Last month, while attending the Family Travel Summit in Bermuda, I stumbled upon a really cool company, Hidden Iceland, offering small group personalized trips in one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations—Iceland.
So in a world where operators are fiercely battling it out trying to offer unique itineraries in hot destinations that are luring tourists, I wanted to know from Hidden Iceland’s co-founder Ryan Connolly, what sets this Reykjavik-based activity operator outside the pack. “Our trips,” he says, “were carefully created by the founders of the company with one thought in mind: Would we be proud to take our friends and family on them? And we can absolutely say yes. Couple that with CEO Dagny Bjorg Stefansdottir’s local secrets, operations manager Scott Drummond’s geologist knowledge, and my adventurous background guiding around the world, we were able to create something that truly immerses, educates, and adds in a few hidden spots along the way.”
Hidden Iceland offers trips to exactly what its name points to: the little-known places in this Nordic country. Yes, lots of travelers are heading to Iceland, but don’t you want your clients to come back with a story that places them in spots that are way off the beaten track? Don’t you want them to come back spellbound?
And even though Iceland is getting more and more popular, Connolly says that “traveling with companies like ours still affords you the chance to avoid the crowds for the most part. If you’re willing to venture away from the bottleneck of Reykjavik airport and the Golden Circle area, then it often quietens off very quickly.”
So where does Hidden Iceland—which focuses on personalized private trips, planned day trips and multi-day trips—venture off to? They visit iceberg-filled glacier lagoons, sneak behind waterfalls, explore the wild West Fjords, chase the midnight sun, and explore lava tunnels and volcanic islands.
“Places like Westman Islands, a volcanic group of islands with the biggest puffin colony in the world is often overlooked first time round due to its remoteness, but it’s my personal favorite place to take people,” Connolly says. “In one day you can play with rescue puffin, walk along the cliff edge of the puffin colony in hopes of seeing a few passing whales, speedboat around the smaller islands and walk onto a still warm volcano.” He points out that this is a great option for travelers who have visited Iceland before or for those with more time. For first-timers he points to the Golden Circle, but notes that the company combats the touristy and overcrowded aspect of this area by doing the “route in reverse and adding in a trip to the oldest hot pool in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon, as well as having lunch in a Tomato Greenhouse surrounded by up to 26-ft.-high tomato plants. The Golden Circle can be as relaxing and tranquil as anywhere else if you do it the right way.”
At the core of Hidden Iceland’s mission, though, is to take travelers way off the beaten track, or as Connolly calls it, to the “real hidden Iceland.” For those types of customers, he says, “a 4-day trip up to the forgotten north west of Iceland, the West Fjords, is perfect. Even in the middle of June there will be places where you won’t see another soul for miles around. It’s a favorite location for spotting whales, seals, arctic foxes and hiking along the mighty Latrabjarg sea cliffs peaking at 1,400 ft. straight down, without a single fence in sight. Coupled with scenic boat trips, hidden hot pools, the impressive 328-ft. Dynjandi Waterfalls, and the drive of a lifetime through the deeply scarred fjords, this is a definite must if you want to see Iceland at its most raw and empty.”
Hidden Iceland also cares deeply about leaving the places it visits untouched, and as such they spend a proportion of their income on offsetting initiatives. The company has been certified by Climatecare.org as a Carbon Neutral company, and as part of their initiative of caring for the environment, they educate their guests on what things they can do to help and how the glaciers and environment have changed because of climate change.
Hidden Iceland works with travel advisors to create the perfect itinerary for their clients, whether it’s partial or full itineraries. Your clients will be guided through Iceland by five-star rated guides who are either experts of the area or geologists or volcanologists. In fact, Connolly says that since glaciers are really a high point of Iceland’s beauty, being guided by guides who are veterans of these places is ideal as they can venture into crevasses, ice caves, and traverse the edges of ice fall areas. “This,” he says, “turns a glacier walk into a fully immersive experience. And you don’t have to be an Olympian to join us on those either. Minimum age is 10 for all glacier hikes.” Connolly adds that, “Iceland will forever be beautiful and barren, but now is the perfect time to see Iceland at its most pristine and preserved.”
A sample of Hidden Iceland’s trips include the 2-day Glacier Hike & Entire South Coast, with stops in Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls and the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, visits to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon to witness giant lagoon-floating icebergs, and a glacier hike on Falljokull within the Vatnajokull National Park. Approximately $422.