Iceland: Stunning beauty that’s closer than you think

By Jerry Vaughn, Travel Talk

  • Tuesday, April 1, 2008 11:08am
  • Life

By Jerry Vaughn, Travel Talk

Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest in travel to Iceland.

While its name is a bit foreboding, it is a surprisingly beautiful and interesting place. Icelandic nature, which is still in the process of being formed, is incredibly beautifully – and unique. Forces of nature are in constant conflict: Water and land, fire and ice.

Iceland is closer than most people think. The mid-Atlantic island is the USA’s closest European neighbor. With a flight time from New York only 4.5 hours, you’re ready for activity as soon as you arrive. And no matter the season, there’s always more than enough to do.

The chilliest thing about Iceland is its name. In January, the average temperature in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is higher than that in New York. And Iceland’s welcome for tourists is always warm. Almost everyone speaks fluent English and Icelanders aren’t really given to formalities. Even the telephone directory lists people by their first name.

Reykjavik is a city where you’ll feel safe to walk the streets. It has a cozy, charming “village feel” and friendly people.

It also has as much entertainment and things to do as a large city, with all the modern conveniences, a high quality of life and world-class services.

Even so, it’s still only a 15-minute cab ride between downtown and wild nature, where you’ll feel you’re the only person on Earth.

Iceland is the ideal place for taking a break and setting foot on a European outpost with an exciting, lively and ancient but living culture all of its own. You’ll feel at home, free to walk around, shop, admire and explore. There is so much to see and do even in the winter months when there is only five to six hours of daylight. From bursting geysers to midnight golf, your visit to Iceland will never be forgotten.

There are so many trips and tours available from Reykjavik that you won’t find time to do everything unless you stay for a few months. Coaches, mini-buses and four-by-four vehicles are used for transportation to and from your destination, and are all escorted by local representatives who love to talk about their country of which they are so proud, so you will not miss a thing on your journey.

Many trips will take up the whole day as the country is vast and there are areas that are quite tricky to navigate (something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of renting a car). Here are just a few of the tours you can book.

• Whale watching is very popular and there are several boat trips from Reykjavik harbor. In the winter months, the whales will swim away seeking warmer waters, but they always come back from March to September every year. Usual sightings include humpback and minke whale, but every trip is different, so you may spot other species. You can opt for a longer boat trip from the coastal town of Olafsvik on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. This is a real heart-racing experience where everyone on board is on the lookout with binoculars waiting for a big blow of water to appear from the ocean. Humpback, orca or maybe the largest whale in the world, the blue whale, which passes through these waters every June, may be seen. To see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is an experience that you will never forget.

• The popular Golden Circle tour, takes you on a journey where you will encounter the natural wonders of Iceland, including the stunning Gulfoss waterfall and spectacular world famous geothermal geyser area. See the exploding geysers leaping up high into the sky when you least expect and natural spring pools that look very inviting. You will also get the chance to visit the Pingvellir National Park situated in a volcanic landscape of mountains where lava flows around the border of Iceland’s largest lake. Just don’t forget your camera for these spectacular sights.

• The Northern Lights tour goes on search of this natural phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis, which can only be seen in the winter months and on a clear night. Head off away from the city lights of Reykjavik to witness this hauntingly spectacular display of light swirling across the arctic sky. If you get to see the lights, you will hardly believe your eyes.

• A trip to Iceland would not be complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon. This unique geothermal spa is the most famous site in Iceland. Relax in the waters made up of its active ingredients: Minerals, silica and alga,e which applied all over the skin will leave it feeling soft and replenished. The lagoon is open all year round due to the constant warm temperature it keeps. You can enjoy it come rain, sun and snow.

While most people may not think of Iceland as a vacation destination, those who have gone rave about its beauty and uniqueness.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way and can be reached at jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com.

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