Category Archives: Iceland

A Drive through Snaefellsnes Peninsula

2000px-Map_of_Iceland

WIT Iceland Correspondent Wailana embarked on a trip to Snaefellsnes Peninsula (in Iceland) this past weekend. A day trip includes pick up from Reykjavik hotels, and a guided drive through this spectacular national park. Check out her photos and overview from the trip!

Trip Highlights:

  • Snæfellsjökull volcano glacier
  • Gerðuberg basalt columns
  • Bird cliffs at Arnarstapi
  • Kirkjufell church-shaped mountain
  • with Kirkjufellfoss waterfall

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There were about 18 people in our cozy van, we drove from Reykjavik downtown through Hvalfjordur out to Borganes town and Snaefellsnes, the westernmost peninsula in Iceland. We stopped frequently to check out the dramatic landscape of bird cliffs, sloping mountains, black sand beaches and the occasional coffee/bathroom break. We stopped midday for lunch at Grundarfjörður and picturesque views of Kirkjufell. The guide was very friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the region; he even shared some of his family history with us–turns out he can trace his lineage all the way back 1200 years to the west coast of Norway!

Though it was a long day, starting at 8:30AM and ending around 7:30PM, it was definitely worth it! My recommendation: bring a bit of water and your camera.

For more day trips through Iceland and other hot destinations, contact Willamette Intl Travel at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. We can connect you with the best guide services to make your trip all the more memorable!

 

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The Icelandic Roadtrip Packing List

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One of the best way to see the Icelandic countryside is to hit the road for a few days. Rent a car straight from the airport and embark on a roadtrip! It’s really the only way to see a country that has only 8 people per square mile. Iceland’s Ring Road will take you across through and around snow-capped mountains, bubbling lava pits and misty glacier fingers. But what to take on the journey? Here’s my packing list for an Icelandic roadtrip:

1. Map and GPS navigator. Though you can’t really get lost around Iceland, it sometimes pays to have a map. They are useful if you need to judge the distance until the next town or gas station. Stay on the roads listed on your map–you can incur a hefty fine if you drive off-road. Only attempt a highland road (marked on the map) if you’re driving a 4-wheeler–these roads are notorious for their rugged terrain, and there’s a high chance you may get stuck with a 2-wheeler.

2. Food. Good food can be scarce in Iceland in all except the main towns, so if you want a snack for the road, be sure to pick up a quickie like food bars, dried meat, and chips before you head out. You can also pick these up at any number of gas stations on the road. Dried fish or fruit make great nibbles in the car.

3. Camera, tripod and binoculars. Iceland’s landscape is gorgeous wherever you look–so be sure to have your camera ready. A DSLR is best to catch the subtle, natural sights, such as the Northern Lights (and we’ve just entered the season!). Tripods and binoculars are handy when viewing waterfalls or birds.

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4. Windproof and fleece jackets. Definitely pack your windbreaker–the wind is often fierce in Iceland, especially on the west coast, and rain or snow is not uncommon! Make sure it’s also a jacket that can get dirty–often your adventures will take you horseback riding or spelunking, so be sure you can watch off the grease and the grime.

5. Hiking boots and socks. The only option for the rugged terrain of Iceland. If you do any sort of off-road hiking to Dettifoss or through the multicolored hills of Landmannalaugar, great shoes are a must. The best shoes are those with good support and are also waterproof.

6. Warm clothes. Iceland is cold year-round, and though there are sunny days here and there, the weather is notoriously unpredictable. Pack your warm gear: thermal leggings, cargo pants, sweaters, balaclava, wool cap–layers layers layers! Icelandic wool is a great investment and can be purchased in Reykjavik.

7. Swimsuit and towel. Icelanders are obsessed with swimming! Families gather here to sit in the hot pots and share the latest gossip. Wild hot pots exist all over the country. If you forget to bring your swimsuit, you can rent a spare at the pool’s front desk–but if you’re out on the road, it’s good to have your own handy!

