Category Archives: Iceland

Icelandair Offers Stopover Buddy Program


Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

Here is a fun news item: Icelandair has launched a new service called Stopover Buddy that provides passengers with stopovers in Iceland with someone to hang out. The Stopover Buddy is for those flying to Europe, and it’s free. (But technically, you have bought an Icelandair plane ticket and you have to stay up to seven nights in Iceland at no additional airfare.)

At times, fliers heading to Europe might first stop to Iceland en route to their final destination, and find themselves with some time to kill between flights in Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport. If time permits, they often leave the airport and venture out to places like the Blue Lagoon. But if you’re flying solo, Icelandair’s Stopover Buddy program is a nice incentive. It lets you be in the company of a local guide, who doesn’t mind keeping you company. Your buddy will be an Icelandair employee.

The Stopover Buddy program works like this. Before their flight, Icelandair passengers put in an advanced request for a buddy. This temporary pal (or potentially newly-made friend) is an Icelandic native who is paired up with a passenger based on a mutual interest: nature, culture, cuisine, or just some fun sightseeing. Once this information is submitted, the Stopover Buddy will set up an itinerary based on what his/her fly-by friend wants to do. It could involve seeing a specific place or local favorite spot or even doing an activity like hiking or biking.

Sadly, your chance to find a short-term buddy in Iceland is short. Icelandair’s Stopover Buddy program is available now through April 30. Plus you have to be 18 and up to use it. And your buddy will hang out with you for one day only.

Venturing along Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula

For about two days around Iceland’s West Coast, and before heading back to Reykjavik, our group gradually made its way across Snaefellsnes peninsula, a geological mixture of everything from lava fields to off-colored sandy beaches. Exploring this rugged region makes you think you’ve landed on another planet.


The earthy features here also extend to volcanoes, glaciers, mineral springs, and rock formations, as well as caves and bird colonies. Along this way is the Myrar district, a region of plains and bogs with small lakes.

A number of villages line this region as well. Making quick stops at some of them along the way, we got to explore Búöir, a former fishing village graced by a white sandy embankment adjacent to the Búŏavik Bay. To get to the sand, you walk through a grassy area.

Once there, you will also see lava rock, as the dark and large stones make up the Búŏahraun lava field. The area also has a bit of mysticism to it. New Age followers are said to have been coming here with the notion that this place is best for finding “good vibrations.”


We also spend some time at Arnarstapi, another village that is mainly a summer resort. There are cottages here along with a harbor and seaside cliffs, and a large stone statue that is a monument of a Pagan figure, which “looks out” for this area.


Now vacant, Dritvik bay was once home to a prominent fishing village but now is mostly seen for a valley of lava formations and gorges and pebble-covered beach called Djúpalónssandur. A reminder of Dritvik’s past, the beach has four heavy lifting stones that were used in a game of strength by fisherman.


With each stone differing in weight, they went like this:  Fullsterkur (meaning “full strength”); Hálfsterkur (“half strength”); Hálfdrættingur (“weakling”) and Amlóði (“useless”). Fishermen had to lift at least Hálfdrættingur to hip height to be eligible. The beach also holds the remains of a British trawler called the Epine, which was shipwrecked east of Dritvik in March 1948. Only five out of the 19 crew members were saved.

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Also in Snaefellsnes peninsula, there are sets of waterfalls called Barnafoss and Hraunfossar, which may not be as large as other walls but you can get a good view via a walkway and climbing up and down a rocky section. A major piece in the peninsula is Snaefellsjökull Glacier, found at the very end. A beautiful site, this glacier is a stratovolcano, which means it’s a conical volcano built up by many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash.


The glacier also has a footnote in literature, described in Jules Verne’s novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Yes, overall, there is much to see while driving along Snaefellsnes.

In Iceland’s Golden Circle, Gullfoss and Geysir

One of the most impressive waterfalls to see in Iceland is Gullfoss, no doubt. Found in Iceland’s southwestern region, and marking the endpoint of an area known as The Golden Circle, Gullfoss is definitely worth making at least an hour or so stop at this cascade.


Fed by the Hivítá river, these waters plunge into a crevice that is more than 100 feet deep. To me, the closest comparison would be Niagara Falls, as this Icelandic wonder also produces a mist and spray. For viewing, you can venture along Gullfoss via a pathway with a guardrail to get different angles. A second area for getting a closer viewpoint is on a rocky platform that you have to step up to get on top.

DSCN1044DSCN1041 DSCN1039What’s also interesting about this place is that it almost didn’t last in its true form. Its present existence is thanks to a woman named Sigríour Tómasdóttir, who fought her father (who owned the area around the falls) and the Icelandic government against building a hydraulic dam from being built in the 1920s. Though permission was given to construct the dam, the plans never went into place because of public outcry and later on Gullfoss became a protected reserve. You can learn more about the story through a plaque as well as see a statue in her memory.


Up the road from Gullfoss, you’ll find the Geysir geothermal area, an arrangement of bubbling hot springs. This area of blowholes gets pretty hot as the underground temperatures can reach up to or even over 100 degrees Celsius and force boiling water to gurgle over.


