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Nearly 80 percent of Iceland is uninhabited, which means national parks, waterfalls, geysers, glaciers and other natural wonders lay claim to the land. On my trip to Iceland this fall, I found a way to take in all of these essential sights, without having to deal with crowds and long lines. Booking a private tour with Discover Iceland — an off-roading adventure tour company, based in Reykjavik — allowed me to go places where tour buses and regular cars can’t access.
All of Discover Iceland’s vehicles are “super jeeps” (heavily modified SUVs) with huge 44-inch tires, which makes driving on sand, snow, rocky hills or glaciers an easy feat. Walking on a glacier has long been a bucket list activity for me, and Discover Iceland made sure to include it on our itinerary.
My guide, Georg Aspelund, owner of Discover Iceland, drove us along Langjokull, the second-largest glacier in Iceland, while pointing out glacier caves and crevasses (giant cracks created by friction). He also showed me how global warming is affecting the glacier by outlining where Langjokull stood 10 years ago versus where it is today.
“Langjokull is more than 2,000 feet thick, so it’s still a glacier,” said Aspelund. “But they say it only has about 80 years left before it’s no longer considered one. It's slowly melting away.”
One of the most incredible experiences of the day was drinking pure, glacial water straight from a pool on the face of the glacier. It was refreshing, delicious and, of course, ice-cold.
For hardy travelers who just can’t get enough of the ice life, Discover Iceland can add on a one-hour snowmobile excursion to any glacier tour. One of the company’s most popular escorted tours, Discover Golden Circle & Snowmobile, includes a snowmobiling excursion on Langjokull and visits to the volcanic crater, Kerid, and to Thingvellir National Park, among other attractions. The excursion begins at approximately $420 per person.
Discover Iceland offers day tours, custom tours and multi-day adventures year round. // © 2014 Discover Iceland
Several of Discover Iceland’s packaged tours include treks to the Langjokull glacier, where guests are free to roam around and explore for themselves. // © 2014 Discover Iceland
Guests can customize their off-roading trip with a horseback-riding excursion. // © 2014 Jonathan Ampersand Esper/Discover Iceland
The Discover the Northern Lights tour includes off-roading on the top of Ulfarsfell Mountain. // © 2014 Flosi Photography/Discover Iceland
A snowmobile tour is an easy add-on to itineraries that include the Langjokull glacier. // © 2014 Discover Iceland
Skogafoss is one of the three waterfalls that guests can see on Discover Iceland’s Discover the South Coast & Eyjafjallajokull Volcano tour. // © 2014 Discover Iceland
Another highlight of our day together was driving through the Highlands of Iceland, cruising over rugged, barren lava fields to Hvitarvatn, a glacial lake that feeds into Iceland’s oft-photographed Gullfoss waterfall. Naturally, we paid a visit to Gullfoss, which is considered to be the most beautiful waterfall in the country, and stopped at nearby Strokkur, a geyser that erupts every seven minutes or so.
Early next year, a new ice cave attraction will be opening in Langjokull, and Aspelund is looking forward to introducing guests to the ice cap, glacial environment. Discover Iceland will give guests the unique opportunity of seeing the hidden, blue ice in the heart of the glacier and learning firsthand about global warming in the country.
“Hopefully next summer, when the Bardarbunga Volcano eruption stops or when that area is no longer restricted to traffic, we will also offer tours to the eruption site as a part of a multi-day package,” Aspelund said. “With this new tour, our guests can experience the newest lava in the world.”
At press time, Discover Iceland has a whopping 100 percent satisfaction rating and is ranked as the No. 5 activity (out of 257 activities) to do in Reykjavik.