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Diving In Iceland

Welcome to Iceland! Today we’re returning to the land of fire and ice brought to you by our own foreign correspondent in Iceland, Wailana.

Last summer she joined a fantastic group for an unforgettable experience snorkeling between tectonic plates. Established in 1997, Dive.is offers safe, fun snorkel and dive days not far from Reykjavik and also off the coast of Iceland. The most famous trip is through Silfra Fissure in Thingvellir, a crack in the Earth where you can swim between two continental plates.

If you are a PADI-certified diver, you can join fellow divers on a day dive in the fissure. The tour includes two dives, each of about 30-40 minutes, at a depth of 18 meters. Optional add-ons include an afternoon of spelunking or the Golden Circle.

Otherwise, you can sign up for the snorkel tour. Even in summer, the fissure tends to be quite cold, but you’re fitted with high quality equipment and the best dry suit in the business. You can easily let yourself go, floating through the twisting fissure in pristine waters and the vivacious colors of this underwater realm. The fissure widens into a large lagoon area, where sand collects at the bottom. Wailana recommends keeping your hands laying flat on your back, above the water to be warmed by the sun (if there is any!). End your chilly day with a cup of hot chocolate and cookies.

Looking for something a bit more Advanced? In Akureyri, you can sign up for the dive tour in Strytan and its underwater volcanic cones. Swim in 79C water and feed the local wolf fish. In June, divers can even boil Guillemot eggs at 24 meters depth!

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WIT Agent’s Insider Look: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Today is the last day of our “insider’s look” series on Iceland. In case you missed some of the articles, click here to catch up.

Welcome to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula!

Snæfellsnes, a long peninsula jutting out from the western coast of Iceland, is a region steeped in history and geological wonders. Many Icelandic sagas took place in and around the area. The dynamic landscape of Snæfellsnes has also influenced modern literature, most notably Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness and Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne.

Light Sand on Dark Lava at Búðir, (c) axelkr, Creative Commons

The region’s unique geology has given rise to spectacular natural wonders, and the jewel of the crown is Snæfellsjökull National Park. Within the park, hikers can explore lava craters, dozens of lava fields, rocky terrain and bird-nested sea cliffs. The eponymous Snæfellsjökull mountain, a statovolcano topped with an ice cap, stretches up 1446 meters (4744 feet). The Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás recounts the detail of a recluse, Bárður, who disappeared into the glacier one day—and guards the mountain still. He is said to have made his first home in the cave of Sönghellir, the “singing cave,” known for its acoustic resonance.

Breiðafjörður, (c) AnSchieber, Creative Commons

Enjoy the local scenery at Breiðafjörður, a fjord separating Snæfellsnes from the looming cliffs of the Westfjords. According to local legend, there are only two things in the world that cannot be counted: the stars in the night sky and the craggy islets in the bay. You can get some great views by walking across the stone causeway to the island of Súgandisey.

Stykkishólmur Church, (c) Kokonis, Creative Commons

Stykkishólmur is known for its wooden warehouses, most dating back 150 years and still in use. The Norska Húsið is worth a peek; built in 1932, the house is now a museum displaying an eclectic collection of local antiques. The Library of Water is also a fascinating stop. This old municipal library features a permanent exhibit by American artist Roni Horn. Twenty-four glass pillars are scattered through the room, each one filled with water from a different glacier around Iceland. Discover more about Icelandic lava flows at the Volcano Museum, which features art and artifacts on the region’s eruptions.

Restaurant at Arnarstapi, (c) mekanoide, Creative Commons

Try the famous hákarl at the on-site museum-farm of Bjarnarhöfn, where you can learn all about the unique practice of fermented shark. Don’t miss the harpooning tools and drying racks. Samples are included with each visit–if you dare

With gorgeous vistas of both land and sea, it’s no surprise that boat tours are popular in Snæfellsnes.  Guides will take you out on their boats and treat you to picture-perfect rides across the bay and to the islands. These rides often include samples of delicious seafood and shellfish. You can even try your hand at sea-angling or whale-watching. Or hop on the Baldur Ferry for a short (1.5 hour) ride to the island of Flatey.

