Let's talk about Iceland. Before I traveled there this past fall, people kept telling me I needed to visit, but I was initially skeptical. I'd heard something about blue lagoons and geothermal activity — but I also had vague memories of a volcanic eruption causing a bunch of flights from Europe to get canceled. But once I arrived on an incredibly easy and direct flight from the United States, I quickly forgot about disrupted European flight schedules.
Iceland is a place of unspeakable beauty. Its secrets are hidden in steaming fields, neon sunsets, and some of the kindest and most accommodating people I've come across in my travels. Iceland is the type of place that made my jaw go slack as I leaned closer to the car window for a better view of the landscape zooming by to see if what I saw was real or imagined. I started hoping for a small volcanic eruption to impede my return home.
I work in the travel industry as the program director of Broadreach, an organization that sends middle school, high school, and college students on educational adventure programs abroad. I found myself on this journey to Iceland, along with Broadreach's creative director, Ladye Jane Vickers, to scout Broadreach's new Iceland Advanced Photography Program. In the small world that is the travel industry, we are constantly in a race to come up with next new hot spot around the globe. We troll the Internet to keep a step ahead of the trends, to keep our advice fresh and exciting.
Sunset along a beach in Eyrarbakki.
I'm not sure if it's the possibility of encountering a "Game of Thrones" cast member during filming or the promise of stumbling upon hidden hot springs on a day hike, but Iceland seems to be making its way into the forefront of people’s travel plans more than ever before. So before anybody else gets to it, I'm taking this opportunity to shamelessly take credit for "discovering" the new "undiscovered" Icelandic travel destination of the near future… the magical little hamlet of Eyrarbakki, Iceland.
Go ahead, Google it ... what you'll find is a brief description that reads more or less like this: "Eyrarbakki is a fishing village on the south coast of Iceland with a population of about 570, not including the inhabitants of the prison located there." The risks of my little exposé on Eyrarbakki are not lost on me. I imagine by the next time I'm able to travel to Iceland, the little town best known for housing the largest prison in Iceland (with a population of about 70 inmates and a waiting list to serve time) will be well on its way to stardom. Eyrarbakki itself is lovely. In the winter, it's the perfect place to spot the northern lights, and throughout the rest of the year it provides a proximity to amazing outdoor activities. Drive in any direction an hour or less and you'll find the buzzing cafes and bars of Reykjavik, dry suit snorkeling in the Silfra fissure, a freshwater rift between two continental plates, the astounding power of the Gulfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle, or exploring the Valley of Thor, which can only be reached by fording rivers in super jacked 4x4s.
Jessi Kingan giving a tour of Iceland's third largest lava tube, Raufarholshellir, which is right outside of Eyrarbakki and almost a mile long.
While being conveniently located near these amazing sites alone makes it a great home base for southern Iceland explorations, the thing that's going to put Eyrarbakki on the tourism circuit is the passion of two individuals, backed by the charisma and enthusiasm of the local population. Our host and hostess in Eyrarbakki, Johann Jonsson and Jessi Kingan, have an intense love for all things Iceland, and more specifically, a passion for Eyrarbakki and its surroundings. Their love of this place has turned a cherished historic restaurant, Rauda Husid — the only restaurant in town and one that was on the brink of closing — into a thriving business with locally sourced food and arguably the best lobster in Iceland. These two just opened the beautiful Bakki Apartments (also the first and only in town) for short- or long- term rent, are currently finalizing construction of a full-service hostel with gardens and natural hot spring hot tubs overlooking the ocean. From the hostel, they will also run a guiding service, employing local guides and taking advantage of the perfectly centralized location. Their guides will be equipped to do everything from taking groups caving in nearby lava tubes and on glacier walks to arranging horseback riding excursions. They have the first coffee shop in Eyrarbakki in the works, not to mention that Johann wants to open a printing press museum.
All this to say: Eyrarbakki is on the cusp. These two ambitious young people are breathing a new, vibrant life into the town, and I guarantee that their involvement is putting this small community on the map. While I might give myself credit for starting the Eyrarbakki conversation within the travel realm, it's really the town itself, the people, and an infused spark of adventure that will make Eyrarbakki a must-go place to visit in Iceland. As travelers, we are lucky to have places like this that make exploring the world such an incredible pleasure — and some of them are just too good to keep quiet.
Kate Farthing is program director for Broadreach, which offers summer adventure and study abroad programs for middle school, high school and college students.
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