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Sol de Mañana, Geothermal field in the mountains of Peru

Why Iceland is My Favorite Country

Pristine landscapes, enormous glaciers, powerful waterfalls, active volcanoes, amazing geothermal activity, and black sand beaches….what more could a nature lover ask for?

I had heard some pretty amazing things about Iceland before visiting, but nothing could prepare me for the actual experience of being there. My wife and I visited for 2 weeks during the month of July, and despite it being the height of the tourist season, there were hardly any crowds. Iceland is located just beneath the Arctic circle, so at that time of year it was light out 24 hours a day. Combine that with the fact that most of the attractions are outside (since Iceland’s primary allure is its natural beauty) and have no closing times or admission fees, and that makes for a pretty cool combination: you can go wherever you want whenever you want.

Iceland is an absolutely pristine country, which has basically no cities or tourist crowds. Even Reykjavik, the country’s capital, feels like a small town. There isn’t much to do in Reykjavik, so don’t spend too much time here. The best way to get around is to rent a car and drive around the country’s only main highway, which is referred to as the Ring Road. Two weeks is a good amount of time to see most of the highlights.

One of the best and most popular excursions near Reykjavik is known as the Golden Circle. This consists of 3 attractions: Gulfoss, a huge and gushing waterfall, Geysir, one of many geysers located in a large geothermal field (and after which all geysers are named), and Thingvellir National Park. The last one straddles two tectonic plates (European and American), and you can actually go scuba diving in between the plates!

Speaking of waterfalls, there is no shortage of incredible waterfalls in Iceland. These range from unnamed 300+ foot cascades just off the side of the road, to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. In between, you have Skogafoss, a towering rectangular-shaped waterfall, Selandjafoss, a waterfall you can actually walk behind (and get soaked!), and Svartifoss, a picturesque waterfall surrounded by beautiful basalt columns. There are literally dozens of waterfalls to see driving around the Ring Road, and many are just a few short minutes hike.

Another highlight of Iceland is the glaciers. Glaciers consist of more than 10 percent of Iceland’s land mass, and the largest one (2nd largest in all of Europe) is Vatnajökull, located in Skaftafell National Park. I would strongly encourage anyone visiting Iceland to arrange for a hiking trip on this glacier. It is pristine, has beautiful blue colors, and a fantastic icefall. Nearby you can take a boat trip on the Jokulsarlon lagoon, which is filled with giant icebergs the size of houses!

Another one of the highlights of Iceland is the Diamond Circle, a trio of attractions located in the Northeast part of Iceland. These consist of Lake Myvatn, a hub of geothermal activity (mud pots, fumaroles, geysers, hot springs, you name it), Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and Asbyrgi Canyon, which contains of some great but fairly easy hikes. If you’re in the the area, I would highly encourage you to make the short trip to the town of Husavik. This is one of the northernmost points in Iceland, and offers some fantastic whale watching. Just make sure that you dress for the weather, as it gets a bit chilly once you get off shore!

Speaking of wildlife watching, Iceland is home to a very large population of puffins, which are cute little black-and-white birds with unusually shaped beaks. Two of the best places to see them are Borgarfjörður Eystri in the Eastfjords and the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland.

One thing I would be remiss if I did not mention is Iceland’s prevalence of active volcanoes. Perhaps the best of these is the Snæfellsnes volcano, located in Western Iceland. This volcano is capped with a large glacier, and you can actually hike up the volcano! Nearby are also a beautiful coastal hike as well as a pair of towering basalt rock pinnacles.

Last but not least, the people in Iceland are some of the friendliest I have ever met in my travels. I have been to many countries with amazing people, such as Thailand, Bolivia, and New Zealand, but none can compare to the hospitality of Icelandic people. In addition, they all speak fluent English, which is great because Icelandic is basically impossible to pronounce.

Sadly, no country is perfect, and there are a few downsides about visiting Iceland. First, the weather: While not necessarily cold, it is extremely unpredictable. I had heard the expression, “If you don’t like the weather in _____, wait 5 minutes.” Well, Iceland is the only place I actually found this to be true. It would be sunny one minute, then raining the next, then warm, then cloudy, etc. In fact, it was often warmer and sunnier at night than it was during the day (and since it was 24-hour daylight, it was often difficult to tell night from day, which made for a very interesting sort of confusion). Second, Iceland is a rather expensive place to visit, in part because many things need to be imported. For example, plan on spending $100-$150 for a private room at a hostel. Lastly, if you are planning on doing much driving off the main highway, many of the smaller roads are unpaved, so it is best to rent a high clearance vehicle (especially if you want to visit the Westfjords or the interior highlands).

However, if you can deal with these relatively minor issues, I suggest you start making plans to visit Iceland sooner rather than later, especially if you love nature and the outdoors. I can guarantee it will be an adventure that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

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Deildartunga: Ein Geothermalfeld im Tal von Reykholt (Reykholtsdalur) mit der heißen Quelle Deildartunguhver, die ungefähr 180 Liter/sek. 97° C heißes Wasser produziert. Das meiste heiße Wasser, was in Akranes und Borgarnes für die Zentralheizung genutzt wird, stammt aus dieser produktivsten Quelle im Westen Islands.

A geothermal field in the valley of Reykholt (Reykholtsdalur) with the hot spring Deildartunguhver which produces about 180 liters/sec. of 97° C hot water. Most of the hot water which is used for central heating in the towns Akranes and Borgarnes comes from this most productive Iceland spring in the West of Iceland.

The Reykjanes Peninsula offers an extreme variety of landscapes dotted with fissures, lava fields and geothermal activity. Just a short drive from Reykjavik it´s a perfect half day tour and you could even end at the Blue Lagoon if you like

My favorite are the high bird cliffs where you can clamber up grassy banks and peer over the indented cliffsides at crashing waves, while thousands of birds bob around in the wind currents and the view is amazing but be very careful at the cliff edges: winds can be extremely gusty, and some grass-tufted patches of earth may not support your weight.