The sleepy little island just below the Arctic Circle is now a vogue world-wide travel destination. Perhaps it began when Iceland Air offered a free layover for passengers traveling between Europe and the U.S. Yet during the so-called “Summer of Light,” the island becomes well-trampled with tour buses clogging the one-lane bridges, disgorging their masses at every pullout to snap pics of each dramatic landscape. And rightly so, Iceland’s natural wonders range from waterfalls with cascading ice and fjords to calving glaciers and rugged volcanos.
But get away from the masses and Iceland boasts plenty of adventurous options. Spread out the hand-drawn Island Nature Map, plug in the GPS and embrace the journey that awaits in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Become one with the vibrant scenery
With your colorful KuKu Camper, finding new adventures should be pretty easy. Camping has become so popular that Iceland put restrictions on where you can pitch a tent in 2017. But it still remains rugged as well as civilized. Even in the busy summer season, you can pull into a empty farmer’s field or find a prime spot alongside the North Atlantic’s waters. Pop open the doors of your caravan or flip back the tent canvas and you’ll wake up to stunning vistas no matter where you are on the island.
Cruising the countryside in your own transport means ditching the well-traveled Ring Road and exploring off-the-beaten path, where reindeer and Icelandic horses roam. Just be sure to watch out for the Kamikaze sheep. Aside from producing wool sweaters for 66˚ North, they’ll look you right in the eye as they jump in front of your camper.
Play in the chilly North Atlantic
Not up for a whale watching tour crammed with tourists? Feel the maritime spray on your face a little closer to the source. Iceland’s wild forces of nature are perfect for the diehard adventurer. Surf a 52-degree blustery swell or SUP underneath a waterfall or in a fjord with Arctic Surfers.
Embrace the land of fire and ice
25% of Iceland is powered by geothermal energy, so submerge your bones in its natural heat. An iconic Icelandic landmark is the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring frequented by nearly 80% of visitors. What the pictures don’t show are the chaos of its human crock pot. The alternative is a short walk across a lava field, through the moors to a secluded hot spring. Let the sulfuric stench guide you to this isolated hot pot.
Fancy a dip under a geothermal waterfall instead? In the middle of the East Icelandic highlands sits the Laugarvalladalur Valley. There you’ll find the ruins of an old farmhouse and a majestic rock pool at the base of a warm waterfall.
Spot puffin while hiking under the midnight sun
Who knew the western-most point in Europe was down a bumpy dirt road? Nestled at the end of the island is a beach with a sign for puffin, Iceland’s “sea parrots.” With no predators, puffin flourish along the cliffs at Latrabjarg.
So set up camp and head out on foot around 9:00 p.m. for an after-hours hike in full sunlight. The rutted trail has no boundaries marking the fragile and crumbling edges. There’s just a dirt path along the clifftops which are 1450 feet above the crashing North Atlantic. The moss-covered tundra will put a spring in your step as basalt slabs shift under this natural trampoline of sorts.
Refuel at the island’s best bakeries
Days can be wasted waiting out the morning chill or an afternoon drizzle. So there’s no better place to renew your eternal optimism than a local bakery. Icelanders have perfected their baked treats over long dark winters. At the edge of the West Fjords, indulge in Simbahollin’s legendary Belgian waffle — a crisp delight topped with homemade rhubarb jam and cream.
And when that weather clears, get back in your camper, tune in some Bjork and go enjoy yet another waterfall. No directions necessary.