Around 100km east of Akureyri on the Ringroad, Mývatn’s placid, shallow spread of water belies its status as one of the country’s most touristed locations. Admittedly, Mývatn has had its detractors ever since the Middle Ages – when the lake and its steaming surrounds were fearfully dismissed as a pool of the devil’s piss – though the only annoyance nowadays are summertime swarms of tiny black flies (Mývatn means “Midge Lake”). These provide an abundant food source for both fish and the hundreds of thousands of wildfowl which descend on the lake each year to raise their young: all of Iceland’s duck species breed either here or on the Laxá, Mývatn’s fast-flowing, salmon-rich outlet, and one – Barrow’s goldeneye – nests nowhere else in Europe.
Most people base themselves at Reykjahlíð, a small service centre on the northern side of the lake, though a few alternatives are dotted elsewhere around the shore – especially at southerly Skútustaðir. A good road circuits Mývatn, with tracks and footpaths elsewhere, and two busy days are enough to take in the main sights. Mývatn looks its best in summer, but can get very crowded then: beds are in short supply and it’s a toss-up to decide whether there are more tourists, insects, or ducks. As for the flies: a few bite, but most just buzz irritatingly around your face – keep them off by buying a hat with attached netting. Alternatively, hit a few good days in late spring and, while you’ll miss out on some of the bird life, there are no flies and you’ll have the place to yourself – though facilities are limited out of season.