From Iceland — Mývatn


Published April 8, 2005

It is spring, the sun is out, and city dwellers are losing their minds with the return of serotonin—now is the time to get out of Reykjavík. If you have any money and want to see Iceland and/or Mars, make the 450 km trek to Mývatn.
A town of 400, Mývatn receives 200,000 visitors in three short summer months. Because of this, it has the means to accommodate the masses, with three all-season hotels, hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails, and its attractions like Krafla, Hverfjall and Dimmuborgir, all magnificent volcanic creations, don’t suffer the crowds as badly as say coral reefs, perhaps the only other natural wonders that challenge them for aesthetic beauty.
But spring and fall are the best possible times to make the journey. For starters, the three hotels I mentioned are all 40% off up until mid-June, and after September 1st. For example, I drove to Mývatn, and chose the most attractive and central hotel, Hótel Reykjahlíð, and could easily afford the room. In July, this would have been impossible as a)every room is booked in advance, and b)they don’t come cheaper than 15,000 ISK in the summer months.
Just as spring is the time to go to Mývatn, a hotel is the way to go when you’re there. The reason: Mývatn requires a guide to be done right, and, if you’re mobile or in good shape, Mývatn offers the kind of hiking that requires a good bed at the end of the night.
If you make the trip, you have five destinations that are flat out National Geographic-style amazing: Dimmuborgir, Hverfjall, Krafla, Hverir and Jarðbaðsholar. Dimmuborgir (dark citadels) is a stunning collection of lava formations that looks like that primeval city that you probably either had nightmares about, or daydreamed about while playing Dungeons & Dragons. Hverfjall, a massive crater, offers an astounding perspective of the sheer power of volcanoes—and, yes, hiking it, overlooking the dark volcanic rock that ends a few kilometres off, you do feel like Frodo of Lord of the Rings. Krafla looks like an Hieronymus Bosch painting. And Hverir is a mass of hot springs that look like Salvador Dali’s favourite picnic destination. Every one of these locations has at least one hour of hiking trails around them, and, planned correctly, you can do some solid hiking from one destination to the next, going 20 or 30 good kilometres a day.
I have done these sites often, and they never fail to impress me. What did surprise me on my recent visit was how peaceful Lake Mývatn itself was. On previous trips, I had camped or used guesthouses. The Mývatn area is a preserve, so you can only camp in restricted areas, and guesthouses only have so much room to grow. On this visit, then, a hotel on the lake provided me with almost as much of an escape as my daily hikes.
Were there no wonders of nature, the lake here would be an attraction, I realized, as my friend and I took a couple drinks with Pétur Gíslason, owner and manager of Hotel Reykjahlíð. The conversation was continually interrupted with elongated pauses, as we watched the local ducks take off, or just couldn’t help staring at the shades of purple reflecting off the water.
I hadn’t thought myself a beautiful sunset type of person… nor had I thought myself someone who could be wowed by Northern Lights—but the spectacular light show we got our first night in Mývatn turned me into a babbling sky-gazer.
Hótel Reykjahlíð. Reykjahlíð II,
660 Mývatn Ph# 464-4142

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