As a city boy, ‘ traveling’ is getting out of the concrete jungle to appreciate the gorgeous mother nature. While arts and architecture could be impactful, it is always the dramatic, breath-taking, spectacular landscape that moved me to the core. After that, I felt refreshed and realized how teeny tiny human beings are in the universe.
Of all the places that I have visited, the landscape of Iceland is one of the most unforgettable in my heart – it is just so unique and incredibly diverse. The island has volcanoes, glaciers, fjords, lava, and black sand beaches… You see a lot more and a lot more different from anywhere else in the world on just a small, small island in the Atlantic.
Iceland in Summer
The island becomes actively alive in the summer. Most public transportation services and sightseeing tours only operate from June to September. Therefore, it is in general the best time to visit the island and during summer to make the most of the daylight. Somehow I think the human body is like the ocean (mostly water after all), and the body works like tidal waves. In July, the sun doesn’t go down until midnight in Iceland and so my body didn’t feel like going to bed so early. On the contrary, when I was in Finland during February – times were shortened as if I have only a few hours a day!
Vatnajökull National Park
With an area of about 13,000 sq. kilometers or 13% of Iceland, Vatnajökull National Park is the largest in Europe. More than half of the park area is covered by glaciers, providing unique opportunities to observe a combination of volcanic and glacial activity.
The objective of the park is to conserve the local landscape, biology, geological formations, and cultural heritage, enabling visitors to experience and enjoy both nature and history.
Vatnajökull National Park is divided into four territories:
The Northern Territory consists of the northwestern part of Vatnajökull, Askja caldera and its surroundings.
The Eastern Territory includes Kverkfjöll mountains and the northeastern part of Vatnajökull, as well as the expanses of Snæfellsbærfi.
The Southern Territory extends throughout the southeastern part of Vatnajökull, or from Lómagnúpur mountain in the west to Lón and Lónsöræfi in the east.
The Western Territory displays formidable volcanic activity. This territory extends over the southwestern section of Vatnajökull and this includes Grímsvötn, the most active of Iceland’s volcanoes, and Bárðarbunga, one of its largest.
Day trip to Jökulsárlón
I was visiting this Iceland in July and we joined a 14-hour day tour with “Extreme Iceland” to the South Coast & Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon from Reykjavik. Hopping on the coach bus early in the morning it was a long journey traveling from the west of the island to the east along Route 1 between Höfn and Reykjavik. As I mentioned though, although we spent a long time on the bus, I never got tired of the exotic sceneries out of the car window and I didn’t feel sleepy because of the long daylight. Finally, we arrived at the Jökulsárlón lagoon (380 kilometers away from the city and it took about 5 hours) by lunch after a short stop at the spectacular Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss.
Jökulsárlón lagoon is located on the edge of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier – it is an ancient glacier on Iceland. The warm period from the 1920s to 1965 caused the glacier to retreat rapidly, forming the lagoon in between the mountains and the ocean, and since then it grew bigger and bigger. The Lagoon is now a “channel” of the glacier where large blocks of ice broke off from the glacier slowly melting and floating until they reach the ocean in the south.
The maximum depth of the glacier reaches about 248 meters, and it’s the deepest lake in Iceland. The surface area of the lagoon is only about 18 square kilometers. Since the lagoon connects with the ocean, it has a unique color due to the mix of freshwater and saltwater.
When the icebergs eventually floated into the ocean, they sometimes washed back to shore by the waves and current. By that time, the ice that is not completely melt was polished by seawater, making them even more compact by the pressure. the ice sculptures are then laid on the black beach Breiðamerkursandur as if diamonds that glisten under sunlight – so the beach is also given a nickname: Diamond Beach.
The surrounding area is remote with not many residents nearby. Even during the summer, the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours and Cafe open during the day to welcome visitors, and soon they are closed after the last boat tour’s departure. The location though has been featured in a number of Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows including James Bond’s films like A View to a Kill and Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins.
While we were still on the bus, the view was quite something. Then I understand why it was so popular among tourists and filmmakers. The floating icebergs on the lagoon, reflecting mesmerizing shades of azure blue under the sunlight. I had also come to realize that lagoon is literally next to the Diamond Beach and the Ocean. It’s easy to take a walk and explore both sides of the main road after the boat tour.
The boat trip to Jökulsárlón, tasting thousand-year-old ice.
Walking onshore, it was a bit cold (even in summer) but it was not freezing as I had imagined. In fact, Jökulsárlón is not the biggest glacier in Europe (and Iceland hosts the largest ice cap, and the second-largest glacier in Europe, the Vatnajökull Glacier; and officially the largest glacier in Europe is in Norway, the Jostedalsbreen Glacier), still, it is very well-known and a popular traveler’s spot. I reckon it is very “tourist-friendly”, given that it’s only a few hours from the city, with facilities that people of all ages could get close to the glacier and experience what it has to offer.
Our packaged day tour included a boat trip in the lagoon and one by one we hopped on to the amphibious vehicles and headed out to the water! It was a little bit crowded on the boat, but we could still move around and take millions of photos of the unique and stunning view. More, after giving an informative introduction of the glacier, the boat guide on the boat picked up a thousand-year-old ice block from the lagoon showed it to us. What does it mean? The icebergs in the lagoon are composed of ice that has not to melt for over a thousand years!
One of the most interesting parts of the tour is that the local guide would later break the ice block for everyone to “have a taste”. Of course, the ice is pure “spring water” and actually tasteless, considering it one of the most “ancient” food that I have ever put in my mouth. Another highlight of my visit was that after the boat tour, we spent some time exploring the area and take photos of the lagoon, and while we were walking alongside the lagoon, we heard a loud noise as if there was an explosion. It was, in fact, a huge trunk of ice falling out of an iceberg and then collapsed into the water. The deafening sound went on for about a minute and one of the most impactful sights that I have seen – watching nature in action.