An Adventurer’s Dreamland
Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, Iceland
Iceland hasn’t had it easy for the past few years. One of the first countries to crumble under the weight of the global financial crisis, it is just now slowly moving toward economic recovery—thanks to multilateral assistance and domestic policy measures—but forecasts predict that growth is still a ways off. In the meantime, this young European country could really use your tourism dollars, and you’ll get a huge bang for your buck. If you like peculiar, often isolated, places with wildly odd geological formations, you’ll find a lot to get excited about in Iceland.
Don’t let its name fool you. Although nearly 11% of the country is covered in ice and it’s home to Europe’s largest glacier, the other 89% of its terrain varies from green fertile valleys and farmlands; to fiords, waterfalls, and hot springs; to sandy beaches; to volcanoes, lava rocks, and mountains. In other words, you’ll have countless opportunities for adventures—including hiking, ice climbing, abseiling, biking, horseback riding, motorcycle riding, kayaking, white water rafting, fishing, and caving. During the summer solstice, the country is bathed in everlasting sunlight, a thrilling experience in itself.
One of the best ways to explore Iceland is by driving around its coastline on the roughly 1,335km (830 miles) Ring Road, more formally known as Highway 1. After arriving, make Blue Lagoon your first stop. Tucked into lava rock, this large manmade bathtub filled with hot blue-green saltwater and sulfurous steam clouds is the perfect place to unwind after your flight. Temporarily refreshed, spend a night in Reykjavik, a charming city with cobblestone streets that offers some pretty rambunctious nightlife—particularly when it stays light outside well after midnight. When you’ve had enough late-night fun in the sun, get some sleep and then hit the road to see some of nature’s most astounding creations.
As you start off in the coastal countryside, plan to spend a couple of nights on a farm for a chance to see how locals really live, and even lend a hand with some of the crops or animals. Icelandic Farm Holidays ( 354/570-2700; www.farmholidays.is) can help you set up your stay. From here, drive northeast toward Lake Myvatn, where you’ll find a vast body of water among volcanic craters and lava that creates a sort of eerie moonscape. The village of Vogar has a fine guesthouse, and there are plenty of interesting sites nearby. If you’ve got a four-wheel-drive vehicle, head inland next, crossing the central highlands to Asjka. This stark, desolate volcanic caldera is allegedly where U.S. astronauts first trained before going to the moon. Once you make it back to the coastal highway, continue south until you reach the town of Vik. From here, drive to Landmannalaugar, a geothermal hotbed that boasts colorful dreamlike hills and lava outcroppings. One of Iceland’s most popular and exhilarating experiences is the Laugavegurinn, a 4-day trek to Thorsmork, an alpine oasis. If you’re short on time, skip the Ring Road and catch a bus from Reykjavik to get here. You can make arrangements with The Icelandic Touring Association ( 354/568-2533; www.fi.is) to stay in mountain huts along the way. Whatever fascinating elements of fire and ice you discover in Iceland, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might even start conjuring up your next trip back here on your plane ride home.
Iceland Tourist Board ( 800/245-6555; www.icelandtouristboard.com).
Tours: Arctic Adventures, Laugavegur 11 ( 354/562-7000; www.adventures.is). Nonni Travel, Brekkugata 5 ( 354/461-1841; www.nonnitravel.is).
When to Go: May–Sept; Dec–Jan to see the Northern Lights.
Keflavik International Airport.
$–$$ Alfholl Guesthouse, Ranargata 8, Reykjavik ( 354/898-1838; www.islandia.is/alf). $$ Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, Sudurlandsbraut 2, Reykjavik ( 354/444-5000; www1.hilton.com).