Being the most memorable to see, Strokkur spouts up like a fountain consistently about every 10 or so minutes. Less active ones here include Blesi, a set of twin bluish pools; Fata, which seems a bit temperamental; and Litli Geyser, a petite slosher.

Thingvellir National Park


While still in the Golden Circle, one important place to visit is Thingvellir National Park, a primary site of Iceland’s geological and historical inheritance. After first being under Norwegian rule and then the Danish crown, the country’s chieftains gathered here in the summertime for two weeks to hold court on making legal decisions for decades until the early 18th century.

DSCN1109 DSCN1105 DSCN1112Yet, the park still remains an important fixture in Iceland’s history. Its people gathered to hear their country’s declaration of independence from Denmark and becoming a republic in late 1944. History aside, definitely explore the park as well.

Seeing a Glacial Lagoon and Hiking through a National Park

On our fifth day along the southeastern part of Iceland, we headed out for a boat ride along Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. This large, bright blue lagoon is situated between the ocean and an outlet glacier called Breiŏamerkurjökull. Chunks of floating icebergs that have broken off from Breiŏamerkurjökull float along the water and the whole setting is peaceful.

photo-74photo-76DSCN0913Before heading on the boat, climb up the gravel hill that overlooks the lagoon for great views and greater photo opportunities. The boat ride lasts a good enough time for picture taking as well. Our guide offered a good lesson about the lagoon’s formation as well as the weather conditions. You also get to touch a piece of ice, as your guide lifts up a section from the water. And if you can, you can hold a bigger and heavier part.

DSCN0928DSCN0942Many buses head out here for a look at Jökulsárlón but double check to make sure there you have time for the boat ride and for getting back. Another neat thing about stopping here is that the eatery/gift shop sells a beer called “Vatnajökull Frozen in Time.” Made by the Icelandic brewery, Ölvisholt Brugghús, this amber beer is brewed with glacial water. A bottle costs about $10 USD, but it is worth buying. Its taste is nice and clean.

And when you head past the bridge near Jökulsárlón, you will come across a black sand beach that has blocks of ice as well.


Next up, Skaftafell National Park, Iceland’s second largest national park, has quite a network of trails leading across this rugged landscape with valleys, mountain peaks and glaciers. There are large camping grounds here and the facilities are pretty equipped with a restaurant, small shop, bathrooms and washing machines.

photo-85We took a short but steep hike up toward the peaks and this path was quite a climb. Yet the view is worth the work as the views are almost like being in the Alps. Just watch yourself too, as the trails can be rocky and slippery.


Moving Along Iceland’s Ring Road

Leaving Reykjavik and heading south, we went along Iceland’s Ring Road, a national highway that connects towns and passes by fjords, mountains, farmland and plateaus. Also known as Route 1, this main road is about 830 miles and connects to picturesque sites including two major waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

DSCN0729DSCN0738For most of the Ring Road, it’s like any common interstate highway you may have driven on, with two split lanes going in different directions. Time wise, the route is well traveled during the summer months yet during winter it can be a different story. Certain parts of it are often closed due to bad weather or road conditions. So, if you happen to be there (from October through April), check ahead before driving out.


While en route, we made stops at these outdoor marvels. At Seljalandsfoss, there is a trail that leads you literally go behind these falls. Starting from the right, the trail winds around the back of the waterfall going underneath a cavern. Here, you can see and hear up close the continuing water. Then, you can head back out to the left to climb up a viewing area to check a different angle of Seljalandsfoss. Be careful, too, as these spots can be slippery.



Equally if not more inspiring, Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls. You can get quite close to the waterfall and the spray coming off is amazing to see and feel. Just remember, as you get towards the mist, to protect your camera lens! As you are able to walk along the base of the waterfalls, you can also get to different levels for more than one side view.


On the east side of Skógafoss, there is a long staircase in which you make the climb to get all the way to the top, or stop at side paths along the way that lead to lookout points. I tried to go up the entire staircase to reach the pinnacle, but due to having limited time  — and me needing a lot more of time to get up and back down in one piece — I decided to go along one of the side trails and then back down to the base instead.

Solheimajökull glacier


In addition to waterfalls, Iceland’s glaciers are a beauty unto themselves. You can actually book tours to climb them, or simply walk near them. The day’s itinerary included a spot at the amazing Solheimajökull glacier, an outlet of an ice cap known as Mýrdalsjökull. You can walk up to this glacier, and get close enough to touch the ice and see the river next to it.


My time outdoors ended with a jaunt to Dyrholaey Nature Reserve, not too far from the town of Vik. Since 1978, this marine protected area consists of cliffs and a rock archway where puffins and other species of birds come to roost. Unfortunately, on this day, the weather suddenly changed and didn’t want to cooperate on giving us a clear view. However, it is neat to walk around here. And, of course, be careful near the edges.

Taking a Dip in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

One of Iceland’s well-visited attractions is the Blue Lagoon. A by-product of a nearby geothermal power plant called Svartsengi, the lagoon is a pool and spa complex that is worth taking a trip to and a dip in.


