What makes Iceland unique? Part 3 – Northeastern & Northwestern Regions

If you haven’t noticed yet, Iceland has a lot that makes it a unique country in and of itself. Making our way around the island, this post will dwell a bit on the two northern regions. Being so far up there, these are the two parts of the country that reach closest to the Arctic. Here you can read parts one and two of Iceland. It’s a little colder and more remote so far north. But what is it that makes the Northwestern and Northeastern Regions so unique? Let’s start by getting acquainted with this part of Iceland, shall we?

Location of Northeastern Region (Norðurland eystra) on the map
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Location of Northwestern Region (Norðurland vestra) on the map
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Quick Geography: Norðurland Vestra & Norðurland Eystra

The names of both of these regions describe exactly where they stand on the map, and that goes for both in Icelandic and English. So, we at least know where they are. Common for subarctic countries, they also have some big fjords (though not quite like the Westfjords).

The capital of Northwestern is Sauðárkrókur (Saudarkrokur), and Akureyri for Northeastern. Both of these regions have pretty extensive coastlines and mountains, though there are some full-blown ice sheets down in the south of them. The northernmost points in both the island and the country of Iceland are in the Northeastern Region, where there are a few isles that reach above the Arctic Circle. Now on to the uniqueness!

Fjord and harbor with a scenic mountainous landscape around the town of Akureyri, capital of the Northeastern Region, Iceland
Public Domain

Features & Places

1. The Capitals

Since we already mentioned them, let’s just start with the capital towns. I know the names might be a little confusing, so I’ll just refer to them here as S-Town and A-Town. Both of these northern regions look to be quite rural and country, even for Iceland standards. Still, this gives these towns even more of a cozy feel within the country.

Not only are these towns surrounded by scenic landscapes like sweeping harbors and snowcapped peaks. Especially with A-Town, there are a couple of other places to see like the Into the Arctic center, Iceland’s Motorcycle Museum for those who like motor grease, and a quiet Botanical Garden for those who like to sit in nature.

2. Northwestern: The Countryside

Of course, there is plenty to see outside of the capitals. In the Northwestern Region, Blönduós and Skagafjörður (Skagafjordur) come to mind out of the many idyllic countrysides here. In the area, there are even more scenes of majestic nature and landscapes stooped with watery valleys. A very cool feature of both these regions is that you can find many of those traditional sod-roof Nordic houses covered in grasses. When the ice has melted away, these homes and cabins are a pretty sight to see.

Panoramic view east across Skagafjörður valley, from Vatnsskarð pass, Northwestern Region
Skagafjörður valley – By Debivort

3. Special Lakes

If you like lakes, this is your place! 😀 Well, there are some interesting bodies of water out here. In Northwestern is a big one called Lake Hóp. Something really cool about it is that there are parts that seem to be shallow where groups of people can ride across the water on horseback!

If that doesn’t spark your interest, then check out this other place called Askja. Now, Askja itself is an active volcano or a series of calderas, really. Besides the feeling of being way out in the central highlands of a country that’s already pretty isolated, there are also a couple of big crater lakes, including the very large Lake Askja herself. Big beautiful bodies of water surrounded by snow-powdered hills and steamy calderas has to make a case for Northeastern Region being a special one.

3. Dettifoss & Vatnajökull

Particularly in Northeastern, you can find a few second-placers of Europe. Two of these would be Dettifoss (considered the second-most powerful waterfall) and the Vatnajökull (second largest glacier). With that said, they are definitely in first place inside of Iceland’s watery borders.

By writing this, you can probably picture for yourself the powerful, roaring waters and vast sheets of rugged ice and frozen caves. The glacier itself does stretch across a few different regions, but the larger part of Vatnajökull National Park is in Northeastern which is exactly where Dettifoss Falls are located. Okay, done with that.

