THE NEXT MORNING WE HEAD FURTHER EAST TO THE SKAFTAFELL, a piece of wilderness that’s part of the Vatnajökull National Park. It’s a popular place, with some 500,000 visitors coming every year. And it’s really easy to see the appeal. Skaftafell is one of the most beautiful places in the region, with green fields and waterfalls sharing space with glaciers and black sands.
The black sands in particular are popular, especially the Skeiðarársandur, a vast expanse of sand generated by the flooding of icy from the Skeiðarárjökull. Much of this flows through the sea, carried by glacial rivers. We stop here for a few minutes to admire it with the clear skies and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We reach the park itself about an hour later. The area used to be a farm before shifting glacial sands buried the land and forced the farms to be relocated elsewhere, although vegetation returned eventually. The area was converted into a park in 1967 and placed under the Vatnajökull National Park when it was established in 2008, forming the park’s southern region.
After sorting things at the visitor center, we immediately start our trek, minus Yanyan who stays behind believing that she can’t handle the climb. But for the most part, trekking Skaftafell is easy, since the main path is mostly a steady climb. The trek itself is picturesque, leading us through falls, grassy fields, and a panoramic view of the black sands below.
In less than an hour, we reach Svartifoss, a waterfall with black basalt columns on either side. It’s the single most popular stop on the trail, and it’s our main destination, although visitors with more time on their hands can explore further, including hiking through the glaciers.
Just before noon, we’re back at the visitor center and have lunch at the adjacent cafe. We’re ready to go to the next stop, which is personally one of my most anticipated.