I am not a huge fan of tours. Sitting on a crowded bus while cameras flash endlessly, then following a guide carrying a red flag… not my idea of an enrichening experience.
Taking the Golden Circle Tour is one of the best travel decisions I have made. Included are three phenomenal stops: the site of the oldest parliament in the world, a breathtaking waterfall, and the original erupting hot spring after which all geysers are named.
If you’re lucky, you may land a guide as good as ours. Gusti (pictured above) was a fisherman for 25 years before becoming a full-time guide. He towered over all of us at well over six feet.
This made getting in and out of our vehicle easier for him; the super jeep that carried us was at least four feet off the ground.
Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park, the site of the first parliament ever established, by the Vikings in 930 AD. We visited the site in late November, a time when there was a thin coating of ice over the land and passageways, making for slippery travel. However, it was also breathtaking in the morning light.
The other remarkable note is that the site is based at the intersection of European and North American tectonic plates. The plates are moving away from each other at a rate of nine centimeters per year.
We turned up the heat at our next stop, Geysir, one of Iceland’s most visited sites and after which all geysers are named. The original Geysir has changed over time, in particular by movements in the earth caused by earthquakes.
Therefore, you might not get the show you were looking for.
However, its powerful little brother, Strokkur, erupts multiple times an hour. Be careful to not walk on the delicate earth that surrounds the geysers. It is much more fragile than it seems, and one can fall right through.
The eruptions are caused when very hot water deep inside the earth moves closer towards earth’s surface, pushing upwards the cooler water that was keeping it down. While far above the boiling point, it was impossible to boil with so much pressure on top.
You can almost feel earth’s temporary relief of pressure when the explosion happens.
Our final visit was to Gullfoss, Iceland’s most spectacular waterfall. Its multiple cascading falls cast a spray into the air that can be felt even from the banks, far above the falls. Be sure to bring a waterproof jacket.
Its two drops total a height of 32 meters, or 105 feet. Visiting during the tourist season in the summer would be a great bet. I was pleased to have gone in the winter; the falls were still flowing, but the ice on the banks made for a uniquely magnificent experience.
Don’t Forget: Your warmest pair of gloves if visiting in winter, your most waterproof camera if visiting in summer.