Culture

I noticed doing research that these places seemed to be even more rustic and rural than the other regions of Iceland. It looks like there’s a stronger horse and farm life culture out here, and that’s great for giving some separation from the rest of the country. This area was traditionally (and still is) the least contacted for being so far up top. This has allowed the region to preserve certain aspects of rural and traditional Icelandic life that have fallen away in other parts.

There are still lots of amazing places to see and explore, and I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface. Ride a horse on a lake, catch the 2nd-most powerful waterfall in Europe, and reach the Arctic. All can be done in the wonderful Northeastern and Northwestern regions of beautiful Iceland!

**Thanks again for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed learning more about these regions of Iceland with me. I appreciate your thirst for knowledge and interest in other worlds. Please take care of yourselves and have happy travels!

What Makes Iceland Unique? Part 2 – Western Region, Westfjords

Welcome back to another post about Iceland! We’re going to continue our curious quest to learn what makes different parts of the world stand out from all the rest. Moving on within the nation of Iceland, this post explores how unique the Western Region and Westfjords are. This isn’t really a travel list, more a letter of admiration for these two incredible places. You can read Part 1 about Iceland here. Check the links to discover more, or feel free to research some of these places for yourself. But read this first!

Hornstrandir area, a protruding rock formation on the coast, a unique place in Iceland's Westfjords Region
Hornstrandir – By Steenaire

Okay. What does make the Western Region and the Westfjords so special?

Vesturland

Quick Geography

As far as place-names go in Iceland, this one is about as simple as it gets. The Western Region is named so for being in the west. It sits just north of the Capital Region, with its capital at Borgarnes. It has coastlines, highlands, mountains, and glaciers like all the other regions do. The climate doesn’t differ much either. Okay, moving on.

the Höfrungur AK 91, a shored boat in Akranes, Western Region of Iceland
shored boat in Akranes – by Luke Hodde

Features & Places

Even though Borgarnes is the capital, the biggest town in the region is Akranes. Akranes is a coastal city with several interesting features like a lighthouse that looks spectacular underneath the sunset or aurora lights. There’s this ship from the 1950s called Höfrungur AK 91 that was just left on the shore and turned into a tourist attraction. There’s a sandy beach too, although the water’s a little chilly for diving.

It’s not the biggest, but Borgarnes is still worth the visit. The saving feature of this town is the majestic landscape surrounding it. There are winding peninsulas and harbors with snowy mountains in the backdrop. Like with most of the country, the elevation rises the further inland you go. With this, you can see an impressively tall waterfall called Glymur high above the surrounding canyons and tumbling birds.

Glymur, iconic waterfalls in the Western Region of Iceland
section of Glymur falls – by Alexander Milo

A mention of landscapes couldn’t go without Snæfellsnes. It’s a natural region on a peninsula that happens to be one of the most photographed and iconic parts of Iceland. There are these unbelievable rock formations covered in green pastures alongside roaring white waterfalls. The whole thing is like a fantasy setting. The coast is just as impressive with twisty stones and rugged shores alongside many uniquely shaped rocks. There are natural bridges, arches, and tunnels carved out by the constantly beating waves.

rock formations and a volcano in the background, part of Snæfellsnes area in Iceland's Western Region
Snæfellsnes region – by Martin Brechtl

In this same area is Snæfellsjökull, a big volcano that overlooks beaches and shorelines. It’s a pretty sight considering the glacier sitting on top of it, and even more amazing when the whole area is covered in snow during the winter. Inland you can see even taller mountains and larger glaciers. Isn’t that awesome?!

Vestfirðir

Quick Geography

The Westfjords are named so for being in the northwest of the country (naturally) and being full of fjords. It’s actually the part of Iceland furthest to the west and is the closest to Greenland. Its capital is a town deep inside a fjord called Ísafjörður. Now let’s see what you’ve got.

