" ǝʌıʇɔǝdsɹǝd ɹǝɥʇouɐ ɯoɹɟ sƃuıɥʇ ǝǝs oʇ ǝʌol ı "
Derek is a perpetual wanderer, cultural enthusiast, and lifelong traveler. He loves going places where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, as well as places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo (supposedly its healthier and more efficient). Say Hello On Twitter!
Multi-colored volcanic lakes. Haunted resorts. The world's largest mud volcano. The world's most elaborate funerals. An abandoned chicken church and other abandoned structures. Yes, this is Indonesia Off The Beaten Path.
When I arrived in Indonesia for the first time ever, I assumed one month would be long enough to see all there was worth seeing. HA! How wrong I was. Here it is many years later and I'm still finding new places to travel in Indonesia.
Indonesia is one of those countries where for every one place you visit, you learn of two more places that you have to visit. You're never done. There is always more.
Unfortunately most visitors stick to the same overcrowded sights and miss out on all the amazing, offbeat and unique sights and activities just around the corner from popular tourist destinations. My job is to keep you from doing just that. So save this list! The next time you find yourself in Indonesia, make sure to visit at least a couple of this unique, offbeat destinations:
In May of 2006 a drilling accident in Sidoarjo resulted in the formation of a mud volcano. Mud has been flowing out ever since, swallowing up everything nearby. Ten years later and the mud is still flowing, the victims have only been compensated a fraction of what they were promised, and the drilling company has weaseled its way out of all responsibility. What remains has turned into a one-of-a-kind off the beaten path attraction.
More photos can be found on Inside Other Places
You won't find any signs or entrance lines, but you may find locals who will charge you a few rupiah to see the sights or to be your motorcycle tour guide. As long as they don't ask for something completely unreasonable, just go for it -- they need it more than you in this case.
Sidoarjo is located 25km south of Suarabya and the mud volcano is located on the south side of town near the river. It's pretty hard to miss. This is what it looks like from above:
Although mud flow has dropped from 100,000 cubic metres per day to less than 10,000m3/day, scientists estimate that it could continue erupting for another 20-30 years.
Move over Borobodur, you've got some competition! Another place of worship has risen up past the jungle treetops just 2 kilometres away. The story begins in 1989 when an elderly man visiting his wife's family in Magelang was struck with a "vision from God" that told him to build a church atop this particular hill. So he bought 3,000 square metres of land on Rhema Hill and built this omnistic (open to all religions) church shaped like a chicken. (Or as he called it, a Dove.) The church finally opened its doors for a few years in the mid-1990s but it wasn't long before money dried up and the property was abandoned. Designed to look like a dove, the church so much resembles a chicken that it is known to the locals as Gereja Ayam ("Chicken Church").
Given the Chicken Church's prominent location atop a hill just a couple kilometres further down Jalan Raya Borobordur past Borobordur, it's not too hard to find. However if you get lost, just ask any local, "Dimana Geraja Ayam?" ("Where is the Chicken Church?") Oh and dress accordingly as it does require a short hike through the brush and up the hill.
Kelimutu Volcano has a good reputation with tourists of Indonesia who make it as far East as Flores and Komodo National Park. However few outside of this niche group have ever heard of Kelimutu Volcano, also known as the Tri-Colored Lakes. The mountaintop is home to three crater lakes of three different colors! The westernmost lake, Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People), is blue, Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) in the middle is green, and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake) is red. Of course their colors have been known to vary slightly, which researchers assume is from fluctuations in the gases from the volcano.
Aerial view of the tri-colored lakes of Kelimutu via Michael Day
The Tri-Colored lakes of Kelimutu were not discovered until 1915 and the last official eruption was in 1968. However water in the lakes was boiling for several days back in 2005 and again 2013. As geologists worry that the next eruption could destroy the tri-colored lakes, research there is ongoing.
Given everything, I recommend visiting sooner rather than later. And staying one night nearby so that you can catch the sunrise from Kelimutu.
