Beyond the Guide Books
Read any guide book on Iceland and the clichés abound. It’s a world of fire and ice— volcanoes and glaciers— but that just tells part of this feral island’s story. If you’re an adventure traveler, Iceland not only beckons it’s a magnet for the soft and hard core.
For the hard core looking for adventures they don’t have to share with the maddening crowd, go down to the mountainous Icelandic shoreline. There are geometric blocks of ice on the black sand beach that will make any amateur photographer look like a pro. The water is a “toasty” 47 degrees in summer and the surf is up. Iceland offers perhaps the world’s best wilderness surfing and you won’t be in a lineup for the best breaks. Bring the latest high tech wetsuit and you’re good to go. Traveling by sea kayak along the coast exploring marine caves and outlying islands is another special adventure.
Over Hill, Dale, Glacier
As scenic as Iceland’s ring road is, get off it and head inland for the central highlands and also the Westfjords. The highlands are hiker nirvana with paths leading to the largest glacier in Europe, its most active volcanoes and thousand-year-old alkaline lakes where you can bath away that blister or sore knee. Explore your inner Viking by horseback riding over 6,000-year-old routes that the Norse gods once trod. The backcountry offers countless camping sites as well as lodges offering either comfortable indoor accommodation or camping spots with warm showers on premises.
The Westfjords is other-worldly with its myriad fjords, wetlands and islands. If you like birds visit Vigur Island just off the coast where 80,000 puffins sublimely bath and feed in the seaweed. A seaweed bath isn’t just for the birds either. At Reykholar, there is a seaweed bathing complex where you can feel why the puffins are so healthy.
Adventure Jump-off: Reykjavik
Adventure travel isn’t just about mountain biking, whitewater rafting or hiking on the glaciers. The city scene can also be part of the adventure and Reykjavik is among the best adventure jump-off cities in the world. Its music and culinary scenes are amazingly diverse for a country of just 280,000. Music festivals range from classic jazz to experimental electronica and are a great way to meet Icelanders many of whom are adventure travelers themselves and like to share their backcountry tales.
Perhaps the best festival outside the capital is the three-day lamb orgy called the Rettir. Farmers go in search of their sheep after months of free-roam feeding in the highlands and with the roundup complete the music flows and the lamb is devoured. Not all adventure travel is getting down and dirty with Mother Nature.
It’s sometimes hard to believe that Iceland is just a four and half hour flight from Boston. How could this island be so close and yet so far from our less glaciated, less fiery, more domesticated world ? For adventure travelers, Iceland beckons.