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Whale Watching in Húsavík

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With schools of herring and abundant plankton, the freezing waters of the Northern Atlantic have always been prime whale territory. In years past, that meant excellent hunting. And though there’s still a little killing going on, today the most common way to shoot whales in Iceland is with a camera.

Humpback Fin

Whale watching tours are offered in Reykjavík and other towns along the coast, but we held off until arriving in Húsavík, which is considered the best spot in Iceland. It was mid-September, a little late in the season, but the whales hadn’t yet migrated south for the winter.

After days of rain and snow, the weather had cleared up completely, and we were in high spirits while boarding an oak boat operated by North Sailing. We crawled into extra-warm sailing suits, and set off for the mouth of the Skjálfandi Bay, where a group of humpback whales had been seen earlier in the day.

Soon we spotted the first water spouts. The humpbacks weren’t far off, but by the time we came near, they had dived for food and wouldn’t resurface for awhile. Much of our three-hour tour was spent in this frustrating game of chase, but we got lucky twice, when whales resurfaced right next to our boat. The first time, I was taken totally off-guard by the massive beast which had suddenly popped up just meters away. She didn’t seem all that concerned about our boat… perhaps because she was nearly as big as it.

The tour lasted for three hours, and we must have seen at least a dozen separate whales. All humpbacks, but it’s also possible to see sperm whales, blue whales and even killer whales during excursions from Húsavík. This is an essential Iceland experience, and relatively inexpensive, considering the length of the tour and the likelihood of success.

Another essential Húsavík experience is offered by the incredible Whale Museum, found at the harbor. This massive former whaling station has turned its focus from slaughtering whales to educating the public about them, and it does a fantastic job. With skeletons from various species, including an enormous sperm whale, movies and hands-on exhibits, this is the kind of place in which you could spend hours.

Location of Húsavík on our Map
North Sailing – Website

We stayed in this hotel in Húsavík

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October 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm Comment (1)

A Boat Trip Around Heimaey

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We had already walked around Heimaey, but we also wanted to check out the island from the water, and so we bought tickets for a 90-minute boat ride offered by Viking Tours. Caves, cliffs, seals, puffins and some of the other uninhabited islands which make up the Westman archipelago were all part of the program.

Amazing Iceland

The tour looped around Heimaey in a clockwise direction, with our captain pointing out the various natural features in both Icelandic and English. We saw plenty of sea birds, including puffins and kittiwakes, and even spotted a seal wallowing about the mouth of one of the island’s caves. The seal moved aside as our boat entered, giving us the chance to admire the cave’s strange colors.

Although the weather was bad and the sea was choppy, the boat ride was a lot of fun. We circled around a couple of the smaller islands just off Heimaey’s coast, and entered another cave near the harbor where our captain, a hulking man with shoulder-length blonde hair, pulled out a saxophone to show off the cave’s acoustics. As a kid growing up in Ohio, I couldn’t have guessed that one day I’d be soaking wet in a cave, in Iceland, on a boat, listening to a direct descendant of the Vikings play Amazing Grace on a sax. One of those surreal moments you’d have never been able to anticipate.

Viking Tours – Website

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September 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm Comments (0)

Underground, Underwater: Lava Caves and Hot Springs

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Driving around Iceland with a guidebook and a map can be rewarding, but even the most astute tourist won’t find everything on their own. To reach certain places, you’ll have to enlist the help of experts. That’s what we did, in order to explore a secret lava cave and an amazing hot spring.

Travel Blog

Our trip was run by Icelandic Mountain Guides, a tour company operating out of the capital. Shortly after our pick-up, we had helmets affixed to our heads, and were entering a tunnel found in a lava field just outside Reykjavík. I’ve been in caves before, but none formed by a flowing river of lava. The experience was different. At 4000 years in age, this cave is relatively young and fairly shallow.

At times, the tunnel narrowed precariously. In order to complete the tour, we had to get down on our hands and knees and wedge through a couple small openings. Not a huge problem for me, but a considerable one for 6’6″ Jürgen (who, it turns out, does a very clumsy crab walk). We saw some stalagmites and the bones of a poor lamb which had become lost in the cave, and learned a lot about the unique geology of Iceland.

Next up, the part of the journey I had most been looking forward to: hot springs. We drove out to the Hengill Mountains, where we’d recently completed a fun walk lovingly nicknamed Hengill Death Hike. But today would be less dangerous. After a 30-minute hike past steaming vents shooting out of the over-heated earth, we arrived at a river in which people were bathing.

Crazy Icelandic People

The river here combines both cold water streaming down off the glacier and hot water bubbling up from the earth, mixing to create the ideal temperature for a bath. Despite the difficulty of reaching it, the location is no real secret — a lot of other people were present when we arrived. But no matter. The river is long, as rivers tend to be, and we were able to find a nice quiet spot to soak our bones.

Icelandic Mountain Guides – Website

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August 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm Comment (1)

An Aerial Tour of Iceland

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You Might Also Like Our Flight Over The Westfjords

As amazing as it was to stand on the cliffs of Þingvellir and survey the rift valley where two tectonic plates are separating, it was even more amazing to fly over that same valley. I think I know why so many birds spend their summers in Iceland. The views are hard to beat.