Dynjandi waterfall, a unique feature of Iceland's Westfjords
Dynjandi Falls – By Diego Delso

Features & Places

Now, the Westfjords or West Fjords — really you can write it either way — is a very pretty area similar somewhat to the Western Region. What makes it stand alone are its complex systems of fjords (imagine that!), cliffs, and very very twisty roads. These kinds of roads are famous and highly memorable for those that have driven them. The winding roads take you past some pretty amazing sights, including the mighty Dynjandi Falls. These suckers cascade over cliffs around the bend of some big road curves. Because of the rugged landscape, summer in these parts becomes really beautiful. As the snow melts, it creates all sorts of streams and waterfalls that run down into the ocean. One of the more interesting places to see this is in Ísafjörður, where the green and the streams really stand out around the edges of the town’s harbor.

Capital town and pretty scenery of the Westfjords region, Isafjordur (Ísafjörður), calm harbor in the summer time
town of Ísafjörður – By Sturlast~iswiki

The highest cliffs on the North Atlantic can be found at Látrabjarg. This place is a refuge for many sea birds like puffins that you can watch and get close to. The feeling of standing over the sea and watching birds fly under you must be an incredible sensation. The region is also full of green meadows that cover the hills and misty clouds that shift in between cliffs and mountains. The best showcasing of this unique beauty is found in Hornstrandir, an area with protruding mountains and cliffs like rhino horns that jut out over the sea. The setting is spectacular!

some high cliffs at Látrabjarg, Westfjords Region
Cliffs at Látrabjarg – by Einar H. Reynis

Culture (AKA Last Thoughts)

It’s easy to imagine why these regions are some of the most photographed and celebrated parts of Iceland. Just look up Iceland on Google Images and you’re bound to see a few locations from these iconic places. It goes to show from their almost unbelievable landscapes pressing right against the sea, their iconic winding roads, seaside volcanoes, and tall grassy cliffs. The Western Region and the Westfjords are definitely important for tourism, being not too far from Reykjavík. Still, they are remote enough to preserve the old customs and lifestyles while being open to welcome in newcomers. Go and check it out!

**Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning more about these unique regions of Iceland. I appreciate that you like to learn about the world and have a passion for exploring! Please share with us anything you’d like to add about these regions. What was the most interesting place on this list? Would you ever visit these regions? As always, take care of yourself. And go explore your world 😉

What Makes Iceland Unique? Part 1- Capital Region, Southern Peninsula

Intro

If you’re anything like me, you know you love to travel, discover new cultures, and learn about the beauty in this wonderful planet we live on. Today I want to introduce (or reintroduce?) you to a beautiful, remarkable little Nordic country called Iceland. And it’s very apropos that we start with a look at the uniqueness of these two places: the Capital Region and the Southern Peninsula. You’ll be able to find more posts like this about many parts of the world in Earth’s Face.

I want to be real with you all: I haven’t been to these places or a majority of the places I’m going to write about in this series. It’s not a list of recommendations for your travels, since I can’t recommend a place I haven’t been to. This is part of a personal project of mine where I research the world’s state divisions out of pure pleasure, looking on maps, watching videos, and reading articles. I want to share what I’ve learned with you, and I encourage you to discover more for yourself. This is not a travel list. I am only sharing what to me seems to make these places unique in the world, to encourage you (and myself) to visit, or at least appreciate them.

What makes these two places so special, after all? Let me make my case…

Höfuðborgarsvæðið or the Capital Region highlighted red on a map of Iceland
Capital Region – By Karte: NordNordWest

Höfuðborgarsvæðið

Capital region: Quick Geography

So if you’re not Icelandic and you know anything about Iceland, you know it has some difficult place names to pronounce. I mean, just try and read that subheading. Ho-fud-bor-ga… and then just give up. If I could transliterate it to English it might be “Hofudburgersvedid,” but that’s not much easier. In simpler terms, this is the Capital Region, and it has a lot that makes it unique.

