Dreamy waterfalls, glossy black sand beaches, and the enchanting Northern Lights! That’s what awaited during my first trip across the Atlantic from the United States.
When images of Iceland’s stunning natural beauty started constantly flooding my social media feeds, I was determined to step foot on the land of fire and ice.
Now, you may be fully aware of the ‘ice’ misconception of the country’s name. That moniker was believed to be penned in order to ward off worldly travelers from overpopulating the island. With only 360,000 residents, it has certainly worked over the years.
Once I saw the otherworldly landscapes with my own eyes, I fully understood the desire to keep its majesty secret from the world.
Hot Spring Heaven
Wheels down at 6:00am and I was ready to explore this mystical Viking land. The bus whisked me straight from the airport to the world-famous Blue Lagoon. Surrounded by mesmerizing lava fields, the therapeutic waters of the spa were a relaxing start to this wintery getaway.
The revitalizing pools were heated to a toasty 100° F which was a stark contrast to the brisk morning air. I smeared the silica mask on my face and swam to the bar for my drink included in the ticket.
My personal recommendation is the gushing waterfall for an invigorating massage to relieve any back soreness from a lengthy flight. No doubt, a stop at this remarkable spa is the best way to begin any trip to Iceland.
Magical Light Show
Clear skies and brutal wind shear created a frigid night but perfect for an adventurous hunt for the aurora borealis. Our guide explained the concoction of elements that needed to align for a dazzling light display.
We had them all that night and a sighting was likely!
It is imperative to remember that your eyes need some time to adjust being in total darkness. The guide said we had lights and I squirmed in my seat to find the Northern Lights for the first time. I spotted nothing to my disappointment.
We made it to our viewing point roughly 20-25 minutes outside of Reykjavik and we hopped into the chill of winter. No other time was I more thankful having my new Wantdo Waterproof Mountain Jacket. I ordered the heavy ski jacket specifically for this Icelandic winter adventure.
The interior fiber warmed my core, the hood shielded the wind from much of my face and the sleeves provided snug cuffs for my hands. I placed my iPhone in the chest pocket for easy access and kept my hands in the zippered pockets.
With whipping gusts and temperatures dipping below 30° F, having a sturdy winter jacket is a must. Check out more of my recommended jackets to keep warm during an Arctic chill.
I continued to gaze at the pitch-black sky and still not even a sparkle. The guide manipulated the settings on his phone and snapped some photos. A green haze masked the thousands of stars in the midst of the twilight.
The brilliant guide rushed us into the van and drove roughly 10-15 minutes down the road. After a brief wait, green streaks shimmered above the mountaintops and twirled into astounding shapes.
The dancing lights continued to brighten as I stared into the darkness and it was like standing in the midst of a fairy tale.
Snowstorm in Snæfellsnes
Roughly two hours north of Reykjavik sits one of Iceland’s most spectacular geologic wonderlands. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula boasts a wild and rugged coastline dotted by volcanoes, lava fields, basalt cliffs and remote fishing villages.
What made this such a dramatic setting was the rabid blizzard that slammed the region. Blankets of snow covered the rocky landscapes and hiking the terrain was a challenge.
Thankfully, my high-ankle Columbia hiking boots were a comfy option to trudge through the thick snow. Waterproof and with tons of insulation, my feet remained dry and ache-free the entire day.
This allowed me to trek along the steep hills for truly phenomenal vistas of snow-covered peaks and eerie lava fields. If you looked hard enough, trickling streams of water poked through frozen waterfalls.
The iconic Kirkjufell Mountain provided one of the most enthralling images towering over the fields of snow. Once our van reached the edge of the peninsula, a black-pebbled beach and jagged cliffs greeted us. Sunlight poked out from the dreary clouds and shimmered over the rushing waves of the ocean.
The intensity of the waves crashing against the massive rocks felt like a collision of two worlds.
Waterfalls & Beaches
What a change in scenery my last full day exploring the mind-blowing diversity of the island. After surviving a blustery whiteout, the welcomed sunshine created a pleasant afternoon touring the South Coast.
In the distance, streams trickling alongside the craggy cliffs heightened my excitement for what lay ahead. The rest of my group hopped off the van to hike the impressive Sólheimajökull Glacier. However, my fun awaited at the stunning shores of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.
An overwhelmingly popular spot for a panorama, the pebbles strewn across the volcanic coastline shined against the monstrous Atlantic waves. Just offshore, bizarre rock formations soared out of the water.
Basalt columns indented into the cliffs formed an intricate staircase that many thrill seekers chose to climb. The unique curvature of the columns formed a natural cave to take cover in case of rough storm surge.
For those fascinated by geologic marvels, Reynisfjara is a must-see!
Iceland has an abundance of waterfalls and Skógafoss is surely among the most impressive. The powerful rush of the falls cascading over the towering cliff just takes your breath away.
Despite the warmer weather, entrapments of ice circled the base of Skógafoss. Stand at the right angle and you’ll see a colorful rainbow refracting off the waterfall. A zig-zagged staircase climbed the hill overlooking the majestic falls and provided a marvelous view of the Skoga River snaking along the landscape.
Just up the road, the misty Seljalandsfoss was half-frozen but gorgeous beyond belief. Normally, you can hike just behind the falls for the most spectacular view of the horizon.
That was impossible due to the thick layers of ice but trekking to the neighboring cliffs was a splendid alternative. Spindle-like strands of water spilled over the icy hilltops just above the hiking path. An image fit for a wintery fairy tale!