Road Tripping it in Iceland

March 25, 2016

As you might know, I went on an amazing trip to Iceland this past summer. Since my summer was a complete whirlwind, I did NOT ever really get a chance to fully recap my Iceland trip, although I did write a roundup of some of my favorite experiences. Now that I finally have some extra time, I figured I would go ahead and write about this summer's trip. Better late than never is my motto that is becoming my mantra!

Rachael and I flew to Iceland from Boston via Wow Air, an Icelandic budget airline. It was the cheapest deal we could find. Although Wow Air does advertise that they offer $99 trips to Europe, this deal was not yet available when we booked. Still, we managed to save some money even after we paid to reserve a seat, for snacks on the plane, and to check our bags. On our plane there was also no in-flight entertainment "except for the thrill of sitting up high in the sky." That's a direct quote from Wow Air, by the way. If you do fly with Wow Air, just be sure to have a book or something to do to pass the time! I would fly with Wow Air again if the price remains right.

Once we landed in Reykjavik, Rachael and I bought a ticket for the Flybus, an airport shuttle that took us right to the city center. The bus had free wifi, which was great for our 45 minute ride. Our stop was at hotel Leifur Eiriksson, which was about a five minute walk from the AirBnb we were staying at. Leifur Eiriksson is right in front of Hallfrimskirkja aka "The Big Church." This was ideal for us because anytime we felt lost, all we had to do was look for the church and then we knew what to do.

It was only my second AirBnb experience, so I was a little nervous. We were supposed to be sharing an apartment with our Icelandic host, but she ended up taking a summer job at the last minute, so we basically got the apartment all to ourselves minus her friendly cat. We were right by Reykjavik Roasters, which was highly recommended to us by our AirBnb host in the note she left us. Everything ended up being fine with the place. It was clean besides that there was some rotten food in the fridge.

We took a short nap and then Rachael started writing her friend Nate about when we were going to meet. Nate also invited his friend, Jeff to come to Iceland, so the four of us decided to go on a four day road trip. Unfortunately, Rachael and I didn't know this before booking our AirBnb, so we did have to also pay for other places to stay while we were traveling around Iceland for the road trip. We were so happy with our trip that we got over it.

I had never met Nate or Jeff before and was a little nervous about whether or not I would like the people I was to spend the next four days with, but they are both super cool guys and fun travel companions. There was a lot of laughing on our trip between the four of us! I hope some that we can all travel together again because the group dynamic was great.

DAY 1

Nate graciously offered to do all the driving because he was the only one of us that could drive stick shift. (I have to learn!) Our first stop in Iceland was the magnificent þingvellir National Park which means Parliament Plains because the first Europe's first parliament met there in 930 AD, which eventually led to the birth of Iceland. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the three stops on Iceland's famous Golden Circle tours. This is also the spot where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet! After that, we took a walk over to Öxarárfoss.



Our next stop was to go to Haukadalur, a geothermal area which contains the famous Great Geysir and Strokkur. Strokkur erupts every 10 minutes or so, but Geysir doesn't regularly erupt anymore. Even though we saw Strokkur erupt twice, I wasn't too fast with my camera and didn't get any great shots, so instead I'll just post a picture of some steam coming out of vents from the earth.


Our last stop for our self-guided Golden Circle tour was Gullfoss (Golden Falls.) As with the other stops on the Golden Circle tour, it's a popular spot, but it's easy to see why this attraction draws so many tourists. The waterfall is an incredible sight to behold, complete with rainbows. We walked along the edge for awhile and then just spent about ten minutes in silence getting mesmerized by the falls.


We decided to stop at The Secret Lagoon, a natural hot spring pool, in Fludir since it was close by. We planned on just going for a quick dip, but it was so nice in there that we lost track of time and hours passed when the four of us started talking travel. The water was really warm (about 102 degrees Fahrenheit) and by the end of our time there, it was just us and one other group. Towels are provided and there is the option to purchase alcohol to take into the lagoon with you.



We got back in our rental car and started making our way towards Hella, since we had reserved a cabin there for the night. On our way there, we stopped at Bonus (a grocery store chain in Iceland) and picked up some food and supplies because Nate offered to cook us dinner. We just went back to the cabin, had a big meal, talked, and rested up for our next day of adventure.

DAY 2

Our first stop after leaving Hella was to stop at Hekla, an active volcano. There is a lot of folklore associated with Hekla, as many people used to believe that going through the volcano was a direct route to hell for the condemned who had recently died.

Since we didn't have to follow an exact schedule, we just stopped and got out whenever we saw scenery we wanted to take a closer look at. This happened rather often as the landscape is dramatic and there are so many random waterfalls to admire.



We were on our way our to Landmannalaugar when Jeff randomly dared Nate to run up a mountain with him and to see if they could do it under 15 minutes. Rachael and I thought this was hilarious, so we photographed them while they tried and succeeded!


