It’s funny how some opportunities present themselves in your life. On December 14th, 2015 a friend shared a post to my Facebook timeline and I thought this would be the most epic thing to do someday. It was about the unreal concept of swimming in arctic waters and being able to touch two continents (North America & Eurasia) at the same time. Thanks to an invite from American Express and Marriott Bonvoy that “someday” came and we got to do just that and so much more
We had just returned from our epic Maldives Experience when I got an email from American Express inviting us to be part of a select group of members to promote the new American Express Marriott Bonvoy card. This was supposed to be the first of what was planned to be several member exclusive trips. COVID killed the concept, but we’re hoping it comes back.
This was a 4-day curated adventure filled with everything Iceland has to offer – food, glaciers, Northern Lights, snowmobiling on glaciers, icy waterfalls, and epic landscapes as far as the eye can see.
I’m in awe of how the law of attraction works and what can happen when you stop chasing things and start living a life of experiences. Read on to hear about our Iceland experience.
Coming from the west coast of the US we flew from California to Dallas, then Dallas to Reykjavik. It was a longer route, but worked for our schedule. Total travel time was about 13 hours. The shorter option is flying north to Seattle then direct to Reykjavik. We flew American Airlines in First Class. We flew a relatively new 737-800 for our first leg, then moved to a dated 757 for the DFW to KEF. Food and service was typical American Airlines – a solid “Fine”.
NOTE: American has since discontinued it’s DFW-KEF route due to COVID, but may restart by the time you read this. Several airlines have direct to KEF flights from Chicago, Newark, Seattle and more. Always check out Google Flights for the best routes.
The Blue Lagoon
We landed in the morning after about 13 hours of travel into an otherworldly land. Our American Express / Bonvoy adventure didn’t start until tomorrow so we thought we should head to the iconic Blue Lagoon. This was a perfect choice to relax and reset after a long flight. We had a mix-up at the airport with the car that was supposed to pick us up. After getting in touch with the American Express team coordinating this event we hopped on the bus to the Blue Lagoon and our driver would meet us there later in the day. The bus is easy to grab from the airport and runs on a regular schedule to the Blue Lagoon and into Reykjavik. I would highly recommend this if you’re on a budget or don’t want to deal with coordinating a car from the airport.
The Blue Lagoon is a man-made natural wonder heated by the earth. Iceland is powered by hydrodynamic and geothermal. It’s history dates back to 1976 and is formed next to a geothermal power plant. The lagoon was created by the excess water from the power plant, that is drilling for steam and hot water. The runoff is filtered straight into the Blue Lagoon, which is what heats the water.
Upon arrival, you check in and get your locker assignment. Head up to the lockers, change into your suit then get a shower. You must shower before entering the lagoon and there are monitors making sure you do. After showering you walk out the back of the welcome center to a stunning scene both visually and physically. We slipped into the warm water and quickly made our way to the bar where we enjoyed a cocktail. With cocktail in hand, we walked around in the hot springs heated water. If you head to the back area past the bridge, you’ll find it much quieter. Everyone tends to stay up front where the bar and mud masks are, but if you want to relax, the back is where to go. We skipped the mud masks but laughed at a few of the poorly applied ones.
When our time was up, we cleaned up and met our driver for the 1.5-hour drive to our hotel. Iceland is a very spread-out country, but half its population lives in and around the capital of Reykjavik. The drive was filled with awe inspiring natural beauty and millennia of volcanic activity.
Ion Adventure Hotel
Our host hotel was the Ion Adventure Hotel. This is a stunning and isolated property located in Nesjavellir. If you want to explore nature or just be a peace this is the place for you. If you want to be close to all the main spots, stay in Reykjavik. The hotel is stunning, propped up on beams as it juts out of the hillside. The large glass area you see in the photos are the bar area. Yes, we spent a little time there.
The rooms are nice European design. They are small by American standards and they are a little compact with your luggage in the room. The bathrooms are super cool looking with a walk-in shower. The design over function won out here. The mirror is a cool looking 8” wide vertical ribbon that is really tough to use. There’s also no counter space to hold simple items as you’re getting ready. You’re there for the adventure, not the room right?
After checking in we joined our fellow guests invited on the trip and received our Oros Clothing. This a new luxury brand and one of the sponsors of this trip along with @MarriottBonvoy and @AmericanExpress. Great stuff, that you have to check out. The c o-founder of the company, Michael Markesbery joined us on the trip and we got to know each other over the next few days. If want to read a cool story, check out more about the company – https://www.orosapparel.com/pages/about
During cocktails, sponsored by Helix7 Vodka a rather large man sat down with us to chat. Turns out he’s The Mountain from Game of Thrones (at the time we’d never watched the show – we totally binged it after returning). Super nice guy and I’ve never felt so small in a photo. We talked fitness and business as well as discussed some of his next plans in life. What a cool, and unplanned connection and conversation. At dinner we were treated to an Icelandic feast.
