Discover Hidden Corners & Highlights as We Circle This Nordic Realm of Fire & Ice
Day 1: Reykjavik, Iceland
Arrive at Keflavik International Airport where you are met on arrival and transfer to our hotel in Reykjavik, about a 45-minute drive. This evening, join your Expediton Leader for a welcome dinner at our hotel on the marina and an orientation to all the adventures ahead in this geological wonderland.
Day 2: South Shore/ Waterfalls / Vik
Explore Iceland’s southern coast en route to Vik. This region is known for its volcanic black sand beaches and countless waterfalls, and we’ll stop at several of them, including powerful Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, which we can actually walk behind. Our knowledge of Iceland’s dynamic geology is enhanced at the Lava Center, which offers an interactive exhibition about the natural forces that have shaped this dramatic landscape, Reynisdrangar Rocks, a set of basalt sea stacks, is also a highlight. Legend holds that the formations originated when two trolls were out fishing in a three-masted ship. When they did not return to their cave before sunrise, they and their vessel turned into needles of stone, since trolls cannot tolerate daylight. We are also traversing the area affected by the massive eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010. The Lava Show in Vik helps bring that to life, depicting a realistic recreation of a volcanic eruption complete with molten lava.
Day 3: Skaftafell—Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon / Glacier Walk or Waterfall Hike
Our focus today is Skaftafell, a national park now absorbed inside the larger Vatnajokull National Park established in 2008. Known for its rugged landscapes, mountains and glaciers, Skaftafell includes about half of the Vatnajokull Glacier, Europe’s largest ice cap. No roads penetrate the park’s wild recesses, but two options offer a chance to explore a slice of it: Choose between a hike atop a glacier or a walk to a waterfall. After a talk on glaciers by a local expert, take a private Zodiac cruise on Fjallsarlon iceberg lagoon, a less-touristed opportunity to get close to impressive pieces of floating ice. The lake is the meltwater from its massive glacial source, which has calved the blue bergs that drift on its surface. Overnight at a hotel near the glacier lagoon.
Day 4: East Fjords / Modrudalur—Fjalladyrd Farm
Enjoy a day of cultural connections as we enter the East Fjords, a little-visited region of forests, farms and picturesque fishing villages backdropped by snowcapped mountains. In the town of Djupivogur, admire the Eggs of Merry Bay, one of Iceland’s most unusual sculptures. Created in 2009 by Icelandic artist Sigurdur Gudmundsson, its 34 large-scale egg replicas represent 34 bird species found in the area, each one mounted on a platform along the harbor. We’ll take a scenic walk along the coast near Alftafjordur, then join a local resident for a stroll around a historic fishing town, learning about daily life where traditions and livelihoods center on the sea.
Continue on a remote road over Oxi Pass through a rare tract of Icelandic forest. At an organic farm and café crafted of wood that’s been sustainably harvested from the environs, we stop for hot drinks and homemade snacks. This afternoon, choose between a hike to Hengifoss waterfall or visit Skriduklaustur, the 1939 stone home of Gunnar Gunnarsson, one of Iceland’s most noted authors, which is now a museum. We end up at Fjalladyrd, a hospitable family-run farm, for dinner and a two-night stay. Though the guesthouse is simple, it allows us easy access to Askja volcano for our 4x4 adventure tomorrow.
Day 5: Askja Volcano Super Jeep Tour / Modrudalur
Set out this morning on a thrilling tour to Askja volcano in Super Jeeps. These large SUVs have been modified with big tires and extra shock absorption to provide a more comfortable ride over off-road terrain, allowing deeper access into Iceland’s central highlands. First, we'll hike in Drekagil (Dragon) Canyon, then ascend on foot to explore the massive Askja caldera, formed when the volcano erupted in 1875. Lake Askja, which fills part of the caldera, is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland at nearly 700 feet. The caldera contains several overlapping craters with active volcanoes beneath, including Viti, which warms a sulphuric blue-green crater lake—the more adventurous among our ranks may even opt for a dip in the tepid water! Return to Modrudalur for a second night at Fjalladyrd.
Day 6: Dettifoss / Hverarond / Lake Myvatn
Witness the power of Dettifoss, Iceland’s largest waterfall by volume and the most powerful cataract in Europe. This thundering curtain of water, 330 feet wide and 150 high, is fed by the giant Vatnajokull Glacier. We frequently see rainbows here, so have your camera ready. Next, we explore the Hverarond geothermal area, an otherworldly setting of noisy steam vents, bubbling mud pots, cracked earth and pungent sulphur.