When we arrived to Landmannalaugar, parts of it were flooded. Jeff and Nate originally wanted to do a two day hike there, but they decided beforehand that it was unrealistic due to the weather and lack of time. We walked around the base for a bit, which was still full of tents despite the flood. I was glad I got to see such a unique place, but it was almost like a tease because I would have liked to have explored more. Oh well, I guess it just gives me a reason to go back, right?




After Landmannalaugar, Rachael and I convinced Nate and Jeff that we should stop in Gjáin. I'd been following the blog Unlocking Kiki for awhile, and on her blog, Kaelene frequently shares her excursions around Iceland. When I saw her post on Gjáin, it looked so lush that I knew I had to try to squeeze it into our itinerary. After a little begging, we made it to the farm Stöng, parked the car, and went on a short hike. 

Now, summer in Iceland can be a busy time because of all of the tourists that come since many visitors consider July to be the prime time to visit. Recently, Iceland's #1 source of income switched from fishing (which was the stronghold for hundreds of years) to tourism. Most places we went to had a substantial amount of other tourists, but as we were going to Gjáin we saw just one other group hiking back. Once we got there, were were pleasantly surprised to find we had the whole area to ourselves, which was like our own little slice of heaven! It felt unreal that a place so pretty was just "ours" for the moment. It really is a memory that I will treasure forever.




After our delightful time in Gjáin, we stopped for dinner. Then Nate started driving east, in the direction of Hvoll Guesthouse near Kálfafell since that would be where we would be staying for the evening. The good thing about the sun not setting until after 11 pm is that Nate didn't have to drive in the dark. Even after the sun set, it was still light out which was lucky for us because we were able to stop at Skógafoss and didn't have to miss out on seeing it due to it being too dark! Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in all of Iceland, and we were able to get up close to it, but not as close as I would have liked to get! Bring some sort of poncho if you want to do this--since I didn't have one and we had to get back in the car and continue on to Hvoll Guesthouse, it didn't make sense for me to keep approaching the waterfall and get drenched.


DAY 3

After some breakfast, we drove into Skaftafell, which is part of Vatnajökull National Park. We went on a 2 hour hike and chose the Svartifoss/Sjónarsker/Sel route which is 5.5 kilometers round trip. I was worried about the hike because I'm not in the best shape, but it was totally fine which makes sense because this trail is considered to be an easy one. I like to hike at my own pace and also stop and take a lot of pictures, and Rachael said that's what she likes to do, too. Nate and Jeff are both in pretty good shape, so they went on ahead. Svartifoss was the main attraction here, as the basalt columns surrounding the waterfall make it a sight to behold. 





Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon was our next stop. When we arrived at the lagoon, we couldn't take our eyes off of it. The bluish white icebergs were mesmerizing, and I know I just spent awhile observing, comparing, and contrasting the different sized icebergs. We debated about whether or not to do a boat ride, but decided against it since it wasn't the cheapest and the boats looked crowded. Even though we didn't opt to go on the boat, I was perfectly content with just staring out at this surreal looking scenery.



We headed out to Vík, where we were lucky enough to find a room at the newly opened Guesthouse CarinaWe basically were only fortunate enough to score a room at the last minute because the guesthouse seriously had only opened its doors for guests about a week before we stayed there. We had originally planned on driving out to Hofn, but changed our plans around a little bit and preferred to stay in the village of Vík instead. To drive from Hofn to Reykjavik in one day would have been a lot of driving for poor Nate, and we had to have the car back at a certain time. 

We passed views like the one pictured below along the way. When we were in Iceland, it was common to see whole fields of Alaskan lupine in bloom. 



We arrived in Vík a little after dinner time, unpacked the car, and had a nice dinner at one of the restaurants in the center of the village. Afterwards, we went down to the black sand beach and the four of us just walked around, chatted, and relaxed. 





DAY 4

Since we wanted to get back to Reykjavik at a reasonable hour/had to to return the car, we didn't take many stops on the way back. We did make an exception to see some wreckage from a US Navy plane that crashed in Sólheimasandur in 1973. I am such a baby when it comes to flying and thought this might scare me unnecessarily, but the fact that everyone actually survived this flight put my mind at ease. It is both interesting and eerie to look at.


I'm glad we took the time to stop and see it because the site is now closed until further notice due to too many tourists not following the path set up by the landowners. Sadly, I cannot say that I blame the them and hope that the problem gets resolved so that other tourists can visit in the future.

Our only other stop of interest for the day was to make friends with some Icelandic horses. I hadn't been in contact with them before, but as many people say, they were very friendly and seemed to want to interact with strangers. This made Rachael and I ecstatic since we had booked a horseback riding tour the next week.


When we got back to Reykjavik, we dined at Sólon and then spent a night out on the town. It was a Friday, so it was rather busy out, but we preferred it that way! The four of us went bar hopping and then Rachael and I said our goodbyes to the guys since they had to fly back to the States.

Because I went on and on about this trip to Iceland to my bff Scott, he became interested in going. Now, the two of us will be back for a week this summer! Scott will be in his element because he loves to go outdoors and explore what nature has to offer. I am already very much looking forward to my second trip to this scenic country!

Is Iceland on your bucket list? If you've already been, what spots would you recommend?
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