I had always heard interesting things about Iceland. Experienced travelers spoke of a rugged, diverse landscape comprising black sand beaches, lava fields, moss-covered hills and mighty mountains, as well as friendly locals with blond hair and funny sweaters.
And yet I never could have guessed how impressive the country was until I visited this summer. Over the course of two weeks, my co-leader and I guided a National Geographic Student Expedition accompanied by savvy local guides. During that time, we and our students traversed a country inhabited by only 300,000 people (mostly based in Reykjavik) and sprinkled with geysers, volcanoes and 1,100 years of history.
Based on these incredible experiences, here is a list of things to include on your future itinerary.
Relax in The Blue Lagoon
This is an ideal place to visit right after your flight. After grabbing some breakfast in Reykjavik, soak your cramped legs in these milky, restorative geothermal pools.
Hike the Svinafellsjokull (Pig Mountain) Glacier
Located in Vatnajoekull National Park, the trek across Svinafellsjokull was not just one of my favorite hikes of the trip, but of all time. With a guide, you’ll strap on some crampons, grab an ice axe and then head out over moraines and crevasses learning more about the region’s glaciology and geology as you travel.
Sail Through the Ice Lagoon
After you tackle the Pig, take a zodiac boat tour in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. There, you’ll float past icebergs larger school busses as seagulls flap around your boat. Don’t forget to ask your guide to head to the calving face of the glacier where you may be lucky enough to see a huge chunk of ice drop into the see.
Have a Meal You’ll Never Forget
While the young men on my expedition had a not-so-subtle obsession with hot dogs from N1 (a common Icelandic gas station), my favorite meal was at Gamli Baukur restaurant in Husavik. If you visit, order the fresh-caught salmon fillet paired with buttered risotto and greens. It’s culinary perfection!
Stop and Listen
I had some of my favorite moments in this incredible landscape while soaking in the expansive views as wind howled around me. At these times I wondered: Was this what it was like when the Vikings landed for the first time?
To learn more about Peter Richards, visit his website.