Highlights of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA: With so much of astonishing and infinite beauty everywhere, this must be Iceland. And Snaefellsnes Peninsula gives you a small taste of almost everything in Iceland. Therefore it’s called “Iceland in miniature”.

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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

The magnificent mountain range that you’ll pass by going towards Snaefellsnes is just an appetizer for this journey. A trip around the peninsula allows its visitors to enjoy dotted coastal lines, snaky rivers, tall falls, mesmerising lava fields covered with moss, silhouetted volcanic craters and hills against the skyline, bird cliffs, picturesque old churches, and staggering mountains…all in one region. The whole bus trip was absolutely stunning with changing scenes and jaw-dropping landscapes. 

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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Natural beauty is the main attraction of this region. And the geology of the Snaefellsnes area is very diverse. Magnificent lava formations are widespread here. The lava fields and the vegetation covering the lava is very sensitive and damage to moss on fields of block lava may take generations to heal. That’s why walking on them is not permissible. Some of the lava fields are from the more than 3 million years old that forms the bottom layer. Resting on them are layers of rocks which were formed beneath glaciers during the Ice Age (less than 3 million years old). And for the top most part of these lava fields is younger than 11,000 years old. 

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This was our second excursion in Iceland, after the Golden Circle, Kerid Volcano, and Blue Lagoon tour. We were picked up from the Tour Bus Stop-12 in Reykjavik by Bustravel Iceland a little after 9am and were dropped off at the same place around 8pm. It was a minivan and our guide/driver was a very knowledgeable, funny, and accommodating gentleman in this trip. We paid $100 per person for this excursion and meals were not included. But the good part is that you don’t need to tip the driver or the guide. 

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Bird cliffs in Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during my kids’ summer break (end of July to be specific) when we flew to Iceland and my sister flew in from the East Coast. We were in Iceland for 5 nights. Although we were prepared for rain and sun with waterproof jackets, hats, rain boots, and hoodies, it barely rained during our stay. But it does get chilly and windy in some places. So, being prepared doesn’t hurt, especially if you are traveling with children like me. 

EATING and SHOPPING: For lunch, we didn’t really stop at a proper lunch venue. We were taken to a small village and stopped in front of a departmental store selling hot food, like hotdogs and basic things. There was a cart on the opposite side of the street where we got our gyro-like sandwiches. 

PLACES I’VE VISITED: The best way to explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula is to drive around and take your own time to visit all the major sites and other places. But we did it with a tour guide. And following places are the ones we got to visit:

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Staggering beauty of Iceland

  1. SNAEFELLSJOKULL NATIONAL PARK: Located on the tip of the Snaefellsjokull Peninsula in western Iceland, this is one experience no tourists should miss. 
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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Mt. Snaefellsjokull dominates the landscape of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It’s a mystical place where lava fields reach out to the blue sea, craters dot the landscapes, and the cliffs mark the extreme edge of the country. 

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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

2. GEROUBERG: This was our first stop…out in nowhere. This is a site of an interesting rock formation of long and hexagonal shaped stone basalt columns. This is one of those wonders of nature and leaves you in awe when you look at the stone pillars. Nothing much to do here really, we spent about 10 minutes taking pictures and then off to our second spot.

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GEROUBERG Basalt columns in Iceland

3. HELGAFELLSSVEIT FALLS: Probably not as famous as the other falls in this region but Helgafellssveit has definitely a beautiful surroundings of a magnificent river and hillsides. This picturesque and calm place deserves more tourists for its splendid beauty. 

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HELGAFELLSSVEIT FALLS and the surrounding view in Iceland

4. MT. KIRKJUFELL & KIRKJUFELLFOSS: After lunch, we came to this iconic falls of Iceland. On the northern shore of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, Kirkjufellfoss, is the impressive 463 meter high Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain. With its prominence view from different angles, no wonder this dramatic landmark is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. It stands tall over the nearby fishing village Grundarfjörður. 

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Kirkjufellfoss in Iceland

 

The falls, Kirkjufellfoss, is very decoratively situated a short distance from the mountain, Kirkjufell…making it a picture perfect destination for its guests. With the mountain in the backdrop, Kirkjufellfoss is an incredible site to visit and hike. Yes, do hike the ramp beside the falls for the perfect view and a great photo opportunity. This picture alone inspired me to go to Iceland at the very beginning, and I’m sure it’s true for many tourists. 

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Kirkjufellfoss with Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland

5. SAXHOLL: It is a beautifully formed crater that erupted 3-4000 years ago. The crater rises 109 meters above sea level. The remnants of quarrying can be seen on one side of the crater. The summit at the top of the crater gives you a gorgeous view of the surrounding valley and landscape, which can be accessed by hiking up some steps. 