Hallgrímskirkja church building in the Capital Region, Reykjavik, discussing what makes Iceland unique
famous Hallgrímskirkja – by Yves Alarie

Just to catch up on some basic geography, this (you probably can tell by the name) is where the national capital, Reykjavík, is located, which is also the region’s capital. In southwest Iceland, it has a coastline with hills and mountains in the interior. It’s in sort of a mixed Alpine and Tundra zone, though these features run the same for pretty much all of Iceland. Okay, so what makes it stand out?

Features & Places

One thing right off the bat is that this region is home to the biggest, most populous city in Iceland. Most Icelanders live in or around the capital, which is of great importance. That’s because most of the major cultural, economic, and tourism stems out from this region specifically. There’s no better place to get an introduction to this awesome country and its people than to start in the Capital Region.

A building with interesting architecture in Reykjavik, discussing what makes Iceland unique
Cool architecture – by Michael Held
a street in Reykjavik painted with rainbow colors on the pavement and with small shops and apartments, discussing what makes Iceland unique
street in Reykjavík – by Square Lab

There’s so much art here. Besides the urban art, you also get a surprising amount of museums. This includes even the Phallological Museum, a quirky (or kinky) museum full of phallic imagery. Who’d have known? There’s also tons of unique architecture, like the cultural Nordic House, the Perlan, and a rad Voyager Ship sculpture/statue right on the coast. And I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the almighty Hallgrímskirkja, the tall iconic church building. I had to look up the spelling on that one.

Capital Region is also a primary shoot-off point for lots of outdoor excursions in the area. Besides the famous whale watching, there’s this vast sweeping landscape of mountains, lava fields, volcanoes, and gorgeous rock formations right outside of the cities. This contrast makes the region really unique within Iceland itself. Some very interesting natural places to check out would be Heiðmörk, Reykjanesfólkvangur, and Krýsuvík, to name a few. That last one is actually in another part of the region which is broken into two separate sections, also unique in Iceland. This goes all the way to the southern coast where there are these long sharp cliffs staring out over the North Atlantic. If I can say anything else, the Northern Lights are a stunning backdrop to the city and mountains beyond.

Krýsuvíkurbjarg cliffs over the ocean in Capital Region, discussing what makes Iceland unique
Cliffs at Krýsuvíkurbjarg – By Wojciech Strzelecki “Wojtrix”
Suðurnes or Southern Peninsula region highlighted red on a map
Suðurnes – By A Red Cherry

Suðurnes

Southern Peninsula: Quick Geography

This is easy. The Southern Peninsula is just below the Capital Region in the far southwest corner of Iceland. It sits on a peninsula (surprise!) and right on a continental divide between the North American and European plates. Its capital is called Keflavík, part of a larger municipality called Reykjanesbær. I know, the names! But you’re here so you love it.

a sweeping landscape with clouds, snowy rock fields and grassy plains, discussing what makes Iceland unique
open landscape – by Chris Liverani

Features & Places

A big chunk of Iceland is actually in this geothermal, volcanic hot spot zone. That explains all the spewing bubbling landscape stuff. The Southern Peninsula is no different, and there are lots of awesome geological features like the famous Blue Lagoon hot springs. Those are a stunning set of steamy blue pools ahead of an icy, rugged backdrop. There’s Trölladyngja, a type of volcanic system with alluring colors and rocks. Besides this, there many signs of the Viking past, such as the ruins in Selatangar.

the Blue Lagoon in Southern Peninsula, steaming blue hot springs in a snowy setting, showing what makes Iceland unique
Blue Lagoon – by Jeff Sheldon

Several artifacts are well-preserved in the Viking Museum, set just outside of Reykjanesbær. There’s even an Icelandic Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum there if you want to see that. Lastly, I want to mention the town of Grindavík. This place is a stunning coastal town with awesome natural features just outside of it. Throughout Iceland are unique cottages and lodging you won’t find outside of the Nordic world. The remoteness and quaintness of them mixed with the inspiring backgrounds all add to what makes these regions special.

