Situated in the North Atlantic ocean, Iceland is bursting with natural wonders and few people - its the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Interestingly, the name ‘Iceland’ is a bit of a misnomer - with only about 10% of it covered by glaciers while the rest has a fairly mild climate and plenty of hot springs and thermal pools. As such 'The Land of Fire & Ice' is a more apt name, embracing Iceland's active volcanoes, geothermal hot spots, spouting geysers, glistening glaciers and brooding icecaps.
Iceland is also known for the amazing northern lights during the winter months and beautiful summer midnight sun. Wildlife lovers can enjoy summer puffin watching and year round whale watching. Seek out puffins from May to August when they're nesting in places like Dyrholaey and Latrabjarg, as well as other seabirds swarming around sea cliffs such as razorbills, gannets, kittiwakes, fulmars, Arctic terns and guillemots. Lake Myvatn is home to a wealth of birdlife; red throated diver and ducks such as the harlequin and Barrow's goldeneye.
As for cetaceans, Iceland is a hotspot with over 20 species from harbour porpoise and white-beaked dolphin to orca, minke, fin, sperm, humpback and blue whales. West Iceland is one of the best places to see killer whales feeding on winter shoals of herring (Feb-Mar) - you can get some impressive sightings if you're lucky, from both sea and land! Peak season for seeing whales is April to September when boat cruises depart from Husavik, Olafsvik and Reykjavik, amongst others, in search of dolphins and whales.
Snæfellsjokull National Park is home to a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit, while its coastal region contains a variety of birdlife, especially during the breeding season, and is an excellent spot for whale watching - visitors might see the white-beaked dolphin, humpback whale and seals. Much of the of the area is a lava field covered in moss which supports over 130 species of plants.
Vatnajökull National Park, the largest national park in Europe, covers approximately 14% of Iceland and encompasses Iceland's highest mountain (Hvannadalshnúkur), largest glacier (Vatnajökull), and Europe's most powerful waterfall (Dettifoss). In addition, the park also boasts striking scenery ranging from glaciers and rivers to volcanoes and canyons. Visitors can expect to spot many species of birds, as well as Arctic foxes and reindeer. Activities include hiking the high peaks, walking trips and volcano safaris.
Situated in the south, Thingvellir National Park is Iceland's UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated in a rift valley where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge - there are very few places on earth where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge can be seen on land. In Thingvallavatn Lake, the largest natural lake in Iceland, the water is crystal clear with visibility ranging from 90-120 meters at times, perfect for snorkelling and diving.