Iceland Travel Blog

Aerial tours of Iceland are a booming business, and it’s not hard to understand why. Most of the country is inaccessible by car. Only a handful of roads crisscross the ungovernable interior and even these can only be traversed with 4-wheel drive jeeps. And even then, they’re dangerous, requiring river fording, and are completely off-limits during the winter. There are a lot of spots in Iceland which you have to see from the air, if you want to see them at all.

Our first aerial tour brought us from Reykjavík to the Langjökull Glacier, over Gullfoss, then around by Geysir and Þingvellir, and onto Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull. The country’s astounding geological diversity is truly evident from the air; we passed over fertile valleys, icy glacial expanses, still-smoking volcanoes, and steaming fields of geothermal activity, all within minutes.

This was my first time in a small propeller jet, but I was soon at ease. The flight was smooth and I was too engrossed staring out the window to remember my fears. The plane was a Cessna, a four-seater, and we were allowed to open the windows to get some spectacular shots from above. An unforgettable experience.

If you’d like to take a similar tour, get in touch with us. We have an excellent contact, who will be able to arrange a personalized tour from Reykjavík.

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August 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm Comments (15)

Geysir – The World’s Original

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The Haukadalur Valley, found along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just northeast of Þingvellir, is an especially restless area of geothermal activity. Along with other bubbling pools of rotten-smelling sulfur, it’s here that you can find Geysir. This is the original — the geyser which lends its name to all others.


Geologically speaking, Geysir isn’t the world’s “original” geyser, but it was the first encountered by Europeans, and the first to enter the lexicons of Western language. Geysir has always been fickle and heavily affected by the region’s frequent earthquakes. During its heyday, it was exploding as dependably as Old Faithful, but quieted down in the 20th century. In the 1990s, impatient visitors were triggering spectacular eruptions by throwing stones into the crater, and even adding soap.

Today, Geysir is completely asleep, and will likely stay so until the next round of earthquakes awaken it. Luckily for tourists, its little brother Strokkur isn’t ready for bed. At irregular intervals of around fifteen minutes, Strokkur shoots water 100 feet (30m) in the air, less than half the height reached by Geysir in its prime, but enough to impress.

Haukadalur is one of the standard stops on the Golden Circle tour, between Þingvellir and Gulfoss. Besides Geysir and Strokkur, there are a number of other, smaller geysers to check out, each with its own personality. There’s foul-tempered Litli-Geysir (Little Geyser), constantly bubbling and spewing forth its sulfuric stench. Strange Blesi consists of two pools: one of the most beautiful blue water, and another which looks like mud. And the less said about ugly, semi-active Óþerrishola (Wet Hole), the better.

In fact, I think I’d better stop describing these geysers entirely. Erupting, foul-smelling spouts with names like Strokkur and Wet Hole… the profane jokes are just too easy. Honestly, who names anything “Wet Hole”?! But I will take the high road, Iceland, and stop here.

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August 14, 2013 at 6:37 pm Comments (5)

The Southern Coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

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The day after our soul-crushing 20-mile trek out of Hellissandur, we hopped on a bus run by Snæfellsnes Excursions which brought us around the southern coast of the peninsula. Sitting in a bus all day and basking in the awe-inspiring scenery of the Snæfellsnes without any walking involved? That was exactly what our aching bones were hoping for.

Djúpalónssandur Iceland

Our first stop was at a black-stone beach called Djúpalónssandur. Huge, craggy rock formations surround the small inlet, which until recently had been an important fishing port. You can still find the remains of a shipwreck on the shore, and although we didn’t see them, there are four famous lifting stones on the beach, used to measure the strength of new fishermen. Fullsterkur (Strong: 154 kg), Hálfsterkur (Halfstrong: 100 kg), Hálfdrættingur (Half-as-good: 54 kg) and Amlóði (Lightweight: 23 kg).

 Arnastapi Photo Arche

The next stop on our tour was Hellnar, connected to neighboring village Arnastapi by a short trail leading along the peninsula’s most spectacular coastline. We were amazed by the strange rock formations, blowholes, birds and sheer cliffs of lava, along the one hour trail. One of the best formations is found at the trail’s head: Gatklettur, a huge arch through which sea birds are constantly soaring. We enjoyed this easy, mostly downhill walk immensely.

Ytri Tunga Beach

After picking us up in Arnastapi, our bus stopped at Ytri Tunga on the southeastern side of Snæfellsnes. This beach is well-known for its seals, but today they were nowhere to be found, which was a disappointment. Instead, there were just a couple of Icelanders on the beach, playing with their Golden Lab. The dog was happy and cute, chasing sticks into the ocean, but secretly I blamed him for scaring the seals away. Secretly, I hated him.

