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Icelandic Stories & Passionate People

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Recently, GreenSpot’s destination specialist, Mandy Haakenson was interviewed by Pink Pangea (a community for women who love to travel) about travel to Iceland. Read that interview here and be sure to read on for a more in depth look at her Icelandic experience.

While I was in Iceland, one of my guides told me that Icelanders “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I love that quote, although I admit to being a little dubious of everything I was told thereafter. The little girl in me adores hearing stories of trolls and elves. Much to my delight, they are abundant in Iceland, and Icelanders tell them with vigor and charm.

I had expected the striking landscapes, wildlife viewing opportunities, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the cultural and historical insights I gained by talking to the hospitable Icelandic people. They seem reserved at first, but there is tremendous passion to be found within the 300,000 inhabitants of this Nordic island nation. Finding time to chat, over a cup of steaming coffee or while sipping Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) is worth your while.

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My time in Iceland was full of activities. I took a food tour of Reykjavik, bathed in natural hot springs, dipped in the Blue Lagoon, walked on a glacier, rode an Icelandic horse, hunted for Northern Lights, traveled west to Sneafellsness Peninsula, toured a lava tube, took a jet boat ride, and completed a 3-day trek of the southern interior from Thórsmörk to Skógar.

For most of these activities, a guide in an all-wheel vehicle picked me up. This allowed us to travel over some rugged terrain. One evening, we drove right onto a black sand beach, where we toasted Brennivín at sunset, after dining on delicious local lobster at a seaside restaurant. We were waiting for darkness to arrive, so that we could hunt for northern lights.

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An all-terrain bus took us through barren land, where we drove through rushing rivers and bounced over lava fields. Once we reached the middle-of-nowhere, we disembarked and ventured through the woods to a mountain hut. For the next couple of days we hiked through some of the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. Although Thórsmörk to Skógar is a popular route, we saw very few people. This is one of the advantages of going in September, when high season is dying down.

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There are iconic spots in Iceland that everyone wants to see, but if you wish to avoid crowds, you can venture to the slightly less visited Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With a looming glacier and jagged cliffs bursting with birdlife, this western peninsula is quintessential Iceland. You can visit a farm to help sheer or gather sheep, take a jaunt on a graceful Icelandic horse, bathe in secluded hot springs, or strap on a headlamp and climb down into a lava tube.

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If you are willing to sacrifice wide-open space for an abundance of charm and hospitality, I would recommend staying at Hotel Egilsen, in the seaside town of Stykkishólmur. Before you head out to explore, enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast made by the inn’s proprietor, Greta. If the elegance of an old-world hunting lodge is more your style, you may want to book into Hotel Budir. Take time to walk along the craggy cliffs and find the unique black church. Be sure to have dinner at Budir’s renowned restaurant.

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Above all, allow the Icelandic people to guide your journey. After all, they know their country the best. They will happily share the legends of this ancient land with you. They also know how to pronounce words like Eyjafjallajökull – and let’s face it, this might come in handy.

To learn more, be sure to check out our sample itineraries for Iceland or contact us if you have questions.

Iceland: A Year-Round Destination

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It may be no  surprise that Iceland has a condensed high season which runs from mid-June through August. After all, the country sits on the brink of the Arctic Circle, and even its name implies that it might be a cold place to visit.

What most people don’t realize is that Iceland experiences a cool, temperate climate that doesn’t reach extreme highs or lows. In spite of this, high season is high season for good reason. Many people venture to Iceland to experience its incredible natural beauty and take part in outdoor activities, so it’s no wonder that the summer months are a popular time to visit. Still, Icelanders believe it’s a mistake to rule out visiting during off-peak season.

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No matter when you go, Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable and you often experience multiple seasons in one day. Locals love to say: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”. This is especially true during spring and autumn, when strong winds blow weather in and out at a ferocious pace. In the spring, you’re rewarded with longer days and slightly warmer temperatures. If you’ve ever wanted to see the phenomenal midnight sun, May through June is an ideal time to be in Iceland. The experience of nearly 24 hours of daylight is a great way  to extend your vacation hours!

