Quarantining under the Northern Lights
Quarantining under the Northern Lights
Last night’s surprise, the Northern Lights were breathtaking. The KP index showed low activity and it was expected to be quite cloudy. And yet, in the middle of the night, they appeared above Reykjavik, drowning out the sporadic streetlights.
It got me thinking.
In Iceland right now, you need to take a test on arrival, quarantine for 5 days (although you are allowed to take secluded walks), and then take a second test before you can travel freely. For many this is a good reason not to come to Iceland at the moment. After all, who wants to get stuck inside for the first 5 days of your vacation? In fact, if you pick the right hospitable quarantine hotel, you just might be treated to the Northern Lights every night and leisurely nature walks every day. You will still have to wait until the end of your quarantine before you can, for example, hike on a glacier or discover a blue ice cave. But the vast open spaces in Iceland really mean that solitude can be achieved inside and outside your hotel room.
So this quick descent of just 3 places in Iceland will celebrate the areas themselves. These locations are as ideal for Northern Lights hunting as they are for daytime quarantine activities. I purposely stopped before suggesting specific hotels or guesthouses as the list is constantly updating. There are nearly 400 options so far.
Ok, so technically you can travel anywhere in Iceland from the moment you arrive, but maybe you better be reasonable about that. More than half a day’s drive is a bit wasteful and if you are paying for a private taxi it can be a bit pricey. All you should be trying to get with your quarantine hotel is that it is away from the street lights and has walking options nearby with scenic scenery. You don’t have to go far to get this in Iceland. So I chose my 3 favorite places near the airport and the capital.
1. Reykjanes Peninsula (1 hour from the airport in most directions)
2. Snaefellsnes Peninsula (2.5 hours north of the airport)
3. South Coast of Iceland (starts 1h30 east of the airport)
This first zone is arguably the best for your first quarantine. Depending on where you choose to stay, you are just minutes away from seclusion. Once you’ve completed your 5-day quarantine, you’re also conveniently located near the famous Blue Lagoon, LAVA Tunnel, and Reykjavik itself.
The reason I chose this location, especially the south side of the peninsula littered with forgotten lighthouses, is because of the other land terrain. Indeed, no matter where you choose to sleep, you will be surrounded by a barren volcanic landscape.
Very unlike any other vacation you have taken in the past. The lava fields that have continually flowed over this geothermally active part of the country conceal many hidden treasures to be revealed during your walks. The multi-colored rock types, sharp and jagged shapes, and vapor vents you may encounter seem more at home on Mars. You can even discover a few unblemished lava caves away from the commercial versions that require paid entry.
To top it off, you get a clear view, with the distant lights of the capital having no effect on your chances of seeing the Northern Lights. Some of the best displays I’ve seen were in this area.
Don’t be fooled by similar names. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has its own unique characteristics. Namely, mountains marked by glaciers, shattered cliffs, and black sand beaches for daytime fun.
My thought on this is to pick a location as close to the shore as possible. Then the dizzying walks along the sea cliffs with cracks and holes dotted around the path are right on your doorstep. Watching the turbulent waves crash against the rocks from the comfort of your own hotel room is also very therapeutic.
Arnarstapi, in the southwest of the peninsula, is a particularly interesting place because it has black sand beaches, lava fields covered with moss, sea cliffs with basalt columns and the famous Snæfellsjökull volcano. This area is the backdrop for Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Center of the Earth. You will understand why when you familiarize yourself with the area.
Even before the quarantine rules were in place, many tourists and tour operators would venture to this less explored part of the country for 2-3 nights in search of the Northern Lights.
South coast of Iceland
This “zone” is a little more difficult to define because it essentially covers a coastline of 300 km. Some sections are dotted with glaciers and ice caps, others with active volcanoes, while other sections are best known for their black sand and icebergs. One thing is certain, the south coast has its choice of isolated areas.
Two places that might appeal a little more than others is the small town of Hveragerði. This town sits atop one of the most geothermally active areas in the country and is home to the famous Reykjadalur Hot River and many other hot pools.
On a cold day, natural vapor can be seen coming from the manhole covers on the street as well as in the mountains around it. I’ll tell you for free, watching the Northern Lights in your own private hot pool with locally brewed Icelandic beer is hard to beat.
Another place I would potentially suggest is near the famous Skógafoss waterfall.
If you’re a Game of Thrones, Vikings, or more recently a Eurovision fan, this 200-foot waterfall will be pretty familiar to you. That said, 5 days is a very long time to watch a waterfall nearby, however beautiful it is. However, what you might not know is that this waterfall marks the start of the famous upland trail, Laugavegur. Within walking distance of the 300 or so steps to pass over Skógafoss, you are greeted by another waterfall, another, another and another. You understand my point. The view from this higher vantage point is also amazing, with the active volcano Eyjafjallajökull being the backdrop for many of your walks. A little further down there are other hidden waterfalls like Kvernufoss, behind which you can even walk.
To top it off, seeing the Northern Lights dancing over one of these waterfalls is quite spectacular.
Here. If you are planning to come to Iceland while this temporary restriction is in place, I hope you will agree that you will not be bored. Oh, and Iceland has 97% coverage for cellular and internet service, so Netflix will always be available in between.
A few places that I didn’t mention above are also good alternatives, but with a few caveats. The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the southeast is an incredible place to hunt for the Northern Lights. With rattling icebergs in the foreground and rhythmic green ribbons floating in the background. It’s a bit far to travel on the first day (about 6 hours in good weather).
Húsafell in West Iceland with the famous ‘Húsafell stone’ strongman is a picturesque farming area with some beautiful hikes to keep you busy. I didn’t include this as there are many activities in the area that require you to be out of quarantine, such as horseback riding and snowmobiling. And finally, the Golden Circle, just 45 minutes from Reykjavik, is arguably the most popular place in Iceland with its erupting geysers, thundering waterfalls and shattered tectonic plates. The reason this is not included is that these places can be crowded with tourists and therefore it would be difficult to maintain social distancing. You will only have to see these “ notable mentions ” once you are out of quarantine. Not a bad compromise.
Ryan Connolly is the co-founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specializes in private tours, taking you to some of Iceland’s hidden gems with a passionate and experienced guide.
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