What to do in the Island of Fire and Ice

Iceland is known as the island of fire and ice for it’s many volcanoes and glaciers.  In addition to the sheer beauty of its landscape, there are plenty of activities that one can enjoy such as glacier walking, ice climbing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. While in the countryside, we climbed up a glacier with our tour guide, Erling from Iceland Encounters, and explored the south coast with it’s spectacular mountains, waterfalls, and black sand beaches.  We also paid a visit to the renowned folk museum at Skogar, which provides an intriguing glance into Iceland’s fishing and farming past.

We went horseback riding in the countryside.  It was two of us with a guide in the font and one in the back.  The Icelandic horses are so beautiful and smaller than our horses in the United States, so for those who have never been horseback riding before, like myself, it made for a nice first ride.

There are a few staple tourist attractions that everyone sees, but while they may be touristy, they are that way for a reason and I would not skip them.   They include the Golden Circle Tour, which includes a visit to the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir Hot Springs and Pingvellir National Park.  The park is located on the Mid-Atlantic ridge where the continents of Europe and America drift apart, causing earthquakes and volcanic activity.  The Blue Lagoon is also a must stop, which I’ll tell you about later.

What if I told you I went scuba diving in Iceland? Would you believe me?  An interesting place to dive is Silfra in the Pingvellir National Park where you can literally touch both continents.  It’s the area between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates.  We went with the company Dive.Is.  They will pick you up at your hotel in Reykjavik and offer a few different diving and snorkeling tours, the Sifra being the most popular.  We went for two dives with an hour break in between for cookies and hot chocolate.  They do provide you with dry suits and all the gear you’ll need to keep warm.  All you have to bring is your long underwear and thick socks.  I decided to wear two layers of long underwear and socks just to be sure!  Also be sure to check your dry suit and have them inspect the seals before jumping in the water.  Also make sure there are no rips in the suits because it can make for a very unpleasant dive.  The water was about 35 degrees and while your body stays warm, you will feel it in your hands through the gloves and on your face.  It takes a little getting used to, but if you can put mind over matter, you’ll enjoy a beautifully clear dive with visibility of 150 meters.   You won’t see any fish in this lake, but it is neat to say that you went scuba diving or snorkeling in between the continents in Iceland!

While in Reykjavik, you’ll want to experience one of their geothermal spas they are known for.  It only costs around $3 and you can swim in an Olympic size warm water outdoor pool with no chlorine!  Because the water is constantly being renewed, there is no common bacteria and no need for chemicals.  They also have several hot tubs or hot pots as they call them, at different temperatures.  There’s nothing more refreshing than sitting in a hot pot with the crisp air around you.

Whale watching is also very popular in Iceland, with a few operations down at the harbor.  We went with Erding and saw some really cute white striped dolphins and a few whales and porpoises in the distance.  The woman on our boat was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic when searching for the whales and dolphins!

For our last night in Iceland, we stayed at the Clinic Hotel, part of the Blue Lagoon.  Most people stop at the Blue Lagoon on their way to Reykjavik since it’s fairly close to the airport or on the last day as they head to the airport.  We decided to stay over so we would be there in the morning and get in a few hours before leaving.  I had a wonderful morning after a great night’s rest.  I walked the five minute path to the Blue Lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is made up of 6 million liters of geothermal seawater that is cycled through every 40 hours and is heated over 6500 feet below the ground.  The silica and salts in the water having healing properties and silica mud is provided free of charge to put on your face and body while relaxing in the lagoon.  There is a bar and a waterfall, which feels great on your back!  You’ll just have to be prepared for the sulfur smell and your hair will get very dry, so either wear a hair cap or put a lot of conditioner in before and after.

While the lagoon is really beautiful and fun to do on its own, I would highly recommend adding one of their beauty or massage treatments to your stay.  They offer massages in the lagoon and facials and beauty treatments in their indoor facility.  I went for the facial and hand and arm treatment which were both amazing.  They use only Blue Lagoon scrubs, mud, cleaners and creams which left my skin really soft and moisturized and the massages that went along with the treatments was so relaxing.   While their locker rooms can accommodate up to 700 people at a time, they offer an exclusive section you can rent for a few hours.  This includes your own private shower, towels, flip flops, robes and Blue Lagoon shower gels and lotions.  They also have an indoor lagoon in which you can start after your water, coffee or chocolates.  It definitely enhances your whole spa experience.

So as you can see, there are many options for activities depending on the type of trip you’d like to have.  I’d mix it up with a bit of adventure, exploration, nightlife and relaxing…and of course trying the Icelandic food.  Let me know if you taste that fermented shark!

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