Travel Weekly senior editor Andrew Compart sampled adventurous
destinations in Iceland's north with Icelandair Holidays. His
hat to do with a free day or
two in Iceland? The question is pertinent thanks to Icelandair's
longstanding "Take-A-Break" option for travelers flying the carrier
to other European destinations.
At no added cost, clients can stop over in Iceland for up to
three nights before completing the rest of their journey -- or do
the same on the way home.
Unfamiliar with the country's sub-Arctic attractions? Not to
worry: Icelandair Holidays offers options and packages for those
On a recent visit, I found whales, boiling mud pits and a
sparsely inhabited bird-watching island at the Arctic Circle.
It's possible to see them all with a two- or three-night visit,
perhaps overnighting in the picturesque fishing towns of Akureyri
or Husavik, where the whale-watching is offered.
All also are offered by Icelandair as day trips, with roundtrip
air from Reykjavik. Short daylight hours in winter make these
jaunts a May-through-September option.
The Lake Myvatn region is accessible to anyone fascinated by
natural forces and formations for $219 per person via Icelandair's
Lake Myvatn Mysteries day trip, available May 16 to Sept. 15 (add
$28 between June 15 and Aug. 20).
As I walk on the marked paths and trails in a region called "The
Devil's Kitchen," the smell of sulfur is in the air, and in some
places steam escapes from the ground to relieve subterranean
At points, roped off for safety, sulfuric acid dissolves the
clay, forming pits so hot mud bubbles up, as in a cauldron.
The boundary of the North American and Eurasian continental
plates -- moving apart an inch a year -- runs beneath Iceland.
Volcanic lava wells up between the plates and fills the rift, which
accounts for the geological activity.
A big eruption in 1724 formed an explosion crater called Viti,
translated as "inferno" or "hell" -- so you can go there and back
if you'd like.
The name refers to its original appearance, with boiling mud and
clay in a crater 450 feet wide and 270 feet deep. But Viti is quite
scenic these days, belying its name, with a water-filled center and
a snow- covered, mountain vista.
Nearby Dimmuborgir ("Dark Castles") is a lava field, with high,
oddly shaped pillars. Legend has it that trolls, who live in caves
and turn to rock in the sun, partied so hard one night they forgot
the time and were frozen in place.
The lake itself is the fourth largest in Iceland. But it also is
very shallow, with a maximum depth of 12 feet, and sun warms the
Warn your clients: This makes the lake a haven for gnats and
mosquitoes (hence the name Myvatn, which means "midge" in
The pests can be particularly prevalent in June and August --
the best bet to avoid them is July -- so it might be advisable to
use bug spray.
The reward: some spectacular views, and a look at some 50 or so
species of birds, including 16 species of duck.
A whale of a time
It's near midnight in Husavik, but the sun is out and I am
looking for whales in a fjord. It's almost certain we will find
them on our three-hour trip. North Sailing took tourists on 505
whale-watching boat trips here last year, and whales were spotted
on 501 of them.
Minke whales -- sometimes half the size of our 50-foot boat --
are the most common. For a while, we see more birds than whales,
but then comes the big payoff: minkes, emerging within 100 yards of
Whale-watching season lasts from May to mid-September in
Husavik, and with 24-hour daylight in the summer, nighttime boat
trips are offered in June, July and August.
Icelandair's Highlights of the North day trip -- which also
includes stops at Lake Myvatn and the Godafoss waterfall -- costs
$263 per person May 16 to Sept. 29 (again, add $28 from June 15 to
Tips for clients: Dress warmly and in layers, and bring gloves
At the Arctic
You can't go any farther north in Iceland than Grimsey, which is
one reason why tourists head there.
The small, isolated island, about 40 miles north of the
mainland, is home to 100 to 150 people, mostly fishermen.
Grimsey is the only point in Iceland that touches the Arctic
Circle; a post marks the spot, with signposts showing distances to
major cities. Visitors also leave with a decorative certificate,
name included, that confirms they were there.
But people visit for other reasons, as well. One of the main
ones is bird-watching. About 35 species of birds nest there,
including puffins and fulmar. For avid birders who want more time
to look, the island even has a modest guest house -- $27 a night
for a room with a bed, $17 for a room to use sleeping bags.
Another Grimsey attraction: In early summer, this is said to be
an ideal place to view the midnight sun.
For day-trippers, Icelandair offers the six-hour Grimsey
66-Degree North Evening tour daily (except Saturdays) from June 10
to Aug. 17, priced at $265 per person.
According to Icelandair, travel agents must pay with an MCO for
full 10% commission, and agency checks are only accepted from
accounts approved by Icelandair Holidays. Travel agents may use
passenger credit cards, but with reduced commission.
Heading north, booking Iceland
Phone: (800) 223-5500
Phone: (800) 779-2899
Icelandic Tourist Board
Phone: (212) 885-9700