crossing5oceans.com | Published July 7th, 2021 | Last Updated July 7th, 2021
All Images © 2021 - Kelly Girouard - Please Contact for Permission to Use
With a year of uncertainty, restricted freedoms and isolation, how do you plan on celebrating the world slowly returning to normal? If you answered, "by taking an unforgettable trip," we're on the same page, my friend!
The first country that came to mind when pondering an article on 'vacation of a lifetime destinations' was Iceland. As luck would have it, Iceland has officially opened its doors to tourists from any country. If you've been double vaccinated or have previously had COVID, the requirements are simple; you're in! That means no PCR test and no quarantine. If you do not meet those criteria, there are other hoops to jump through, and it's best to consult Iceland's government website to confirm before making any firm travel plans in these uncertain times.
So, other than the eased entry requirements, why Iceland, you ask? Because Iceland is called the Land of Fire and Ice; its volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and jaw-dropping landscapes make it one of the top places in the world to visit for those in search of beautiful and unusual terrain. Read on to find out more about the otherworldly landscapes Iceland has to offer.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Use this Google Map to start planning your own adventure!
No matter which geothermal area in Iceland you choose to explore, be sure there’s at least one on your list of must-see attractions. The colours in the landscape and the activity created by superheated underground water make Iceland's geothermal areas an unforgettable experience.
SELTUN GEOTHERMAL FIELD
View from Above the Geothermal Area of Seltun
Iceland is being pulled apart at a rate of 2cm per year as a result of tectonic plate movement and separation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Seltun geothermal field lies in Krysuvik, which is on this fissure zone.
Pools of Water Lying in the Superheated Mud
To reach Seltun, the drive took approximately 40 minutes from Reykjavik. It’s not until arriving in the area that you view a landscape painted with colours uncommon to most places on the planet.
The Seltun Boardwalk Over Fumaroles and Superheated Terrain
When you enter the area, you’re greeted by winding boardwalks to take you safely above the superheated ground below. Stay on these guided pathways as some of the mud is hot enough to melt the rubber right off the soles of your shoes!
The Landscape Near the Area of Krysuvik
Even before stepping on the boardwalk, you’re exposed to the distinct smell of sulphur, the sound of steam explosions, and the sight of boiling mud pools, and erupting fumaroles. It’s an assault to the senses but mesmerizing and beautiful at the same time.
HVERIR GEOTHERMAL FIELD
The Superheated Earth Releasing a Pocket of Steam at Hverir
While Seltun can be easily reached from Reykjavik, Hverir is located in the northern region and best visited from Akureyri, Iceland’s capital of the North. You can reach Hverir from Akureyri in about an hour. However, if you plan on driving from Reykjavik, expect a 6-hour journey one-way, and consider staying in the North for a few days to explore the countless stunning landscapes.
Hverir is a larger geothermal area than Seltun, actually the largest in Iceland, but its features still mimic Seltun with its steam vents, fumaroles, sulphur, and bubbling mud.
Mud Exploding from its Pool into the Hverir Landscape
The region belongs to the Krafla volcanic fissure zone. There’s very little vegetation throughout the area since there’s a high amount of acidity caused by the geothermal processes that shape the landscape. This barren terrain has made it a common place for NASA to use as a training ground for astronauts.
THE BLUE LAGOON GEOTHERMAL SPA
The Pools of Water that Greet you at the Entrance to the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is created from seawater 6500 feet beneath the ground and heated by the earth’s natural forces. Superheated water is vented from the earth, then, in turn, generates electricity for surrounding areas.
I choose to visit the Blue Lagoon as a stop on my way to the airport before leaving Iceland using the company VIATOR. Included in this tour is a pick-up in the morning at local hotels, transportation to the Lagoon and the entry fees. After a few hours, transportation is then provided to the airport for your departing flight.
White Silica Mud is Used for Facial Masks when Swimming in the Lagoon
When reaching the Blue Lagoon, the first sights you encounter are the endless mounds of jet black volcanic rock, and cutting through that rock is the most surreal blue water imaginable. After having the opportunity to swim in the heated lagoon, the only description that comes to mind is, it's a bath of warm blue milk.
What makes the Blue Lagoon different from Seltun and Hverir is the experience of floating in the massive pool with a swim-up bar and silica mud face masks; it's a spa, after all.