Like what you're reading? More Offbeat Travel Guides
via Arian Zwegers
The funeral ceremonies of the Toraja people are certainly not off the beaten path anymore -- they've been covered by journalists, photographers, researchers, bloggers and cultural preservationists before. Many, many times before. However no list of unique and offbeat activities in Indonesia would be complete without mentioning them.
In Toraja culture, a funeral is more a celebration of life than a mourning of death. The most extravagent event in their entire lives is, ironically, their funeral. They are elaborate affairs that can last for weeks and cost a fortune. People in Tana Toraja work and save their entire life not for their future, but for their funeral. Sometimes funerals are even delayed for years after the deceased has passed in order to give the family time to raise the remainder of the money necessary for these grand events. During this time in limbo the body will wait patiently inside the family home, waiting for its burial....up on a cliffside.
via Arian Zwegers
Yes, rather than bury their deceased in the ground, Torajans place them inside of a wooden coffin and hang it up on a cliffside. Sometimes these are just propped on the side of the rock wall. Occasionally childrens' coffins are just suspended by rope. However if the family is wealthy enough, they will carve out a miniature cave in the rockface with enough room for several family members. A handcarved wooden effigy is then placed outside and facing away, to watch out over the land and protect the deceased.
In between Bali and Lombok lies a small little island known as Nusa Penida. It is a pristine paradise, home to several small villages, plenty of deserted beaches, and only one hotel and one bungalow complex. Nusa Pendia is Bali's Hidden Paradise. Thanks to minimal tourim the traditional way of life still exists here. It's like Bali was 40 years ago.
Come here for a few days to escape the tourists and the touts. Rent a motorcycle and explore the island. It actually takes several days to cover every road, village and beach. Up north you'll find countless seaweed farms that are a photographer's dream. There is even a Buddhist temple inside of a cave! Even as I type this, I'm still wearing the bracelet I got from the priest during my blessing there back in 2014.
Don't miss Tanglad, the mountaintop village of Nusa Penida. It is known throughout Indonesia for its colorful tenun fabric, which is still handmade to this day. Learn more here.
via Stefan Krasowski
While most of the Indonesian archipelago lies south of the equator, this invisible line cuts Kalimantan in half. Just a few kilometres north of the town of Pontianak lies a monument that is supposedly on top of the equator. Or was. Much like the fake equator monument in Ecuador, GPS has since revealed that this location of this monument is not on the real equator. Another small marking has been erected a slight distance away that is supposed to signify where the equator has "moved" too, but this too is debated. Regardless, the monument still stands and is definitely worth stopping by for a photo opportunity if you find yourself in the neighborhood.
As a result of the terrorist bombings in Bali in 2002, international tourism temporarily stopped and the Beach Bounty Club Bungalows never officially opened. These 26 luxury bungalows and their grounds have ever since remained quietly stuck in time as nature gradually takes back over. Located on the southwest coast of Gili Meno, they are not hard to find. Most likely you will have the entire place yourself. Ferries are available from Lombok or fast boats from Bali -- at both Sanur Beach and Padangbai.
There is another abandoned resort located on Bali that suffered a similar fate in 2002 before it could ever open its doors. Located on the mountainside near Bedugal Lake lies the Taman Rekreasi Bedugul, also known as the Ghost Palace Hotel, this place is far creepier than the Beach Bounty Bungalows.
Of course these are but a fraction of all the amazing things to do in Indonesia. Take my advice and definitely book the longest trip possible. And no matter where you decide to visit, check out Traveloka.com for cheap hotels throughout Indonesia.
Planning a visit to London? After booking your flight and picking the perfect London hotel, the next item on the list is figuring out where to dine in this British metropolis. London is packed with everything from expensive, swanky restaurants to ultra-affordable, no-frills street vendors. The great thing about this city is that whether you dine in luxury or while just lounging on a park bench, you can enjoy some truly delicious food.
But what should you eat while you're there? You'll be bombarded with international cuisine options and hearty English dishes everywhere you turn. Tantalizing smells will waft from street carts, cafes and restaurants alike, all of which make it more difficult to decide what to eat. But on a limited jaunt in this city, you'll want to make your menu selections carefully. It's important to enjoy the traditional flavors this city serves up without missing out on some of the more exotic offerings.
