The first thing you notice when descending to Keflavik International Airport is the vast, uninterrupted expanse of the land. It is noticeably different from other countries, with their bustling suburbs and interconnected cities on display from the plane. In Iceland, there is a stillness on the surface that belies what is roiling underneath the earth. These contrasts define Iceland and makes traveling there a most unique experience.
The Salt Lake Chamber spent five days in Iceland this past September. We stayed in Reykjavik, venturing out every day to see the natural beauty of this island nation. Fortune favored us with good weather our entire stay, a rarity in Iceland where no one really bothers with the weather forecast, as it’s almost guaranteed to be windy, raining and cold every day. We hit 60 degrees one day, with blue skies and bright sunshine. “It’s too warm!” exclaimed Gudny, our tour guide. She was serious, and we all had a good laugh. I secretly marveled at her hardiness. To be able to survive in Iceland takes a special kind of person. Icelanders not only survive, they thrive against the elements.
Only 300,000 people live in Iceland, with almost half of them in residing in Reykjavik. The lack of people is apparent everywhere you go. It caused me mild anxiety at first, but the anxiety soon turned to exhilaration as the isolation became comfortable and even welcomed. It would be easy to stay there and forget that the rest of the world exists. This northernmost capital offers a quiet, welcome respite from the chaos below.
Icelanders are proud, but not arrogant. They are courteous, but maintain their privacy. They are a hardy people out of necessity—the land demands it. It is unforgiving and unpredictable. Icelanders accept this uncertainty and seem to enjoy the challenge. Anyone living in Iceland must enjoy solitude, because there is so much of it. Even in downtown Reykjavik, it’s not hard to find yourself alone in a café or biking down an empty street in the middle of the day. It was a far cry from dodging cars on my bike in London or running across busy streets in Paris. Reykjavik is quiet and simple, which is just the way Icelanders want it.
Outside of Reykjavik, nature reigns supreme. Indeed, it is the best reason to visit Iceland. Driving anywhere in Iceland offers a lesson in contrast. The scenery changes every five minutes, from deep mossy green pastures to rocky lunar-like lava fields that make you question what planet you’re on. It is disorienting and awe-inspiring to watch the terrain pass by: cloud-like glaciers, volcanoes, steaming geothermal pools, black sand beaches, craggy mountains and towering waterfalls are all on display within a two-hour drive of Reykjavik.
Icelanders have harnessed the natural power of their land with remarkable success. The Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station takes Iceland’s raw geothermal energy and converts it to provide heat and electricity to Reykjavik. Icelanders revel in their geothermal energy, placing large rainfall showerheads in the hotel for the most enjoyable hot shower I’ve ever had. The natural hot pools of geothermal energy provide Icelanders with recreation and relaxation. The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is an oasis of hot water, silica mud masks and an international gaggle of people frolicking in the soft blue water.
I struggle to find the words when people ask how it was visiting Iceland. “Interesting,” “amazing,” and “fun,” all fail to capture the feeling of being in a country that defies explanation. Iceland resists any attempt to define its exceptional beauty with words. Seeing its wonders in person will leave you speechless.
By: Maria Loftis
Salt Lake Chamber