I have yet to determine what was more memorable or impressive when visiting Iceland's Glacial lagoons. Was it the sound of thunder as part of a glacier calved off in the Fjallsarlon lagoon, or was it the dead silence, fog and clouds that shrouded Jokusarlon creating the most surreal landscapes I have yet to witness?
JOKUSARLON GLACIAL LAGOON
The Cloud Cover that Pushed Back Over the Lagoon
Jokusarlon is Iceland’s deepest lake, but that’s not what makes it so special; instead, it’s the 1000-year-old chunks of ice that break off the Breidamerkurjokull glacier and float on the surface of the lagoon joined by playful seals and graceful soaring birds. The whole setting is magical.
The Clouds and Fog Slowly Cleared to Reveal Jokusarlon's Landscape
When I arrived at Jokusarlon, it was so densely covered in fog that I couldn't see more than 10 feet in front of me. After chatting with a group of photographers, I learned that they had been waiting for over four hours to get a glimpse of what was behind that fog. If there’s one thing I have taken from my trip to Iceland, it’s wait to see what’s around the corner. Had I not waited, I would not have witnessed the truly majestic and incredible scene captured in these photographs.
Jokusarlon Lagoon was Filled with Birds and Even the Occasional Seal
While lesser known than Jokusarlon, Fjallsarlon is worth a visit. It’s smaller than its nearby neighbour, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in atmosphere. Fewer tourists visit this site, making it a more compelling, one-with-nature experience. I was so fortunate to have witnessed part of the glacier calve off into the lagoon. The sound of the glacier cracking and the force of the falling ice hitting the water was spectacular!
The Less Busy Fjallsarlon Lagoon was Peaceful and Beautiful
Iceland's waterfalls are some of the most picturesque the world over. Whether they are flowing over volcanic rock, sending mist hundreds of feet into the air, or providing a curtain for adventurers to walk behind, you cannot travel to Iceland without visiting some of the world's finest waterfalls.
The Incredible Force and Mist Released from Dettifoss
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, with a flow rate of 193 cubic meters per second; it is nicknamed ‘the beast.’ Visitors not only feel the force of the water vibrating the rocks, but the mist from the falls can be seen from miles away.
As with most natural attractions in Iceland, there are no barriers; it’s ‘visit at your own risk.’ It was exhilarating sitting on the rocks and feeling the power of the water, but if you choose to do this, don’t go right to the edge; be smart and safe when visiting this force of nature.
Rocks at the Side of Dettifoss Acting as a Barrier from the Gushing Water
The Mist from Dettifoss can be Spotted from Miles Away
Dettifoss is almost a seven-hour drive from Reykjavik, so, like Hverir, it’s better to visit from Akureyri, which is about a two-hour drive. Once in the area, you can visit waterfalls, caves, geothermal zones, a volcanic crater, and hot springs.
The Horseshoe-Shaped Godafoss Waterfall
Godafoss may not be the highest, widest or fastest flowing waterfall in Iceland, but it definitely is one of the most beautiful and is appropriately nicknamed ‘the Beauty’.
The Terrain at the Top of Godafoss Waterfall
This horseshoe-shaped ‘waterfall of the gods’ is said to have received its name around the year 1000 when a Viking leader threw his statues of pagan gods into the waterfall after Iceland converted to Christianity.
View of Godafoss from the Rocks at the Top of the Falls
The falls can be explored from both sides, but the West is the most common as it’s closest to the parking lot. The East side allows you to get down to the edge of the water but use caution walking down the rocks as the overspray makes them slippery.
The Path at Seljalandsfoss lets Visitors Walk Right Behind the Falls
If you’ve ever wanted to walk behind a waterfall, Seljalandsfoss has to be one of the most beautiful spots to have this experience. This cascading curtain of water is 196 feet high and has a pathway of rock that circles the backside of the falls.
Front View of Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Be sure to bring your raincoat and a sturdy pair of shoes as the rocks can be slippery. You can reach Seljalandsfoss by taking an hour and forty-minute drive on the Ring Road from Reykjavik.
You can Walk Right up to Skogafoss Waterfall
Just down the road from Seljalandsfoss is Skogafoss, which is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. If you’re okay getting soaked, you can walk right up to it. There seems to be no spot you can stand near these falls without feeling the spray of the rushing water.
