With Iceland’s popularity at an all-time high, finding a luxury travel company in the country can sometimes be a challenge. Luckily, Frontiers has a well-established relationship with Private Travel Iceland, the premiere luxury travel company in the country. I was fortunate to spend a fantastic week with PTI exploring the country alongside my colleague Leigh and three other advisors from around the United States. We had the opportunity to see most of the main attractions that bring people to Iceland, including the Golden Circle, South Shore, Thorsmork, and of course the city of Reykjavik.
Our guide for the week was Jon, a founding owner of PTI and general expert of Icelandic and Viking culture. He was extremely knowledgeable of the country and its lore, and had stories to tell at each stop. As a lover of the supernatural folklore of different cultures, I was delighted to hear his stories of trolls, elves (called “hidden people” in Iceland), and the superstitions of the Viking people. Jon could answer any of our questions without hesitation and in great detail, which was impressive to me. On top of his stories, Jon knew the best places to stop and take a photo or see something unique as we drove from our base in Reykjavik to all of these wonderful sights along the countryside.
I quickly noticed that it is difficult to take a bad picture in Iceland. Everywhere we went there was something awe-inspiring to see from enormous rock formations to ancient lava fields to waterfalls. When traveling with PTI, sharing my most prized images on social media and my family was a breeze. All of their luxury SUVs come equipped with a Wi-Fi connection, American standard outlets and USB ports at every seat. A welcomed feature was the heated seats, which I think should be legally mandated in every Icelandic car.
The most wonderful thing about traveling with Jon was that even after our touring days were complete, he still joined us for dinner every night. This allowed us to ask more questions and have a personal connection with our guide, which was a really special and unique experience. We had the chance to have a dinner with many of the guides and staff from PTI. It was apparent that each one of the members of the team will go above and beyond for each and every client. The team holds close connections with popular tourist destinations around the country and is obviously well-respected throughout Iceland. This was clear because Jon was greeted with great admiration at every stop along the way. Maintaining these close relations ensures that Frontiers clients receive the absolute best touring experience Iceland has to offer, even if it’s just an airport transfer.
Some of Private Travel Iceland’s most popular experiences include: the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle, South Shore, glacier tours, the Westman Islands, and Thorsmork. While each of the excursions blew me away, the Thorsmork Valley SuperJeep tour was by far my favorite. The morning of the tour, we departed Hotel Ranga in our SuperJeep vehicle. Tours through Thorsmork can only be taken by SuperJeep, so if you are planning a self-drive trip through Iceland, I highly recommend saving one day to do the guided tour. The drive from Hotel Ranga takes about one hour, but we stopped along the way to visit a small museum underneath the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier and Volcano, famous for the massive eruption in 2010. The museum showed a short documentary about the eruption and offered a small display of how closely linked Iceland is to volcanic activity.
We continued on into Thorsmork Valley, traveling in our SuperJeep over streams and lava fields, making a stop at a glacial tongue of the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier. As our group left the vehicle and walked towards the natural formation, we were all awestruck and unable to put into words how enormous and breathtaking the views were in the valley. The black volcanic rock and ash seemed to go on forever, with boulders the size of cars scattered throughout. Another group arrived and crossed the river, and watching them reconfirmed the enormity of the area. We had to be torn away from this valley by Jon, who promised that the best was still to come.
Continuing through the sprawl of volcanic rock and glacial streams, we came to a lush canyon with a riverbed leading off to unknown sights. The group excitedly gathered our camera gear and headed off into the canyon on a short hike. It is difficult to describe the enormous size of this canyon as we walked through, birds of prey circling above but still lower than the top of the cliffs. Crossing streams and riverbeds, we came to a large fissure in the canyon walls. The excitement was palpable as Jon said we were to go into the crack and that we would be greatly rewarded at the end. This required some climbing and teamwork, but after a five minute easy climb over some large boulders, we reached a hidden waterfall that was absolutely spectacular. The forces of nature in Iceland are difficult to describe, mysterious and otherworldly everywhere we went.
Continuing on through the valley, we stopped at a backpacker’s rest area for a boxed lunch provided by PTI followed by another short hike. Along the way, we learned about the legends of Iceland’s “hidden people” who are said to bring both good and bad luck to those deserving. Something like 60% of Icelanders believe in the hidden people and 85% of the population won’t deny their existence. The hidden people are said to live in giant rocks, and if a human sees one entering its home, a door will be painted on the rock to alert people not to move it. This rule is taken so seriously that roads are planned around the rocks and millions of government Krona is spent diverting the roads. According to an article in The Atlantic, “If a road is completely necessary, the elves will generally move out of the way, but if it is deemed superfluous…very bad things might happen.”
After the Thorsmork tour was over, we returned to the famed Hotel Ranga. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the heavenly dinners at the hotel. I delighted in reindeer carpaccio with parmesan followed by salmon with herb butter over mashed potatoes, with a chocolate mousse dessert. As someone who takes eating very seriously, I can honestly say that this meal was the best three course meal I’ve ever had. Perhaps it was the combination of the fresh and locally sourced ingredients that is second nature to Icelanders, the scenery, and the companionship of Jon, Leigh, and the others that joined us on our trip. I cannot wait to return to Iceland in the future!