Going up the stairs to Saxholl Crater in Iceland

Going up the stairs to Saxholl Crater in Iceland

6. BLACK LAVA PEARL BEACH: Djúpalónssandur or the Black Lava Pearl Beach is one of the major destinations of Snaefellsnes. It looks like a wonderland right out of any hobbit books.  It’s not just the beach that’s beautiful about this place. The walk to the beach, called The Path of the Bull, was the highlight for me. With interesting rock formation, walking through this path was a thrill. 

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Going towards Black Lava Pearl Beach in Iceland

 

This black beach with small pebbles, stunning black rocks, and cliffs in the distance is a photographer’s or hiker’s or nature-lover’s paradise. Tourists are told to be very careful here with the sneaky waves that can carry people out in the sea. Use caution when chasing the waves here. 

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Black Lava Pearl Beach in Iceland

After the black beach, we stopped by the Snaefellsnes park’s visitor center. It has a small museum and information on the geological history and uniqueness. 

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Black Lava Pearl Beach in Iceland

7. ARNARSTAPI: Our last stop of the day was the jaw-dropping tiny village on the southern side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Arnarstapi. This used to be a busy fishing hub once upon a time, but now a must-see site of Iceland. This is one of the magical places in this region where sea, lava rock formations, mountains, and cliffs meet with a vast natural beauty. And yes, this was one of my most favorite spots to photograph or spend time in Iceland. 

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Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Located at the foot of Mt. Stapafell, Arnarstapi or Stapi is a popular tourist destination and a natural harbor with exquisite beauty. It’s a one hour of easy coastal walk that takes you around to display its crashing waves, lively bird cliffs, lush valleys with a mountain in the background. The seaside and the cliffs have been made a Natural Reserve in 1979. 

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Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Standing by the ocean, enjoy the dramatic views of seagulls’ nestings on the sea cliffs and hear their loud chirping. Look for the Arch Rock and basalt columns too. Overall, exploring this historic yet mesmerizing landscape will surely take everyone’s breath away. 

Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

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Exploring the Caribbean – Punta Cana in Dominican Republic

PUNTA CANA, DR: It was time for our 2nd girls trip and this time it was going to be somewhere in the Caribbean. It was the fearless five of us out to explore a new place while having some girl time. Initially, we were going to go to Montego Bay. But sorry Jamaica, Dominican Republic had better deals on flights and logistics.

Punta Cana in Dominican Republic - one of the top destinations in the Caribbean

Punta Cana in Dominican Republic – one of the top destinations in the Caribbean

 

Punta Cana, it is the home of white sandy beaches, great food, fantastic warm weather, and genuinely friendly people…and all these make this place one of the top Caribbean destinations. For tourists, like me, who can’t speak much Spanish, not to worry…most of the people we dealt with, like in restaurants, cab drivers, and etc spoke at least some English.

Beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, DR

Beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, DR

Punta Cana International Airport is about 40-45 minutes drive from all the resorts and hotels area. About currency, I only exchanged $100 to Dominican Peso from the airport and I didn’t even have to do that (but it’s always good to have some local currencies in the pocket in my opinion). We could and did use USD almost anywhere and everywhere.

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited Punta Cana at the very end of November last year. It was probably the best time to go there. No spring-break or winter holiday tourists, weather was around 80s…no scorching heat or humidity to deal with. We did get tropical rain couple nights, usually around 9/10pm.

OUR HOTEL: Sunscape Dominican Beach Punta Cana is where we stayed during this trip. We had the deluxe tropical view, basically just looking over the other buildings and the grassy areas of the resort.

Overall, the resort itself was good. They had good service, big and clean rooms with balcony, friendly services, and all that. I wasn’t a big fan of their food, except for the breakfast where they had fresh papaya, watermelon, passion fruit juice. But other Japanese, Mediterranea, French places were very disappointing. Another thing we should have complained to the hotel concierge, is that Punta Cana gets tropical rain here and there, and when it rains, all the paths inside the resort get really slippery. My friend fell on that (and later we found out few others too) and hurt her ankle really bad. There has to be something the hotel management can do to provide more safety in weather like that.

EATING and SHOPPING: This was a lesson learned for me that not all-inclusive places serve good food. Most of the meals that we had in our resort, if not all, were below average. I mean, even their pizza and hotdog tasted like chewed up beach slippers. I was, at one point, craving to taste some local food at some local restaurants. We did get delicious Dominican BBQ chicken and fish in our trip to Saona Island. But after few meals at the resort, I couldn’t take it anymore. So finally, the last day, we decided to go out and have dinner at a place, called La Delicasa, recommended by our hotel. It was more like a semi-fast food place, serving authentic Dominican food. Loved it, period.

