Day 1: Keflavik, Iceland / Reykjavik—City Tour / Embark Ship
Arrive at Keflavik International Airport and transfer to Reykjavik, Iceland's capital. Lying less than two degrees below the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital. Its high latitude location provides 22 hours of sunlight
Day 2: Flatey Island
As our captain navigates Iceland’s wild west coast, we sail past immense sea cliffs where near-vertical rock walls are home to millions of nesting seabirds. Species we're likely to see include puffins, razorbills, gannets, guillemots, murres, kittiwakes, fulmars, white-tailed eagles, red-throated loons, arctic terns, redshanks, snipes, auks, snow buntings and ringed plovers. Some of the cliffs in the region were once famous for egg collecting; men were tied to ropes and lowered like spiders down onto the ledges to reach the nests. At Flatey Island, a centuries-old trading post, we'll go ashore to walk around the charming hamlet that remains here, with its photogenic colorful houses, and hike a trail that follows a path past seasonal puffin population on the cliffs. We also take a Zodiac cruise along the coastline, for more views of the seabird colonies that hug the cliffs.
Day 3: The Westfjords
Lying just south of the Arctic Circle, the far-flung Westfjords embrace Iceland's most northwesterly point. Exceptionally remote and peaceful, much of this corner of Iceland can only be accessed on foot or by sea. Erik the Red, father of Leif Eriksson, was among the first in a thousand-year line of settlers who survived on a peninsula here, living on herring and seabird eggs. Once we enter the Isafjaroardjup, a fjord system that extends far inland and progresses to steeper and taller mountain shores with each of its eight fjords, you can opt to hike to a remote waterfall or take a scenic Zodiac ride along the rugged coast. A stop at Vigur Island lands us at a birder’s paradise that is home thousands of species, including puffins, black guillemot, Arctic terns and eider ducks. The walkable island is the second largest in the bay, but it has only a handful of inhabitants—a farmer and his family. For years, the farmers have collected the down from resident nesting ducks’ nests and sold it for cushions and duvets. More than 200 years ago, a farmer built a small stone wall with cubby holes that made a perfect refuge for nesting mother ducks. This “Eider Duck Hotel” still operates today, and we’ll stop by the Eider Farm to see the down cleaning process.
Day 4: Siglufjordur—Herring Museum
Today we call at Siglufjordur, a small town on Iceland's north coast, which was the center of the country's once-thriving herring industry in the mid-20th century. We make a stop at the Herring Museum, which focuses on the wealth once provided by these small silver fish and how they were processed. Though the museum receives relatively few visitors in this remote location, it is the largest marine and industrial museum in Europe and has received the European Museum of the Year award. Our visit includes a salting demonstration and tasting. Though the herring are mostly gone today, the town's economy is still fishing-based. Then we join the local forestry association for a conservation-focused field tour this afternoon in their local woods, learning what it takes to maintain and develop a forest in Iceland.
Day 5: Husavik / Godafoss / Lake Myvatn
Land at Husavik this morning, site of the first house built in Iceland and our gateway to the geological wonders of the island's northern reaches. Depart for a full day of overland exploration, first visiting one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, Godafoss, the "waterfall of the gods." The dramatic cataract plunge 40 feet over an ancient lava cliff shaped like a horseshoe, stretching 100 feet across. We also visit Lake Myvatn and environs, the most geothermally active area in Iceland. Lake Myvatn fills the remnant of a crater formed during a massive eruption 2,300 years ago, and the region around it is an introduction to world-class field geology. On display in the dynamic environment are various volcanic features, including pseudo-craters, lava formations, steam vents and hot springs. The lake is also one of the premier birdwatching areas in the world, with marshes providing habitat for huge numbers of migratory birds during the summer, with more than 115 species on view. Alternatively, choose a journey through Asbyrgi Canyon, said to be formed from the hoof of the Norse god Odin, filled with hiking and waterfalls, or stay along the coast for slower-paced activities including forest bathing, bird watching, and a soak in the GeoSea bath.
