Iceland is a really cool place. It has a combination of Pacific Northwest indy/grunge vibes and a mellow European feel. I really like Iceland. In doing a little bit of research and knowing that we only had a limited amount of time – I read that the one tour that we should definitely do was the ‘Golden Circle Tour’ – there were a wide range of options from standard bus tours to luxury private tours. I went for the middle path on this one – a small group tour in a comfortable mini-bus with a maximum of 12 passengers.
First off let me say – the sights along the way of this tour are worthy. A walk through a gigantic volcanic rift, spouting geysers, a huge waterfall, a beautiful crater with a lake in it. Stunning natural wonders.
There are literally dozens of variations on this tour from dozens of companies. It is the equivalent of the ‘Circle Island Tour’ on Oahu that I ran for years and years. In fact, the parallels of the stops were somewhat eerie – the Geysers (Halona Blowhole), Waterfall (Waimea Falls), Crater (Diamond Head Crater), Tomato Greenhouse (shrimp farm), Dairy Farm w/ Ice Cream (Dole), volcanic rift (Kokohead) , and some stories about elves and trolls (Menehune). So – keep in mind – as a guide, a traveler, and an Oahu resident, I might be a little jaded on this particular tour.
First of all, our guide was way too focused on convincing us to eat the overpriced lunch of tomato soup and bread at the tomato greenhouse. When he walked us into the greenhouse and presented us to the hostess, my suspicion was confirmed – this was a place that paid drivers per head for bringing their groups. This is pretty standard practice in the tourism industry and not really a big deal except we spent way more time there than we did at the natural wonders we’d paid to see and by the time we had reached it – there weren’t really any other food options available. A couple of guests said they had brought their lunch with them but by the time they could opt out, they felt a little trapped into it. That being said, the food was good, the presentation interesting, but it was a literal tourist trap. The way that our guide had suggested the ice cream was too expensive at the dairy farm made me suspect that they had used to pay commission but had stopped but he was still forced to bring us there because it was part of the route.
And that brings me to the next bit – there were so many tourists at every stop we made. Soooooo many. Literal herds of goretex clad American baby boomers stampeding through the trails heedless of children or people going in the opposite direction. I freely admit, I get triggered by these types of crowds and at two different points, I simply stopped and refused to move forcing confused looking boomers who are used to having seas part before them to look at my face and hear me say ‘You can go around us’. At other points of my life, I might have thrown an f-bomb in there. There were busloads and busloads and minivan after minivan. I made myself laugh at the Geyser trail by coming up with the probably not original at all “There are more geezers than geysers’.
These are stunning natural wonders but when you have to use your elbows to get your 4-foot-tall daughter a place to see the waterfall, that’s not cool. In my opinion, over-tourism has ruined these attractions. Hawaii is no different. It’s why on my tours, I generally take people to places where they can breathe and actually feel the essence of Hawai’i – instead of to the well trod sites – but of course, sometimes people insist and sometimes, the crowds aren’t as bad.
I would not recommend taking a tour of The Golden Circle in Iceland. Too much time on the bus, too many tourist traps, and way too many people at all of the sites. If I had it to do over, I would rent a car and head into the more remote areas where the waterfalls might be smaller or the views less epic but the percentage of them you get is higher.
Still, as you’ll see in the gallery below – these were some stunning natural wonders. We enjoyed the day – but my 10-year-old and I both agreed that simply walking around Reykjavik the day previous had been a superior experience to the standard tourist experience.