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If you’re hoping to check the Northern Lights off your bucket list, a winter visit is your best bet. But don’t rule out March, April, September and October, when there is plenty of dark hours for vivid sightings. Overall, in spring and autumn, you might get variable weather, but you will also experience golden light, fewer crowds and lower prices than you would during the summer.

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Yes, winters in Iceland are long (November through March) and dark (with only 3-4 hours of daylight at its peak). However, Icelanders know how to make the winter cozy and festive, especially during the Christmas season, when lights twinkle and the aroma of mulled wine fills the air. This is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, and it’s also the perfect time to purchase (and wear) that wooly Icelandic sweater you’ve always wanted.

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During an off-peak trip, it isn’t possible to venture all over the country. Many interior roads are closed and it’s unlikely you can do a lot of hiking or trekking. Still, with charming Reykjavik as your base, it’s possible to soak in the geothermal spas during the day, go looking for Northern Lights in the evening, and take plenty of day trips to see magnificent waterfalls. You could also include an activity such as horseback riding or snowmobiling, for an unforgettable day.

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Iceland has been working hard to keep up with its growing tourism demand, however the compressed high season can make it difficult to find  suitable accommodations. So if you do plan to travel to Iceland during your next summer holiday, consider planning well in advance. Contact us to get started on designing your perfect visit – any time of the year.

Ten Incredible Things to do in Iceland

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Ten Incredible things in Iceland

Situated on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s abundant and diverse natural wonders are enough to make your jaw drop. The destination is sometimes called the Land of Fire and Ice because of its rumbling volcanoes, bubbling earth and shifting glaciers, which are still shaping the unique and stunning landscape. Combine this striking natural beauty with crisp, clean air, and you have an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true.

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However, Iceland is not only for adventure-seekers. The people who inhabit this Nordic country have a fascinating culture that embraces literature, music, fashion, cuisine, ancient sagas, and even a few mythical creatures. Read on to see the incredible things visitors can see and do in this country of vivid beauty and intriguing culture. And keep in mind, this list only scratches the surface!

Visit Natural Hot Springs

There is no denying that the Blue Lagoon deserves to be among Iceland’s top attractions. The steamy, aquamarine water, set against the contrasting black, volcanic landscape is too alluring to pass up. However, if you desire hot springs but are averse to crowds, there are numerous spots where you can soak in a mineral-rich bath while taking in a  stunning view.

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Walk on a Glacier

Secure a guide (that’s important!), strap on some crampons, and grab an ice pick, for a thrilling and gorgeous stroll over a massive ice formation. It’s not something you get to do every day. Although glaciers are impressive from far away, they are truly extraordinary when you’re right on top.

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See the Northern Lights

This bucket-list-worthy phenomenon is never a guarantee, but your chance of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is quite high. This is especially true in the shorter, darker, winter months, though don’t rule out April or September.

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Ride an Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horse is sometimes referred to as a pony, yet that doesn’t aptly define the combination of grace and power that this unique animal possesses. Beautiful and a real treat to ride, this hardy breed has mastered a special gait that helps it navigate over the rough Icelandic terrain.

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Watch Great Geysir Explode

If you’ve witnessed the blast of a geyser in the past, perhaps you didn’t know that its namesake originated in Iceland. Great Geysir is the oldest known geyser in Europe and the word geyser comes from the Icelandic verb geysa, meaning “to gush”. It’s a timely and extraordinary sight, for young and old alike.

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Hike Behind a Waterfall

It’s true that Iceland is covered in magnificent waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, and you’ll never tire of their splendor and beauty. At Seljalandsfoss, it’s possible to get up close and personal with one of the best, as you walk behind the powerful force of cascading water.