Day 6: Grimsey / At Sea—Whale Watching
Sailing northward to the land of the midnight sun, our destination is the tiny island of Grimsey, located about 30 miles off Iceland's north coast. Known as the land of a hundred people and a million seabirds, Grimsey lies exactly on the Arctic Circle. We go ashore by Zodiac to celebrate being officially in the Arctic, in the company of nesting Arctic terns, fulmars and puffins in burrows, all busily bathing, courting and fishing. This afternoon we are at sea, sailing around the northern corner of Iceland to start our voyage south. These waters offers some of the world's best whale watching, so you'll want to be out on deck to look for them as we cruise. Icelandic seas are home to 24 different whale species, and in this area, we may see humpback, fin, minke, sei, blue, sperm, northern bottlenose and long-finned pilot whales, as well as orca, harbor porpoise and white-beaked dolphin. Our naturalist guides are by your side to help you spot and identify the abundant marine life.
Day 7: Bakkagerdi—Puffin Viewing
Located on the little-visited northeast shore of Iceland, Bakkagerdi is a tiny hamlet of about 100 people that is known as the Puffin Capital of Iceland. Walk across boardwalks among these colorful icons of Icelandic wildlife, watching them nest in their burrows and emerge to fly and fish. Once you have plenty of close-up photos of this famous and charming member of the auk family, you may wish to take an invigorating hike up to a panoramic vista of Borgarfjordur Eystri, regarded as one of Iceland's most wild and beautiful fjords. Surrounded by the Dyrfjoll Mountains, which rise more than 3,700 feet, the region is renowned for its stunning hiking terrain. Or, choose a bike ride along the fjord for a more intimate view of the coast. Whatever you do, keep an eye out for the "hidden people" reputed to live here: according to local folklore, Bakkagerdi and environs are home to a very large population of elves.
Day 8: Djupivogur—Vatnajokull Ice Cap / Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Djupivogur, on Iceland's east coast, is our port of call, with a choice of two excursions. For the first option, we drive south to the foot of the vast Vatnajokull Ice Cap and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. Vatnajokull is Europe's largest ice mass, covering over 3,000 square miles and averaging more than 1,400 feet thick. In 2008, Vatnajokull Glacier and its magnificent surroundings were declared Iceland's largest national park, covering 13% of the country's terrain. Few places in the world exhibit the effects of such a wide range of natural phenomena, where ice and fire compete to shape a landscape honed by the combined forces of rivers, glaciers, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Guests who choose this excursion will examine the snow-covered surface of the ice cap up close before continuing to the large ice lagoon of Jokulsarlon for a boat ride among the flotilla of glittering blue icebergs that drift across the lake's surface. Fed by Vatnajokull Glacier, the lagoon began to form in the 1950s and has grown every year, as the pace of glacial melting accelerates and the ice tongue recedes to reveal ever more water. In this regard, the glacial lagoon offers a living laboratory for observing the effects of global warming. As the chunks of ice calve into the lagoon, they slowly melt and float out to sea, where the ocean waves may drive them back onto the black volcanic sand that forms the beaches of Iceland's south coast. The second excursion option is a 4x4 vehicle journey into some of the secluded valleys and remote waterfalls in the countryside around Djupivogur.
Day 9: Westman Islands—Surtsey & Heimaey
Overnight, our ship has rounded the southern side of Iceland to reach the Westman Islands. Formed by undersea volcanoes between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, the islands comprise one of the planet's youngest archipelagos. We cruise past the newest island, Surtsey, which was formed by volcanic action from 1963 to 1967. The world witnessed its creation on film, and Surtsey
Day 10: Reykjavik—Disembark / Depart
Our circumnavigation of Iceland is complete today as we return to Reykjavik and disembark. Choose between two tours this morning: the first option is an excursion to one of Iceland’s signature hot springs, an Icelandic horse farm home to this hardy breed with stout legs and a long mane, and a geothermal power plant. Or, visit Reykjanes GeoPark to view the Mid-Atlantic Ridge above sea level, which separates the North American Plate from the Eurasian and African plates, plus a nearby hot springs area. After lunch, transfer to the airport for flights home.