Visit the hot spring capital of the world, a small town in Iceland called Hveragerði. Never in my life had I thought I would be going to Iceland. Before I knew it, though, I found my 17 year old self on an airplane heading there with my parents after I graduated high school. In July 2011, we landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, at midnight- and the sun was shining, high in the sky. I was so confused at first, I thought I had time warped 12 hours into the future. It’s called the midnight sun, and happens in places north of the Arctic Circle during the summertime.
We rented a car, and were off on the foreign roads, with street names I could not pronounce flashing past me. The sun cast an eerily strange, dim light on the city of Reykjavik, and I couldn’t help but feel like I had entered the Twilight Zone. Now I was just waiting for Rod Sterling to make his appearance.
A hike to Reykjadalur geothermal valley
Of course, one of the first things we wanted to experience was the hot springs. They were advertised everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Pamphlets, fliers, posters, “Come on our tour and you can swim in the hot springs!” Despite how adventurous they looked, my parents and I decided to hike on our own, in a geothermal valley, next to a town called Hveragerði. Hveragerði is southeast of Reykjavik, about a 40 minute drive. The Reykjadalur geothermal valley is also known as “Smoke Valley,” because of the hot springs and a heated river that runs right through it.
We parked the car and headed towards a path leading into the valley. Everything was either green, brown, or gray, and it was absolutely beautiful. The clouds were heavy with rain and hung low over the mountains, taunting us with the possibility it would just suddenly open up.
We hiked upwards, silently, on a dirt path that winded this way and that through the valley. It was so quiet, almost a quiet I had never experienced before. Our heavy breathing was meditative, and the only thing that broke the silence as we went deeper into the valley. There were goats running around as well, chasing each other, the only sign that any other living thing existed here.
The path was steep at some points, but otherwise, it was mostly flat, and all dirt. As we hiked further inwards, we started to see the geothermal pools. Steam rose off of the hot pools, which bubbled angrily. You could hear them from a few hundred feet away, as if they were warning you to not fall into them. They were scattered sporadically throughout the valley, with clouds of thick steam rising out of them and towards the sky.
Despite the advertisements for swimming in the actual hot springs, you sadly, cannot- it’s a scorching hot pit of water; your skin would bubble and you would melt! (Ouch). Thankfully, though, you can experience something close enough to the geothermal hot springs. You can swim in the heated stream that runs through the valley. The cool mountain water mixes with the boiling hot springs and creates a very warm, very relaxing jacuzzi like water temperature. We found the stream meandering between the hot springs.
My parents and I wore our bathing suits under our clothes (which had originally been in preparation for the hot springs), ripped them off, and jumped right into the stream. It was freezing without my Northface, or any clothes for that matter, but the stream was such a perfect temperature that in seconds it didn’t matter. For those of you who wish to do the same, plan ahead- and bring towels, and extra layers- it was even harder getting out!
My muscles felt loose and warm after the initial freezing shock. We turned around and started to head back to town. However, halfway back to the car, it happened- it started torrential down pouring! And I mean it DOWNPOURED. My jeans were soaked through to my legs, and the three of us sprinted down the mud hill towards the car. The town of Hveragerði looked beautiful in the rain; with a cloudy hue covering it all. So, definitely bring an umbrella, especially if it looks like it’s going to rain.