First of all, there is no other way to experience Iceland than using a camper van. These amazing creations allow any traveler to maximize their time and money, while granting them the freedom to go anywhere, anytime! Justin and I were able to do so many things that people who stayed in Reykjavik could not experience. Secondly, Rent.is was wonderful! After doing two weeks of research, no other company was as reasonably priced and provided the same amount of bed space, a heater and fridge, table and chairs, linens and sleeping bags, free WiFi, plus all of the water and equipment necessary for cooking in the great outdoors, all included. Our Renault Kangoo Camper was clean, ran great with better than expected fuel mileage, and was even turbo charged!
Read more: Included in your Camper van rental
Iceland is one of those magical places that pictures and words do so little justice for, no matter how valiant the effort and gifted the writer. However, I will try my best to convey how special this country truly is, and why it will always have a place in my heart.
Upon landing we were promptly picked up by Rent.is near KEF airport and immediately hit the road in the camper van. Our plan was to spend the day and night in Reykjavik, then start our journey on the Ring Road the next morning, with a detour through Golden Circle to see Geysir.
We only had 6 days, so every moment needed to count. Reykjavik did not disappoint with Hallgrimskirkja, shopping, a spirited game of chess at a local pub, and a lovely dinner for two. The best surprise was how crisp and clean the water tastes, which makes everything it’s made with even better!
Early the next morning we drove to a nearby Bonus, stocking up on groceries and necessities. Seriously, this place is awesome! For around 120 USD, we planned 3 meals each day plus snacks. The dairy in Iceland is so good that we went through 2 giant blocks of cheese and 2 liters of milk. They even had coffee pods that were perfect for our camp stove. This bit of preparation proved to be our wisest move because we didn’t have to stop to buy food and drinks, which would have wasted time and money.
At one point, tourists getting off a bus from Reykjavik were piling into a convenience store with a small buffet restaurant in the back. The line was out the door and the food was really expensive. As people finished eating, they came outside to see us cooking our dinner and enjoying the view. Everyone was commenting on how smart the camper van was, and some of them even took pictures of us cooking!
The rest of our second day was spent at Seljalandsfoss, where we explored the area and watched the sunset. Every night in Iceland was spent chasing clear skies using Vedur.is to try to glimpse the auroras, but tonight was not our night. After heading back to the waterfall, we fell asleep in our cozy van while a wild storm raged outside.
On our third day, the weather was perfect! The sun was shining bright, which gave us spectacular photos at Skógafoss. While climbing to the top of the waterfall on an intimidating set of stairs, I reflected on how grateful I was to have the opportunity to experience such beauty. At the summit, my gratitude increased ten-fold as I was surrounded by hills, valleys, farmland, and rainbows. Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I realized it wasn’t even noon yet and we still had so much ahead of us, including Skaftafell.
Because we are the adventurous type who are familiar with rough terrain, we climbed all over the mouth of the glacier in our standard hiking boots, which was no easy feat. However, the only regret I have from the entire trip was not having clamp-ons to venture deeper onto the glacier. Several companies offered guided tours, but we did not have the time and I honestly would have rather explored on our own. Next time, I will be looking into clamp-on rentals. A very happy surprise was once the black mud that had caked all over my boots dried, it wiped right off without a trace. Lava mud is the best kind of mud!
Read more: Festivals in Iceland
Day three was topped off with Glacier Lagoon. It is more magnificent and serene than any picture can capture. The icy blue of the lagoon with a backdrop of darkening gray skies was the perfect contrast of calming waters, jarring shapes, and striking colors. After such a wonderful day, we were fully charged to drive through the night along the Eastern Fjords to hunt the auroras once again. After an hour or two of chasing we realized that the clouds were just too dense, so we cranked up the tunes and drove onward while enjoying each others company. In the middle of the night, we pulled into a campsite at Egilsstaðir, which ended up being free since it was during the off-season.
