What is the latest on the volcanic eruption and how can you visit?
Saeli: The latest on the eruption is that it’s still ongoing and it seems to be getting even stronger. How long it will continue we have no idea. But it looks like it’s going to last for a long, long time. It could keep erupting for years, it could stop in the next two weeks. It’s almost impossible to predict it.
Even if it does stop in the next two weeks, it will still be a hot spot for a long time. We were taking volcano tours up to the crater of Eyjafjallajokull more than five years after the eruption and were barbecuing sausages over the still hot lava. And there was far less lava than at the Fagradalsfjall eruption now.
Do you need a guide to accompany you to the eruption site or can you just go on your own?
Saeli: You can go on your own following a well-marked hiking path, but of course, there’s a great advantage to having a guide with you who can explain more about it and we know where the best spots are and how to safely walk around the site.
If you’re thinking about hiking independently, I would advise getting good advice before you set off, so you know what the conditions are on the trail that day. You need to think about the weather, because the round trip takes several hours. Discover the World is also offering a Superjeep excursion around the Reykjanes Peninsula with South Coast Adventure that will lead you with a guide to the eruption site. I would always recommend that’s the best way to visit so you get more out of it.
Iceland really is one of Europe’s top hiking destinations, isn’t it?
Cathy: Yes, I’d say so. And what’s interesting is that, even if you’re doing a classic self drive trip, you’re going to find as you travel around Iceland that you have to walk a little bit to reach a lot of the places of interest and natural wonders. So by the end of the day, you’ll find that you’ve actually done quite a lot of walking.
If you want a full day hike, then Iceland has plenty of options for you. Most of the best laid out hiking trails are found inside the national parks and conservation areas. So you’ll find proper marked walking trails, hiking maps, and you’ll get good advice from the rangers. So I would recommend if you’re hoping to do several full day hikes that you plan that around some of the national parks.
There’s no substitute for local advice. So wherever you go if you’re planning to head off into the wilderness, check what the condition of the trail is and how easy it is. Make sure of course, that you’re properly equipped that you have good weather, proper gear for wet, windy conditions, as well as sunshine, and obviously really good hiking shoes or boots. I would also emphasise that the weather is incredibly changeable so you’re going to need to make sure that you’re equipped for that. And if you’re really going somewhere a little bit adventurous, then it’s always a good idea to let somebody know where you’re going and what time you’re planning to come back.
You’re going to see ice and scenery unfold, and one chapter following another. And by the end of the day, you’ll be tired but you’ll also be totally wired by what you’ve seen and experienced. So Iceland on foot is a fantastic experience.
What sort of hiking trips are available?
Cathy: You can choose one day guided walks, or you can do 7-day fully supported guided tracks where you’re just carrying a day a day pack. And you can also do independent trips through Discover the world. We have a Fly, Drive and Hike itinerary, which is based around car hire, and pre booked accommodation. The accommodation is near to really good locations for hiking. And we’ll supply you with the suggestions for hiking routes and things. And of course, if you are travelling with us, you get the wonderful iDiscover app, which is a digital travelling guide that has suggested hiking routes as well as sights you can expect to see along the way.
Can you recommend a good hiking map for the Highlands?
Cathy: There tends not to be just one map for the whole Highland area. So you probably need to pick up maps at several different points on the journey. The best thing if you’re travelling through the highlands is to stop off at one of the mountain huts. And there you’ll find the wardens and they’ll sell you these little maps leaflets with hiking routes.
What are your top tips for seeing the northern lights in Iceland?
Alex: First off, my top tip is to relax. Don’t stress and constantly look at the weather as conditions will change all the time in Iceland. Always choose to stay at properties that are outside of the city where you have the option to book a wake up call if they appear, which is a great help. Places like Hotel Husafell for example.
But if you want to stay up and look at the sky – because it is an incredible place to marvel at the stars – somewhere like Hotel Ranga is great for that. And I sometimes actually went for a little bit of an afternoon nap. If I’d been out for the day hiking, seeing some of the beautiful places, just a little one or two hours sleep means you can stay up a bit later staring at the sky. The iDiscover app also offers access to aurora forecasts and weather updates. Remember that there’s no guarantee, so make sure you focus on all the other wonderful things that you can get up to whilst you’re out in Iceland. Discover more about the northern lights in Iceland.
Can you combine seeing the northern lights with whale watching?
Cathy: Yes you can and it’s an amazing combination. Our Orcas and Aurora small-group holiday was something that we came up with nearly 10 years ago when orcas unexpectedly began to appear in the calm waters around the channel of Grundarfjordur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We were quick to put together a holiday that allowed people to come and see the orcas heading out on a boat trip for up to three hours to spend time with these magnificent animals. And then in the evening, watch out for the northern lights from a perfect countryside location. It’s a magical combination and it’s still one of our most popular winter escorted trips. It’s a four night trip that includes not only two whale watching trips, but also ample northern lights viewing, subject to weather and solar activity, plus sightseeing around the peninsula as well.
Departing in March towards the equinox, you’ve good chances of increased solar activity that produce the solar flares that result in the northern lights appearing.
How can you explore Iceland’s interior?
Saeli: Venturing into the interior of Iceland is the true Icelandic experience. You get to see just a completely different perspective of the island. It is truly authentic Iceland. And even for me, it’s a breathtaking experience because it is just indescribable what you can see there. It’s really rugged, it’s raw, it’s untamed, and it changes as you turn the corner.