To help travelers make the most of every meal in London, we've put together this hassle-free guide to the city's best dishes. Use this menu to make sure you don't miss out on the incredible flavors that London has to offer during your visit.
This article was originally published on IHG on May 9th, 2016.
Singapore is a small island city-state, which means that it quickly gets boring for uninformed travelers. Three days in Singapore, and you have literally done it all — or so you might think.
But the next time you find yourself passing through Lion City, drop your bags off at a nice hotel in the best part of Singapore and then knock a few of these offbeat activities off your travel bucket list:
Singapore is a sprawling metropolis — at least the main island is. However, up north, next to Malaysia, lies the smaller island of Pulau Ubin. Known as the Last Kampung of Singapore, this island is the only place you can still see the traditional village houses of the past. Only around 100 residents remain today, surrounded by lush flora and diverse fauna. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore and quiet beaches to relax on. Definitely a nice retreat from the city life in Singapore!
Dating back to 1937, Haw Par Villa has earned itself a reputation as Singapore's most bizarre tourist attraction and religious theme park. Originally known as the Tiger Balm Gardens, it was built by two brothers, the same duo who created Tiger Balm rub. The park was designed to teach Chinese mythology, but over the years it has evolved into an over-the-top collection of over 1,000 multicolored statues and giant dioramas depicting various — and often gory — scenes from Chinese history, folklore, and legends. Haw Par Villa might not be off the beaten path anymore, but Singapore doesn’t get any stranger than this!
Located right on Clarke Quay, this is one activity that every visitor to Singapore has seen but few ever try. The G-MAX reverse bungy is like nothing else you have ever experienced. Strap yourself in, and get ready. After being slingshot up in the air, reaching speeds of up to 100 km/hr, riders bounce and fly around in what G-MAX politely refers to as a "swing" — ha! This experience is so uncommon that I recommend having someone else film your ride. Besides, at 45 SGD, it's the cost of two drinks in Clarke Quay — and definitely more worth it.
To make a long story short, a Taiwanese company developed a machine that prints photos onto coffee foam. Of course, the next logical step is to use this for selfies instead of trippy designs. If you don't mind paying a hefty premium for your coffee and waiting a few extra minutes (yes, even longer than usual), you just might be a perfect fit for Selfie Coffee. And where else in Singapore would it be located than the hipster hotspot that is Haji Lane?
Up in the northeastern corner of Singapore lies Kranji, the Singapore countryside that many tourists do not even realize exists. Yes, there is a part of the main island that isn't a cement jungle! Here the jungle is still thick, and small farms are scattered among it. The biggest and best-known is Bollywood Veggies and its Poison Ivy Bistro, which serves what is arguably the freshest food in all of Singapore. There are also several nearby parks and nature reserves worth exploring, including Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Kranji Reservoir Park, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Beyond just greenery and fresh foods, Kranji also has plenty more to offer. Horse racing takes place every Friday and Sunday at the Singapore Turf Club, conveniently located right next to the Kranji MRT Station. The Kranji War Memorial pays homage to all the fallen soldiers from all the nations who helped defend Singapore from the Japanese during World War II.
Singapore may be small, but the harder you look, the more you find. What other offbeat and quirky sights or activities would you recommend?
With an official slogan of "Like No Place Else," Palm Springs sets the bar high for itself. Thankfully, this glistening jewel in the desert never disappoints. From hip hotspots to fine dining, with luxurious spas and world-class golfing, Palm Springs has something to cater to everyone. There are hotels in Palm Springs for all types of travelers.
Won't sleep on anything with a thread count of less than 400? Well, then the Movie Colony Hotel is the place to be. This mid-century hotel has a long and rich history, with stars such as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra having stayed here in the past. Movie Colony Hotel was designed by the renowned Swiss architect Albert Frey, father of the "desert minimalism" style. Opt for either a traditional room or poolside townhouse. Just keep in mind that all guests here must be 21 or over.
