ICELAND — Have you ever witnessed a landscape so magnificent that all you were left with was a feeling of transcendence? Scenery so majestic that time seemed suspended and all that remained was a captivating one-person show where nature would takes the starring role?
Rare are the countries where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Iceland, the magical fire and ice island stranded on the apex of the world, is one of them. A simple stroll will become a trek onto Europe’s largest ice sheet. A hike will turn into a sensorial experience guided by the overwhelming sound of crashing water from a 60-meter tall waterfall. A gaze at the sky will make you feel like you’re staring at the heavens’ green curtains.
I fell so totally in love with Iceland a few years ago that I made it my life’s mission and profession to help travelers discover this wonderland. Here are some of my favorite spots.
There is something uncanny in standing in front of a 62-meter tall and 25-meter wide thundering cascade. The roaring sound of the giant can be heard from afar, making it almost intimidating to approach. Whether you stand at the waterfall's base and get lost in its mist or you dare climbing the abrupt 527 steps for vertiginous views, Skógafoss will take your breath away. On sunny days, single and double rainbows dance in its haze. Legend has it that a Viking settler hid a chest filled with gold in a cave behind the waterfall ,which has yet to be successfully pulled out. Only the ring on the side of the chest was recovered by locals, and is now displayed at the Skógar museum. It's a tale that only adds to the mystical atmosphere that reigns at Skógafoss.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Time seems to stand still at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where ice sculptures shift and creak in ghostly procession. Located halfway between Höfn and Skaftafell, the ever-growing lagoon — the result of melting glacier water from the retreating Vatnajokull glacier — is by far one of the most spectacular landscapes in Iceland. From the translucent ice washed up on the shore to the incandescent turquoise of the 1,000-year-old icebergs stripped with black volcanic ash, it is hard not to be mesmerized by the palette of this majestic scenery. The most observant may even notice seals lounging on the icebergs. (Nothing ever prepares me for this grandiose backdrop, no matter how hard I try or how many times I visit.
The Westfjords are ones of the wildest and most remote regions of Iceland, which perhaps explains why they are often called the last frontier. Less popular among tourists than the South Coast due to its remoteness and distance from the main Ring Road that circles the island, the region best exemplifies what Iceland has to offer: nature in its primitive, wild state. From roads winding around dramatic coastal fjords to bucolic fishing villages steeped in history and tradition to vast mountain ranges, visiting the Westfjords makes you feel like you've ventured to the edge of the world.
Perhaps the most spectacular landscape in this region is Látrabjarg, the towering 14-kilometer long and up to 441-meter high sea cliff (the largest in Europe). From mid-May to mid-August, the awe-inspiring cliff is home to an astounding variety of birds: guillemots, snipes, razorbills, red-throated loons and, of course, lots and lots of puffins. The quietness of the place and the fact tha Látrabjarg is located at the tip of the Westfjords conveys a feeling of complete isolation, only interrupted by the chirping of the birds.
Vatnajökull Ice Cap
What do Batman, Star Wars, Interstellar, and Games of Thrones have in common? All were filmed on mighty Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, covering eight percent of Iceland's landmass. And for good reasons: Bleak sceneries striated by dramatic crevasses. Stark ice formations. Luminous blue ice caves. The sound of cracking ice. Facing the raw beauty of Vatnajökull is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever experiences.
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