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Discover Iceland's fire and ice

By Ashley Strickland, Special to CNN
  • Waterfalls, fjords, volcanoes, mountains and glaciers dot Iceland's landscape
  • Don't be afraid to take a tour in order to make the most of your trip
  • End your day with a lazy soak in Iceland's iconic Blue Lagoon

(CNN) -- Exploring Iceland's ancient landscape feels like stepping back in time.

Breathtaking waterfalls, fjords, volcanoes, mountains and glaciers dot the map as landmarks on this seemingly small island. But adventuring across Iceland, you'll find that it is full of natural wonder and miles of undiscovered whimsy.

"Once you've been there, you'll find there is something about Iceland that just digs in deep and keeps you wanting more," iReporter Mallory Swanson said. "Each time you think you've seen the most beautiful sight in the world, you'll drive around the next corner and have to update your top 10 list."

Ring around the country: Nine days in Iceland

Adventure awaits around each corner, brimming with history and wonderment. Locals and visitors alike say the best way to experience Iceland is by planning on taking a two-week trip. Otherwise, you might miss out on some spectacular facet of this glimmering jewel in the North Atlantic Ocean.

"I've traveled to around 30 countries, and I can say without any doubt that Iceland is the most beautiful place I've ever seen, not to mention the boundless warmth and humor of its people," iReporter Alan Patrick Watts said.

Icelandic scenery at its best

At times, you'll feel isolated amongst the hauntingly beautiful landscape. That's the joy of taking a trip to Iceland; it is a true escape from anything you've ever known.

"Get out of the city and visit the more remote locations, especially the South Coast, Snaefellsnes and the West Fjords," iReporter Amy Billing said. "Once you get out of Reykjavik, Iceland opens up into a vast, untouched natural landscape where you are likely to encounter few, if any other people."

Prepare to see myriad wonders, some that even roll right into one another. It depends on what part of Iceland you want to experience.

"Every few kilometers is another waterfall, some more spectacular than the last, but all different," iReporter Richard Wile said. "This lush lowland is constantly interrupted by evidence of Iceland's contrast of fire and ice; one minute you are in the lush lowlands and then a transition to black lava dust fields for miles, followed by vast moss-covered lava fields for hours at a stretch."

Eat like a Viking in Iceland

Take a tour

The sheer, wide open expanse of Iceland can be intimidating to first-time visitors and venerable travelers alike. Don't assume that taking a tour will make you more of a tourist -- it could very well be the best way to experience Iceland.

"Iceland is remote in many locations and can be somewhat difficult to navigate -- outside of Reykjavik and the Golden Circle -- on your own," Billing said. For the areas around Reykjavik, like the Glacial Lagoon and Snaefellsnes, she recommends taking a tour with Goecco.

"If I were going to do one thing in Iceland, it would be to take a tour with Goecco," she said. "The guides from this company take small groups out to extremely remote locations that are beautiful beyond imagination. The guides are charismatic and offer an extremely unique perspective on both life in Iceland and its natural landscape."

iReporter Marc Burba experienced Iceland while using a bus tour. "On our visits we used Reykjavik Excursions to tour parts of the country. We never felt crowded or rushed. The larger tour buses are roomy and comfortable, and the smaller tour vans are nice. We normally don't enjoy organized tours, but we've never gone wrong with them. They got us to remote waterfalls that we may not have found otherwise."

Getting around

"I rented a car and drove clockwise around the island and never looked back!" iReporter Bryce Anzelmo said.

Some visitors to Iceland swear by renting an off-road vehicle and exploring the country yourself, if you're feeling adventurous. But beware, these aren't like the traffic-clogged interstates you're used to. Farm animals and fresh gravel are the enemy here.

Wile recommends maintaining a full tank of gas before venturing off, as well as food -- outside of the main towns, gas stations are few and far between. And just because the road sign says that a location is 80 km away, don't assume it will take an hour. A network of skinny, gravel roads comprise much of Iceland's countryside.

"Get a respected guidebook and follow the recommended places to visit," iReporter Mark Bergner said. "There are amazing sites to see, but you may not know about them without a good guidebook."

He also suggests that if you rent a vehicle, pay attention to the map and spend a little extra to include a trusty GPS. "If the map says you shouldn't take your rental vehicle down a particular road, believe it -- they're not just blowing smoke."

Hiking is a favorite way to explore Iceland's wild side, but again, proceed with caution.

"Don't wander off the trails if you go hiking," iReporter Christopher Duran said. "This is mainly due to the possibility of getting lost or overexposed after severely misjudging distances. The country has almost no trees and little atmospheric haze to calibrate against. Another good reason is due to patches of unmarked boiling mud."

Experiencing Iceland's offerings

Making a little time to check Iceland's social calendar before you plan your trip could pay off. The country is known for hosting multiple festivals, and they are a must for first-timers.

"Experience some of Iceland's many holidays and cultural events that are fun to participate in, such as Culture Day/Night, known as Menningarnótt, and music festivals like the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival," iReporter Catharine Wood said. "A good source of information is the Reykjavik Grapevine."

Take time out of your vacation to relax in Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon. It's the perfect way to end a day of adventure.

"Stop at the Blue Lagoon for a soak in the milky blue geothermal seawater," Burba said. "Floating in the Blue Lagoon at night, with steam rising around you while you gaze up at the black sky, is a truly memorable experience."

Remember, no matter how you travel across Iceland, make the journey personal. Explore every inch that you can, and don't just sit in your vehicle.

"Go out and explore," Swanson said. "Climb a mountain. There are mountains and hiking paths for every skill level and I can't say enough about how amazing it feels to get to the top of a mountain you never thought you would manage to climb. The views from the top will be worth it."