Iceland Northern Lights
After dinner we were picked up to go chase the Northern Lights. We found them in short order with the help of our professional photographer. They were not super strong, but still it was a once in a lifetime view. Definitely want to go back to see them in their full glory.
Glacial Snowmobiling & Waterfalls
The first planned day of our Iceland Adventure was a very long day. We started at 7am and didn’t finish until 11pm. We were greeted at the start of the day with our ride – the coolest Mercedes Sprinter van you’ve ever seen, tundra style. A nearly 3-hour ride including about an hour of intense 4 wheeling brought us to the Gulfoss glacier for some snowmobiling. It was a very cool experience, but having snowmobiled in deep powder in Tahoe for so many years it was no comparison. It was still bucket worthy being able to snowmobile across an Icelandic glacier.
From there we four wheeled back out to see the Gulfoss falls which were amazing and were even greeted with a rainbow. Then it was on to Geysir to see the natural geyser. So very cool to watch it spout into the air. The cooler part was the field of steam as the creek of warm water ran down the hillside. It was a surreal site to take in.
Then it was on to the Thingvellir park where the European and North American continents touch. The view at sunset made this a site to see. We finished the night with another gourmet dinner by the amazing team here at Ion Adventure Hotel with this small group of 30 people invited on this journey. The conversations and connections made so far in such a small time are what this experience is all about.
Touring Southern Iceland
The next day of our Iceland Adventure was our best day yet. We started by heading to the South Coast of Iceland which is a place everyone must see at some point in their life.
Our first stop was the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. The waterfall drops 60 m and is part of the Seljalands River that has its origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. This is a waterfall you’ve likely seen if you’ve ever seen anything about Iceland. It’s a short walk from the parking lot up to the falls. Arriving at the falls you can feel the power and now you have a choice – walk to the right, up the hilly path to view the falls from above, walk to the left across the bridge and get a stunning, yet dry view or walk straight ahead and see the falls from behind. Yep, we chose to walk behind the falls, and this is the path you should take. Bring a poncho or raincoat. You won’t get super wet, but you will get wet. Special thank you to the guys from Oros Clothing for the jacket that kept us all very dry as we walked behind the waterfall.
Iceland's Famous Black Sand Beach
We dried off and headed south to take in the sumptuous views of the Black Sand Beach at Reynisfjara. This is where a millennium of volcanic activity has ground rock to a fine deep black sand by the slow motion of glaciers. Such a cool view and the sand is so clean. I picked up a handful and it was so soft and leaves nothing behind on your hands. The basalt rock formations on the left edge of the beach have such a unique shape, that they were used for a few episodes of Game of Thrones!
All this exploring made us hungry and our guides timed this perfectly with a traditional Icelandic lunch at Sudur Vik just a few minutes’ drive from Reynisfjara. Fresh lamb and rock cod had us fueled up for what was coming next.
Glacier Climbing in Iceland
We arrived at Solheimajokull Glacier to done helmets and ice crampons. Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of the larger Mýrdalsjökull ice cap which lies atop the Katla caldera. It sits near the town of Vík í Mýrdal, a popular tourist location about 180km southeast of Reykjavik. The glacier is melting rapidly owing to warmer annual temperatures due to climate change. We discussed this with our guides and we hiked in to the glacier from the road. Just in the past decade the start of this popular tourist climb has moved from a few hundred yard hike to the glacier to over a mile.
Once at the glacier we started up a narrow path in the ice winding our way up the glacier face. This is a relatively easy hike but there are a few strenuous sections that you need to be prepared for. Once up on top we crossed several large fissures where the crystal clear water flowed through. Don’t get too close because falling in can quickly turn fatal, but the view is something to pause and take in. On the way back down several icepicks were employed to chip off some glacier ice to be used later in the day. Read on to find out how we used it.
Climbing this glacier was such a unique experience and we did it with such an amazing group of people that were invited on this trip. The views were stunning, and the power of mother nature left us humbled. Our Oros Clothing jackets were far too warm for the unseasonably warm weather (high 30’s), but they were too cool for anyone to take off. This is the next big brand in winter wear. You have to check it out.