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Indulge in Authentic Food

Icelandic cuisine has a long history and is an important part of the country’s culture. Like many other Nordic countries, the necessity of preservation during long, harsh winters made pickling and fermentation a popular ritual. Dried and fermented shark are specialties in Iceland (pictured below), though I much prefer the small, delicious lobster (also pictured below). You can read more about Icelandic food here.

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Take a Boat on a Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a result of the rapidly retreating Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Gleaming blue ice drifts through this spectacular spot, creating astonishing ice sculptures, which can be seen from shore. Better yet, hop on a boat  for a tremendous ride across the other-worldly lagoon.

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Hike Around Landmannalaugar

Adding to the list of must-see places that are difficult to pronounce, Landmannalaugar is a wondrous nature reserve, consisting of mountains and valleys of swirling earth tones unlike anywhere else in the world. Whether a day-trip from Reykjavik or part of a multi-day hiking itinerary, it’s a favorite with locals and visitors alike.

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Visit Thingvellir National Park

Located in a rift valley along the Mid-Atlantic ridge, it would be amiss not to mention Thingvellir National Park. This location is home to the Icelandic parliament, which is the oldest in the world, established by Vikings is AD 930. It is a place of immense natural beauty, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical, cultural and geological importance.

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To start planning your dream trip to Iceland, have a look at our sample itineraries or contact us.

Frequently Asked Questions: Ecuador

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These are a few questions we get most frequently from travelers interested in Ecuador. We wanted to allow our team of Ecuador experts to provide some answers.

For a preview of our sample Ecuador itineraries, please visit our website.

Q: What do you love most about Ecuador?

Amazon EcuadorA: The thing we love most about Ecuador is the element of surprise. Despite its small size, Ecuador is considered one of the most diverse countries on the planet, and it’s amazing that not many people know this. It is a country with something for everyone, including beaches, rural highlands, jungle escapes, and colonial cities.

Ecuador can satisfy every whim and desire, arguably all in one day, and recent improvements to infrastructure allow for easy access to navigate the country and explore the majority of attractions offered.

With the Pacific coast on the western side of the country, the Andes Mountains as the backbone of the country, and rivers flowing down to the Amazon, which is considered a part of Ecuador’s territory, the possibilities for adventure are endless.

Q: What special experiences can people expect when they visit Ecuador with GreenSpot?

A: Numerous special experiences await GreenSpot travelers. The obvious being of course, Galapagos Islands, where one can have close encounters with some of the most diverse and unique animals and flora on the planet.Amazon, Ecuador

But our trips go far beyond the Galapagos. The capital city of Quito is considered one of the most active cities and the home of the most picturesque and breathtaking churches. Otavalo is home to one of the largest indigenous groups in Ecuador and the location of the Otavalo Market, a must-see destination for tourists from around the globe.

As usual, our itineraries include a number of special interactions with the local people, and greater immersion in the culture. We aim to provide a deeper and more complete experience by including options such as a visit to a local school, cooking and ceramic classes, or dinner with a local fisherman, all excellent ways to connect with the community and acquire a deeper sense of Ecuador’s people.

Q: How will Ecuador surprise people?

A: Ecuador’s contemporary nature and cultural diversity will be the most surprising things to a visitor. The country is surprisingly developed, with a huge and ever-growing expat community. Additionally, the high percentage of ethnic groups further reflects the diversity of the country, which is common to see as you traveart, Ecuadorl the country.

Q: If a traveler wants to see the true Ecuador, how would they go about it?

A: They’ll come without expectations and be open and ready to soak in the local culture. Our connections with local suppliers and communities make it much easier to experience the true Ecuador.

GreenSpot clients will have an opportunity to participate in activities where they can socialize with locals. For example, our school visit includes discussions about Ecuador’s educational system and perhaps a friendly soccer competition with the children and teachers. We are also planning to add cooking classes with ingredients purchased in a local market, and dinners with local fishermen and their families, during which guests can learn more about life in Ecuador.waterfall, Ecuador

Q: Why should fans of iconic destinations like Costa Rica consider Ecuador?

