touring | iceland - a road trip chasing waterfalls
exploring the arctic circle, 66° north of the equator
this was going to be my first trip since the covid-19 lockdown of europe, on the 15th of june most european countries opened their borders to tourism, iceland being one of them & with the added incentive of a free virus test on arrival in june it was the perfect opportunity to visit a country that i have been longing to explore for years.
to camp or not to camp?
the only way to truly experience this country is to either rent a car & stay in accommodations along the way or get yourself a camper van.
cheap campervans have a great reputation for economical dacia vans that have been retrofitted with all the equipment one would need to survive & thrive at 66° north in the summer, but also in the winters as they offer sleeping bags it just depends on how hardy you are to the cold.
our camper van was near new, that was a big relief as i was worried about breaking down in the middle of nowhere, but it purred along without any issues the whole trip. it was kitted out with two single mattresses, sheets, gas burners, pots & pans, cooler box & a set of plates / utensils. we also added a few extras which included a portable wifi router, inverter, chairs & a table all came in handy especially the wifi, it's a must.
wild camping is not permitted in iceland but the campsites are very reasonable compared with icelandic prices in general, around €12 per person. they are basic but have hot showers & heated eating areas for those rainy days. the best campsite that we stayed at was on the east coast in the small-town of hofn, check it out here. the views where unbelievable.
day one to three | west coast & akureyri
after arriving late afternoon in iceland & picking up the camper van we took a few hours' drive along the west coast on the way to akureyri. the first thing i noticed was the side of the roads lined with an abundance of beautiful purple lupine flowers, millions of them it really set the tone for how beautiful the flora was going to be on this trip. our first night in was spent at a random campsite on the banks of a fjord with beautiful views in the midnight sun, yes it was still sunny at midnight. the time we were there the sun went down for less than 1 hour per day.
waking up early we headed to our next destination the 'capital of the north', akureyri. along the way we were treated to the amazing snow topped vistas of the mountains in the distance & our first waterfall.
situated on a fjord this quaint town is a wonderful place to rest to stay for a few days as we did in hotel kea in the centre, located right at the steps of the famous lutheran church that overlooks the city & fjord beyond.
we took the time to walk around the city & were especially impressed by the botanical gardens that house a vast array of artic plant life. whale watching trips are super popular here too. while the town itself is not huge there is everything you need to keep yourself entertained for a few days.
the next morning, we made our way east stopping off at our first major waterfall, godafoss. this was by far the widest falls we had seen on the whole trip. another hour drive away we arrived at myvatn thermal pools, while not as famous as the blue lagoon it is just as beautiful. the warm waters & epic views give a few hours rest bite from the artic winds. you'll also find the geothermal spot of hverir with its bubbling pools of mud & steaming fumaroles emitting sulfuric gas.
passing through the semi baron northern landscape we started to see a glimmer of greenery once we arrived on the wild east coast. the flat landscape of the north made way to the gigantic mountains & valleys of the east as the winding roads took us along the coast to one of just a handful of inhabited places. after thirteen hours on the road it was nice to find a campsite in hofn, a small town on the coast with a spectacular view of the mountains reflecting in the calm waters of the bay.
day four - east to south coasts
our first port of call was the ice lake of jokulsarlon & diamond iceberg beach. while the ice lake was lacking in huge icebergs from the glacier in the distance, the colour of the water was beautiful. for me, the most impressive was diamond beach where most of the icebergs end up melting in the summer sunshine creating fascinating natural sculptures on the black sand beach.
back in the van we headed west, now on the south of the island it was time for a bit of hiking up to svartifoss, a 20-m. waterfall down the centre of a dramatic 3D wall of hexagonal basalt columns. the hike is only about 40 mins & well worth the sweat.
back on the road we booked a few days in the fabulous hotel katla in vik. this is truly one of the best locations of any hotel that i have had the privilege to stay in. with beautiful nordic interiors & a great breakfast. it was nice to have a few days not driving for 12-hour stints.
vik is the main town on the central south coast sandwiched between the mountains & the coast, to me seemed super locals but that may be due to the fact that iceland has seen more than a 90% decline in tourism since the pandemic took hold. this actually turned out well for us as nearly all the attractions we visited where empty.
after a short visit to the light house at dyrhólaey we carried on to what must be one of the most iconic locations in iceland, the crashed DC-3 plane located on a black beach about 20 mins drive from vik.
after parking up & walking for 40 mins we arrived at the crash site with hardly anyone in sight. if you are looking for an iconic place to shoot a few photos then this is it. while climbing on top is not recommend i felt this this was a once in a lifetime opportunity & managed to clamber up.
a few mins down the road you'll find skogafoss & Seljalandsfoss waterfalls both are some of the most iconic attractions in iceland. concerning waterfalls & other natural attractions that we visited in iceland, they are all free of charge & while you may need to pay for parking in a few places mainly in the south of the island. no payment is needed to visit these attractions.
on the way back to vik we stopped off at the famous black beach of reynisfjara a few mins from vik. this black beach has the best views of all the beaches we visited, you could tell as it was one of the busiest places we had seen on our whole trip. we also visited a cool local brewery, Smiðjan Brugghús it was a massive surprise as it was the busiest place we visited on our whole trip. they are brewing some great craft beers & burgers.
the last few days | reykjavik
we arrived in the capital with mixed feeling, knowing that our trip was about to come to an end but i was excited with what this small coastal city had to offer.
we stayed close to the centre of the city in the modern skuggi hotel (shadow in icelandic) this contemporary minimalist hotel was the perfect place to start exploring the northern most capital in the world. It is also among the cleanest, greenest, & safest cities on the planet.
the first days i spent walking around the heart of the city from the rainbow painted streets to the cafe culture at sandholt. this city is a mixture of old & new with its brightly coloured historical buildings with small windows that protect against the artic winds that batter this city in the winter. to the to the ultra-modern offices & apartments that are lucky enough to have massive panoramic windows overlooking the bay. one of the coolest places i visited was the newly opened ice+fries robotic restaurant where you guessed it a robot makes your drinks for you. they also have luxury fries to eat, try the lamb it was delicious.
my favourite thing by far that i did in the city was the whale watching tour on my last day before leaving. elding are easily the most popular tour company for whale & puffin tours in reykjavik. i took the classic tour that took me out in a large ship for three hours in surprisingly calm waters where we got glimpses of puffins, dolphins & multiple species of whales including a few humpbacks.
truly this was one of my favourites trips from the people we met along the way to the unusual scenery that can only be found here, it is a place that i will never forgot. i was awe struck by the scenery on a daily, wait no hourly basis the flora & fauna of this island inspires the imagination.
iceland is a notoriously expensive country. from the food & beer to the hotels & car rentals. a one-week trip will cost around $1500 per person. but if you go now you can get some amazing deals on accommodation, car rental & even the blue lagoon all around 40-50% off standard prices. i believe these prices will carry on throughout 2020 so this is the year to visit if you are on a budget.
⦿ budget ($150) a day including accommodation.
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country travel tips
atm: most banks offer free withdrawals. don't accept the on-screen conversion.
sim card: siminn. 5GB is ($20) for 30 days. got an e-sim enable phone try airalo.
transport: rent a camper, accommodation & transport in one.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here