Just the two of you looking to go somewhere for the weekend? Check out the Ingleside Inn. This boutique hotel has 30 lavish, sumptuously designed rooms that instantly make guests feel right at home. The hotel's meticulously manicured grounds and stunning interior design will leave you speechless. Weddings happen here on a regular basis, including several celebrity weddings over the years. Even Frank Sinatra and Barbara had their pre-wedding dinner at the Inn's famous restaurant, Melvyn’s Restaurant.
Theatres and museums. Live music and art exhibits. World-class shopping and plenty of nightlife options. This is downtown Palm Springs. And for those who want a hotel just a couple of minutes' walk away from the action so they don't miss a beat, look no further than the Garden Vista Hotel. The 124 rooms and suites are spacious and come with a refrigerator, microwave, and flat screen television. Of course, with so many amazing things to do nearby, don't expect to spend much time in the room.
Downtown Palm Springs. Photo by Prayitno via flickr
Not a fan of massive hotel chains or sprawling, expansive grounds? Like staying places where the employees actually remember your name? Then the place for you is the Avanti Hotel. With only 10 individually designed studios and suites, this hotel makes guests part of an exclusive minority. Although small, the Avanti is one of the nicest hotels in town. Rooms are stocked with modern furniture and appliances, including flat screen televisions and wi-fi. Private patios, kitchenettes (available in most but not all suites), and in-room massage options further make this little star shine.
If all you want out of this vacation is to find a peaceful hotel that will cater to your every whim, head on over to the Andreas Hotel & Spa, a local landmark that is over 80 years old. Its plush and cozy suites come with exquisite marble and stone bathrooms, as well as all the modern amenities one needs to be comfortable. The rooms so quiet you would never imagine that you were located right in the heart of downtown. The hotel also has a spa, pool, jacuzzi, and large courtyard. Definitely a great place to unwind for a day or four!
Featured photo via flickr // Chris Goldberg
The beauty of having a boat is the travel freedom it provides. Not just short cruises and day trips, but also longer, more exciting adventures. And while Sydney is a great place to call home, the Harbour is a bit busy. So the next time you feel like taking your boat our for a spin, head to one of these destinations:
Over millennia the waters of the Hawkesbury River have carved out a deep, intricate and expansive collection of waterways. With so many small nooks and cranies to explore here there is no reason to ever visit the same exact spot twice. Feel the need to go ashore? No worries, there are plenty of small marinas and safe anchor points, as well as several National Parks to explore. For that reason no matter how often I cruise up to Hawkesbury, I am still never bored by it.
Newcastle is for newbies. The real boating fun lies just north, at Port Stevens, one of the most boater-friendly regions on the entire coast. Ramps and moorings are everywhere, as are sights and activities (both water- and land-based). Islands and coves also abound here and are just begging to be explore. However the area's real claim to fame is Myall Lake and the Myall Lakes National Park, located further upriver. Definitely not one to miss out on.
The beauty of the aptly-nicknamed Big River is that your fun doesn't stop a few kilometres upstream....it just keeps on going and going! Even 150km upstream there massive gorges, cliffs and underwater sinkholes. This region is home to some of the best produce and largest prawns in the country. Just make sure you have plenty of time to explore because after one glimpse, you'll be in no rush to return to the chaotic Harbour.
The attraction with Illawarra is not the rivers but the coastline and numerous bays. From Lake Illawarra on down to Jervis Bay (the boaters' jewel of the region) there are tons of water-based activities and sights to explore. Scattered throughout the region are a variety of small towns and villages for you to go ashore and rest a night (or three). Did I mention that since there is no more commercial net fishing here, this has become one of the best recreational fishing areas on the eastern coast of Australia.
Unfortunately, at some point you are going to have to return home to Sydney and return to a land-based lifestyle, at least briefly. Just don't forget to stow your boat properly -- and make sure to have a good custom boat covers to ensure that your baby stays in perfect shape for her next grand adventure. Happy boating!
The OC of the East Coast is Ocean City, Maryland, a popular year-round vacation destination for families or anyone who needs a break but doesn't have time to deal with long flights.
