As a travel blogger, I’m usually focused on finding the most awe-inspiring sights, the most remote wonders of nature or the most unique experiences in the country I’m travelling in. This is getting ever more difficult during our times of modern globalisation.
However, like many, I have the tendency to thread over every bit of land abroad, but neglecting what my own country has to offer. It sometimes seems as all my holidays start by finding a flight off this faraway island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Iceland is actually a paradise for the outdoorsy types, with endless activities (when weather allows). These thoughts led me to wonder what has been my most unique experience in my home country? What could I personally recommend to my foreign friends?
It didn’t take me long to decide, my all-time favourite experience in Iceland was definitely going river rafting down the East Glacial River in North Iceland.
This powerful glacial river runs through Iceland’s most remote and unspoilt nature and has some class 4+/5 rapids. No wonder it’s consistently rated one of the top rafting rivers in Europe!
There are two rafting companies in Skagafjörður that operate on the river, but after some research me and a few friends booked our tour with Viking Rafting.
The legendary owners of Viking Rafting!
They came highly recommended from friends and rating websites, and if safety is your concern then Viking Rafting is definitely your best choice. They are the only company recognised by the International Rafting Federation and all guides and safety kayakers are certified. The company is owned and operated by the guides themselves who have a tremendous passion for paddling white water and will go the extra mile to offer personalised service and guaranteed low guest-to-guide ratios.
If you like to know more what makes Viking Rafting unique among its competitors, click here.
With butterflies in our stomach we set off on a 4 hour drive from Reykjavik to Skagafjörður (a deep bay up north) where the base is situated (1 hour from Akureyri). The road to Skagafjörður makes for a very scenic ride; you pass fjords and farm fields, ride over mountains and rivers before finally reaching the beautiful bay.
Farm fields and mountains will keep you’re eyes busy on the way
None of us had ever tried rafting before and we didn’t exactly know what to expect. It was a beautiful sunny day in Skagafjörður and the rafting base had this comfy relaxed hostel atmosphere. After choosing a properly sized dry suit, which prevents you from freezing to death (remember its a glacial river!), we hopped on a bus to take us upstream where our full day rafting adventure would begin. We chose the “Whitewater Action” day tour, the most action-packed day trip on the list, but they also offer less extreme, more family oriented options.
Upon arrival we were told that the river was quite powerful today since a lot of snow had melted the last couple of days. Hearing this and seeing the huge river in front of me I could feel the butterflies becoming even more agitated. Our guides, Chris and Anup, both owners of Viking Rafting, made a brief safety speech and synchronised our paddling with some on-land training. This quickly soothed my nerves…I knew I was in good hands.
With duck-taped necks to keep us dry, we felt ready!
Now I’m finally on the rafting boat and soon we are paddling through white water, splashing through one rapid after the other, surrounded by this massive gorge in the middle of nowhere. I have never experienced such a consistent adrenaline rush!
Getting knocked off the boat is almost a guarantee, you never know when it happens, but eventually the river will demonstrate its power. This makes the experience even more thrilling. I was expecting to get wet and cold when falling off board, but I actually remained fairly dry and well insulated throughout the journey, thanks to quality dry suits. There are a few rapids that are more challenging then others and require you to be alert and focused on paddling. The most famous is probably the so-called “Green Room”. I won’t go into much detail on that here but Viking rafting always does a safety check before heading down the more demanding parts.
Safety kayakers with mad skills keep you safe if you get into trouble
Being trapped in a glacier river in the middle of nowhere, you get very surprised when a basket of freshly baked waffles with whipped cream and rhubarb jam are sent down from a nearby farm using a zip line…just brilliant! You also get some hot coco to warm you from the inside. This was definitely one the highlights of the trip; waffles have never tasted as good! Perhaps the revival off my empty sugar stores played a role as well.
About midway down the river, you get a quick brake and those brave enough get a chance to plunge off a terrifying rock straight into the gorge.
Rafting the East Glacial River is not all about action and adrenaline; here you get a chance to witness unspoilt nature at its finest that’s hardly reachable otherwise. The beauty of the gorge is out of this world! The feeling of riding down this mighty river in-between towering cliffs of moss-lined lava rocks is truly magical. It will literally take your breath away!
The gorge is stunning!
As you get closer to the finish line, the river stops being “white” and calms down. This is a good time for some more boat-on-boat splash wars and a chance for the toughest Vikings to get into the freezing water and float down the river.
You don’t have to worry about signing up solo for the tour; usually there are a few other groups that will be joining you down the river and your fellow boat members, who start as strangers become like old friends at the end of the day. The guides are all really outgoing and energetic, and love to ignite splash-wars between the boats to ease the mood.
When you’re off the boat and back on land, after 3 heart-pumping hours of struggling white water, you really feel like you have achieved something. You feel incredibly proud and content after your hard day’s work. There is nothing like it!
One happy group after a hard day’s work!
Still not convinced? check out Viking Rafting’s promo video:
[videos file=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W44Ubga6up0″ width=”700″ height=”466″][/videos]
Other activities in Skagafjörður
Aside from rafting there are a range of other activities to enjoy in Skagafjörður like mountain hiking or a trip off the beaten path with one of the 4WD tours.
Skagafjörður is also one of the top destinations for riding the famous Icelandic horse. They are smaller then most horses but what makes them really unique among all other breeds are the 5 different gaits (most horses have only 3). The most famous is “tölt”, where at least one foot touches the ground at any given moment. The result is the smoothest ride you’ll ever experience! You could easily have a cup of tea while riding without spilling a drop 😉
There are a number of operators in Skagafjörður offering horse riding tours of various lengths for every level of expertise. You can find more information here.
I personally recommend a boat trip to Drangey, a small island in the middle of the fjord. It’s a bird’s paradise and famous for sagas of the strong outlaw, Grettir, who lived on the island. Your guide will tell you all about it!
The steep cliffs of Drangey island
When you get back to shore you can warm up in the natural hot spring pool, Grettislaug (Gretti’s pool). There is nothing better then relaxing in hot geothermal waters after a nice day hike. The smell of sulfur gets easily used to.
Taste the local beer
Microbreweries have been popping up in every corner of the country the last years. One of the finest craft beer in Iceland, Gæðingur, is produced in Sauðarkrókur, a small village in Skagafjörður. If your’re in Reykjavik you can also visit the Microbar pub in Austurstræti street, they always have at least 4-5 different types of Gæðingur on tap.
More info on activities in Skagafjörður can be found here
Where to stay?
You can easily spend a few days in this historic gem of North Iceland and there are many overnight options. If you are looking for the ultimate Icelandic experience, stay at Sölvanes, a local horse and sheep farm that offer clean and cozy rooms and emphasize on personal service. The farm is close to many walking trails and the family (Eydís, Máni, Elín and Magnús) will help you with all your questions regarding the fjord’s activities and history. Don’t worry, farms in Iceland usually have an excellent wi-fi connection.
More information on Sölvanes here.
Get off the beaten path!
Most travellers in Iceland will stop at the main tourist sights, visit the Golden Circle (Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir), the black sand beaches of the south coast or simply get drunk at a bar in Reykjavik.
If you’re looking for something different, something special, then visit Skagafjörður and tackle the East Glacial River and everything that follows, it’s the ultimate Viking experience.
Did you like the post? Check out our favourite hiking trails around reykjavik
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