About a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik, this outdoor lagoon is in the middle of a lava field and recognized for its bluish and milky-white water. It is quite warm and contains minerals such as silica that are believed to help in treating certain skin ailments like psoriasis. Silica, which is white in color, is found in different sections of the lagoon, and you can dig it up with your hands and lather it on your face or body. Think of it as a mud mask.

DSCN0609DSCN0606Way before going in the water and even before heading to the changing room area, your visit to the Blue Lagoon starts by purchasing a towel and a special blue wristband that closes your locker. Robes can also be rented separately.

Once you’re set there, head to men or women’s changing room areas to get into your swimsuit and put your stuff in an available locker. On the ladies’ side, this area is quite big (there are lower and upper levels) and you might have to walk around a bit to find an empty locker. After three tries, I found one, slipped into my swimsuit and closed my locker by raising my wristband against a wall panel.

Going in or coming out, you will be passing by shower stalls and sharing open changing areas with countless other visitors, so don’t get nervous or uncomfortable if you see a lot of skin. It’s like being at the local gym. Once you’re ready, grab your towel and head down to the lagoon.

DSCN0611 DSCN0610 It’s a blissful scene here. Being in the warm water (maybe around 86 F/32 C in temperature) and looking out at the surrounding mountains and up at the clear blue sky is quite surreal. The lagoon’s waters are pretty clean as they get renewed every 40 hours. It’s not that deep either.

Areas close to the edge of the lagoon are quite shallow, so be a bit careful. I was in a hurry to get next to one of these spots so that a nice lady could take my picture and I smacked the side of my leg hard against a mound. Oh well. Just more time to spend in the water to help my sore muscles.


Around the lagoon, there are also bridges and an outdoor bar where you can swim up to and order drinks. I didn’t get any but I heard for payment you just flash your wristband and your drink is put on your tab. Instead, I floated along and chatted with other visitors.

Back indoors, there are two dining options. A cafe has sandwiches, salads, chips and drinks and a restaurant offers more upscale choices. At the gift shop, you can buy skin care products made with minerals from the sea waters but they can be a bit pricey.

If you don’t have a car, you can get to the Blue Lagoon by bus from Keflavik International Airport, which is a 20-minute ride, and through tour operators. It’s nice option for those who have a layover that gives them enough time to head out the lagoon and back.

Interestingly, the lagoon is located where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet, so it’s actually set between two continents. Other than the lagoon though, there isn’t much else in this region to visit. However, the scenery is interesting. You will notice how the 2010 volcanic eruption has changed the look of this landscape and probably spot some Icelandic horses, too.

Exploring Iceland: First Stop, Reykjavik

Visit Iceland during summer months is like being able to stay at the playground way after dark. Daylight runs a bit longer than probably what you’re used to. Yet, having the extra “time” to take in scenery is worth it.

Recently, I took a package tour through the country, first spending two days in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, and then heading along the southeast coast for six days before going back west. So let’s start with Reykjavik. It’s a small yet walkable city, particularly around the old town section. There is also a good public bus system and you can get what’s called a Welcome Card from Tourist Information Center by Ingólfstorg or from your hotel.

RI 1RI 11RI 2RI 13 RI 12The city center is where most attractions, eateries, and crowds are found. With restaurants and cafes, you can find choices that include traditional Icelandic meals such as cod, salmon, lamb, puffin and minke whale (commercial whale hunting exists). Other cuisine options include everything from American to Indian. Nightlife here consists of clubs and bars, such as a neat one dedicated to the film The Big Lebowski, and it’s possible to run into late-night partiers heading home as late as 8 a.m.

Just as exploring the city by foot or bus is a good way to learn more about Reykjavik, here are a couple of spots worth stopping at:


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Tjörnin is a lake near the city center, surrounded by a park graced with statues and pathways and comes to the edge of City Hall. It’s very serene. As you get closer to the street side of Tjörnin, you’ll see many birds flock here, including swans, geese and arctic terns.


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Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church that offers some great panoramic views of Reykjavik with an observation tower. Pay a small fee to take a partial lift up and then walk up stairs to get to the top. The church also has an impressive organ.


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Speaking of scenery, Perlan has a viewing deck at the top of this building on the hill called Öskjuhlíð. For decades, the structure has held five hot water storage tanks used for geothermal heating, a major energy source in Iceland. There is also a restaurant here that is said to rotate (I’ve heard mixed reviews about the food) but the exterior views are really nice. You can get to Perlan by either walking up or taking a taxi or car.

Harpa Concert Hall

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Down at the harbor, Harpa Concert Hall is a glass-based, geometrical wonder that is fairly new to the city. Opened in May 2011, this hall serves as an opera house and venue for theatrical and musical performances, conferences and lectures. Step inside to gaze around at this structure. The upper level reminds me of like a kaleidoscope and has nice lookout views of the city and the surrounding landscape.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

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Also near the harbor, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is a small hotdog stand that has been in existence since 1937. Just dogs and soft drinks are found on the menu. Condiments include universal favorites like ketchup and sweet mustard along with onions either fried or raw. Be adventurous and try remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish.

Before you go, remember that the weather can change often so pack clothes you can layer on and take off.