If there was ever a place to experience the power of nature, it would be Iceland. From volcanoes and mountains to glaciers, beaches, geysers, gorges, and tectonic divides, the raw power is visible everywhere. In fact, there are signs posted to warn travelers of the strength and volatility of their surroundings. This raw, abundant power, adds to the wonder one feels while exploring this beautiful island. It’s no mystery why the location scouts for Game of Thrones chose Iceland for filming. In fact, the beauty of the surroundings (as well as the newer draw from Game of Thrones) is part of what makes tourism one of the strongest industries and forms of revenue for the country.
If you don’t already know, Iceland was formed by volcanoes, some of which are still active. Iceland sits on a divide between tectonic plates where the movement in opposite directions allows magma to bubble up and cool. This volcanic activity is visible everywhere you go. Black sand beaches, basalt pillars, lava fields, geysers, and warm springs are abundant across the country. Large plains of dried volcanic rock covered in moss make it look like the earth is still boiling creating an almost alien landscape. In all, it’s safe to say the beauty of Iceland, as well as the island itself, have the volcanoes to thank.
This was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a glacier in person. For some people, that may not excite them but for me, I was so thrilled to get to see the goliaths that shaped so much of our world. Most of the glaciers can be seen from the Vatnajökull national park on the southeastern side of the island. There is a bay called Jökulsárlón at the base of one of the mountains where large chunks of ice float lazily by and were a shade of blue I had never seen in nature before. These glaciers are so crucial to the landscape of Iceland and so many of the rivers and streams are fed by the melting water.
Not only are waterfalls abundant here, they are everywhere. Springs bubble out of the ground and join with the melted water from glaciers to form some of the bluest streams I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen water that I wanted to just stick my head in and drink as much as I wanted to in Iceland. The falls are so beautiful that they make up a large portion of the tourist attractions. So many are visible without even having to hike or take one of the tougher roads. Over the years these rivers have created the gigantic gorges into which the waterfalls tumble. When I was showing a friend the pictures from Haifoss, he commented that it looked like the Icelandic Grand Canyon. We saw more waterfalls in the week we were in Iceland than in the rest of my life combined.
While they may not be tropical, Iceland’s beaches are just as beautiful as any warmer paradise. Many are made of black volcanic sand, worn down by the rivers and waves. As the tide is receding, some of the beaches are flat enough they begin to look like mirrors reflecting the mountains behind them. In fact, one of these black sand beaches was where my sister got married and honestly, they couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful backdrop. On either side of the beach mountains ended in cliffs that dropped off sharply into the sea. Puffins circled overhead in the mist. I pictured what it must have looked like when the Vikings first landed there and what feelings the black sand beaches must have evoked in them. At Diamond Beach on the southeastern side of the island, we were able to watch the chunks of ice that had broken off of the glaciers float out into the sea. Each one evoked a feeling of its own.
One of the main things that make Iceland so attractive to nature lovers is the fact that it has a very small population, the majority of which lives in or close by the capital of Reykjavik. It’s very easy to run into bands or busses of tourists motoring around the outside of the island but if you venture on to the F roads or hiking trails, the number of people you will run into drops drastically. There were so many places that my family were the only other people around me, giving us all the opportunity to take in the magic of our surroundings without being disturbed. Besides the few roads and a scattered house or two, most of Iceland looks completely untouched by humans. Sadly, even on some of the more remote hikes I’ve been on elsewhere, it’s still common to see litter. However, Iceland is one of the only places I don’t think I saw a single piece of trash. (There are actually quite a few laws in place to protect the environment. Currently, Iceland ranks 11th in the world in environmental protection according to this Yale study.) The fact that there are so few people around makes this country ideal for people who like to experience nature in peace.
If you’re looking to experience nature in its most raw form, Iceland should be the top of your list. The forces of nature are abundant everywhere you go and the fact that you can experience most of it without flocks of people make the trip even better. Whether you’re looking for adventure tourism, hiking, nature, or geothermal spas, Iceland has what you’re looking for!