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Travel Iceland's Diamond Circle Is a Road Trip Route Far From the Crowds

08:00  05 september  2021
08:00  05 september  2021 Source:   cntraveler.com

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  Iceland's Diamond Circle Is a Road Trip Route Far From the Crowds © Courtesy Visit North Iceland

Iceland’s Golden Circle—a scenic driving route accessible within minutes of Reykjavik—gets a lot of love, and deservingly so. Convenient to Keflavík International Airport, it's loaded with natural wonders like geothermal areas, a towering 100-foot waterfall, and access to the volcanic Thingvellir National Park. It's heavily promoted by international tour companies and one of the most popular things to do in Iceland—and as such, has the crowds to match. It's a no-brainer if you're a first-time visitor or in Iceland for a quick trip, but if you've got more time and want something less-touristed, the country has another route with much more natural pizzazz that it would like you to consider.

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In the northeast region of the island lies the Diamond Circle, a striking 155-mile loop that will leave any nature or science junkie in awe. “Here you have a unique opportunity to experience one of the most geologically active areas in the world,” says Katrín Harðardóttir of Visit North Iceland. “Iceland exists because of the unusual amount of upwelling mantle material called a ‘hot spot,’ located beneath the plate boundary where the North American and Eurasian plates are diverging. The Diamond Circle is located exactly where this is happening in North Iceland, called the Northern Volcanic Rift Zone.”

Húsavík, the whale-watching capital of Iceland, and its oldest settlement. © Courtesy Visit North Iceland Húsavík, the whale-watching capital of Iceland, and its oldest settlement.

The circle starts approximately 20 miles east of the city of Akureyri on the country’s Ring Road (or Route 1), and moves clockwise north through a variety of attractions—most notably, its five formal attractions within. First, there is the 100-foot-wide Goðafoss waterfall. This is where, in the year 1,000 A.D., the pagan law speaker Thorgeir Ljósvetningagoði deemed Christianity the official religion of the country, and then famously threw statues of Norse gods into the waterfall.

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The second stop, approximately 30 miles north, is Iceland’s oldest settlement and its whale-watching capital, the town of Húsavík. Upwards of 23 species of whales, as well as orange-splashed and irresistibly adorable puffins, can be found roaming and groaning along its shores.

And 37 miles east of Húsavík is Ásbyrgi Canyon, a massive horseshoe-shaped ravine beaming with reds and browns, with lush spruces and pines towering in between. Almost a mile wide, its cliffs are more than 100 feet high. South of the canyon by about 21 miles is Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall on the European continent. There are several hiking trails here that are good for all skill levels and lead to the flowing beast. It's powerful enough that even hundreds of feet from its base you may be catch a strong mist from the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that spout over its edge every second.

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The final Diamond Circle stop, another 30 miles southwest, is Lake Mývatn. Beaming with greens and blues, it was formed by several volcanic eruptions. Equally as impressive as the wildlife within the lake itself—from hordes of ducks during the summertime and arctic char swimming year-round—is what’s nearby. The searing mud pits of Hverir, the Grjótagjá lava cave and hot spring and Krafla, a volcanic crater with naturally turquoise water in it, are all within 10 minutes of its shore.

The Diamond Circle loop emits a level of nonstop environmental euphoria like few others, with the charm of Iceland’s meandering roadside sheep, single-lane bridges, and quaint guest houses along the way.

a tall rocky hill: Ásbyrgi Canyon © Courtesy Visit North Iceland Ásbyrgi Canyon

The Diamond Circle was named in 1996, says Harðardóttir, when Húsavík locals started marketing the route as such and subsequently got it patented. But recent efforts to pave previously unnavigable roads and advertise it as an appealing alternative to the Golden Circle are behind the latest wave of interest.

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As for when to experience the Diamond Circle, the region is primed between October and April if you're coming to see the Northern Lights. The summer months, June through August, are Iceland’s warmest, and you can count on 20-plus hours of daylight and pleasant temperatures for exploring at that time, too. “I like June because of all the birds and the midnight sun, and also September and October because of the autumn colors,” says Guðmundur Ögmundsson, a National Park Manager at Vatnajökull National Park, where Ásbyrgi Canyon is located.

For all the beauty that dots the Diamond Circle today, Ögmundsson and others are keeping their eye on climate change and natural factors that may further transform the surroundings. “Of course, a volcano might start erupting in the area all of a sudden,” Ögmundsson says. “I guess the only constant around here is that things are always evolving and changing.”

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