A: Each country has special and unique traits. Costa Rica is an amazing country with its own culture and unbelievable tourist attractions, and it’s also a great place to live as evidenced by its huge international population. In Ecuador, visitors can experience the Andes Mountains, Spanish-influenced Colonial architecture, stunning glaciers, easily accessible ethnic groups, amazing jungle life, great density of volcanoes and prominent mountains, incredible lakes, vast wildlife, and delicious cuisine. Many visitors remark that they have experienced something a bit different in each town, and this is what Ecuador offers — diversity at its very best.

GreenSpot.travel kicks off tenth anniversary celebration, welcoming new president and managing director

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Tamarindo Beach, Costa Rica

Press Release:

GreenSpot.travel, a leading experiential travel designer for custom eco-luxe vacations, has kicked off its tenth anniversary celebration with the announcement that the company has expanded its team, welcoming Jeremy Sampson and Selena Solis to senior leadership positions.

Other announcements for this year include the recent expansion of trips to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, the planned unveiling of a reimagined website featuring GreenSpot’s growing list of destinations, and a special-access custom anniversary trip to be announced in coming weeks.

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In his new role with GreenSpot, Sampson oversees operations, destination development, and implementation of the company’s marketing strategy. A travel industry veteran who has worked in more than a dozen countries, Sampson balances a diverse set of cross-functional management skills with experience in sustainable tourism, social enterprise development, and community engagement. Sampson joined GreenSpot after a five-year stint at international NGO Sustainable Travel International, where he was most recently vice president of partnership development.

Solis, a native Costa Rican born and raised in San Jose, has worked in the travel industry for more than 25 years, focusing on trip operations and travel planning for upscale travelers and special interest guests, making her an essential asset to the team. Before joining GreenSpot, Solis managed an inbound tour operator and spent time exploring Nicaragua while working at Morgan’s Rock Ecolodge. In her new role, Solis oversees in-country operations for GreenSpot Costa Rica.

Ecuador HummingbirdSampson and Solis join a staff that includes company founders Irene and Richard Edwards, both of whom are Conde Nast Top Traveler Specialists for Costa Rica and continue to play integral roles at the company. GreenSpot is also a 2016 Trusted Travel Expert for Costa Rica on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List.

“We are thrilled to have Jeremy and Selena join the team,” says Irene Edwards. “Their expertise in the tourism industry, strong leadership skills, and deep commitment to meaningful personal and professional relationship building make them both valued assets to our team as we evolve.”

While Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua have been GreenSpot’s geographic focus to date, the company is thoughtfully expanding based on customer demand and enthusiasm for exploring new places. New destinations recently launched include Iceland, the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), and Ecuador and the Galapagos. All destinations were selected based on extensive research and relationship building that align with GreenSpot’s values, including high standards of quality and social responsibility.

GreenSpot was founded on the idea that travel should support conservation and the well-being of destination residents. The GreenSpot team has deep experience in sustainable travel including community engagement, enterprise development, and best practices in responsible tourism.

“Our wish is that travelers are able to learn about conservation, biodiversity, and culture while experiencing just the right mix of adventure and relaxation they desire from a getaway,” says Sampson. “GreenSpot makes a point of getting to know the communities, companies, and local business people we work with, and we only recommend accommodations and activities that we have experienced and are aligned with our values.”

About GreenSpot.traveltree frog, Costa Rica

GreenSpot partners with travelers through its patented Trip Design approach to design customized vacations and unrivaled ecotourism experiences in destinations like Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Iceland. GreenSpot trips inspire meaningful exchanges with people and places, and leverage the top-rated boutique hotels, eco-lodges, and activity providers. As a result, GreenSpot clients embark on vacations that align with their values, including high standards of quality and social responsibility. GreenSpot has been a Condé Nast Traveler Top Costa Rica Specialist since 2006 and is included on Wendy Perrin’s 2016 WOW List as a Trusted Travel Expert for Costa Rica. www.greenspot.travel

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