Continue to Lake Myvatn, formed during a massive eruption 2,300 years ago. The region is still a site of geothermal activity, with fresh lava flows coming from the most recent eruption of Krafla volcano in 1984. Numerous lava formations are found in and around the shallow lake, and we explore the pseudocraters of Skutustadir on a short hike. These phenomena are formed when lava flows over wet ground, pushing it down and trapping steam. As the pressure mounts, steam explosions create these fascinating "false craters." We’ll also walk among the Dimmuborgir ("dark fortress") rock formations, an evocative site of volcanic caves and black lava pillars reminiscent of a ruined castle.
Day 7: Myvatn / Godafoss / Fly to Isafjordur
One of the premier birdwatching areas in the world, Lake Myvatn’s marshes provide habitat for huge numbers of migratory birds in summer. More than 115 species have been sighted at the lake, including 13 species of nesting ducks, and we take a morning walk in search of some of them. We also visit the Sigurgeirs Birds Museum, with specimens of all of Iceland’s breeding birds. Driving westward, we stop at Godafoss, one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls originating deep in the highlands. Shaped like a crescent, it pours 40 feet over a volcanic cliff. We reach Akureyri for a late-afternoon flight to Isafjordur via Reykjavik, with scenic views of Iceland's indented coastline and glacier-carved interior. Originally settled in the 9th century, Isafjordur became a trading post for foreign merchants in the 16th century and today is the main town in the remote Westfjords in far-northwest Iceland.
Day 8: Exploring the Westfjords
The sheer isolation of the Westfjords region has kept it off the traditional tourist circuit, and we traverse it in depth over the next three days, adjusting our exact tinerary for weather and local logistics. We’ll explore the wild hinterlands on an all-day jeep tour, stopping for walks, photos and a picnic lunch. At Onundarfjordur, observe rich birdlife in the marshlands and shallow estuary at the head of the fjord. Continue driving to the village of Thingeyri and beyond, transitioning to dirt track around the Fjallaskagi Peninsula. High-clearance 4x4 vehicles are essential for negotiating this rugged terrain as we circumnavigate the highest mountains in the area. Keep an eye out for Arctic fox, which we see frequently here, and look for pieces of petrified trees sticking out of the rocks alongside the narrow road, remnants of a forest that flourishing in a much warmer climate thousands of years ago. On the return journey, time permitting, we may stop at the oldest botanical garden in Iceland, Skrudur, established in 1909.
Day 9: Vigur Island—Whale Watching
From Isafjordur, we reach Vigur Island via a short private boat ride. This small island is home to thousands of seabirds including puffins, Arctic terns, black guillemot and especially eider ducks, the source of precious down from which the island’s sole resident family makes its living, collecting feathers during the spring and summer and cleaning and drying them during the winter. Just a handful of people inhabit the tiny island, and we’ll have lunch in their home. You can also send a postcard here from Europe’s smallest post office. Our maritime tour continues as we head deeper into the intricate fjord system, searching for humpback and minke whales. We make a landing at Mongufoss waterfall, walking up the rocky path for a close-up view where it plummets over a sheer basalt cliff. Returning to Isafjordur, enjoy dinner at the Tar House restaurant, renowned for its fish stew and fresh Icelandic seafood. From our hotel on the edge of town, it's easy to walk into town later this evening, enjoying the lingering light of Iceland's long summer days.
Day 10: Lonafjordur Fjord / Hesteyri / Isafjordur / Reykjavik
This morning we travel by boat to see the harbor seal colony in Lonafjordur Fjord, then visit the abandoned village of Hesteyri. Nearly a hundred people once lived in this small settlement established in the early 1900s, but the last inhabitants made a collective decision to move away in the 1950s, finding life without roads or electricity ultimately too daunting. Today their descendants maintain many of the old houses as summer homes, and we stop for coffee and pancakes in the Doctor’s House. We also walk to the nearby ruins of a Norwegian whaling station that was abandoned in the early 20th century. Return to Isafjordur for a farewell dinner before departing on an evening flight back to Reykjavik for a final night.
Day 11: Reykjavik / Depart
After breakfast, a transfer to Keflavik International Airport is included to meet departing flights.
Physical Rating: Moderate