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How NOT to do a Northern Lights Tour in Iceland

Sometimes it is good to experience what the competition offer to check we are not missing a trick. We know that there are cheaper options out there but we have always held fast to what we offer. We genuinely believe we offer you the best way to experience Iceland in as exciting and personal a way as possible, so you get to experience the beauty of raw Icelandic nature in comfort; you are on holiday after all!

However we thought we should try out one of the cheaper options that is offered to see for ourselves the alternative and make sure we were offering the right thing for peoples desires and budgets.

All of our Super Jeep Tours have been developed to be small scale (maximum of 8 people, though often only 4). We do this as we want to give you an adventure, to give you an experience in the stunning landscape of Iceland, to give you a more personal feel, and to get you away from the crowds. Super Jeep Tours take you off-roading to places that buses can’t reach, and we only offer small Super Jeep Tours and not the larger more impersonal Super Jeep tours of 14 people.

The destination of our Northern Lights Hunts in the South will vary according to the Aurora forecast. A favourite of ours is an old priest’s cave where the guide will light a camp fire to warm you and tell you about the Northern Lights and some of the folklore that surrounds them. The guide is constantly keeping an eye out of course for the Northern Lights. The cave is in an abandoned farming area as a previous volcanic eruption threw out a huge number of large boulders and so the farms were permanently evacuated, so the whole area has no artificial lighting and it is pitch black; perfect for seeing the Northern Lights at their best. Alternatively you may be taken down to the black volcanic beaches where you have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights reflected on the sea which is pretty special. We even offer a Northern Lights tour up to 1600 M on top of the Glacier on top of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in a SuperJeep to hunt the Northern Lights. The Glacier cools the air creating clear skies which is what you need for the Northern Lights giving you an excellent chance of seeing them ! 

Equally around Myvatn in the North of Iceland we offer Northern Lights Hunts which often base themselves in an old waiting hut for the ferry to cross the river. Hundreds of signatures adorn the walls and the guide will tell you evocative stories from his family such as his grandfathers sheep herding days. If the forecast is right then taking you to see the Northern Lights over one of Icelands many waterfalls is always a popular one. The point is we tailor it to the forecast to give you the best chance possible to see the auroras.

So back to the cheaper alternatives and we booked ourselves onto a Northern Lights Hunt coach tour from Reykjavik to try to see the Northern Lights which was low cost and so potentially appealing. We were picked up and transferred to a larger coach of 60 people and given a 10 min talk about the Northern Lights and what causes them. An hour later and we arrived at our destination where they felt the skies could clear – critical for seeing the Northern Lights. However to our horror five other coaches were already there, and they kept arriving – and arriving. There must have been over 500 people there by the end of the night. Theoretically we could walk away from the buses as they had told us a target leaving time, but they had also warned us to be careful not to fall in the water that was hidden by the snow so we were reluctant to do so, meaning we could not really get away from the many many other people. Everyone spread out as much as they could and stood waiting in the snow and the cold.

To be fair the skies did clear and a beautiful full moon shone out with the background of Thingvellir as a magnificent setting. We stayed there for 3 hours just standing there and getting colder and colder with the cloud drifting in and out and sadly no Northern Lights. We were able to move in and out of the coaches and did go in at one point when it started snowing. The guide came into the coach, (now full), and told us the plan was to wait another 30 mins as the forecast was for the skies to clear again, which indeed it did. The coaches didn’t move to “hunt” the Northern Lights and certainly it didn’t feel like a hunt, just a parking lot where there was enough space for coaches.

It is obviously a regular spot as a waffle seller turned up and opened up his stall and people gathered to buy his wares and have a good chin wag. The constant buzz of people talking really did not give us the feeling of being out in the Icelandic wilderness or countryside.

Eventually our time was up but we still could not leave as we were boxed in by other coaches so had to wait another 20 mins longer for them to move. It certainly wasn’t an adventure!

I’m sure if we had seen the Northern Lights we would have been more positive about the experience. To be fair the backdrop was beautiful, and they had got us to a spot with clear skies, but it is clear you get what you pay for. A lower cost means larger coaches with no element of tailor-making, personalisation or hunting, (or so it felt), the atmosphere was very packaged and in no way did it feel like we were in the wilderness experiencing the nature of Iceland.

Obviously no-one can guarantee a Northern Lights sightings- including us!- but we came away feeling that what we offer at Weekend a La Carte Aurora Nights is the right way to go forward. We keep it small and personal, we take you into the heart of nature and wilderness (unless the Aurora forecast dictates otherwise!), we keep you warm with a campfire and a hot drink, we take you off-roading in a superjeep (which are great fun!) not a mini bus or a coach, we adapt to where the Aurora Forecast is the most promising and we talk to you whilst waiting to keep you entertained. See our Iceland Northern Lights Trips

 

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