visitors, in 2018 they were more than 2.3 million.
- Nature. It is the only asset of Iceland, if you do not like nature do not go; if you like it, you will hallucinate with:
- The most incredible collection of waterfalls (foss) on the planet. None reaches the size of Iguazu or Niagara, but nowhere else there are so many of such beauty. Scenic Gulfoss, perfect Skogafoss, charming Seljalandsfoss, slender Haifoss, wide Godafoss, violent Dettifoss that is the largest in Europe, or elegant Svartifoss are just some of the most accessible, colorful and well-known.
- Glaciers (jökull). Presided over by the gigantic Vatnajökull 7,900 km2 (a similar size to Tokyo or Mexico City metropolitan areas) and the largest in Europe, which forms at its end the much visited Jokursarlon glacier lake. In most you can go hiking, ride a snowmobile or visit their ice caves.
- Overwhelming volcanic landscapes covered with grass and moss from Lake Myvatn, Snæfellsjökull and Landmannalaugar.
- Surreal rocky forms in Vik, with its black sand beach, and Hljóðaklettar.
- The fjords, as its name suggests, in Westfjords, in the extreme northwest of the country.
- Curiosities of nature, such as being able to walk or dive among the tectonic plates that separate the Atlantic Ocean in Þingvellir, or the geysers, among them the one that gave name to all the others, and other thermal manifestations. In summer we will see the midnight sun and in winter the aurora borealis.
- And accessible fauna. Thousands of daring and enchanting birds, whales or dolphins are regular companions on a trip to Iceland.
- Cities. In a country the size of Cuba (with 11 million inhabitants) or South Korea (with more than 50 million), barely reach 350,000 Icelanders:
- And more than a third of them live in the only city in the country, Reykjavik. With an interesting offer of leisure and restaurants and the singular Hallgrimur Church, it is a much more interesting city than one might expect. It is also not far away from one of the most famous places in the country, and perhaps the most photographed outdoor spa in the world, the Blue Lagoon.
- The rest can not be considered more than towns, each in a more beautiful, pristine and comforting location than the previous one.
- Gastronomy. You can get everything, although it is true that it is not the favorite territory for large mammals, fruits or vegetables. Apart from their mastery of the art of cooking fish, much of the fauna we will see is included in Icelandic diet; This is a cruel place for adorable animals lovers and the place for those who want to taste the beloved whale or the charming puffin.
- Other data:
- Climate: Yes, it is very cold, but just the interior, which is literally isolated during winter. Coastal regions, especially those in the southwest, influenced by a warm water current from North Atlantic Ocean, are much less cold than people think. For example, in December and January, with almost 24 hours of darkness, temperatures in Reykjavik range from 2ºC (35ºF) maximum to -2ºC (28ºF) minimum, much less cold than in a large amount of European or North American capitals.
- Iceland is considered the safest country in the world, and Icelanders are one of the peoples I remember most fondly. It is not that they are kind and polite, it is that they make one feel welcome.
- Organize a trip is simple: being a country with a circular shape, where the center is isolated most of the year, everyone goes the circular road that surrounds the island, either in one direction or another, and booking accommodation is so easy as in any developed country, although in high season it can be scarce given the high number of tourists.
- Disadvantage: it is an expensive country, we can not deny it, but since nature is its main asset, we can always save something if part of the budget is dedicated to tent or motorhome.
Iceland has been a jewel of nature hidden until very recently. The fever to visit its volcanic landscapes is in full swing and is more than justifiable. Go as soon as possible, not because in the future there will be more people, but because you are missing this marvel.
- THE BLUE LAGOON
- THINGVELLIR, GULLFOSS AND GEYSIR
- LANDMANNALAUGAR, SKOGAFOSS AND SELJALANDSFOSS
- SKAFTAFELL NATIONAL PARK AND SVARTIFOSS
- VATNAJÖKULL AND JOKURSARLON
- DETTIFOSS, HLJÓÐAKLETTAR NATIONAL PARK AND HUSAVIK
- LAKE MÝVATN
- GRIMSEY ISLAND
- THE WESTFJORDS
- STYKKISHÓLMSBÆR, SNÆFELLSJÖKULL AND MOUNT KIRKJUFELL
- WHEN TO GO
- TRAVEL TIPS: CHANGE MONEY, INTERNET, WHAT TO BRING…
- HOW TO GET THERE: KEFLAVIK AIRPORT
- GETTING AROUND: THE RING ROAD
- DANGERS AND PROBLEMS
∇ Destinations / ∇ Europe / ∇ Scandinavia