If you crave being in the heart of the action, look no further than Harrison Hall Hotel. Located right on the boardwalk, this hotel more resembles a classical style home than a hotel — not just in looks but also in feeling. From the minute you step inside, that homey sense of comfort and relaxation sets in. A quiet front porch with rocking chairs makes it perfect for relaxing the day away or gazing out upon the action of the boardwalk. Or step out the back for direct access to a private section of the OC beach. Anything else you could need, from shopping to dining or drinking, is located just a few minutes' walk away.
Known for its wide front porch and wooden rocking chairs, Plim Plaza is one of the most well-known of the boardwalk hotels. It is also one of the most affordable, making it perfect for the budget-conscious traveler. Rooms come standard with a refrigerator, cable television, and free HBO. A pool, three jacuzzis, and four different restaurants are all located on site. Of course, there is also the beach as well, not to mention a multitude of shopping and dining options just footsteps away. All this and an affordable price is exactly why Plim Plaza is a favorite of Ocean City visitors.
One of the largest boardwalk hotels is the massive Tidelands Caribbean Hotel. With multiple buildings and even a large rooftop pool, this relatively new hotel has quickly become quite popular. A variety of room layouts and suite options — all of which have kitchenettes, cable television, and Wi-Fi — make Tidelands a great choice for both families and groups of friends.
Photo by Lee Cannon via Flickr
The boardwalk is great by day, but if you don't want to be sleeping there at night too, check out the Sea Bay Hotel. Located right off the Coastal Highway near the Ocean City Expressway, this hotel has a slightly more laid back feel than those surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the boardwalk. Two pools are on site, tennis courts are across the street, and the beach is just a one minute away. What more do you need?
Located farther up the island just a couple of miles from the Maryland-Delaware border is the massive Princess Royale Hotel & Conference Center. It occupies an entire beachfront block between 91st and 92nd streets and is the ideal destination for those who want it all. Beach access. Indoor heated pool. Video game arcade. Oceanfront restaurant and lounge. Spacious condominiums. Guests of the Princess Royale often find themselves spending all their time at the resort instead of out around town.
Photo by small_realm via Flickr
Kailua-Kona is the jewel of West Hawaii. This breathtaking tropical paradise is on the leeward side of the island and as such receives much less wind and rain. As a result, it's a great place for scuba diving or practicing your surfing skills before tackling the tougher waves on the eastern shore. But where to stay in Kailua-Kona? That depends on what you plan on doing while you're there.
Want to be right in the center of Kailua-Kona and have everything you need mere footsteps away? Look no further than Uncle Billy's Kona Bay Hotel. Situated right in the center of the bay, Uncle Billy's offers both rooms with a view and ground-floor suites with direct access to Hale Halawai Park. The massive Kona Inn Shopping Village is located right across the street and can satisfy almost all your shopping needs. Beyond that, Uncle Billy's is surrounded by water-based sights and activities, ample restaurant and bar options, tons of shopping, and, of course, the best cultural events.
The cliffs of Kona Bay. Photo by Robert Linsdell via Flickr
Perched on the cliff edges 1 mile south of Kona Town lies Aston Royal Sea Cliff, one of the most beautiful properties in the area. With spacious suites that include a full kitchen with all the appliances and utensils, as well as a washer and dryer, this is the perfect choice for guests planning a longer stay, families, or other large groups. Two pools on site enable you to enjoy a salt-free swim while basking in the tropical sun and enjoying the magnificent view.
Bigger isn't always better, but in the case of Royal Kona Resort, nothing could be more accurate. This massive resort has been one of the area's premiere accommodation options since 1968 and now consists of three huge oceanfront buildings with nearly 450 rooms, sprawling grounds, multiple pools (including a kids' pool), tennis courts, and a fitness center. Located just a short 10-minute walk from the town center, Royal Kona Resort is close to the action but not too close.
Don't plan on spending much time in the hotel room? Then don't waste any more money than necessary when paying for lodging. Kona Seaside Hotel is one of the cheapest hotels in the Kailua-Kona area, and you won't have to sacrifice on service or cleanliness just to stay to budget. The hotel has a large pool and even owns the Splashers Grill next door, which means you can have delicious dishes and thirst-quenching drinks delivered poolside.
