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Insider: Affordable Iceland

Day Three

I deliberately haven't told Mark and Eric about the Blue Lagoon, so they're curious when I pull into a parking lot 40 minutes outside ReykjavIk on our way to the airport. They glance nervously at the geothermal power plant nearby. But their jaws drop as we approach the lagoon itself, glowing sky-blue even on this overcast day.

The Blue Lagoon is Iceland's most famous geothermal spa, a vast man-made oasis of 100-degree water supplied by the thermal power station next door. Today, shrouded in mist that obscures the edges of the 465-square-foot pool, it's especially surreal. We float on our backs in the milky blue water, feeling as if we're suspended in the clouds.

Our skin is still tingling as we board our flight to New York. The final tally?Just $2,369, 31 rolls of film, 47 cups of coffee, nine hours of sleep.

How do you say "cheap" in Icelandic?

Of the numerous packages offered by Icelandair Holidays (800/779-2899; www.icelandair.com) to Iceland, the Adventure Package is the standard, with rates starting at $599 per person, double, depending on the hotel. The price includes round-trip airfare from New York, Boston, Baltimore, Orlando, or Minneapolis; airport transfers; and two nights in Reykjavik, with breakfast. The best choices are the Hotel Borg, ReykjavIk's grandest, or the Radisson SAS Saga Hotel.

With daylight lasting long into the night, June to August is the best time to go, but also the most expensive. To cut costs, consider May and September, when it's still pleasantly mild. Unless you're seriously sensitive to sunlight, there's little reason to visit in winter--you'd mostly be sightseeing in the dark. On top of the standard package, we added a rental car (from $50 per day), as well as a day trip to Akureyri (from $174 per person, including the flight from Reykjavik and rental car).

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