Iceland is no stranger to striking landscapes, impossible views, and travel experiences that inevitably trump any dinner-table bragging session. Why, it's for these very reasons that Iceland has become the hottest destination of 2016 (figuratively speaking, of course). However it's in the country's southern reaches that we've found an especially impressive hub of Icelandic experiences that deserve even more shameless gloating rights.
Your ultimate Iceland adventure begins.... now.
Hike in Þórsmörk
It seems there are more hiking trails that thread through Þórsmörk Nature Reserve than there are Icelandic residents, ranging from hour-and-a-half strolls to multi-day canyon climbs. One of the country's most iconic treks, the Laugavegur Hiking Trail, also begins here, stretching 35 miles across the southern highlands and connecting Þórsmörk with Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve. (How's that Icelandic pronounciation going?)
Our pick, however, is the Merkurrani Plateau hike, which usually takes about two hours to complete. It takes you up into the foothills of Valahnúkur Mountain and onto Merkurrani plateau, passing the striking Merkurrani Cliffs where the Krossá River has carved a sharp edge to the volcanic rock. Below on the Markarfljót Riverbed, black sand and volcanic ash contrast the vibrant green hills that surround. Bring that back-up iPhone power.
Explore Iceland's greatest waterfalls
Iceland is synonymous with whopping great waterfalls. But of all the towering cascades that litter the country, the best of the best can be found along the south coast. Seljalandsfoss tends to get the most air time, dropping 200 feet and proving more photogenic than Blake Lively. You can actually follow a path to behind the falling water so you can bask in its beauty from every angle.
Another nearby favorite is Skógafoss, which is one of the largest waterfalls in the country at 82 feet wide and 200 feet high. Situated on the Skógá River, Skógafoss is fed by two glaciers and is best seen from atop the nearby staircase. While you're in the area, check out Gljúfrabúi waterfall too, meaning "canyon dweller". To reach it, you'll have to wade through a little river so it's wise to pack sturdy shoes for this one. Then you walk into a little cave for the big reveal...it doesn't disappoint.
Soak in the Secret Lagoon
Tucked away in the small village of Fludir (in the Golden Circle area), you'll find this amazing naturally-heated pool, with steam billowing up into the crisp mountain air. Thanks to some geothermal magic from Mother Nature, it stays at a balmy 38-40 degrees Celsius all year. To keep you entertained while you soak, there are several little nearby geysers that spout water every few minutes. But our favorite part of all is that during winter, the Northern Lights dazzle above in the night sky and often give a great lightshow above Secret Lagoon. What better way to view the spectacular light show overhead than relaxing in the pool’s warm water?
Go mudshark fishing
Okay, okay, it sounds a bit random but here us out. This is far from your usual tourist experience, but mudshark fishing is actually super fun, for first-timers and experienced fishermen/women alike. Rug up though, because it involves reeling in your catch at the beach. Even if you don't catch a thing, it's actually just a really lovely way to chill on the black volcanic sand, watch those Atlantic waves crash and soak up the solitude that Iceland is becoming so famed for.
Ride a snowmobile across a glacier
Give your humble sightseeing venture a healthy boost of adrenalin on board a snowmobile tour of a glacier. Extreme Iceland takes game travelers across Iceland's incredible Myrdalsjokull glacier on snowmobile, giving you access to some otherwise insane scenery.
Tours range from one to four hours, along groomed trails and up high mountain meadows, from about $240 USD per adult.
Helicopter across volcanoes and glaciers
Of all the destinations on this planet to splurge on a helicopter flight, Iceland may just be it. A land of contrasting landscapes and unimagineable scale, the best way to see this wildly diverse place is undoubtedly from the sky. So we say treat yoself to a heli flight, and within a couple hours you can expect to see deserted black sand beaches, ash-covered glaciers, misty lowlands, otherworldly plains and glacial lagoons. Yes, all while still in southern Iceland.
Keep an eye out for the now dormant Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which made headlines in 2010 after erupting and forcing Europe's air space to close for a few days.
Stay at Hotel Rangá
In the thick of it all is one rather lush adventure base, Hotel Rangá, located about an hour drive from Reykjavík. Surrounded by seriously beautiful countryside, this boutique resort resembles a quaint log cabin, until you realize the amentities inside are anything but. As the first Icelandic hotel to become a member of the prestigious Great Hotels of the World chain, it's become a hotspot for celebs and honeymooners alike.
Almost as awesome as the location is the restaurant, which draws on fresh local ingredients to craft a menu of modern Nordic cuisine. The cozy, timber-panelled rooms don't fail to impress either, decked out with king-sized beds, outdoor jacuzzis and East Rangá River views.