Golden Circle´s Nature Forces: the Indomitable Territory of Iceland

Julia Campos
Julia Campos

Just like in football, Messi and Cristiano are supplementary, in Iceland, hot and cold are supplementary as well. They share the same space. If you enjoy contrasts, then Nattule suggests that you visit this Nordic country, where it is possible to bathe in waters at a Mediterranean temperature surrounded by snowy mountains.

Water and fire gather at the entrance of the Polar Circle to provide this country with volcanoes, glaciers, thermal pools and lava fields. On its landscapes, everything man-made goes unnoticed. This is not a surprise, since in the 103,000 square kilometers, there are more sheep than humans.

Another attraction, at least in the summer time, is the fact that night does not exist. There’s nothing better than 24 hours of light to take advantage and do the Golden Circle, a car route that goes through the most emblematic points of the Icelandic geography, with its beginning and end in the capital city, Reykjavik.

There are many ways to enjoy this route. Nattule proposes 8 itineraries you can’t miss, in order to get to know the boundaries of nature in Iceland:

1. Thingvellir, Between Two Continents

Thingvellir is located approximately 45 kilometers north of Reykjavik. To get there, you must take road number 1 up to Mosfellsbaer and then turn right following road 36, that will take you to this National Park.

This valley is an important valley for Icelandic history. On it, one of the first parliamentary institutions of the world, the Alping, met in 930.

Thingvellir

Thingvellir is famous for its location right on the fault that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. That place is one of the few where it is possible to observe the plate tectonics, since the fault opens 2 centimeters every year.

There are many things to do in Thingvellir. Hiking routes and horseback riding paths are available. There are also two camping areas in the Park, one in Leirar, just 5 minutes away from the information center, and in the surrounding area of Thingvallavatn.

If you want to experience something unique, then you should dive in the Silfra crack, the only place in the globe where you can dive between two tectonic plates. The water is so clear there that you can see anything under water, even in a radius of 100 meters. However, there is an inconvenience. The water there is very cold, so in order to dive in, you will need to wear a special suite, known as dry suit. We suggest that you look for a local company that will provide you with the required equipment.

Silfra

2. Thermal Baths in Laugarvatn

Most of the organized tours around the Golden Circle do not stop here, but the area surrounding the Laugarvatn Lake is an idyllic site to get to know one of the biggest attractions of Iceland: the thermal baths.

It’s just a half an hour drive from Thingvellir. You’ll have to go around the Thingvallavatn Lake until you reach a fork in the road. On the left is the highway 365 taking you to Laugarvatn.  

Laugarvatn

© Thóra M. Ólafsdóttir

The nearby lake and city belong to a hot area. We say that because on the shore and under the lake there are thermal springs, so water is warm all year round and bathing is possible in any season.

If you prefer something even warmer, you can try the thermal pools located on the lake shore, there is a sauna as well, and all the needed things to take care of visitors. You can also practice aquatic sports and hiking in order to discover the Laugarvatsnsfjall hillsides covered with birch trees.

Lago Laugarvatn

© Natalia Grociak

Another interesting choice is to try the rye bread that the locals bake by burying it by the thermal pools.

3. Bruarfoss, the Hidden Gem of Iceland

The Bruarfoss waterfall is a hidden treasure. Although it is close to the Golden Circle, it can not be seen from the main road, and there aren’t any indications, so it is a totally unknown spot, even for Icelanders.

If you want to get there, please listen closely the following indications.

Leaving Laugarvatn, take highway 37, direction Haukadalur. Once you pass the junction with highway 335, you will see a residential area on your left. You need to take the third gravel path and drive between the houses until you arrive at a parking area. From there, you need to continue on foot, cross a little wooden bridge, and in about 5 or 10 minutes you will arrive the waterfall.

Panoramic Bruarfoss

Bruarfoss isn’t Niagara Falls, nor a tall waterfall, but it amazes visitors. It is made of tens of small waterfalls that pour its waters into a deep lagoon, forming a whirlpool of turquoise waters.

Long ago, a big stone bridge used to go over the Bruar River, near the waterfall. It is not there anymore, but there are other wonders to explore in the surrounding area. If you like walking, you can take a hiking route of about 10 kilometers that will take you along the shore up to the amazing Bruararskörd canyon, where the river has its source.

Bruarfoss

4. Geyser Valley: Haukadalur

Haukadalur is a must in Iceland. It is the most famous tourist attraction in the whole country.

This geothermal valley has been active for more than a thousand years, and it has about twelve geysers and thermal fountains. You can’t miss this place. To get there, you must follow the same road that takes you to Laugarvatn.

In Haukadalur you will meet the king of all geysers. Geysir was a phenomenon long ago and gave his name to the different geysers around the world.

