South West Iceland or the East & North? Choosing the best region for your group
With so much on offer in Iceland it can be difficult to choose exactly where to go or what to do. With new direct flights from the UK to Egilsstadir in the east of Iceland it is now possible to explore a brand new region, a region which is visited by far fewer tourists, particularly outside the summer months. If you would like to show your students Iceland as it was before mass tourism then you need look no further. The east and north of Iceland also has a number of attractions which could be compared with those in the south west, here is a handy list to highlight some of the differences.
The Blue Lagoon vs The Nature Baths
Whilst the Blue Lagoon remains one of Iceland’s most iconic attractions, it sometimes divides opinion due to being over-crowded and pricy. Iceland has no shortage of outside bathing options though and if you are considering travelling to the north of Iceland, the Nature Baths is a fantastic alternative. The milky blue geothermal waters here are a consistent temperature of 38-40°C set amongst natural surroundings. It is far less crowded and less commercial than the Blue Lagoon and at only £10 per person, it is only a fraction of the price.
Gullfoss vs Dettifoss
Iceland has a countless amount of waterfalls of all different shapes and sizes and it is not easy to make comparisons or to choose ‘favourites’. Gullfoss, located on the Golden Circle route, is perhaps Iceland’s most famous waterfall, visited by over 600,000 people every year. That is a staggering 60% of all visitors who come to Iceland and visit this two-tier, glacier fed waterfall which flows into a rift valley. You won’t find anywhere near that amount of visitors at Dettifoss in the north, but that is not to say it isn’t as equally as impressive. Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall with an average waterflow of 193m³/s which thunders down to the Jokulsargljufur canyon.
Thingvellir vs Myvatn
Wherever you travel in Iceland you will see plenty of evidence of how the forces of nature have defined this spectacular island high up in the Atlantic Ocean. Dramatic and rugged landscapes are littered everywhere but perhaps two of the finest examples, and the most geographically interesting, can be found in the south west and in the east and north respectively. Thingvellir in the south west is a part of the North Atlantic rift system and demonstrates the divergent North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Myvatn on the other hand is a volcanic region in the north of Iceland which is widely considered as one of Iceland’s most remarkable places, both for its diversity of geographical features and for its natural beauty. Clustered on the south shore are pitted moon-like pseudocraters, formed when lava flowed over marshy ground, causing steam explosions.
Kerid vs Hverfjall
Hverfjall and Kerid are two examples of volcanic craters both of which are thought to have been formed by explosive eruptions. Whilst both are very impressive and worthy of a visit if you are in the area, there is one notable difference to the two. Kerid in the south west has fallen victim in recent years to mass tourism. As part of the Golden Circle it is visited by thousands of tourists every year, including most school groups, which has led to the induction of a visitor fee. This is far from the case at Hverfjall, iconic to the northern region and the Myvatn area, and it is extremely unlikely that you will have to share the experience with other groups or large volumes of tourists.
Seljalandsfoss vs Hengifoss
These two tall and slender waterfalls are iconic to their respective regions although Seljalandsfoss on the south coast is perhaps far better known and thus attracts a larger amount of visitors. Here you are able to walk behind the waterfall which presents fantastic photo opportunities and it is also close to other key sites on the south coast such as Skogafoss and the basalt columns of Dyrholaey. If travelling to the east of Iceland though you will not be missing out as Hengifoss is a fantastic alternative and the scenic hike that leads the way there adds to the excitement and the exclusivity of the location. Standing tall at 128m, Hengifoss is Iceland’s third tallest waterfall and shows clear evidence of how it was formed. The pattern of alternating red and brown / black strata was formed as clay become trapped between successive layers of ash and basalt, turning red as the iron content in the clay oxidised by the volcanic material.
Solheimajokull vs Svinafellsjokull
Hiking on a glacier can be a wonderful experience and is an activity that is enjoyed by many school groups. Experienced guides will teach you how to use basic equipment such as crampons and ice axes and lead you on a memorable trip upon the ice. Regardless of if you are visiting the south west or the east, it is possible to add glacier hiking to any itinerary. In the south west you will be taken onto the glacial tongue of Solheimajokull on the Myrdalsjokull ice field where natural ice sculptures, ridges and deep crevasses await your discovery. In the east you will be able to hike on Svinafellsjokull, a glacial outlet of Vatsnajokull, Europe’s second largest glacier and part of the geographer’s wonderland that is Skaftafell National Park, one of Iceland’s primary areas of natural beauty. Although closer to Egilsstadir in the east, Svinafellsjokull can also be reached from the south west if your group is travelling for a longer period. If you would prefer to hike on this glacier, then please let your Travel Specialist know.