With all this adventure, the day still wasn’t over as we headed back north. We stopped at the Skogarfoss Falls as the sun was starting to set. is a waterfall on the Skógá River in the south of Iceland at the cliff marking the former coastline. After the coastline had receded (it is now at a distance of about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Skógar), the former sea cliffs remained, parallel to the coast over hundreds of kilometers, creating together with some mountains a clear border between the coastal lowlands and the Highlands of Iceland. The shear volume of crystal clear water that flows through this country is mind blowing.
Wrapping Up our Tour of Southern Iceland
We finished the night over more cocktails and inspiring conversations about travel, business, family and so much more far too late into the evening. We all sat around and talked like old friends. It was clear no one wanted to go to bed, because going to bed, meant that it was over. Due to the power of social media, we’ve been lucky enough to keep up on each other’s lives since the trip. We all look forward to doing another trip together in the future.
It’s amazing how traveling creates instant friendships. You bond over a common moment in time and a unified passion to see the world. This creates friendships you can’t replicate in normal life. Moments like these are why we are so passionate about traveling and experiencing life while we have it.
Swimming The Silfra Fissure
An adventure must always have an end to be appreciated. Today we did the most epic of things to wrap up our Iceland Adventure – we swam the Silfra Fissure. The Silfra Fissure is where the North American and Eurasian Tectonic plates are parting. Let me back up a little first. About 4 years, almost to the day, a good friend sent me an epic video on Facebook of a guy scuba diving this incredible place. I commented that it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and I have to do that someday. While I meant that, I never really planned for it nor thought more about. Fast forward 4-years and here we are.
We had a car pick us up from our hotel to make the hour drive to the location (this is the most expensive way to do this. See the tips below so you don’t make the mistake we did). It was a cool rainy day. Standing in the parking lot, I thought Julie might actually kill me. With a dry suit, you wear long underwear which stays dry (hence dry suite). The only hard part is stripping down while it’s cold and rainy then waiting for the guides to zip you up in your suit so you can warm up again. She was freezing during this phase. This almost became a disaster, but she was a rockstar and powered through.
Donning our dry suits, we gathered with our group and made the 5-minute walk down to the water entrance. The water entrance is a nice metal structure that allows to walk into the water, get your fins on then slide into the water. After a brief gear check by our guide, we slide into the icy, crystal clear water. While it was cold at about 34 degrees it was really comfortable once your hands and face went numb. Bonus was Julie didn’t die (nor did she kill me). If you’ve never swam in a dry suit, it’s definitely different. You can’t “swim” in them, you have to do this awkward “frog” swim. It takes a few minutes to figure it out, then it’s easy. We were able to enjoy the crystal-clear glacial water for about a 45-minute swim and touch both continents at the same time. The view was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They have a similar platform at the other end that makes getting out easy. Once you’re out, it’s a short walk back to parking lot staging area. Slide out of your dry suit, put on your warm clothes and you’re done. While we spent way more than planned on having a private driver, it was well worth it in the end because he was right there with a warm car waiting for us as soon as we were changed. The surreal landscape during the hour long drive back to the hotel certainly allowed for some quiet reflection on the epicness of this whole experience. Getting to share it with my wife and our new friends made it that much more special.
We departed our island paradise on a mid-morning float plane back to Male. Our butler, Razan, came to get us and see us off. Taxing out to take off, the resort staff waved goodbye and we slipped through the water and it began to fall away from us as we heading into the sky. Back at Male we had a little downtime and relaxed in the Business Class lounge since our flight to Singapore didn’t depart until 10pm. If you’ve experienced business class lounges in other major airports, this one won’t blow you away. This space is large and offers plenty of mediocre food. There’s no alcohol because you’re back on the main island. This is not a place to try to come early if you don’t have to. Given the flight schedule of the float planes and the flight schedule of west bound flights, you’ll likely have plenty of time to spend here though.
We thought we’d break up our return flight and flew from Singapore to LAX via Tokyo. Bad decision. Given Singapore’s impeccable service it would have been nicer to stay on the really long direct flight rather than break it up into two long flights. Lesson learned.
Traveling halfway around the world was exhausting. We spent 49 hours in the air over 8 flights, and 31 hours of layovers and covered 22,532 miles there and back. Fun fact, the Earth’s circumference is 26,000 miles!
It was worth every minute to spend 10-days celebrating our 20th anniversary in the most stunning place in the world. The water, the people, the Bubble, it was all just too much to put into words. We enjoyed an experience that will be extremely tough to top. Thanks for all your warm wishes during this trip. We hope it inspired you to take on your own adventure.
Now it’s back to the real world, work, school and figuring out where our next adventure will take us.