Happy Camper Van family
Happy family…Happy Camper Van
In 2000 I was a young Erasmus student in Bonn. Alessandro was at the University too, in Parma. Our relationship was at the beginning, something more like a sweet friendship, and he had a dream: Iceland. One of my last gifts to him, shortly before I left for Germany was the Lonely Planet Guide, in which I wrote an inscription that sounded like a call for him to visit the island without me.
Now in 2016, we live together in Rome, with a 3 year old little boy and a fat black cat. Meanwhile, we’ve traveled around to many countries, from Norway to Brazil. Alessandro has also visited Mexico and Kazakhstan on his own…but Iceland still remained a dream. For our 40th birthdays we realized that the time was perfect for our great adventure.
After planning the first two days in Reykjavík, (booking a nice private apartment chosen for the presence of two cats) we started to think about the best solution for a week long trip all along the island, with some stops in the “must to see” places. Having a child, we needed to be sure about two things: that we always had a warm and dry place to sleep, and that we would always be able to change our plans at a moment’s notice. We found the perfect solution on rent.is that even respected our budget: a camper van rental that slept 3 with possibility to add a child-seat. The dream was beginning to take shape.
People wondered about our decision to do such a “spartan” holiday with a little kid, but for us was normal: we were aware of the limits due to his presence (no excursion on glacier, no extreme trekking across Landmannalaugar, no walking trip to see the plane crashed on the Sólheimasandur black sand beach, etc), but bringing Leonardo with us for the holiday his father always desired was simply…unquestionable.
We landed in Keflavík on July 26th really late in the night and we slept in a guesthouse not far from the airport. We reached Reykjavík the next morning thanks to a nice French couple who offered us a ride in their car. The apartment, very closed to Hallgrímskirkja and city center, was lovely and its location ideal to reach museums, shops, restaurants and all the main touristic attractions. During our past travels we had always favored cultural tourism, but with a child it became difficult because after 15 minutes inside an art exhibit, Leo becomes completely bored. For this reason we selected some kid-friendly activities, such as a long walk around Tjörnin to see the ducks, the puffin tour on a boat starting from the harbor and an afternoon in Laugardalslaug. We preferred this swimming pool to the family funfair, the botanic garden or the zoo: these also exist in Rome, but in Italy there is no pool with geothermal water and hot tubs!
After two days we were ready for our first family camping experience!
Read more: Top 10 camping sites in Iceland
The Golden Circle
Day 1, July 29th
The fundamental trip of every tourist in Iceland was our first purpose and the right way to gain confidence with the new four-wheeled friend. Leonardo was excited and we were too. Driving throughout the Þingvellir National Park the Icelandic landscape began to unveil its beauty: the music of Sigur Rós was the perfect soundtrack for this first approach to Nature and the most suitable to harmonize with the mysterious charm of the location. It was also an efficient therapy against the massive invasion of tourists! Alessandro was fascinated by the idea of the meeting of two tectonic plates; I was seduced by the history of the first European Parliament founded here in the 10th century. As for Leo? He spent a long time playing with the 3D terrain model located in front of the Visitor center!
I think Leo only truly realized we were no longer in Rome when he met…Geysir. Before reaching this geothermal area I tried to explain what a geyser is, but I knew it was not easy for a little kid to understand what a hot spring is and how it appears. The first water explosion, several meters high, left him shocked and speechless. He had only one thing to say: «Do it again!». He was curious to know why he couldn’t not touch the little rivers flowing all around, and above all he was curious about how that strange hole full of boiling water came to be and how it worked.
He encountered his second Icelandic phenomenon a bit later. It was Gullfoss, the first waterfall he had experienced in his life. And what waterfall! We visited Gullfoss at 7 p.m., so the sun was no longer high in the sky, but it was enough to create a rainbow when the sun’s rays crossed the drops of water floating in the air all around us. The presence of the rainbow, visible on sunny days, justify the name of this place: “golden waterfall”. We were lucky to have seen it. If the legendary pot full of gold really exists, it is here without any doubt.
We closed our first day near Fluðir at a free camping site near a river, along with two tents and a van.
«Mum. Sure we’ll sleep here tonight?»
«Yes, my love»
The south coast reaching Vík
Day 2, July 30th
Second day conjured in the little explorer other intense emotions. In spite of Gullfoss’ greatness, Leonardo was not used to waterfalls so both Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss really impressed him. The first is the only one in Iceland offering the opportunity to walk behind it, and he observed that wall of water for long time. The second waterfall was, to his eyes, something like that very first discovery of the force and violence of Nature. There, equipped with waterproof clothes, he walked with his father near the cascade, where the water – after a 60 metre leap – turns into an embracing wet mist.
Another stop-over on our itinerary was Sólheimajökull, a glacial tongue of major glacier Mýrdalsjökull. This “soft” approach to experiencing Icelandic glaciers was the only possibility for us because Leonardo is too young for a real excursion with a climber and an ice ax.
Shortly before reaching Vík we stopped again. This time it was to visit Dyrhólaey, a wonderful cliff formed by basalt columns full of puffins and different kind of sea birds. Gorgeous! The path to the beach was closed, so we remained on the top to enjoy the view and Leo met a pretty friend, a 4 year old English-speaking girl with blonde locks. Together they conquered the summit of the memorial stone arranged on the peak.
The campsite in Vík was good, even if the shower at 8 p.m. was completely cold! Our little guy cried a lot under the freezing water stream despite my desperate attempt to transform it into a new, amazing adventure: «Come on! Are you a Viking or not».
A half hour of jumping on the trampoline in the playground comforted him.
