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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.

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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.

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

The Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs

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Home to millions of puffins, guillemots, razorbills and gannets, Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in Iceland and the largest bird cliff in Europe. Birds are lured here by the infinite rocky outcrops which, protected from the northern winds, are perfect for nesting. And humans come for the sheer spectacle of so many birds in one place.

We knew that we’d see puffins on our visit to Latrabjarg, but hadn’t expected to get so close to them. Despite being hunted in Iceland, the little guys are completely unafraid of people. They tend to nest toward the top of the cliffs, and after I had sat down to watch one do his thing, he waddled to within a couple feet of me, totally uninterested in my presence. Adorable as they are bobbling and skidding across the water, they’re even cuter up close.

A path extends for over a mile up and along the cliffs, bringing you to ever greater heights. But since the best view of the cliffs is close to the parking lot, a hike is strictly optional. It was fun just to sit on the grass and watch the birds through a pair of binoculars. I could spot hatchlings clinging for dear life onto their piece of cliff, puffins clumsily flying with fish in their beaks and thoughtless razorbills pooping on the heads of their downstairs neighbors.

An amazing and utterly unique place, Latrabjarg is a must-see during any trip to the Westfjords.

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September 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (11)

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)

Jökulsárlón: The Glacial Lagoon

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Our first excursion out of Reykjavík was a day trip to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon on the country’s southeast coast. With its powder blue icebergs floating, bobbing and flipping atop the water’s surface, Jökulsárlón has become one of Iceland’s most famous sights. Justifiably so.

Jökulsárlón

Our trip to Jökulsárlón was organized by Iceland Guided Tours, a company based in the heart of Reykjavík which concentrates on the southern coast and the capital area. The drive out to the lagoon was long, about five hours, so it was nice to be traveling with a knowledgeable guide who could point out geographical features along the way and answer any questions we had.

Jökulsárlón’s icebergs are supplied by the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, which looks unfathomably huge looming behind the lagoon, but is actually just a small part of the much larger Vatnajökull Glacier. Although it’s been retreating since the late 19th century, Vatnajökull still covers 8% of Iceland and is Europe’s largest glacier.

As Breiðamerkurjökull shrinks, giant chunks of ice break off and tumble down into Jökulsárlón, where they float listlessly about the water’s surface. By a quirk of nature, the icebergs don’t melt, nor does the lagoon freeze over. This is because a natural river connecting Jökulsárlón to the Atlantic creates a mixture of salt and fresh water; cool enough to keep the ice mostly intact, but salty enough to prevent the water from freezing. Eventually, the icebergs do melt away, but the process can take years.

Boat Tour Jökulsárlón

The view of the lagoon is spectacular from the coast, but a reasonably-priced boat tour can provide a close-up look. The icebergs come in a variety of styles, from white streaked with charcoal-black soot, to crystal-clear formations resembling glass, to gorgeous chunks of powder-blue. The colors vary in accordance with the age of the ice, and where on the glacier it originated. The most dazzling are those formed of the densest, oldest ice; blue is the only color in the spectrum which water doesn’t absorb, which means that the most compressed ice has the bluest hue.

A completely unique location, Jökulsárlón has proven irresistible to filmmakers, appearing in movies like Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. Most spectacular was its appearance in Die Another Day, the otherwise awful 2002 Bond flick. At an enormous expense, and for less than a minute of footage, the filmmakers blocked off the river for months, preventing salt water from reaching the lagoon which caused it to freeze over.

Across from Jökulsárlón, where the river empties into the ocean, there’s a black-sand beach which is also worth a look. Here, some smaller ice chunks have floated down the river and come to rest on the sand. Also nearby, though only accessible with your own transportation, is a second glacial lagoon called Fjallsarlón. It’s less colorful than Jökulsarlon, and lacking access to the ocean, but the glacial flow behind it is even more dramatic.

If you’d like to visit Jökulsárlón, either rent a car or get in touch with the guys at Iceland Guided Tours. It’s a long trip from the capital, but worth the effort. In a country full of unbelievable scenery, this lagoon is among the top highlights.

