A Land of Wonder & Mystery
Our Trip to Iceland!
My husband and I haphazardly decided to take a trip to Iceland. It wasn’t on the top of our bucket list, nor was it a place we knew or had heard much about. Through a friend, we heard that WOW airlines was extending service to an airport near us, and we started poking around to see where we could go with a reasonably priced plane ticket, since we didn’t have any vacation plans yet for the year. After about five minutes looking at pictures of Iceland online, there was no question that we wanted to check out this beautiful country!
We flew in on a red eye from Detroit to Reykjavik and landed to find a gloomy, drizzly countryside that was colder than we expected! We knew it was going to be a bit chilly, windy, and potentially rainy, but we were a bit disappointed when we first arrived. It was a good thing we brought extra clothes – we both wore running tights under our hiking pants every day! – and the rain did break later during our trip. From Keflavik International Airport, we picked up our camper van at Rent.is and then drove into the outskirts of Reykjavik to pick up some groceries for the week. Then we proceeded up the northwest side of the country to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and despite the rain, it was a beautiful drive. Once we got to our campsite in Grundarfjörður, we were pretty exhausted, and after a quick dinner and a walk around the little town, we hit the hay pretty early.
The next day was the first full day of our adventure, and boy was it full! We started the day with a visit to Kirkjufellsfoss, a beautiful waterfall right off Highway 54. We drove all the way around the peninsula, which I would highly recommend – it is littered with tons of little waterfalls, lots of grazing sheep, and a beautiful view of Breiðafjörður fjord and the ocean. We ate lunch after a hike around the crater of an ancient volcano in Snæfellsjökull National Park (can you say “awesome”?), and we also passed a group of folks riding horses and stopped to view and climb a couple more waterfalls. Being our first day in Iceland, we were eager to see and do EVERYTHING, so we may have tired ourselves out a bit more than we planned – and also made a few unexpected stops. We had time built into our schedule for a few extras, though, so no harm done!
From there, we drove southeast to see Þingvallavatn Lake, Öxarárfoss, Geysir, and Gullfoss along the Golden Circle. So many more amazing sights! For those who have been to Yellowstone National Park in the states, the various geysers – along with their distinct sulfuric smell – will be familiar. The cool thing was instead of waiting about 45 minutes for Old Faithful, one of the smaller geysers, Strokkur, spouts water into the air about every 5 minutes! We ended the day at Gullfoss, which was simply magnificent. The huge falls were as loud as thunder and we got wet from the mist even before we got close. The air smelled so fresh and the power of the water was incredible.
The next day – more incredible waterfalls! We were joking by the end of our time in Iceland that we were desensitized to all the beautiful waterfalls, since there are so many. We drove to Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrábúi in the morning, both within walking distance of each other, and both beautiful in unique ways. Seljalandsfoss is probably one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, as you can walk all the way up and behind it, and maybe even enjoy the sunset through the crystal pane of water. If you walk through the small inlet cave to Gljúfrábúi, you will get soaking wet, but the view is astonishing and worth it. We ate lunch with a view of another waterfall, Skógafoss, and then walked up the many steps to the top to get a view of this beauty. We ended the day outside of Vik at the black sand beach, Reynisfjara, which was beautiful and WINDY. With the sun going down, it was a great way to wrap up our day, and the natural basalt formations that form the caves were very cool.
From Vik, we drove northeast to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a peaceful and rambling valley carved into the mountains with another small waterfall at the end. We hiked up to see Svartifoss, the black waterfall, and spent some time exploring the edges of Vatnajökull National Park. After a drive down a very bumpy gravel road, we stopped to take in some views of one of the arms of the massive glacier that makes up a huge portion of the southeast side of the country, and then ended the day at Jökulsárlón, the incredible glacier lagoon.
Exhausted after a day of hiking and adventuring, we took it a little easier on Wednesday and hiked some more (ha!) out to another arm of the glacier from our campsite. It was incredible how much of the glaciers we saw and to know how much we DIDN’T see – these things are enormous! To relax our muscles afterward (finally), we spent some time at the Hoffell Hot Pots, hot spring-warmed hot tubs in a small town outside Höfn. This was as far east as we made it during our trip, since we only had a week. Backtracking along the Ring Road, the last thing we saw was the Dýrhólaey rock formation, but unfortunately we didn’t have much time to spend there before the area closed for the evening. We camped that night at the foot of Skógafoss, which was breathtaking, and the perfect place to prepare for our long hike the next day.
Our last full day, we walked up the many stairs to the top of Skógafoss and hiked for several hours along the Skógá river. This was the most amazing and surprising part of our trip, since we did not plan it beforehand and had no idea what to expect. The hike was moderately intense, but worth it, because every 15-20 minutes, a new waterfall would come into view. As we got closer to the glaciers (different ones than on the east side of the country), there was snow in the mountains and the temperature dropped a bit. If we had known and planned for it, we would have liked to have gone further; it was as peaceful and beautiful a place as I’ve ever been! As it was, we had to turn around and head back to camp to continue on our journey.
Since food in Iceland can be pretty expensive, we made all our own food, which worked out pretty well. The camper van had a small cooler, which we used to store some yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies, and a bit of lunch meat. We ate yogurt and granola (from home) every morning for breakfast and peanut butter and jam sandwiches with fruit, jerky, and trail mix for lunch. Our dinners consisted of Mountain House meals, the kind where you just add boiling water and stir. This was super easy after a long day of hiking and sight seeing, and making our own meals also meant we didn’t have to stick to a strict schedule, which was helpful when we went to eat dinner at 11pm one night! We also bought our own whisky at the duty free store in the airport, since alcohol can be pretty expensive, too. This turned into a fun little tradition of eating cookies and whisky while we read every night before “turning out the lights”.
Speaking of turning out the lights….it never gets dark in Iceland in the summer! Like never! Our trip was in early June, just before the longest part of the year. Having been to Alaska, I was anticipating a few hours of dusk every night, but Iceland was so much brighter. It really just seemed like an overcast day, even when the sun was fully down between midnight and 3am. We were very thankful for our eye masks, which helped us sleep through the daylight. But the extra light also gave us the opportunity to see and do more than we might have been able to at a different time of year (see above about eating dinner at 11pm!). The downside to going in the summer was not having a real opportunity to see the Northern Lights….guess that just means we’ll have to plan another trip in the future.
Before flying out on Friday evening, we spent a little bit of time in the city of Reykjavik, which is a fun little spot. We checked out a view of the city from the Perlan, had a coffee and snack at the Botanical Gardens, and spent some time listening to the organist inside the Hallgrimskirkja church. We were exhausted, so the slower pace was a good transition, and the hubs even dozed off once or twice to the music! Finally, we made our way back to the airport and said goodbye to a fun, adventure-filled vacation.
Iceland is a beautiful country, and the rain, wind, moss-covered lava, and mountains all add to the mystery and majesty of the landscape. It was unlike any place we’ve ever been, and we are so grateful for the opportunity we had to visit!
Read more: ‘Round the Icelandic countryside with Chippie
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