Guide to Iceland

Three years ago now I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel with a team of College of Charleston university students to Iceland for a two week tour of the country in order to study the expanding tourism industry there. I really didn’t know what to expect when I stepped off of the plane that day; snow? eskimos? sled-dog teams? What I found there blew me away in a way that no where else had done before. Check out this video to be Inspired by Iceland:

ICELAND. ISLE OF AWE-LAND. ADVENTURELAND.

The best way to see Iceland is to rent a car and drive the entire circumference of the island. All along the way there are scenic views of black beaches, stunning waterfalls at almost every turn, green, rolling farmland spotted with goats and sheep, cave entrances, hot springs, and quaint Icelandic villages. We were invited to Iceland as Destination Management students eager to see a country that was just beginning to explore its potential in the tourism market.

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For centuries the people of Iceland lived a simple, quiet life, their main industry was fishing, and not many other people had ever been to visit Iceland. Then in the year, 2010, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull Volcano erupted and drew media attention to the small country because the ash from the explosion had put a halt to air travel in NE Europe for a number of weeks. After that, Iceland realized it had potential to grab the worlds attention and make up for major decreases fishing industry by introducing a new market; tourism. We were there to help determine how Iceland could manage an influx of tourism in a way that would protect Iceland’s natural beauty and not have it trampled by intensive tourism.

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Top things I learned about Iceland within the first day:

Icelanders are very clean people – every building is well-lit, spotless, no liter to be found along the high way… even the “graffiti” was beautifully crafted and orchestrated street art.

Zero crime – being a group of students from the USA one of the first observations we made was that there were no police officers patrolling the streets. We were told later that week that Iceland actually has a 0% crime rate, there just simply isn’t enough crime to calculate. Icelanders live in a tight knit community focused on trust, compassion, and care for others.

Iceland is SMALL…but it feels big! – This island country is only about the size of Kentucky and has a population of only 323,000, the size of an average city in America. The largest and capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik is home to nearly half of the population, 119,000 people.

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Icelanders live in 6 months of light, and 6 months of darkness – Our trip was in May of 2013, so we had beautiful spring weather and daylight 24/7. Think of how much sight-seeing you can do in a 24 hour day! The reverse of this is of course that during the winter, the sun never comes out. But we learned that Icelanders have found ways to cope with that. They have fully lit ski slopes, the cities are lit up with beautiful light displays, and they have the stunning views of the Aurora Borealis. Fun fact: Icelandic myth says that any child conceived under the light of the Aurora Borealis will be blessed for his/her life.

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Iceland is very GREEN – So I got off of the airplane expecting to see layers of snow and ice and it is… during the winters, but in the spring and summer when the sun comes out the island is transformed into an adventurers paradise with lush, green, rolling fields with flowing waterfalls and beautiful snow capped mountains and glaciers in the back ground. However, that’s not the type of green I’m talking about here. The island of Iceland was formed from the merging of two continental plates, this friction under the ground creates a lot of heat and steam, the Icelandic people harness this natural energy and use it to power their cities and heat their water. This is also the reason for Iceland’s many geysers, hot springs, volcanoes, etc.. In some areas of Iceland the heat found under ground is so powerful that you can bake a cake by burying it a foot under the surface and leaving it there for half an hour. We got to witness a demonstration of this in Eastern Iceland and it was mind blowing to say the least.

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Must See & Do:

Blue Lagoon – we went there twice during our trip, worth every penny! Blue Lagoon isn’t the only hot spring in Iceland, they’re everywhere! But Blue Lagoon is the biggest, and most notorious and it also has a swim up bar as well as a deluxe spa.

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Waterfalls – The Seljalandsfoss in Southern Iceland is very cool because you can walk a trail that brings you behind the waterfall, allowing you to see it from every magnificent angle. Other waterfalls that we really enjoyed seeing were the Godafoss in NE Iceland and the Gullfoss, Iceland’s most popular waterfall in the Southern region of the country.

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Reykjavik Convention Center – In an effort to bring more business tourism to Iceland, they constructed this gorgeous convention center along the harbor in Reykjavik, its truly a work of art and engineering

Continental Divide – How many times do you get the chance to be two places at once?! Walking along the continental divide is a very cool experience, and if you’re an experienced diver you can even SWIM between the plates.

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Glacier Experience – One second we were in a sunny valley enjoying a picnic and the next we were bouncing up a mountain in a huge van and then were provided with snowmobiles and let loose on top of an enormous, pure-white, sparking glacier overlooking the mountain range and scattered farm land below.

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Horseback riding – Iceland has their own breed of horse known simply as the Icelandic Pony. These adorable creatures are small and compact with thick coats. They also have five gaits, where as other breeds in the world only have four. Riding these ponies across the rolling fields and black beaches was truly an unforgettable experience.

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Helicopter ride – No better way to see the country than from above, it really puts everything into perspective.