From Iceland — The Way To The Great Valley Of Landmannalaugar

The Way To The Great Valley Of Landmannalaugar

Published August 9, 2010

Rex Beckett
Photo by
Julie Vol

Landmannalaugar is one of the many beautiful places in Iceland that highly spoken of and kind of tricky to access. The highly geothermically active area is located just east of Mt. Hekla in the Fjallabak nature reserve, up in the Icelandic highlands. This makes it accessible pretty much only by 4×4 vehicles because the roads going up there are ROUGH. You can attempt to get there in a compact vehicle if you have no regard for the road laws (F-roads indicate 4×4 only) or you don’t care about your car (don’t take a rental though, they will fine you), but it is not easy driving.

Our day tour to Landmannalaugar provided by Reykjavík Excursions started bright and early in Reykjavík and headed towards the Þjórsádalur valley, also known as the Saga Valley for the location figuring several times in the Settlement Sagas and Icelanders Sagas.

Our tour guide on the bus was extremely chatty as soon as the wheels started turning and kept up an incredible stamina for espousing various facts and extremely random tidbits about Iceland for the next several hours. Despite the incessant talking over the bus intercom, the drive through the valley was really conducive for taking a really deep nap.

The Destruction Of Iceland’s Nature Tour

The description of the day tour on the website said that we would be stopping at a reconstructed medieval farm house, but I was sort of stunned and very confused to find out this was not the case. Instead, we were just told the story of Gaukur á stöng, a Viking who was bludgeoned to death with an axe and had a legendary bar in Reykjavík named after him (now the site of Sódóma, Bakkus and Venue). We also quickly stopped at Hjálparfoss, a cute little waterfall next to the not-so-cute Búrfell power station.

The next couple of hours of the trip somehow ended up mostly pointing out the various power stations and dams that have been built in the region in order to harness the massive hydroelectric potential of the region. While these places were being drawn to the tour group’s attention as points of pride and achievement, I could just feel my stomach churning thinking of all the land that was flooded and destroyed in order to build these dams. By the fourth one our guide pointed out, I decided this tour might as well have been called Destruction of Iceland’s Nature Tour.

A different world

We finally hit the Fjallabak nature reserve and, damn, it is really nice! It’s totally unspoiled and really feels as though you are transported into an entirely different world. The harsh, dirt road made it a bit difficult on the head and stomach, so anti-nauseants are a must if one is prone to motion sickness, but it’s still a fun drive. The first quick stop was at one of the smaller crater lakes of the area, an intensely cold blue pool plunged deep down in a ring of sharp, iron-coloured hills. We teetered on the tiny spit of land overlooking it until the cold wind became too much for us and headed off to our main destination.

As we descended the final stretch towards Landmannalaugar, the hills in the distance seemed to rise through the clouds out of nowhere and never end. The closer we got, the brighter the sun began to shine and the colours in the hills began to burst out like a double-rainbow. We forded two small rivers and were finally at our main attraction. We disembarked into the campsite and walked around, bemused by its resemblance to a California desert hippie community. Our guide led us through the main area and pointed out the swimming area in the natural hot-stream and the beginning of the Laugavegur hiking trail that leads from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk (about a four day hike).

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One final nap

Surprisingly, of the twenty or so people in the group, a grand total of three brought their swim gear. So the three of us set off to the hot-stream and hopped into the beautiful, natural bathtub surrounded by a field full of Arctic cottongrass and sheep peacefully grazing nearby. Lying down in the hot-stream is instant relaxation and detoxification. The stream ranges temperatures as you move through it, comfortably warm around the wooden stairs we climbed in on, much hotter upstream, and no luck finding a cool patch.

We easily stayed in for about an hour, but could have stayed longer, had time permitted—the tour only stopped here for two very brief hours. Too bad, because it would have also been nice to do some walking around before heading back to the bus, but alas.

So we got back on our coach for the bumpy ride out of Fjallabak that conjured up quotes from The Land Before Time to mind; heading West (follow the bright circle…), past the volcanic rock formations nicknamed ‘Jurassic Park’ (the rock that looks like a long-neck…) and past the beautiful Mt. Hekla (the mountains that burn). I curled up for one final-nostalgia induced nap for the homestretch of the trip with a bouquet of Arctic cottongrass in my hand. And even our tour guide was quiet.

Tour provided by Reykjavík Excursions. Booking tel.: +354 580 5400 or

Due to a devastating server crash, we lost all the original images that appeared with this article in its original, printed form. If you find the replacement images disappointing, feel free to browse our .pdf arcives and search for the originals. 

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