We run a lot of trips in Landmannalaugar, which is a geothermal hot spring area in the interior. On that trip, we view volcanoes and go through lava fields and old craters and head completely off the beaten track. You can drive a 4WD to visit Landmannalaugar following one road in and out, but you get completely different experience on a Superjeep as they can go into areas that you can’t take a regular 4WD. But you also have the benefit of the knowledgeable and experience of your guides. It’s also more comfortable and faster so you can see more. Personally my favourite area is Thorsmork. There you can see the different types of terrain that make Iceland’s interior so extra special.
Are you finding that all accommodation is booked up for summer now that Iceland is one of the few countries to go on the green list?
Alex: It is busy because of both being on the green list and the volcano. As well as people travelling who deferred from last year. But our team are working very hard checking availability and working with the properties that we have allocation with. If your first choice hotels are not available, then we look at the alternatives that will suit. We have a very experienced team with a lot of knowledge around Iceland and we can rejig itineraries and make them work for you. So, if you’re thinking about going, give us a call.
Having done the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon on our first trip, what would you focus on for a second trip for three to seven days?
Cathy: You could do one or two different areas that are not too far from Reykjavik. I would recommend Snaefellsnes Peninsula. That’s a really good option. There’s some nice hotels, amazing coastline, you can do whale watching trips. You can also head along the south coast getting as far as the iceberg lagoon, Jokulsarlon, in seven days, which is one of Iceland’s most spectacular scenes. There are black sand beaches and waterfalls all along the south coast and you can include Skaftafell National Park, which is really good for getting close to the glaciers and perhaps taking a guided glacier hike.
For three days take a look at our Summer Nights at Ranga itinerary, while our Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a great seven day trip.
What the best places for geothermal bathing in Iceland?
Saeli: I haven’t been to the Sky Lagoon yet, but it looks fabulous. You’re never very far from a hot tub or a geothermal pool in Iceland, which can be weaved into any self-drive holiday. The Nature Baths in Myvatn in North Iceland is good and is similar to the Blue Lagoon. Of course, the Blue Lagoon is the Blue Lagoon and is truly something! There is a new geothermal spa bath at Reykholt near Hotel Husafell called Krauma and the Secret Lagoon on the Golden Circle route. My personal favourite is Seljavallalaug, which is an outdoor swimming pool in South Iceland. It looks really cold, though it’s around 30 degrees.
What guided holidays are available as an alternative to self-drive?
Alex: If you’re looking to see the aurora our Northern Lights Special small-group tour is tried and tested and one that I’ve done myself. It’s been running for over 10 years and is really popular. Visiting key places in the south, stay at Hotel Ranga for a couple of nights and one night at the Northern Lights Inn.
If you’re wanting to travel in the summer or autumn we offer the week-long Iceland Full Circle journeying all the way around Iceland. That is really popular and there is also a grand tour, which expands on the places visited. So if you’re interested in an escorted tour, do get in touch with us and we can find the right tour to match what you’re looking for with that.
Escorted tours are starting to resume slowly with tours operating in July and onwards.
What would you recommend to see in the east and northern parts of Iceland?
Alex: The East Fjords is a really, really beautiful area. It’s one of my favourite parts of Iceland. It’s also where Fortitude was filmed so may be familiar to anyone who watched that programme. It’s a really stunning area, including Seydisfjordur, which is where Iceland’s biggest budget TV show, Trapped, was set. It’s a good location for hiking. Then there’s Egilsstadir and up to Lake Myvatn in the north east, home to the Nature Baths and offering access to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Heading from Hofn in the south east northwards, there are some really beautiful pockets to explore and it’s also where most of the trees in Iceland are! Our National Parks and Natural Wonders itinerary is a good option for exploring this area.
Saeli: Where I am currently in Siglufjordur there is a lot of hiking as well as heli-skiing in the winter. You can also go whale watching from Dalvik. Mainly, you can just drive and explore and you’ll see so many things to stop and see along the way, like spotting a waterfall. The iDiscover app is really handy for this style of exploring.
Does the iDiscover app require a constant signal to work on the road or is there any offline content?
iDiscover works offline, the only element that needs connectivity is the maps but once each day of the itinerary has been looked at the maps are cached and so will then work offline too.
Do you know anything about arrangements by Icelandair for those without smart phones?
To check-in for your departure from the UK you can take a print out of your e-ticket that we will send you and for checking in for your return to the UK flight you can ask your hotel reception to help you do this, they will also be able to print your return e-ticket for you.
Is British Airways flying to Iceland this summer?
Yes, BA are flying to Iceland this summer but like all of the other airlines their schedules are currently limited until passenger volume increases. From July their schedule is 5 times a week to Iceland (daily except Monday and Wednesday).
What is the Icelandic government’s approach to children (without vaccinations) entering the country?
Children born in 2005 or after are exempt from the obligation to present a negative PCR certificate upon arrival, but will still be required to take a test on arrival in Iceland. If a child travels with a person who is required to be quarantined, the child stays with them and is released from quarantine when their travelling companion is allowed to be released. If the companion is exempt from double screening and quarantine, so is the child. Read our Travel Advice for Iceland for further guidance