Locations on our Iceland Map: Jökulsárlón | Fjallsárlón

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July 31, 2013 at 10:24 am Comments (9)

Reykjavík: Iceland’s… City

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Reykjavík is more than just Iceland’s biggest city. It’s Iceland’s only city. Really, even calling it a “city” feels like an affront to its spirit. Despite claiming two-thirds of the country’s total population, Reykjavík is closer to an overgrown village than a major European capital.

Reykjavik Belt

Found in the southwest corner of the island, Reykjavík became Iceland’s first permanent settlement in 874 when Viking chieftain Ingólfur Arnason landed on its shores. According to legend, he came upon the location using the conventional method of the Vikings: throwing the pillars of his high chair off the longboat and settling wherever they drifted ashore. After arriving at his new home and, probably with some trepidation, noticing the steam issuing from the ground, he named it “Smoky Bay”. Or Reykjavík.

Throughout most of its history, Reykjavík was a provincial village, dedicated to farming and fishing. It wasn’t until WWII and the arrival of British and American troops that the city truly entered the modern age. Eager to take advantage of the strategically-situated island, the Allies built airports, paved roads and helped Reykjavík expand. Soon, rural Icelanders began seeking out jobs in the only urban setting their country offered, and the capital’s population exploded.

Despite the rapid development, downtown Reykjavík has maintained its small-town charm. Colorful, small houses are the dominant construction in the city center, with business centers and apartment blocks kept to the outskirts. At the city’s heart is the Tjörnin, a naturally-occurring pond on whose shores sits the City Hall (Ráðshúsið). The harbor, which has always played a pivotal role in the city’s fortunes, is just a couple blocks away. Really, everything in tiny Reykjavík is just a couple blocks away from everything else.

The downtown area can comfortably be covered in a single day. But to really become acquainted with the city takes far longer — a good thing, since we would be based here for 91 days! Given its size, Reykjavík offers a lot to do: museums, boat tours, hikes in the surrounding hills, excellent restaurants and cafes, cultural exhibitions, and a famous nightlife which ranks among the best in Europe. With its easy-going pace, the almost nonexistent traffic and appealing quirkiness of its inhabitants, Reykjavík is an instantly lovable city.

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July 17, 2013 at 2:16 pm Comments (7)

Halló Iceland!

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Iceland, a small island stranded in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, was our home for 91 days. The country’s 300,000 citizens lay claim to some of Europe’s most remote and beautiful terrain. Massive glaciers, simmering volcanoes, geothermal pools, puffin colonies, Viking sagas, whales and nerve-wracking road trips conspired to provide us with an exhilarating summer.

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We had spent the previous three months in Istanbul, which although technically on the same continent as Iceland, couldn’t be further apart in spirit. Istanbul is one of the Earth’s biggest cities and, upon leaving, we felt the need to reconnect with nature. In Iceland, we would experience the outdoors at their most extreme. We’d do a lot of hiking, participate in adventure tours, and bathe in hot springs. We’d visit frontier fishing villages, scale glaciers, and get to know a sizable percentage of the country’s population on a first-name basis (the only such basis Icelanders know).

We rented an apartment in Kópavogur, just south of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and by far its biggest city. Our apartment would serve as a base while we set off to explore the country, using buses, cars, hitchhiking, and even planes. About the size of Kentucky, Iceland isn’t big in terms of area, but the harshness of its terrain makes getting around a tricky proposition. Almost the entire interior is covered by glaciers and mountains, and is nearly impassable, let alone inhabitable. Icelanders live and work almost entirely around the coast.

After exploring Reykjavík and the surrounding southwest corner of the island, we would make our way up the west coast, to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords. We’d spend time in the north, visit Akureyri (Iceland’s second city) and lounge around picturesque Lake Mývatn. We’d see the stunning Eastfjords, the glaciers and waterfalls of the South, the vast and barren interior, and even ferry out to a couple outlying islands.

Amazingly, we were able survive all of this without going broke, finding ourselves stranded on a glacier, or falling into a raging river of lava. It was an incredible 91 days.

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July 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm Comments (2)
A Boat Trip Around Heimaey 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.
For 91 Days