Read more: Travel apps for Iceland
Toward the frozen lagoon unto Höfn
Day 3, July 31st
Our next destination was Jökulsárlón, which was about 190 km from Vík. On the way we took a break to walk to see another glacier, Svínafellsjökull. We also stopped to walk to the Fjallsárlón, a lagoon similiar to Jökulsárlón but with darker water. Other, faster pit-stops were dedicated to appreciating the majestic grandness of Vatnajökull, with its magnificent ice walls.
We booked on the web, some weeks before, an amphibian tour and we started at 5:45 p.m., after a little walk around the lagoon. Naturally, Leonardo was “over the moon”: the idea of a four-wheeled vehicle able to turn into a boat and float among ice blocks was something beyond any childhood imagination. A clear sunny light accompanied our tour, which caused was exponentially increased the charm of the iceberg. We talked with the guide on the boat, a young Italian guy, and the driver was really kind and allowed Leonardo to sit in his seat. The happiness of our son was bottomless! Not only was he riding on a vehicle that could become a ship…he was driving it! The experience at Jökulsárlón was made complete by a curious meeting: while crossing the bridge that connects the S1 to the parking area I saw, down in the water, the adorable little head of a seal.
We chose Hafnarbraut campground SKG in Höfn to stay in that night. We appreciated the facilities, the recreation area and most expecially, the hot showers!
Mývatn…with a sudden change of plans
Day 4, August 1st
During day four we left the southern coast, and followed the S1 toward Mývatn. Our plan was quite precise: a lunch break in Djúpivogur to see the Sigurður Guðmunðsson’s sculpture formed of 34 giant marbled eggs, one for every type of bird in Iceland (done!); drive along the Berufjörður and then take the scenic 939 toward Egilsstaðir (done!); follow the S1 throughout the impressive and wild landscapes while listening to Icelandic music (Apparat Organ Quartet, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Jóhann Jóhannsson) (done!); visit the extraordinary natural sites of Dettifoss and Hverir (done!); and finally, complete relaxation at Mývatn natural baths before falling asleep in Reykjahlið…but precisely in this final phase of our plan, “a Series of Unfortunate Events” lead us to Húsavík along road 87.
In the middle of the night, after we drove for several kilometers on a dirt path while Leonardo slept in the van, we finally stopped for a free camping night near Húsavík. We had a dual plan for the next morning: whale watching and then turn back to the Mývatn geothermal area Jarðböðin.
It was, in any case, a great day. In Dettifoss we became acquainted with a kindly German family with two kids: they were visiting Iceland for the seventh time! The children ran very fast all the way from the waterfalls to the parking area and had great fun.
The way back to Mývatn
Day 5, August 2nd
In the morning – after a rainy night – the weather in Húsavík was not very good. Regardless, we booked the first available whale watching tour, which started at 12 p.m. The sea was quite calm and flat during the entire trip, even though the sky was full of threatening gray clouds. The temperature was good, not too cold. Unfortunately, we got moderately seasick but our observation of the sea giants was a fantastic experience. After three hours of floating in the bay, following the big black tales and the exhales of the whales, Leonardo fell fast asleep on the boat before we even reached the harbor!
For lunch we had excellent fish and chips, and Alessandro discovered a really charming place: an old cabin. It was a refuge for local sailors and fishermen, full of black and white photographs and relics. He took some pictures of Helgi, and his portrait has become one of our favorite images of the holiday.
At 6 p.m. we reached (again!) Mývatn natural baths. We preferred this thermal lagoon over the more touristy, crowded and expensive Blue Lagoon. Without booking beforehand, we were swimming in the hot water about 15 minutes after our arrival in the parking area. The outside temperature was 9 C°, the water temperature was 38-40 C°. Leo really had fun: with the kids’ “water wings” available for customers, he was free to explore the pool alone. A pure, relaxing moment for mummy and daddy.
Camping Hlíð in Reykjahlið was the perfect choice for the night (even if the facilities are not the best). It was very close to the baths and in a good location as a departure point for day 6.
Discovering the North
Day 6, August 3rd
Our travels continued from Mývatn toward Akureyri, where we stopped to visit the downtown, have lunch and go shopping. On the way, we chose Goðafoss for a little break: another fascinating waterfall in Iceland.
In the afternoon, we stopped near Varmahlíð to see the Víðimýrakirkja and the Glaumbær Farmhouse. These were typical examples of Icelandic architecture: wooden structures covered with peat.
Our final destination was Hvammstangi, on the Vatnsnes peninsula, because we hoped to see the seals before returning Reykjavík and concluding our travels. There, in Tjaldstæði Kirkjuhvammur, we had the best camping experience of the entire holiday. In the magic light of the endless Icelandic summer sunset, inside the bright common room, we found a free table where Leo peacefully spent more than one hour playing with Lego bricks.
Read more: Camp like a boss
The return trip to Reykjavík…without forget the seals
Day 7, August 4th
Our last day began in the soft Vatnsnes sunlight. We drove toward Illugastaðir where, on the rocks in front of the beach, at least ten seals were sleeping under the warm morning sun. Bathed in the same light, we cooked our last lunch, thanks to our camping kit. Time was quickly slipping by: Reykjavik was waiting for us.
We reached the city center at 5 p.m. to meet Iris, an Icelandic friend. A beer and small talk, then directly to the airport, to leave the van at 8 p.m. Good bye four-wheeled friend and thanks for your help in making our travel dream…a reality.
Laura Dabbene & Alessandro Sgarito with Leonardo
Read more: Iceland Ringroad Adventure
Happy Camping! #CamperStories
Iceland Travel Guides
If you like what you see, please subscribe to our YouTube channel!