On that note, that concludes our series on Iceland. Thanks for reading. We hope you’ll be inspired to go!

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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WIT Agent’s Insider Look: West Fjords

This week we’re taking a close look at WIT Agent Wailana’s trip to Iceland in early October. Today we continue on the Ring Road to the fabled West Fjords.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

A bit removed from the Ring Road track, I recommend the West Fjords only if you have at least 10 days in Iceland or you’ve been there before. The West Fjords are known for their rugged austerity and countless deep fjords.

Your first stop entering by car or bus will be the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Hólmavík. The West Fjords have a long history steeped in witchcraft and magic.

(c) Bernard McManus, Creative Commons

The unofficial capital of the fjords is Ísafjörður, with one of the largest fisheries in Iceland—also the cultural and musical center of the region. You may be lucky enough to be in town during one of the region’s various festivals celebrating skiing, music, sports, and theatre. It’s also home to the annual European Swampsoccer Championships.

There are many other activities to enjoy in the fjords, from learning local fishing, dipping in a natural hot spring, or go on a sailing tour. Travellers can also take the ferry from Stykkisholmur in the summertime to Brjánslækur.

Stop in Súðavík to see the Arctic Fox Center or Bíldudalur and its Sea Monster Museum. Visit Látrabjarg, the famous peninsula that is home to millions of birds: puffins, northern gannets, guillemots, razorbills. Drive to Rauðasandur, a red sand beach that stretches out 10 km.

(c) Yoann Lambert, Creative Commons

Don’t miss Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, the northernmost point of Iceland. Hornstrandir is a lonely place. The few settlements and farms have been mostly abandoned for decades, and the few that remain are typically utilized as summer houses by local families. Most travelers visiting the area enjoy the solitude, hiking trails and magnificent cliffs. It’s a great destination for nature lovers—home to about 260 species of flowering plants, arctic foxes, seals, and more than 30 species of birds. The cliff known as the Western Horn is one of the best places to spot seafowl. The area is accessible by boats from Ísafjörður.

(c) rwhgould, Creative Commons

Stay Tuned for Next Time: Snæfellsnes

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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WIT Agent’s Insider Look: The North

This week we’re taking a close look at WIT Agent Wailana’s trip to Iceland early October. Today we continue on the Ring Road to Mývatn and Akureyi—checking out some amazing waterfalls on the way.

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The NE Highlands, photo by Wailana

Dettifoss & Goðafoss

Though waterfalls are chiefly associated with the South, there are two memorable falls in the north part of the country that you must not miss on you road trip aroundIceland. On the empty road from West Iceland to Akureyri lies Goðafoss, the “waterfall of the gods.” Legend has it that in 1000 c.e., the high chief converted Christianity and threw his pagan idols down this waterfall. He might have picked a more dramatic location—the water falls a mere 39 feet down—but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

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Dettifoss, photo by Wailana

Much more majestic is Dettifoss, which lies about an hour east of Mývatn. The most powerful waterfall in Europe, it is situated on the massive Jökulsá á Fjöllum river that flows from the massive Vatnajökull glacier. The falls are 330 ft wide and plunge 150 ft down into the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.

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Myvatn Area, photo by Wailana

Mývatn

Mývatn (pronounced “mee-va”) is a large lake in the north that is famed for its bird-watching, beautiful landscapes, and otherworldly natural attractions. Mývatn is also known for Hverabrauð, a delicious molasses bread that is slow-baked for 24 hours underground by natural geothermal heat.

Though the towns surrounding the lake are fairly tiny—the entire circumference home to only 450 inhabitants during the winter—you can easily base yourself in Reykjahlíð or Skútustaðir. Book far ahead–this is one of the more popular destinations in Iceland in the summer!