On the morning of day four, we washed up at the campsite, made breakfast, and headed towards Dettifoss, the largest waterfall by volume in Europe. I was expecting a very large waterfall, and by this point in our journey we had seen about 50 waterfalls, so I figured it would just be a larger version of those. What I was not prepared for was the magnitude of water rushing into a canyon that extended for miles. We went to three different overlooks, each one more breathtaking than the last. Looking into the river below was dizzying and actually gave me goosebumps! But the best part was walking right up to the edge of Dettifoss and just sitting there, listening to the gushing current, watching it fall endlessly to the bottom as a gentle mist rose from the crashing violence. That is something you take with you forever.
Read more: How to drive in Iceland
The weather had turned cold and windy, but that didn’t stop us from visiting the Mývatn Nature Baths. We opted to skip Blue Lagoon in favor of Mývatn due to the number of tourists and price of entry. We made the right decision. Showering nude with soap before entering the Bath is mandatory, so when I walked out into the cold wind soaking wet in just a bathing suit, I practically ran into the water! Everyone else there had more or less done the same, so there were some chuckles shared. Once I warmed up, I was able to take in how peaceful it was. Geo-thermally heated, milky blue mineral water pulled out every ounce of tension in my muscles. Staff brought Justin and I local beer while we chatted with fellow travelers about current world events. A hot tub and sauna session was a great end note for our spa day.
That evening, we left for Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city. For the 1 hour drive there, Justin was recounting how we met and fell in love. It’s a funny, sweet story that we love to tell each other every now and then, but this time he was getting into more detail than usual. As we sat down in the only restaurant left open in town, Noa Seafood Restaurant, he was still telling sweet tales about how he felt about me. Being the only two customers, we ordered a bottle of white wine, lobster soup that was to die for, Salmon, and Spotted Catfish, which was the catch of the day. Soon after our entrees arrived, he pulled out a little black box with the perfect ring inside and asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes!
After tears, laughter, hugs, and more tears, we went back to the van to fall into a very deep sleep. So much excitement in one day has the tendency to drain you!
We woke up in Akureyri, freshened up, and spent our first day as an engaged couple site seeing and shopping. Deciding to splurge on lattes, Bláa Kannan Cafe downtown was our first stop, where the funky, creative atmosphere and friendly service made the delicious coffee even better. Next we went to The Viking, where we picked up all of our gifts for friends and family back home. Since we had the entire day to spend, we went a few miles out of town to the Christmas House. It was two stories of Christmas cheer, with a Christmas garden around back and stairs winding up a tower that made me feel like a little kid discovering a hidden secret. Next door was a lovely gift shop with assorted jams and jelly, designer chocolates, and homemade soaps, many of them with free samples. We definitely didn’t walk away empty handed.
Driving to Reykjavik
At 18:00, Vedur.is updates it’s aurora forecast. It was time to start planning our last night in Iceland, hoping for a chance to glimpse the legendary Northern Lights. Even though the aurora activity prediction was low for that night, we still had to try. There was an opening in the clouds that was supposed to last several hours along the west coat to the north of Reykjavik, so that was where we headed.
The sun was setting as we approached Borgarnes when I noticed something strange. It took me a full 30 seconds to process what was happening. The Northern Lights were active, the sky was clear, and we were right under them! I yelled at Justin to stop the van, immediately jumped out, and started dancing! Just when I thought this trip couldn’t get any more exciting, it proved me wrong. We quickly found a back road with zero light pollution to settle into for the night. Under the mesmerizing dance of the Aurora Borealis, we enjoyed every last second of our last night in Iceland. We both fell asleep outside in our camping chairs, wrapped up in our sleeping bags, under the greatest show on Earth.
If I had to pick a favorite part of our entire adventure, it would be the driving. Yes, the stops along the way are amazing highlights, but the drive is where you get to see the real Iceland. It’s the part that words can’t describe. Really, you will just have to see for yourself.
Read more: On the road in Iceland
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