Featured photo by Robert Linsdell via Flickr.
Unique and offbeat activities and adventures make every destination more exciting. Thankfully, Sydney has a world of quirky, cool, and unique activities, many of which tourists do not visit. The next time you find yourself in the Harbour City, be sure to squeeze a few of these sites into your trip:
Located out in Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island was a penal colony in the early- to mid-1800s before becoming the site of one of Australia's largest shipyards. Nowadays it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and intriguing blend of prison and shipbuilding history. It has also become a regular venue for festivals, art installations, and outdoor events. Definitely a must visit during the warmers months.
Sydney's most popular beaches are always crowded, but there are alternatives. Check out the second oldest national park in the world, the Royal National Park on Sydney's south coast — great for surfing, snorkeling, or just relaxing on the beach. Or go north up to Manly and check out secluded Collins Beach at Little Manly Cove. The beach is small, but when visiting on a weekday you are almost guaranteed to have the sand to yourself.
Located just a short train ride to the southern suburb of Cronulla, there is a little place named Bundeena. This hip, quirky village is home to large number of artists, and not-so-surprisingly is full of boutique cafés and independent art galleries. Definitely a great day trip and chance to escape the crowds of the city.
Image via Flickr by Mertle
Over 200 trains and nearly 200,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day, but few people cross on foot ... by walking across the top of the bridge. Yes, that is what you can do thanks to a company called BridgeClimb. The entire expedition takes 3-1/2 hours and comes with a complimentary group photo, bridge climb completion certificate, and hat.
Since 2006 a reality TV show / documentary known as Bondi Rescue films every summer at Bondi Beach and then begins broadcasting in February. If you are visiting Sydney during the summer months, consider taking a brief stop at Bondi Beach to watch the lifeguards hard at work dealing with shark scares, water-related injuries, drunk beachgoers, and other beach hijinks. Did you know the lifeguards here perform over 5,000 rescues every summer?
One of Australia's most popular sports is rugby and catching a game firsthand in Olympic Park is one of the unique, iconic things to do when visiting Sydney. Never seen a rugby game before? Its similarities with American football will make it an interesting experience for visitors from the United States. Rugby season runs February to July, with the semi-finals and playoffs taking place in late July and early August.
There is nothing like a good quirky, offbeat, or just plain strange museum to add a twist to your travels. If you plan on visiting Central Europe, be sure to check out these gems!
Given the rich history of Hungary's capital city, it should be no surprise that Budapest has plenty of quirky and offbeat sights and activities. The Pinball Museum is a great way to feel like a kid again, and the Zwack Unicum Museum is a great way for adults to learn about the unofficial national drink of Hungary. Other intriguing museums include the Hospital in the Rock, Terror Háza, and The Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum. There is even an underground church inside a cave in Gellert Hill.
A moulage is a casting or wax molding of an injury or disease that is used to train medical professionals and emergency responders. Why do you need to know this? Because Zurich is home to the world's second largest collection of moulages -- the aptly-named Moulagenmuseum. Sticking with this medical theme, why not make a day of it and also visit the Medizinhistorisches Museum? One look at the questionable history of medical devices, and you'll be glad you live in the 21st century. For even more offbeat fun, 30 minutes from Zürich is the Pegasus Small World Toy Museum in Aeugst am Albis, and one hour away in Sissach is the Henkermuseum, a large collection of authentic medieval torture devices.
Given for its renown for the fashion and art scene, it was a bit of a surprise to discover that Düsseldorf does not have any truly offbeat museums. However, the Classic Remise Düsseldorf is very interesting for automobile enthusiasts, and if you are traveling with kids, the Neanderthal Museum is a must. You can also find a few cool, quirky museums located just outside the city. For example, learn more about voodoo by visiting the out-of-place but extremely interesting Soul of Africa Museum just 30 minutes away in Essen.
Tucked away on the west side of Cologne lies the Kölner Karnevalsmuseum -- the Cologne Carnival Museum. This is a fascinating glimpse into carnival life, both past and present. To learn more about perfume, take a trip to the Farina Fragrance Museum. Inside you'll learn all about the history and production of perfume. The building itself, which was built is 1709, is the oldest fragrance factory in the world.