Golden Circle vs Diamond Circle
The Golden Circle in Iceland perhaps needs no introduction, a popular tourist route of the iconic sites in the south west including Gullfoss, Thingvellir and Geysir. The Diamond Circle is less known even though it encompasses some of the country’s most spectacular locations. Within this 260km loop of the diamond ring road, there are enough sites to keep a geographer happy for days. The Nature Baths, Dettifoss and Myvatn are all included in the loop but there is plenty more to discover. For example, see, hear and smell the bubbling mud pools of Namaskard; hike amongst the eerie lava formations of Dimmuborgir; visit elegant yet dramatic Godafoss waterfall; witness the gigantic horseshoe-shaped canyon of Asbyri, and much more.
South Coast vs East & North Coasts
The coastlines in Iceland are some of the most impressive in the world. Dyrholaey and the neighbouring black sand beach of Reynisfjara on the south coast are very popular with tourists, many of whom travel on day trips from Reykjavik to marvel at the jointed basalt columns, high cliff tops and the black volcanic sand. The Tjornes Peninsula on Iceland’s northern coast is less known but perhaps as equally as impressive in terms of its geological history. The fossil layers found here were formed at the end of the Tertiary period and locally found fossils include petrified wood, fossilised crystalline, whale and shark bones and lignite. This makes it possible to trace changes in climate, vegetation and marine life from the beginning of the last Ice Age. The dramatic coastlines of the eastern fjords of Iceland are also very impressive, often shadowed by mesmerising mountains and scattered with idyllic fishing villages.
Whilst the south west of Iceland remains a fantastic location for school groups, it is important to remember that there is far more to the country than the sights of the Golden Circle or on the south coast. In the last 10 years, Iceland’s tourism industry has more than doubled and many visitors stick to the mentioned sites due to their familiarity, convenience and locality to Reykjavik. If you would like to get off the beaten track or to see a side of Iceland that is still largely untouched by tourism (particularly in the winter months) then we recommend visiting east and north Iceland for a truly authentic Icelandic experience. This is now an area just as easy to explore thanks to new and direct flights from the UK to Egilsstadir in the east, exclusive to Discover the World.
Glacier Hiking and Lava Tube Caving - What You Should Know
For many, glacier hiking and lava tube caving are integral parts of any school trip to Iceland. These experiences, when operated by trained professionals, provide safe and memorable experiences whilst also providing excellent educational opportunities.
As tourism figures in Iceland continue to increase rapidly, so do the number of adventurous activity suppliers. It is therefore vital to ensure you choose a provider that doesn’t reduce quality and safety standards in order to offer competitively priced trips.
Here are some questions you may wish to consider before choosing an operator:
What is their minimum participant to guide ratio?
There is no national recommendation for participant to guide ratio in Iceland. However, safety advisors say that the ratio should not be above 12:1 for glacier hiking and 14:1 for lava tube caving. Based on this and to ensure safety and overall experience, Discover the World will never exceed these ratios.
What are the qualifications of the guides?
As a minimum, guides for glacier hiking should have undergone specific training with an internationally recognised accreditation. In Iceland the most commonly recognised qualification is from the Association of Icelandic Mountain Guides (AIMG) and many of the guides that we use not only hold this qualification but also exceed this by gaining further qualifications abroad. Some of these guides are amongst the most experienced in Iceland and even work with the AIMG to train other guides, they work exclusively for us on the UK school trip market.
What equipment do they use?
Discover the World Education trips always include a harness, helmet, ice axe and 12 point crampons, which are worn by participants and guides. This gear goes beyond the minimum safety requirements and that of many other operators.
What risk assessments are in place?
Our guides have the knowledge to select the terrain tailored to the group’s needs and are not restricted to that which most other operators follow. In addition, emergency response plans are reviewed after all glacier & caving tours, to ensure group's safety and enjoyment by an emergency response specialist.
We understand that budget remains a primary deciding factor when considering tour operators, for many school groups. However, the above four questions should still be considered if you are planning on taking your students glacier walking or lava tube caving.
When partaking in these activities, the little extra cost involved to use the most qualified guides, the safest equipment and the most stringent health and safety procedures could prove to be priceless as well as giving peace of mind.
New Discover the World Education Brochure
We are delighted to share with you our brand new Discover the World Education brochure which should be landing in your school any day now. We believe that the contents of this brochure will provide you with a taste of what is possible with Discover the World Education – let it inspire you to organise a school trip of a lifetime! If you have not received the brochure in the post by the 26th April, you can request one by emailing email@example.com
Posted on April 24, 2016 in Azores , Bay of Naples , China , Costa Rica , Geography , Geology , Geysers , glaciers , Iceland , Morocco , New Zealand , Norway , Science , Sorrento , Study Trips | Permalink | Comments (0) | E-mail this