Geysir

There was a time when explosions were daily and reached up to about 80 meters high. Sadly, since 1916 this geyser is inactive. Stones and other things that people used to throw in to provoke the explosions finally provoked the contrary, and now there is only a big puddle with boiling water found there.

A geyser that will not disappoint you is the Strokkur geyser. The second largest geyser in Haukadalur. Every 5 or 10 minutes it explodes, and the water reaches up to about 20 meters high. This show draws tourists who are dying to take pictures of the big fountain preceded by a beautiful blue bubble.

Strokkur

5. Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall

Gullfoss is just 10 minutes away from Haukadalur, and along with the Strokkur geyser and the Thingvellir Valley, they make up the most famous part of the Golden Circle.

The waterfall is located on the upper course of the Hvita River, that has its source at Langjökul Glacier, the second largest glacier of Iceland. This place is also known as the golden waterfall, because on sunny days, the sediments dragged by the river reflect the sunlight.

Although there are many waterfalls in Iceland, this is one of the most spectacular of them all. The water falls in two different falls of 11 and 21 meters. The second fall ends up in a narrow gorge that, if seen from the top, looks like the water goes into the Earth’s depths.

Gullfoss

This is the view you will enjoy if you park in the upper area, by the visitor center. The second option is to park in the lower area where you will enjoy another perspective of the amazing Gullfoss.

The complete tour around the waterfall takes about 15 minutes, but you can take as much time you want to visit the surrounding area and enjoy the views, made up of plenty of willows and blueberries. During the summer afternoons, the rainbow on the water will surprise you.

Gullfoss Arcoiris

6. The Unrecognized Faxi

Faxafoss, or Faxi, is a reduced version of Gullfoss.

It is located 20 kilometers away by road southwest from Gullfoss. You need to take again the path towards Haukadalur, and 5 kilometers after the geothermal valley turn left. If you don’t find it on your guide is maybe is shown with the name Vatnsleysufoss. It’s known by this name as well.

Faxi belongs to the Tungufljot River, a tributary of the Hvita River, that has its source at the Sandvatn Lake. It is not as amazing as her big sister (it’s only 7 meters high), so many visitors do not get a chance to visit it. However, its 80 meter wide stretch makes it worthy of being in the top ten of Iceland’s waterfalls.

Faxi (Ma-Qianli)

© Ma Qianli

Nearby, there is a camping area along with a recreational area where you can take a break and have a rustic meal while enjoying the views.

7. Kerid, the Blue Lake Volcano

From Faxafoss, on the same road, you will arrive to the Kerid Volcano. If you go from Reykjavik, just take highway 1 until the fork in the road with highway 35.

A pleasant hill runs along the road, covered by grass that turns white in winter because of the snow. It is just like any other hill, but when you start walking on it, suddenly the Kerid Crater will appear. Inside the crater there is a little lake of intense blue color, surrounded by rust coloured rocks.

The sight is amazing. It is one of the most photographed spots in Iceland, although not as famous as other spots of the Golden Circle.

Kerid

The crater, formed 3,000 years ago, has just 270 meters of diameter in the widest part. One of the less steeped slopes allows to go down and walk around the lake in a pleasant stroll.

If you are there during summer, do not hesitate to attend any of the events taking place there. Floating stages are set on the water, and the slopes become a natural amphitheater for the audience.

8. Hiking in the Reykjadalur Natural Spa

The Reykjadalur Valley is located 40 kilometers away from Reykjavik, by the Hveragerdi village, on highway 1.

Once in Hveragerdi, take the third exit on the roundabout (first exit if you are arriving from Kerid), then take the main street up north. In Reykjadalur, there is a parking lot to park your car.

A few years ago, this was an unknown spot for tourists. It was a natural jewel only enjoyed by Icelanders. Nowadays, it is a very popular attraction and you may encounter large groups of tourists. Do not let this prevent you from visiting it. The combination of a hiking route along with a spa in the thermal waters is a perfect plan for the day.

Reykjadalur

© Pauliina Maula

The route is not long. It’s just 3 kilometers to get to the bathing area. You will walk facing the mountains, by the river and among the steamy dense pasturelands, with little waterfalls that will surprise you along the way. Take into account the signals indicating where the water is too hot, and wait until you get to the appropriate location.

This is a very different experience compared with the other traditional thermal baths. There are not changing rooms nor any facilities. When you get into the hot river, surrounded by the amazing lava mountains, you will realize that you are immersed into the authentic nature of Iceland.

Reykjadalur

© Nando Machado | Instagram: @nandomac_photo

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The same way humans adapt their mood to circumstances, countries also change depending on how history goes. This is evident in cases where unfairness has polluted the geography. Therefore, it is important to choose genuine destinations, like Iceland, where travellers will discover that a thermal bath in the middle of nature is a unique experience.

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