Iceland. Beautiful Iceland. With sub-zero average temperatures in winter and toasty 10-13 degree average temperatures in summer, it is the perfect getaway for glacier hiking, iceberg admiring, snowmobiling and swimming. Yes, don’t forget your bikini, because no trip to Iceland is complete without going for a dip.
As a country, Iceland has some eccentric modern traditions and beliefs, originating from the viking ages, (no, I’m not referring to the raping and pillaging). One of my favourites quirks of the country is the strong belief in elves and trolls, which sometimes results in postponing construction projects in native habitats. But my number one favourite tradition from the vikings has to be bathing. Yep, Icelandic people like to bath. They are a very clean community.
One of the perks of colonising a land which could be drowned in lava at any moment from one of the many active volcanos, is the geothermal heated water. The vikings would have had a surprise when they first needed to hydrate, because some of the fresh water can exceed boiling temperatures. This means many things for the sizzling hot nation: cheap geothermal energy, endless hot showers, and natural hot springs to relax in.
I am not much of a hiker. Don’t get me wrong. I love nature, and climbing up hills is the healthiest and most economical way to get high. But I am the kind of girl who trips over her own feet when walking on flat, even surfaces. When you are living in a place like Iceland, where even a walk to the supermarket has a National Geographic-worthy view, it would be silly not to put your hiking boots on. Especially when you get to take them off along the way to have a dip in Hveragerði’s hot river.
During one of the more ‘summery’ days this year I dedicated the day to great heights and warm water. I joined a group hike to Hveragerði, and the three of us walked through elf territory and mud bogs in hot pursuit of hot water.
We arrived at the base of the hill, and started our climb. As soon as you make it up the first hill, steam plumes can be seen in the distance, the landscape is spectacular. Breathtaking mountains roll endlessly into the distance, while magnificent waterfalls plummet down the harsh edges of the summits.
We knew to follow the yellow markers in the ground, and we were doing quite well… Until the path disappeared. In a typically Icelandic way, it had been raining that morning. Causing a massive mud bog obscuring the meters between two yellow markers. We sank like stones. Naive, tourist stones, who failed to notice the bridge 3-metres to our left…
With the prospect of bathing in hot water only a short walk away, we were able to stay positive. We hiked slowly, enjoying the breathtaking scenery as we approached the steaming hot land. At some points, the steam became so thick that I could not even locate my feet. I was embraced in a cloud of rotten-egg smelling, sulphury fumes.
Emerging through the smoke the river appeared, such beautiful clear water streaming through the landscape. A stream of geothermal smoke and naked tourists…
I joined the naked tourists in the river. The temperature of the river varies along the stream. As the water makes it’s way from the geothermal hub at the top of the mountain it gradually cools down, finally merging with a cold water river, where you can sit and enjoy the bizarre sensation of hot and cold water rushing around you.
Eventually we were on the verge of overheating and I had seen enough tourist dangly bits for one day. We made our descent back down the mountain (using the bridge over the bog this time) and collapsed into the car, where we all slept soundly the entire trip back to Reykjavik.
Hveragerði is a spectacular hiking region and only a 45 minute drive from Reykjavik and it only takes about 45-60 minutes to reach the hot spring river. No trip to Iceland is complete without bathing with naked locals and tourists in smelly naturally-hot water.
PS: In Iceland most natural water sources you will come across are fresh water springs, so if your bottle is empty fill it up in the rivers along the way.
PPS: Bring eggs. At the hottest part of the river you can boil them yourself. Bon Appetite.
If you would prefer to reach the Spring with the safety of a guide, many companies, including Arctic Adventures offer guided ‘Hot Spring Hunt’ walking (or horseback) tours.
Price from: €83 per person.
Time of departure:
08:00 – 08:30