The highlight of our trip in Iceland was the three guided tours we took, despite my initial resistance to joining tour groups. I enjoy a childish giggly happiness when I “discover” a cool destination in my travels. Even though I know deep down that I didn’t “discovered” anything, it’s still preferable to being led by a tour guide. I take pride in being independent. It becomes somewhat of a conflict when I travel with my parents who, true to the Chinese tourist stereotypes, are more than content to be told where to eat and where to sleep in a group. I usually resolve this conflict by playing their tour guide when we travel together.
Despite my efforts to stay away from commercial tours, my mother’s influence was strong and her command was not to be disobeyed. And she wanted to take some guided day tours. To her credit, all the tours she selected turned out to be incredible. My preconceived notions regarding guided tours were incorrect on this trip, and here are some photos from our three guided tours in Iceland.
Ice Cave Tour from Vik (near Katla Volcano)
The tour group met next to a gas station in Vik, where we picked up some basic gear (helmets and microspikes). Nine of us in a group hopped on a superjeep headed out to the base of Katla Volcano. Since volcanoes erupt so frequently in Iceland, much of the island is covered in layers of black ash. Unlike the ice caves I’ve encountered elsewhere, Iceland ice caves appeared black, like a coal mine at first. But I quickly realized that what I was looking at was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Layers of black soot embedded in the glacier, illustrating the blue ice’s age like growth rings in a tree.
With climate change, most of the glaciers in the world are disappearing rapidly. Iceland is no exception. It permanently lost one of its glaciers this year, while many more are on the way to their extinction. The ice cave we went to was no longer part of a glacier as it was no longer moving. It was simply a giant ice chunk, spit out from the edge of a glacier, sweating itself to death.
The front of this giant ice chunk was an arch formation which peculiarly resembled a stargate in science fiction. Our tour guide, Viktor, told us that the hole in the “stargate” was merely a crack small enough that many people on his tour were not able to crawl through by as late as mid-March. By the time we visited– less than four months after the crack had appeared– this hole had opened up dramatically. A gate-like arch had formed, and the ice cave behind the arch had completely collapsed into a crater. That’s how rapidly ice was disappearing in Iceland.
Kayaking in Glacier Lagoon (Solheimajokull Glacier)
There were several glacier lagoon kayaking tours in Iceland. We went on the smaller tour which was shorter and cheaper. It worked out well in terms of activity level for my parents. It was a great opportunity to get a closer look at the glacier and floating icebergs from water level.
The tour guides fitted us into dry-suits, and we launched from the south end of glacier lagoon. We paddled along the wateredge to the glacier wall connecting to water. It was a surreal sight. My favorite part of the tour was paddling in between the icebergs. It is easy to forget that 90% of the iceberg by volume is actually underwater.
Puffin Tour from Reykjavik
On our last day in Iceland, we decided to take a boat tour to see puffins from Reykjavik. The island is only 15 mins away from the Old Harbor in Reykjavik. Over 30,000 birds come nesting on this island every year. It was an overcast day with intermittent showers, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. Pudgey and clumsy, these puffins were so cute. They were such poor flyers that to take off, they had to climb up a rock and jump off. And it was not unusual to watch them fail to launch and plump into the frigid water below.
Occasionally, a puffin would take off from water. It would flap its wings vigorously to lift its rotund body above water, taking steps on the surface of the water to gather momentum before it becomes airborne. While in the air, they never appeared quite comfortable or graceful, always flapping and always straining. It’s especially comical– and admirable as these birds migrate thousands of miles yearly– when they fly next to a seagull which glides through the air effortlessly.
I loved photographing these cute creatures while bobbing on a boat from the distance. Their disproportionately large orange beak, dramatic eyeshadow and penguin-like waddle perfectly defined cuteness and preciousness in this world. I could not have asked for a better conclusion to our trip in Iceland.
What do you think? What other tours would you recommend while traveling in Iceland? Feel free to leave me a comment below.