Culture (AKA Last Thoughts)

These two regions are the perfect introduction to Iceland. They have an impressive amount of culture, art, and natural features. Being the prime places of settlement and tourism in the country, it’s easy to find tours or things to see. This is where you want to go to get a taste of mainstream (or not so much) culture and identity in Iceland. Most of the country’s famous and influential persons come from these two regions, and most immigrants come to them. This makes for a more international and diverse experience as well. These were also significant locations for early Nordic settlement and a base camp for the Vikings that would go on to reach North America well before Columbus. The rich mixture of historic and current Nordic culture is part of what makes the Capital Region and the Southern Peninsula unique.

a brightly colored landscape of fields and rock formations and a cloudy blue sky above
colorful Arctic landscape

**I want to personally thank you for reading! I love that you love learning and exploring. Please share any experiences you have in these regions of Iceland or if there is anything you would add to this brief list. And one last thing: Go out and explore your world! It’s a beautiful place.

Belize on the Map: Straight Facts

Continuing our quest to explore the world’s English-speaking countries, today we’ll take a look at Belize’s place on the map. Have you ever wondered Where is Belize? Or simply, I want to learn about Belize. Here we’ll see a bit about its geography and help you all understand this place a bit better. Of course, this won’t be a definitive description, so whoever wants to add on to it can feel free to chime in! You can find more about Geography on The Actual English World. And the Geography Now video is below to enjoy. Let’s get started.

A map of Belize highlighting its six districts and nearby islands, reefs and cays.
Belize’s place on the map – from AmbergrisCaye.com

Mapping out Belize

To start off, Belize is a pretty small country, a drastic contrast to our last country, Canada in many ways. The country is broken up into six districts. From north to south:

  • Corozal
  • Orange Walk
  • Belize
  • Stann Creek
  • Cayo
  • & Toledo

Belize has got over 403 thousand people in an area of almost 23,000 square km, or 9,000 square miles. That places Belize as smaller than countries like Haiti or Albania, about the size of states like New Jersey or New Hampshire. It’s also the second-smallest country on the American mainland, but don’t let that fool you! This place has a lot to offer in such a small area.

Belize Geography – Where We At?

Belize has a very interesting place on the map. It sits right at the crossroads of Central America and the Caribbean, making its land features and culture really unique. It’s actually the only country mostly on the mainland to be considered a full Caribbean nation on par with Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago, even though it does still have lots of little islands and cays. The landscape is generally flatter with plains in the north and gets more hilly and mountainous as you go south. This also goes for traveling from the east coast as you get further inland. At last, you culminate with the Mayan Mountains in the interior of the south. Most of the country has rainforests and jungles too since Belize has some of the best-preserved forests that exist.

The Great Blue Hole, a giant sink hole off the coast of Belize surrounded by coral reefs
the Great Blue Hole off Belize’s coastBy U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Going back to the coast, Belize also has lots of reefs. If you’ve seen pictures of this country, you probably know there are tons of reefs, not to mention some giant blue sinkholes. Belize and its neighbors are actually home to the second-biggest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (we’ll talk about that one later). That makes it a perfect place for snorkelers and a haven for marine life to grow and reproduce. Put that together with the jungles that are havens for wild creatures like jaguars and you’ve got a pretty big refuge for tons of important critters.

What’s the Weather?

Besides the flatter north to the hillier south, the weather also changes a bit depending on location. North Belize is a bit drier and has a more savanna-type setting. Meanwhile, south Belize is wetter and gets more rain, which can explain the thicker forests down that way. Another thing to keep in mind is the storms. Belize does sit right on the Caribbean and just below the Gulf of Mexico. That means it’s not just a paradise for people, but for hurricanes too! To talk more on that, you might notice that Belize City is the biggest city in the country. It actually used to be the capital, but that all changed when a series of storms knocked it nearly out of place. Nationals picked up and moved their capital to Belmopan which is the current capital, a nice safe distance from the sea (in Cayo district, if you wanted to know).

