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Iceland, a Nordic island nation, is defined by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Massive glaciers are protected in Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. Most of the population lives in the capital, Reykjavik, which runs on geothermal power and is home to the National and Saga museums, tracing Iceland’s Viking history.
Upon arrival in Keflavik, you are met by your Icelandic guide and our adventure begins. The destination for today is Thingvellir National Park. We will drive along the lavafields of the scenic north coast of Reykjanes Peninsula, a land version of the North Atlantic Rift Zone, to the colorful capital Reykjavik. Overnight at Hotle.Thingvellir National Park - The site of the oldest democratic parliament in the world. We go for a walk in the park and explore the sights of the old parliament. Thingvellir became Iceland's first National Park in 1928 due to its important social heritage and natural beauty. The park is also the location where the North Atlantic rift dividing the American and European tectonic plate is the most clearly seen, through its canyons and large cracks. In 2004, Thingvellir National Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Today, we head for the famous Geysir, the geyser from which all geysers derive their name. After earthquakes shook south Iceland in 2000, Geysir now erupts only once in a while, but its faithful deputy Strokkur ("churn") shoots water every 10 to 15 minutes, over 100 feet into the air. A short distance from Geysir is the famous Gullfoss waterfall and below it the Hvitargljufur Canyon, a huge canyon formed after floods from the nearby glaciers, thousands of years ago. From Gullfoss we head inland to the Hveravellir hot springs.
Hveravellir is a small oasis of warmth, situated in the highlands between the icecaps of Langjokull and Hofjokull. For hot spring lovers, who don't mind changing outdoors, it is possible to jump in for a bath before we continue to the green farmland of northern Iceland.
We finish the day in the picturesque town of Akureyri, the capital of northern Iceland and the biggest settlement outside Reykjavik. Akureyri is famous for the midnight sun in May and June, when the sun never sets and just touches the sea at the mouth of the fjord, before rising to the coming day. Overnight in Akureyri.
The day starts with a visit to the lush botanical gardens of Akureyri. We cross the mountains east of Eyjafjordur and stop at the famous Godafoss falls where the Law speaker of the ancient Althing - the Icelandic parliament - threw the statues of the Nordic gods, after the forced adoption of Christianity in AD 1000. The falls and its surroundings are considered of mystical nature.
From the mist of the falls we head north to the fishing village of Husavik. The waters off Husavik coast are some of the best in the world for whale watching and we join a whale watching tour (weather permitting) on beautifully restored and seaworn oak boats, once used as fishing boats. Overnight half way between Husavik and Lake Myvatn.
Myvatn is world famous for its bird-life and volcanic formations. Lake Myvatn has the largest duck colony in Europe. Many other bird species are also found there, such as the great northern and red-throated divers, arctic terns, red-necked phalaropes, the gyr falcon, merlin, various waders and other water birds. The lake is a true bird paradise and its natural beauty is really magnificent, with pseudocraters, lava fields, volcanoes, hot springs and lunar like lava formations.
We visit Skutustadir pseudocraters, Dimmuborgir, lava labyrinths, the explosive crater in Hverfjall with it's many geothermal pools of the area. Overnight half way between Husavik and Lake Myvatn.
Before we leave the active volcanic part of Iceland we stop at the steaming sulphur pits of Hverarond, east of Mt. Namafjall. We continue our journey to the east and cross the vast northern highland before our visit to a reconstructed farm called Saenautasel. The old farm is one of Iceland's best examples of its old Nordic heritage. The farm is one of the most remote in Iceland and highlights the harsh lives of these hardy people.
Further to the east is a lush, green valley named Fljotsdalsherad, center of Iceland's forestry industry. The high and colorful mountains that divide Fljotsdalsherad from the East Fjords are 18 million years old and reveal the oldest rocks in Iceland. During the last ice age they were carved by huge glaciers. We stop at the town of Egilsstadir, the biggest town of eastern Iceland. Overnight in Egilsstadir.
A relaxing day as we head for the south coast. We drive up Hoffellsdalur valley to one of the outlet glaciers from Vatnajokull before we head for the village of Höfn, the largest village on the southeast coast. The village is in a beautiful setting along side an estuary, with a magnificent view to the Vatnajokull icecap. We have a relaxing afternoon to explore the town.
Overnight at Höfn.
We drive along the southeast coast and head for Skaftafell National Park. This is a very scenic drive along the Vatnajokull glacier, which is the third largest icecap in the world and the largest one in Europe. We head to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, a spectacular area where icebergs breaking off from the glacier, float on the lagoon.
Here, you will also find the world's shortest glacial river that travels only 1,000 yards from the lagoon to the ocean. We arrive at our hotel, just outside Skaftafell National Park, located in an impressive setting directly below the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnukur at over 6,000 feet.
Overnight in Skaftafell.
Today, we spend the day in the National Park. We hike up to the old farm, Skaftafell, which is a very good example of a 19th century farmhouse. We travel to the beautiful waterfall, Svartifoss, one of the prettiest in Iceland. The falls run through the middle of a beautiful columnar basalt gully. From here, we walk to a lookout point where we see excellent views of Skaftafell glacier and if weather permits, we may get a view of the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjukur.
In the afternoon, an Icelandic mountain guide takes us on a short hike to one of the surrounding glaciers. We will see the glaciers up close and learn about the natural history of these rivers of ice.
Just west of Skaftafell, we cross an immense floodplain created by a wall of water released by a massive eruption under the Vatnajokull ice cap. The outburst was caused by an eruption from Grimsfjall mountain in 1996; it lasted for a few hours and the flood expelled more water per hour than that of the mighty Amazon River. This volcanic eruption was located in an area that posed no threat to people.
Overnight in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.
This morning we visit the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano Visitors Center located at Thorvaldseyr Farm at the base of the volcano which made world headlines in 2010.
The road to Reykjavik takes us through immense areas of black sand, with the Atlantic on one side and glacial covered volcanoes and farmland on the other. Enroute, we stop at the 200 feet Skogafoss Falls and at Dyrholaey, a natural 400 feet high rock-arch that juts into the Atlantic ocean. This is a nesting area for thousands of puffins, guillemonts, kittiwakes and other seabirds. Next stop is the small town of Hveragerdi, best know for its greenhouses and its great geothermal activity. Overnight in Hveragerdi.
Following breakfast, we enjoy a tour of Hveragerdi. There are many hot springs in and around town. There is no such thing as the status quo in an area like this one. The geothermal activity is constantly changing, so much that there are examples of people having had hot springs forming under their houses. On our way back to Reykjavik, we enjoy a healing and relaxing bath in the famous Blue Lagoon, the mineral-rich pool of geothermal heated water, nestled in a lava field. Overnight in Reykjavik.
This morning we go for a tour of the city and head for the downtown area. We enjoy a gentle walk around the city's central lake, and through its adjoining streets and parks to see the Parliament House and the City Hall. From the downtown area, we take a short drive to the western seashore of Reykjavik to see great views of Snaefellsness Peninsula and the surrounding mountains. We depart the hotel around midday for our evening international flights homeward.
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