Our lunch in Saona Island in Dominican Republic - BBQ chicken

Our lunch in Saona Island in Dominican Republic – BBQ chicken

For souvenirs, Taino Art works (like paintings, wall decor, masks, statues) are very ethnic and traditional gifts to bring back from DR. They are usually locally handcrafted containing tribal signs and symbols that supposed to bring good luck. Other wooden arts are also very popular here. I, myself, bought tapestry, Taino art paintings, Dominican coffee, chocolate, and coconut shell candle holders. Jewelries made with beautiful blue larimar stones are also something popular here which is only found in DR. Unlike many other places I’ve visited, going for souvenir hunting is a bit challenge in Punta Cana. We came across some people who were selling jewelries and small trinkets in Saona Island for really cheap prices. Whatever you buy here you can always bargain, unless they are fixed priced. I also found couple souvenir shops near our resort on the Bavaro Beach selling all sorts of stuff from paintings to jewelries to cigars and generic stuff. But I saw something in Punta Cana for our souvenir hunting that I’ve never seen in any other places before, maybe a Caribbean thing. We wanted to go to a place where we could find local trinkets. And when I asked the hotel concierge, they said they can contact the nearby souvenir “villages” and they will take us there free of charge, we walk around and look around and not obligated to buy anything. And in 2 hours, they will drop us back to the resort. Yes, it does sounds like a trap, but it was the only option we had and in a way, it was a fun experience. A minivan took us and 3 other families to their souvenir complex. There are few different “huts”, each had its own products. One for only cigars and you get to see how the cigars are made and try them, one for larimar jewelries, one for tequila and other drinks, one for only chocolates and coffee beans…where you can try and taste everything before you buy, and finally another one was with just other types of handicrafts, like paintings, t-shirts, generic trinkets, and other gift items.

Dominican souvenirs

Dominican souvenirs

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We stayed in Punta Cana for total 4 nights. This trip was all about just relaxing, spending time at the resort and its beach, and taking it slow. We went there without much strict itinerary, except for the Saona Island trip which just took one of our four days. Other days, we basically enjoyed the pool, the resort parties, going to a nearby souvenir shop, eating out for one dinner, and last day we just decided to check out the Macao Beach. I did regret not booking a trip to Santo Domingo from Punta Cana for one day. It’s the capital of Dominican Republic and has tons of historic landmarks and cultural sites to visit and in about couple hours of drive each way, you are there. Santo Domingo will be my top priority if I come back to DR in the future again.

Below are few places we visited during our stay in Punta Cana:

  1. ALTOS de CHAVON and SAONA ISLAND DAY-TRIP: We booked this trip before arriving Punta Cana. For $84 per person, we got a 10-hour day excursion with lunch. We got to visit their history, local lives, and some of the most beautiful Caribbean coastlines. We were picked up from our hotel around 7am in a small minivan and were brought to a gas station to be shifted to a bigger bus with other tourists. One thing I want to mention here, we had a professional photographer with us all time during this trip, taking our photos everywhere, taking candid and posed shots. Some loved it and some not so much. But give this guy a chance, at the end he’ll show you all the photos which you can buy if you want to for about $5 per image. Our main tour guide was a funny, very enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and accommodating man…who could dance very well too.
A local wearing traditional Dominican dress in Punta Cana

A local wearing traditional Dominican dress in Punta Cana

                      a. ALTOS de CHAVON: Our first stop of that morning was Altos de Chavon, an artist’s village on top of a spectacular hill which was perched above the winding Chavon River. This place replicates the 16th-century Mediterranean town and is an architectural wonder. It did feel like a mini European village, with churches, cobbled stoned alleys, and small squares. Musician Carlos Santana had one of his concerts in the amphitheater in Altos de Chavon. The amphitheater was built around 1976-1982 and can hold around 5000 people. This town was also used in few Hollywood movies, such as Anaconda. The area of the main church and its square is probably one of the best places to take some shots of the surroundings. We couldn’t go inside the church. But from outside this stone-made church looked grand and very photogenic.

View of Chavon River from the hilltop town Altos de Chavon in Dominican Republi

View of Chavon River from the hilltop town Altos de Chavon in Dominican Republi

There are few small boutique shops, souvenir stores, art galleries,  cafes and snack places here. But the highlight is the view from this hilltop town.  Looking at the river down below with small hills surrounding the place is stunning, especially when we arrived in the morning, it was quiet and peaceful. Also, enjoy the garden with exotic flowers and fruits, like banana, mango, lemon. Explore the enchanting old buildings and enjoy the locals, especially women walking around in their colorful traditional dresses.  