Slovakia's capital and largest city is Bratislava, which has no shortage of museums. However, only a couple of them are interesting enough to be included here. Gun and weapon enthusiasts will be fascinated by the Museum of Arms, which covers not only weapons and their production but also the history of the town and its fortifications. The Museum of Clocks houses a collection of antique clocks spanning three centuries and is an ode to Bratislava clockmakers. There is also the Water Museum, where you can learn more about the history and technology behind the city's waterworks.
Want more museums? Now Museum, Now You Don't: Strange USA Museums
Iceland is a country like no other. Rich history. Intriguing culture. And just far enough removed from its neighbors to make others curious about this island nation.
Regular readers of The HoliDaze already know that taking a road trip around Iceland is high up on my travel bucket list. And while I still haven't had the time to do that yet, I have already been researching where to visit. Plus since this site focuses heavily on offbeat and quirky things to do around the world, it seems like a fitting time to share with you all the off the beaten path sights and activities I've found in Iceland.
It's no secret that many Icelanders believe in elves and hidden people -- people who look just like us but are invisible to most "normal" people. In fact stories abound about elf "consultants" being hired for construction projects or to help with the planning of bridges and highways. And while the numbers vary depending upon which survey you trust, it's safe to say that between 1/4 and 1/2 of the population believe in these fascinating creatures.
Since opening in 1991, the Icelandic Elf School has been the go-to source for all things historic and educational about elves (apparently there are 13 different types), as well as hidden people. Their weekly classes are held every Friday and are attended by both locals and foreigners alike -- although the founder, Magnús Skarphéðinsson, admits that the majority of his students over the last two and a half decades have been foreigners interested in learning more about Iceland's culture.
Þingvellir National Park
When people think of Iceland, their pristine glaciers and legendary hot springs are what always come to mind first. But have you ever thought about scuba diving in the Arctic Circle? Diving here is like nowhere else on earth! Why? Because of the Silfra Rift!
A rift is where two or more tectonic plates meet. Most often this occur underwater and a few are located on land, however the Silfra Rift is the only rift in the world located inside of a lake -- the Þingvallavatn Lake.
Each year these plates drift another two centimeters apart, which results in an earthquake roughly once a decade. However scuba diving in Þingvellir Lake to witness the geologic beauty of planet Earth is safe and a once-in-a-lifetime experience unlike any other. Oh and did I mention that the glacier water here is so clear that underwater visibility is some of the best in the world -- often 250 feet or more!
Scattered around the country
I've long been a fan of strange, quirky and unique museums around the world and Iceland is home to several of these. Of course all their museums dedicated to sorcery, sea monsters, fish and water seem perfectly normal when compared to the Icelandic Phallological Museum -- otherwise known as the penis museum, for those of you who have forgotten the medical term for the male reproductive organ.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a pant-swelling collection of nearly 300 mammal penises and penile parts from around 100 different species. In addition to the (educationally) stimulating exhibits, the museum also strives to shine a light on how this particular organ has influenced the history of human art and literature. Oh...and there may or may not be a couple examples of the Homo Sapien penis on display -- but you'll just have to visit for yourself to find out.
Don't tire yourself out too much at the Phallological Museum, though. Skrímslasetrið, otherwise known as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, covers the entire history of Arctic sea monsters and sightings. They have even begun to classify these monsters as one of four basic types based on their characteristics. For all the curious souls out there, they are: "the fjörulalli (Shore Laddie), the hafmaður (Sea Man), the skeljaskrímsli (Shell Monster) and the faxaskrímsli (Combined Monster/Sea Horse).
Other notable museums include Randulf's Sea House in Eskifjorður (dedicated to fishing and fisherman, this museum is also part time capsule and part restaurant), Vatnasafn (the Museum of Water) and of course the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft, which should be fairly self-explanitory.
This is far from all the offbeat, obscure, strange and unique things to do in Iceland. Want more? Check out all the Unique Types of Alcohol Only Found In Iceland. And remember to keep traveling off the beaten path!