An example of a hurricane from as seen from space to portray Belize's position in hurricane alley.
live footage of a hurricane over Belize – by Pixabay, Pexels.com

But not to dwell too much on that, you’ll see a common trend of hurricanes in pretty much all the Caribbean/West Indies countries. Belize is still beautiful as heck and has a lot of biodiversity for such a small country. They owe it to their numerous habitats and the protection provided for them.

Enough Map Stuff, Talk About Belize’s History

Okay, I feel you. You want to know about some history. I know this isn’t a history post, but you might know that Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. That doesn’t mean Spain didn’t try to take it. Spanish sailors were actually the first Europeans to claim what we call Belize, but they didn’t really care to settle it. In fact, they cared so little that eventually the British swooped in and just took it for themselves. Caught you sleeping, Spain. Well, even with that, the country was called British Honduras for a pretty long while because Honduras is what Columbus called that whole bay region. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the name was changed to Belize, and the country became independent from Great Britain only in the 1980s. That’s not even that long ago.

Belize of course had a big African slave trade initially which brought tons of black people to the country. There were also lots of migrants from other Caribbean countries like Jamaica which continues to this day. Before Europeans, the region was inhabited by indigenous Americans, most noticeably the Mayans. Proof of this exists all across the country with majestic Mayan ruins being a major tourist draw and source of general awe. There have also been many other migrations from neighboring countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras of people seeking refuge from war, violence, or poverty. You also have migrants from further in the past like the Russian Mennonites, Pennsylvania Dutch, and American Southerners who were looking for religious freedom, cheaper land and whatnot.

An example of a Mayan temple ruin you might find in Belize
Mayan ruins – by Cristian Rojas, Pexels.com

OK, Now You’re Talking Belizean Culture

Even with all of those diverse cultural influences already listed, I still didn’t talk about the South and East Asian (mostly from India and China) communities that were taken to Belize to do the work that slaves used to do. And I’m sure that I’m forgetting somebody. Oh, yes, the Garifuna! The Garifuna are mostly descendants of Africans that were able to escape slavery or ended up shipwrecked and founded their own communities on the Caribbean coast. Most of the other countries in Central America have Garifuna or related cultures, but we won’t talk about them in this section since those countries speak mostly Spanish. Still, it’s an interesting fact to know. Garifuna, no matter where they live, much like the rest of Belize, speak a creole language (in Belize’s case, Kriol), although their creoles are a bit different. Here you can read some examples of Kriol phrases.

That’s right, even though English is the official language and most people can speak or understand it, Creole is the main language for a large portion of the people. It’s a more informal way of speech, but it serves a lot for the national identity of Belizeans no matter what their ethnicity or background is. Besides that, it’s kind of interesting as an American seeing people who look Mexican/Mestizo or Chinese speaking Belizean Creole.

What Else You Got?

Much like Canada, Belize is also a Commonwealth state of the British Crown. If you want to read about Canada, I explain more in-depth what the Commonwealth is (kind of). Otherwise, just know that Belize was part of Great Britain for a long time before it became an independent state. Like most Caribbean nations, Belize celebrates versions of Carnival and has some special events of its own. September is considered an entire month of festivities and celebrations by itself. Because of nearby Latin American contact, there are some Spanish-influenced traditions as well, and many people even have Spanish surnames. Spanish itself is widely spoken in Belize too, given that most of the population is multilingual in at least two of the national languages like Creole, Garifuna, or the several German and Mayan dialects used throughout.

In Closing

So that’s that! I hope you enjoyed mapping Belize with me. It’s a spectacular country with tons of diversity right up in your face. It’s colorful, tropical, all kinds of paradise and beautiful. It may be English-speaking, but Belize has a whole identity unique to its own. Comment below if you love Belize. If you’re Belizean or know some Belizeans, please tell me how I did. What do you have to add about this compact powerhouse? Can you teach us some words in your language? Be well, and I’ll be writing to you soon!