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Dimmuborgir, photo by Wailana

Mývatn is a volcano lover’s paradise. What it lacks in verdant forests, the region more than makes up in the way of rock pillars, eruptions, and lava caves. Wander through Dimmuborgir, the “dark forts,” an area of volcanic arches, towers, caves and bridges. You can spend half a day exploring one of the many well-marked trails. Check out Hverfjall Crater, a massive tephra crater nearby. For some interesting lava caves, drive 45 minutes away to Lofthellir lava cave, which runs about 370m long and boasts some of the greatest natural ice sculptures in the north. The south side of the lake, Skútustaðir, is home to many pseudocraters. Krafla volcano is less than an hour’s drive away. Its latest eruption lasted from 1975 to 1984, and the area is still steaming. It’s definitely worth a visit to explore its striped lavafields, nearby geothermal field, hot mud pools, solfataras and fumaroles.

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Grjótagjá Cave, photo by Wailana

Akureyri

About 45 minutes’ drive west of Mývatn is Iceland’s second largest city—Akureyri. With a population of 18,000—positively gigantic after hours and hours of farmsteads and wilds—the city is the unofficial capital of North Iceland. It’s a great base for exploring nearby Mývatn and Goðafoss, plus it has a few noteworthy sites itself. Don’t miss the picturesque town center, the Lystigarðurinn botanical garden, and the “art canyon” or Listagilið street—home to galleries and artwork. Check out Hallormsstaðaskogur, the largest forest in Iceland, something of an anomaly in a land without many trees!

Stay Tuned for Next Time: The West Fjords

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more of her firsthand impressions about traveling to Iceland!

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WIT Agent’s Insider Look: Iceland’s East Fjords

This week we’re taking a close look at WIT Agent Wailana’s trip to Iceland in early October. Today we take a tour detour off the Ring Road to the enchanting East Fjords.

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Photo by Wailana

The eastern edge of Iceland boasts long, narrow fjords with jagged peaks, natural harbors and lovely fishing villages. For the active traveler, there are terrific hiking routes and spectacular bird sanctuaries. Up until the 1970s or so, poorly maintained roads contributed to the intense feeling of ruralness one still feels on the coast. In the summertime, the fjords’ charming seaside communities come alive with festivals every week!

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Photo by Wailana

Borgarfjörður Eystri

Also known as Bakkagerdi, this little town is set in between colorful rhyolite mountains on one side and the beautiful Dyrfjoll (door mountain) on the other. Bird-watchers can expect to see flocks of puffins, fulmars and kittiwakes. Stop by the picturesque turf house Lindarbakki, with its “hairy roof” and red walls. Legend has it the elf queen resides in Alfaborg, a rocky mound in the village.

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Photo by Wailana

Stöðvarfjörður

The main attraction here is the Steinasafn Petru, or Petra’s Stone Museum, a collection of minerals from all over East Iceland. Petra Sveinsdottir has been collecting these rocks since 1946, and showcases her beautiful crystals and stones in her home just below the harbor.

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Photo by Wailana

Seyðisfjörður

This harbor town is one of the more picturesque, with wealthy wooden homes that were shipped to Iceland from Norway since the 19th century. Today, its huge harbor accommodate the Norrøna superferry, which operates mid-April to the end of September and links Iceland with the Faroe Islands and Denmark.

Fáskrúðsfjörður. This town has a special history with the French fishermen who settled here. You can see evidence of this relationship all over the town—street names are translated into French, there’s a French seamen cemetery, and French and Icelandic flags are flown side by side.

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Photo by Wailana

Stay Tuned for Next Time: The North: Egilsstadir, Myvatn and Akureyri

Thinking about a trip to Iceland next summer 2014? Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat with one our agents! Wailana would love to share with you more insider tips about traveling to Iceland!

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