The Natural Wonders of South Iceland
Simply put, Iceland is the Earth in its most raw and primal state.Visitors flock to Iceland to take in its natural splendors and no where is better suited to take them in than South Iceland. Easily accessible as a day trip from Reykjavik or as part of a trip around Iceland’s famed Ring Road; South Iceland packs in a bounty of natural sights, each one more spectacular than the last. Fire and ice, earth and wind; in Iceland the elements have combined to create one of the most varied and breathtaking landscapes on Earth. Here’s a look at just a few of the wonders you can take in during a visit to South Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park
Often the first stop on a tour of the Golden Circle, Thingvellir is the where you can view the where North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Resulting in a large abyss-like fissure, this is the only place in the world that you can view tectonic plates above ground. This is also an area of cultural significance in Iceland as the site of the Althing, or the world’s first parliament. From the year 930 to 1798, chieftains would come from across the island to discuss politics and shape the future of Iceland.
The next stop on the popular Golden Circle route is Haukadalur, home to the Geysir and Strokkur geysers. Though it rarely erupts now, Geysir is regarded as the first gushing hot spring to be recorded in print and is the namesake for all the world’s geysers. Strokkur, on the other hand, puts on a reliable and brilliant display. It’s worth it to brave the strong sulfuric smell to watch the hot spring burst into a stream nearly 100 feet high; you’re almost guaranteed an incredible show as Strokkur erupts regularly every 10 minutes.
In a country filled with gorgeous waterfalls South Iceland is home to three of the prettiest in the country. Gullfoss, located near the Golden Circle attractions of Geysir and Thingvellir, is widely regarded as Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The Hvítá River drops 105 feet in a breathtaking double cascade making Gullfoss one of Iceland’s most visited sites. Heading south you can stop by Seljalandsfoss; a narrow, glacier fed fall that drops over 200 feet. Walk behind the falls for a striking view of the coastal planes through the cascade’s curtain, just be sure to wear water resistant clothing as you will get soaked.. On the South Coast lies Skogafoss, one Iceland’s most dramatic waterfalls. At 80 feet wide, the Skogar River flows over former seacliffs dropping 200 feet to the valley below. Climb the trail alongside Skogafoss for panoramic views of the coast or access to trails leading into Iceland’s rugged highlands.
South Iceland is home to several massive glaciers that are easily accessible for viewing but I recommend getting up close to fully experience the ever-changing icy expanse. These massive ice sheets have carved out dramatic sweeping landscapes along Iceland’s South Coast but witnessing how far they have receded in recent years shows just how powerful and fragile the glacial ecosystem can be. No matter how you choose to experience Iceland’s glaciers; whether it’s hiking, ice climbing or exploring the crystalline blue ice caves- it’s best to go with a guide for safety as the glaciers themselves are constantly changing.
Black Sand Beaches
At Iceland’s southernmost tip lies the stunning black sand beaches of Vik. Named one of the ten most beautiful beaches by Island magazine, the contrast between the black basalt sand and the crashing whitecaps of the North Atlantic provides one of the most dramatic landscapes in all of Iceland. Offshore a trio of basalt rock formations called Reynisdrangar rise from the sea; local folklore tells a tale that these columns were three trolls who were trying to bring their boats ashore and were turned to stone with the light of dawn. The cliffs nearby are popular with a variety of seabirds and most notably are breeding grounds for colonies of puffins.
In the remote southeastern area of Iceland the vast Vantajokull glacier cap feeds into two striking glacier lagoons. Jokulsarlon is the larger of the two and a popular tourist attraction; while not as well known Fjallsarlon is smaller but no less stunning. Both glacier lagoons continue to grow in size due to glacial melt, in 1956 Jokusarlon measured 4.5 square kilometers; today it measures over 25 square kilometers. Amphibious and zodiac boat tours are available to explore these otherworldly lagoons.
While I took four days to explore this gorgeous part of Iceland you can also see quite a bit on a one day itinerary of Iceland’s South Coast from Reykjavik.
As you can see Iceland is a country filled with unique natural beauty. Is Iceland on your bucket list?