The Central Highlands

Colours of LandmannalaugarIf you really want to get away from it all, the interior of Iceland is like nothing you have ever experienced. The mountainous center of the island, with its rocky deserts, jagged mountain peaks, ice caps, volcanoes, hidden valleys and hot springs, is an awe-inspiring and untouched wilderness. In the geothermal area of Landmannalaugar, nature has painted the rhyolite mountains in yellows, greens and reds interspersed with shiny black obsidian, and weary travellers can bathe in natural hot rivers. At Kverkfjöll, steam rising at the edge of the glacier has melted bizarre ice caves. In the Dyngjufjöll mountains, the lake Öskjuvatn is situated in a large caldera (11 km2), and the crater Víti is filled with warm water. Both lakes were created in the wake of a gigantic eruption in the Dyngjufjöll mountains in 1875. The green, sheltered inland valley of Þórsmörk is a favorite with travellers, who camp here and hike into the surrounding mountains. Lake Hvítárvatn on the Kjölur highland road glints icy-blue at the foot of the Langjökull glacier, and in the barren black sands of Sprengisandur the arctic river beauty blooms bright magenta in August.

TLaki, Icelandhe interior was long all but inaccessible. Outlaws hid for years at a time in the highlands, rustling sheep and keeping away from law-abiding citizens, while folklore tells of both natural and supernatural beings who lie in wait for unwary highland travellers. Travellers between north and south sometimes had to cross the highlands: for instance, for the national assembly of Alþingi (parliament) each summer, delegates had to ride from every corner of the country to Þingvellir in the southwest. But journeys across the interior were never undertaken lightly; such travel was always risky, and lives were often lost. Weather in the interior is always unpredictable, and fast-flowing glacial rivers are difficult obstacles.

Hveravellir in Central IcelandToday the interior is traversed by two mountain roads, via Kjölur and Sprengisandur, which are only open in summer, after the snow has thawed in the spring. While the Kjölur road is classified as passable by ordinary vehicles, it is still a rough road where four-wheel drive is useful, and for the Sprengisandur road an SUV is a necessity. Most highland routes, including the road into Þórsmörk and the Landmannalaugar road, involve crossing unbridged rivers, which should not be attempted without advice, and preferably travelling in convoy with other vehicles. Please note that if you rent a car, you cannot take it on a mountain road (classified F) unless it is a 4-wheel drive vehicle. But the wonders of the highlands can also be seen by scheduled buses and on organised tours: mountain buses and guided tours run regularly across the Kjölur and Sprengisandur roads and to such destinations as Þórsmörk, Landmannalaugar, Mt. Askja and Kverkfjöll. Hiking tours are offered to many of the most popular locations in the interior; on some tours luggage is even transported from place to place, so travellers carry only a light day-pack. And one of the most memorable ways to see the highlands is on horseback, riding into the wide-open spaces, far from all human habitation.

Kjölur highland trackTravel to the Central Highlands is limited to summertime - check the Public Roads Administration website to find out exactly which roads are open when. Inquire about the state of highland roads before you set off, tell someone about your plans - and don´t take risks. Observe - all driving off roads or marked tracks is prohibited by law!

Photo Gallery Interior Highlands