We ended our day at the crossroads of Vegamot, where we had some coffee in the gas station and waited for the bus to Reykjavík. The day was exactly what we had been hoping for: an easy and inexpensive way to see the highlights of the southern part of the peninsula, without any thought or planning necessary. If you’re looking for something similar, I’d give Snæfellsnes Excursions a ring. We paid about $30 apiece, from Hellissandur to Vegamot. By Icelandic standards, that’s a serious bargain.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Djúpalónssandur | Hellnar | Arnastapi | Ytri Tunga

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August 10, 2013 at 1:02 pm Comments (3)

Sushi, Viking Style

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If you hear the same suggestion from a variety of different locals, it’s smart to listen. And it seemed that everyone we talked with in Stykkishólmur recommended a boat trip of the islands around the bay. So we bought tickets, and discovered that the locals were right. The Viking Sushi Tour was one of the most entertaining excursions we had in Iceland.

sea urchin roe
Sea Urchin Roe in a Scallop Shell

A company called SeaTours runs the “Viking Sushi Tour” out of Stykkishólmur. The 90-minute boat ride promises bird-spotting, island-viewing and fine Viking-style dining.

As our boat neared the first island, Þórishólmur, I felt my stomach crawling up into my throat. Our vessel was huge, and we were approaching land way too quickly. I looked up at the captain to make sure that he was neither sleeping nor drunk, but he seemed in control. Turns out, Þórishólmur is a volcanic plug which sinks straight into the sea, so even large boats like ours are able to get very close. And we were near enough that I could have almost reached out and touched the rock.

Had I tried, my fingers might have been pecked off. The island’s cliffs were packed with sea birds: guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins. We saw more puffins on this trip, and were closer to them, than on our tour out of Reykjavík.

Saga Stone

The boat brought us by two other islands, one of which had a huge crevasse almost splitting it in two. A large rock was somehow wedged into the crevasse which, according to legend, was thrown by a troll woman from the mainland. Annoyed by the bells of the town church, she hurled a rock at it, but missed and hit the island instead. In an example of science following folklore, the rock has been studied, and did in fact come from the mountain on which the troll is said to have lived. Not just that, but the church would have been directly in the stone’s path.

The stories and island-hopping were a lot of fun, but the best part of the tour came at the end, when the crew dropped a giant trawler into the ocean. Considering our proximity to shore, the water’s depth was astounding; the trawler just kept sinking and sinking. Soon, it was raised and its contents dumped onto a large cleaning table. Greedily, we looked upon our bounty: an amazing number of scallops, crabs, starfish and sea urchins. And now, we would feast in a manner worthy of Vikings! (Well… effete Vikings who eat with chopsticks, sip on white wine and let the boat staff do all the work of cleaning and schucking.)

I had expected to feel revulsion while munching down raw scallops and (especially) sea urchin roe, but it was all surprisingly good! I suppose it really doesn’t get any fresher, than straight from the freezing depths of the Northern Atlantic.

Stykkishólmur is an extremely picturesque town, with plenty to do and see, and the Viking Sushi Tour is a real highlight. Not to be missed.

Hotels In Stykkishólmur

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August 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm Comment (1)

Snorkeling at the Silfra Fissure

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Floating on your stomach in near-freezing water is normally an experience one has only after being murdered by the Mafia. But in the right circumstances, it can be enjoyable. When you’re alive, for instance, and looking through crystal clear glacial water at the Silfra Fissure.

All the underwater shots in this post are courtesy of

As the North American and European tectonic plates drift away from each other, Iceland is being stretched apart. The island is growing at two to three centimeters a year, and the rift valley near Þingvellir provides an incredible view of tectonic motion in action. Silfra is just one of the many fissures in the valley. Deep and narrow, it’s filled with glacial water that’s been filtered through miles of volcanic rock, and is of absolute purity.

We went on a Silfra snorkeling excursion with the folks from, and had an amazing time. I had been worried about getting into such freezing water (around 2°C / 35°F), but we were wearing drysuits which kept the cold out and the warmth in. After driving to the site and suiting up, we hopped into the water. In addition to keeping you dry, the suits also keep you bobbing on the surface, making it easy to float… or rather, impossible not to. We popped the snorkels in our mouths, flipped onto our stomachs, and the show began.

What a show it was. Silfra is heralded as one of the best freshwater dive sites in the world, thanks to the flawless visibility of its water. Even though the sky was a bit overcast, the rift was colored a rich, dark blue, and we could see clearly for hundreds of feet, as we floated with the current. The initial section was fairly shallow, but then we entered into Silfra’s “Cathedral”: a chamber over 60 feet in depth and about 300 feet wide, ringed in by walls of lava. It’s breathtaking… especially when your breaths are being taken through a snorkel tube. provided a top-notch experience. We had an excellent guide and the equipment was flawless. The company also offers diving excursions into the fissure, which I would have loved to do. Snorkeling was nice and, considering the water’s perfect clarity, might even offer the better views, but scuba diving into the rift between two continents must be an amazing adventure.

Location of the Silfra Fissure – Website

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August 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm Comments (9)
Whale Watching in Hsavk With schools of herring and abundant plankton, the freezing waters of the Northern Atlantic have always been prime whale territory. In years past, that meant excellent hunting. And though there's still a little killing going on, today the most common way to shoot whales in Iceland is with a camera.
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