Northern Lights Adventure in Iceland
I had the privilege to be on board the inaugural flight of Icelandair return to Chicago on their non-stop to Reykjavik on 23Mar. Icelandair has always been known as a budget carrier, and they still are to some extent, with flying only 757 equipment over the water that does not house the more elaborate interiors found in other aircraft today. 3 cabin service consisting of Economy with 3×3 seating, Economy Comfort consisting of two rows with 2×2 seating (regular Economy seats with middle seat blocked off) and Saga (Business) Class with roomy 2×2 seating in 4 rows. Recline in Business Class was minimal and only a pop-up foot rest in the seat in front of you.
It was a quick 5h 30m flight into Keflavik. The airport is a former U.S. Army base located about 45 minute drive from the capital, Reykjavik. There are several hotels and about 5000 residents in Keflavik itself.
I was greeted in the arrival hall by my Iceland Encounter Guide, Kristjan Vilhelmsson. I was told by Iceland Encounter that he is the best guide in the country which was also said to me by several people during the 3 days I spent touring with him. My means of sightseeing was in a mean looking, but very comfortable special fitted Toyota Land Cruiser (with WiFi!).
As you can see, there was at least 3 feet of clearance to the ground which is very much needed going over some of the roads up to the glaciers. From Keflavik, I was taken to breakfast at a local marina where residents hang out. From here it was an approximate 1 hour drive, at times some fairly deep snow ruts on the road and off road hence deflating the tires above as necessary to proceed. We were driving to the Langjokull Glacier where I joined a group of about 20 other travelers for a 2-hour snowmobile ride on the glacier. At first a little slow but once I got the feel of the snowmobile I was racing across the glacier! Outfit was provided by the company which does these tours.
After a visit to nearby Geyser, home to the geyser from which the word originated, it was off to my accommodations at The Hotel Ranga in the countryside.
A 51-room 4 star hotel in the south countryside, perfect for day trips to the various glaciers and volcanoes. Away from any light pollution making for excellent stargazing weather permitting year round, or Northern Lights viewing typically from September through early April, again weather permitting. Unfortunately, during my two night stay the weather did not permit. There are 7 specialty themed suites on the second floor of a two-story wing of the hotel. Unless you need 700sqft. of space in the middle of nowhere or are a family needing everyone under one key, not really worth the extra couple hundred USD for the suites as you are out and about most of the day a enjoying activities and excursions.
The restaurant was very well run and the dinner menu surprisingly was very extensive. Nice buffet breakfast also with usual cereals, eggs, salad, some fruit, meats. Staff were all very friendly and spoke perfect English. Most of them are locals or from Reykjavik.
The countryside is all farmland (hay mostly) and mossy volcanic rock. Sea cliffs which are now inland dominate much of the scenery. Friday morning I enjoyed a stop at Urridafoss which was to have been used by power companies to harness the energy of the water but now a single company is planning hydropower stations on the lower part of the river, hopefully not ruining the beauty of the area!
Then it was up to the Hofsjokull glacier for an approximate 3 hour hike! Friday was about 11 hours out sightseeing and enjoying the scenery.
The main highways are all very clean and well kept, however not all of them are lit at night. Driving during the daytime is pretty straightforward for those who wish to tour on their own. The countryside is strewn with cottages for rent and farmhouse bed & breakfast type accommodations. I didn’t notice any major chain hotels out here.
After the glacier hike a visit to the southernmost town of Vik which lies on a huge expanse of black volcanic “sand”. Stopped for a bite to eat then headed out to the beach.
Not really for swimming as the waves and undertow here are very treacherous not to mention the water is very cold year round. On the return to The Hotel Ranga, my guide stopped at another waterfall almost completely hidden from sight from the road. “Here is where you get wet” he said.
So I jumped out of the Land Cruiser and waded through only ankle deep freezing cold water between two gigantic rock formations to come upon this gushing waterfall …. I bet at the right time of year on a sunny day this must look absolutely amazing although even on a cloudy day it was pretty impressive surrounded by walls of rock.
Saturday afternoon we proceeded back to Reykjavik and I arrived at the Hotel Borg in the city. Kristjan was right, being honest in saying that “the city is not all that pretty”. Its 100,000 inhabitants have a nice waterfront to enjoy in their short summer season but other than that, really not much to see here. There are MANY bars and a number of dance clubs which are popular with Europeans who flock here for the nightlife, sorry but I didn’t find it appealing enough to check out that scene so I opted for a wonderful dinner at a great Indian restaurant at the end of one of the shopping streets, about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, Austur-Indiafelagid Ehf is the name.
The Hotel Borg was a delight. Art Deco-ish in style, 100 rooms and suites. A 4 Star hotel which is in the city center just around the corner from the main shopping street lined with shops and bars.
Room was tidy and clean, nice bed which could be split into 2 twins. No U.S. outlets so electric adapter is needed to charge any devices.
Sunday morning Iceland Encounter had arranged a transfer from the hotel at 11am to the famous Blue Lagoon, the geothermal spa located only 20 minutes from the Keflavik Airport hence a no-brainer of a stop for a couple of hours before getting on the late afternoon flight back home.
There are different price packages available and I was on the “Premium” package which allowed one Silica mask, one Algae mask, one drink and reservation in the dining room (which I passed on and spent the time relaxing in the warm water). There is a hotel here, 35 rooms, average about €250 to €370 per night.
Complete with an indoor relaxation area, steam room and saunas and indoor waterfall wall it is a big business! Separate locker rooms for men and women with showers, soap, hair conditioner (the water dries out your hair!) and hair dryers.
Afterwards, the driver was waiting for me and I was back at the airport in less than 20 minutes, checked in and through security. Icelandair has their own lounge at Keflavik airport which was adequate and comfortable.
Return flight was about 30 minutes delayed (the outbound was almost an hour delay).
Iceland is a photographer’s delight and a geologists dream. A lot of hiking, climbing, kayaking, river rafting are some of the outdoor activities that can be enjoyed pretty much year round. I saw ONE brave cyclist out in the middle of nowhere pedaling furiously. I asked if there was much cycling in Iceland and Kristjan said, “not really, high winds prevent it from being an enjoyable experience for many most times of the year”. I’m sure it is much greener in the summer months, June through August, when average daily high temps can be in the low 60’s. Temps during my visit were upper 40’s in the day and upper 30’s at night.