If you want to capture a birds-eye view over the falls, there are a little more than 500 steps that reach a viewing platform at the top; once there, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Rhyolite and Volcanic Mountains
There was something about these mountains of marbled sand that left me in awe, and I loved that there were countless examples of them sprinkled throughout the Icelandic landscape. Their unique colours and soft texture were such a departure from the towering solid granite and limestone peaks I have seen in other countries.
Trail Markers at the Base of Landmannalaugar
Brennisteinsalda is nicknamed 'the sulphur wave' in Landmannalaugar
What could be more beautiful than hiking mountains that look like swirls of sand in all colours of the rainbow? The trail from the Landmannalaugar campground leads up to Brennisteinsalda, which is known as the ‘sulphur wave.’ This mountain of rhyolite stuns hikers with its shades of green, blue, yellow, pink and red. The hike to Brennisteinsalda is approximately 6.5kms and takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete, depending, of course, on the number of times you stop to take photos and enjoy the mesmerizing scenery.
Mount Stapafell on the Left is Rising from the Craggy Rocks in Arnarstapi
While not as colourful as Landmannalaugar, there’s still beauty to behold when exploring the black palagonite Mt. Stapafell. Palagonite is an altered form of volcanic glass, but looking at it from a distance, I couldn’t tell the difference between the texture of this and the texture of rhyolite. To my amazement, many mountains in Iceland looked like huge mounds of incredibly soft sand.
The Black Palagonite Mount Stapafell
Located in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Stapafell sits just a stone's throw away from the bird cliffs of Arnarstapi. Seeing this mountain of dark black sand set against the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean and the sound of squawking birds as they plunge over the cliffs is an experience not soon forgotten.
While I wouldn’t drive from Reykjavik just to see Mount Stapafell, there are other reasons to make the two-and-a-half-hour journey.
The scenery driving to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, where Mt. Stapafell is located, is beautiful.
If you’re a hiker, you’ll love the 4.3km walk between the villages of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. This trek will take you over volcanic rock with squawking birds diving into the Atlantic to entertain you along your journey, and if it's the right time of year, you may even catch a puffin or two.
If you’re fascinated by Jules Verne, you’ll find Snaefellsjokull glacier here, which is the entrance to the centre of the earth in Verne’s Fictional book ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth.’
Who would have imagined that moss could be so stunningly beautiful? Iceland’s lava fields are captivating, and no doubt, when you drive by them, they’ll make you stop and get out for a better look.
Lava fields are formed when magma from under the earth’s crust escapes to the top through multiple points, then lava covers the surrounding ground. Over time flora begins to grow over the black volcanic rock, leaving a remarkably unique landscape. So remarkable, in fact, that NASA used the Eldhraun lava field as its training ground for the crew of Apollo 11 and their moonwalk in 1969.
A Lava Field of Green Moss in Leidarendi
While there are several lava fields in Iceland, I explored Leidarendi and Eldhraun. In the summer, workers on their breaks can be seen lying on the moss in the area since it’s remarkably soft. Making your way across the fields feels like you’re walking on a bed of overstuffed green pillows.
A word of caution, be wary of treading on the fragile environment of lava fields. If you are exploring on your own, know that there are crevasses to watch out for, along with jutting black rock under the soft moss so take your steps with caution.
Lava Fields that Line Iceland's Landscape for 100's of Kilometres
Located on Iceland’s south coast, this 565 square kilometre lava field is not only the largest in Iceland but also in the world.
It was formed late in the 18th century when 3.7 quadrillion gallons of lava spewed from over a hundred new fissures in the earth. This eruption caused death and destruction to Iceland in the following years from the poisonous gases that were released from the volcanic ash during the eruption, and it also altered the climate for years to come. So while these eruptions may leave us with beautiful, unique landscapes to admire, it’s not without the highest of costs.
The geothermal areas, glacial lagoons, waterfalls, lava fields and rhyolite mountains of Iceland are just a few of the attractions that allow travellers to experience terrain unique from most other destinations on the planet. There are so many other attractions in Iceland to witness, but that will be the topic of future articles.
So plan a visit to this wonder of nature today and see for yourself why the otherworldly landscapes of Iceland are some of the best the world has to offer!