Iceland is full of things to see that you won’t find in many places. Visiting the Sólheimajökull glacier was one such amazing place.
I booked a “Southern Coast” tour. The glacier visit was the first stop, but all the stops on the tour were well worth it, even if nothing topped the glacier. The glacier was about one and one-half hours out of Reykjavik.
At the entrance to the glacier, signs show before and after pictures of how it once extended further down the mountain than it does now. The tour guide and the signage explained the concept of “global warming.” “Is there another possible explanation for this?” I inquired. I believe in global warming, but the clear difference between the American way of thinking and the Icelandic mind was remarkable. “You can’t deny the earth isn’t flat anymore” was the answer I received. And in Iceland they have no one that would question the global warming explanation. In a place where ice is the prevailing landscape, they see its effects everywhere.
The parking lot at the base of the glacier gives no clue what to expect. A small hut sits off to the side. Inside a small snack bar serves snacks, drinks and coffee. In another part of this building you can rent extreme mountain climbing equipment.
You start up a barely graded dirt road toward the glacier. About three quarters of a mile later you turn a corner and the slope of the pathway gets steeper. You find yourself looking straight at the glacier and the lake of water that forms at its base as it melts. Signs warn that you are in an active volcanic region and warn that the glacier breaks off or “calves.” I didn’t get a chance to experience any calving — you can’t control when Mother Nature will perform — but seeing the glacier was an amazing experience.
I could have walked another three quarters of a mile to where the ice started, but time did not permit … and I was warned about danger. From the top of the glacier you could see groups of people slowly walking on the glacier. They looked like ants from my vantage point.
As I descended the dirt road, mountain climbers, both locals and tourists, equipped with the proper gear — ice picks, walking sticks, heavy ropes, carabiners and more — were headed up the road to test their skill against Mother Nature. If you want an extreme adventure in the great outdoors, this is the real thing.
From Reykjavik there are many tour companies offering visits to this glacier and still others offering the extreme adventure tours that some desire. If you book any of these tours, remember these simple tips. Smaller groups are better. With large groups, there are always stragglers who can’t seem to return to the bus at the appointed time, leaving the rest of the group waiting and wasting valuable touring time. With smaller groups, you have more of an opportunity to ask your questions and you can see more in the same amount of time as it takes less time to reassemble and even for rest stops and eating stops.
Iceland is one of the best bargains in travel today. Flights are cheap. Once in Iceland, prices are high, but you can choose less expensive options to save money. I noticed that, unlike other countries where guides overtly “suggest” tips, the guides in Iceland must be well-enough compensated that they never seem to expect a tip. If you have a credit card, there is no need to exchange money. Just make sure your credit card has no “foreign transaction fee” before you leave. If it does, get another one. Using such a credit card will avoid the currency exchange fee.
So, although it can be pricey, the cheap flights, lack of tipping and ability to use a credit card for almost all expenses offset some of the higher costs making Iceland and its unique landscape a wonder to see.