Architectural beauty of Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

Architectural beauty of Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

We didn’t stop at the Casa de Campo once we reached the complex of Altos de Chavon, but we were told this is where rich Hollywood stars, like Vin Diesel, have their vacations homes.

The old church Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

The old church Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

Altos de Chavon is one of the most popular sites in Punta Cana and you can either combine it with your Saona Island trip or just take half a day trip from your hotel to come here. We spent about an hour in Altos de Chavon before getting on the bus again for our next spot.

             b. La PLAYA PALMIA: It was about 30 minutes bus ride to reach a small fishing village, called Bayahibe, by the Caribbean Sea. From here, we got onto a speed boat and cruised over the Caribbean Sea for about 15-20 minutes to come to a natural swimming pool, called La Playa Palmia or The Natural Beach. FYI, Hollywood film, Blue Lagoon-2 was shot here.

Going to La PLAYA PALMIA

Going to La PLAYA PALMIA

The water is shallow in La Playa Palmia and you’ll see many other excursion boats bring their tourists here to take a quick swim in this serene blue water lined with gentle palm trees. It was beautiful. I, personally, didn’t go to the water…simply because I am afraid of water and I didn’t bring any extra pair of clothes. But my two other friends, who got themselves wet and were served with both soft and hard drinks, while some of us enjoyed being on the boat and appreciating the surreal beauty of that beach. The 30-40 minutes we spent there, it was a total bliss.

               c. SAONA ISLAND: Another half an hour ride on that speed boat, we came to one of the most beautiful islands I’ve seen in my life…Isla Saona or Saona Island. This is beyond just a picturesque island bordered with thousands of palm trees. This was a true Caribbean paradise. The endless shallow turquoise waters of this natural reserve in Eastern National Park can’t be and shouldn’t be missed when you are in Punta Cana.

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Right after we got off the boat, which by the way anchors a bit far from the beach…so you are bound to get wet, we walked over to our “picnic shelter” for lunch. This was our first out of the resort meal and it was mind-blowing. If I only knew that actual Dominican cuisine is that good, I’d have avoided going for all-inclusive. We had the option of rice, grilled fish, BBQ chicken, and salad.

There aren’t many things to do on this island, but that was the whole purpose actually…not to do much. We just enjoyed the powdery white sandy beach, warm weather with gentle breeze, palm trees, locals, bought some jewelries from the shops, and relaxed by the beach.

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

We stayed about 2 ½ hours here. In the meantime, try fresh coconut water, fresh pineapple juice in the pineapple shell, a massage by the beach and under the sun. I walked around the lesser crowded side of the island with my camera for a while to get some shots and glad I did that.

A local making fresh pineapple juice for us in Saona Island, DR

A local making fresh pineapple juice for us in Saona Island, DR

Another fun highlight of this whole trip is cruising on the catamaran/party boat. Towards the end of the day, we got on the speedboat again from Saona Island and were shifted to this Catamaran. This is an open boat with sails and no chairs to sit, but they have metal benches all around the boat. We were all tired and some were sitting, some were dancing with the dancers and with Caribbean party music, and others were enjoying the vast sea. I enjoyed the sun, the breeze, and the music in the background while laying down on the boat making my backpack my pillow. This was one heavenly feelings and my every penny was worth of it.

Our trip ended by getting into that big bus after the catamaran docked near the fishing village and in about hour and half or so, we were back to our resort.

  1.  MACAO BEACH: We visited Macao Beach on the very last day of our stay in Punta Cana and thank goodness that we did. We arranged a taxi for couple hours from our resort to go to this beach (please visit his info in my recommended tour guide…knowledgeable, gentle, and very friendly). This Guatemalan taxi driver living in Punta Cana currently, told us that Macao Beach is his favorite spot to watch sunset over the Caribbean Sea.
Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

          It was truly a remarkable sunset that we watched that evening. This part of the sea was a bit rough, good place for the surfers. Buggy riders also come here to ride along the white sandy beach.

          It is a public beach, so no entrance fee to pay. There were some locals with us too. It was stunning when the sky was sprayed with all shades of orange and yellow colors and reflected that on the turquoise water of the sea.

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

         Absolutely fell in love with the Caribbean after this trip, have to plan to come back and explore other islands here.

Just finished making this video on our trip to the Islands of Malta & Gozo few years ago, hope it will inspire you to visit these islands by the Central Mediterranean.

Islands of Malta and Gozo – Thru My Lens

If you are planning to visit Malta, Gozo, & Comino, please check out these 2 following links for tips and suggestions.

Valletta and Gozo and Comino

 

Link

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