Camper van Pro Tips
6 Pro Tips to Help You Plan Your Iceland Campervan Adventure
Pro Tip #1: With 22 hours of sunlight, you can do a lot in one day
After a 6.5-hour overnight flight from St. Louis, Missouri, we landed in Keflavik. Despite the minimal sleep we got on the plane, we were ready for our Iceland adventure. We picked up the camper van around noon and headed straight to the Bónus grocery store to pick up food for our trip around the Ring Road. Luckily, the camper van had a electronic cooler so we could store our Skýr, cheese, and lunch meats.
After our stop at the Bónus, we drove to Þingvellir National Park to meet with some friends who happened to also be in Iceland while we were there. Something to note: there are five different parking lots at the Park and it costs 500 kr to park but one payment will cover all parking lots. Be sure to pay for parking right away. We saw at least three people get parking tickets! At Þingvellir, we saw the faults created by the continental drift, people snorkeling in the ice cold water, and our first big Iceland waterfall, Öxaráfoss.
From there, we hopped back into the camper van to a “hidden gem” waterfall with the bluest water we have ever seen and then to the Haukadalur valley where The Great Geysir and Strokkur geyser can be found. Our day did not stop there. We continued on to Gullfoss Falls. It was exhilarating. Walking above and next to the falls, you can feel the power of the falls and get close to the scenic beauty of the cliffs. As night was approaching, we visited Kerið Crater – one of the few sights along the Ring Road that requires an entry fee (400 kr). It was about 21:00 so very few people were there which allowed us to take some incredible pictures that captured the rich blues of the water and reds of the soil.
Our first night was the roughest of the whole trip. Rain was coming down hard and the wind was rocking the camper van. Fortunately, the camper van knows how to handle the elements of Iceland and once extreme exhaustion from our jam-packed day kicked in, we fell asleep.
Pro Tip #2: Good waterproof pants are key to happiness.
We slept through our alarm (the curtains blocked a lot of sunlight and the bed is actually pretty comfortable!) and rushed to Landeyjahöfn, the departing location for the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) to ensure we didn’t miss the 9:45 am ferry departure. Turns out, the ferry was cancelled due to the weather. Honestly, getting seasick didn’t sound that great. While we were bummed we wouldn’t get to explore the island, it did allow us to get a head start on the Ring Road.
Next stop: Seljalandsfoss – an enormous waterfall in the cliffs that even has a trail behind the waterfall that allows you to get so close to the thundering water. Rain combined with the waterfall mist left us soaked. This is when Sarah officially determined that her pants needed to be upgraded. Despite being drenched, there was more to see! We followed the trail to the hidden falls, Gljúfrábúi, a short walk away. Getting close to this waterfall required some traversing through the adjacent river. The heavy rain raised the water level which made our attempts to step on the rocks without getting wet impossible. Nonetheless, we were on a quest for our photo opportunity. Walking back from the waterfalls to the car was like walking in a constant puddle in each boot. Luckily, our camper van had plenty of hooks to hang our wet jackets and the heater helped us dry out boots, we hopped in and went to our next destination.
After a short drive, we arrived at Skógafoss. The height of the falls was astonishing and the accompanying stairs allow you to experience how tall this waterfall really is. We then drove on to Vik, skipped the black sand beaches and basalt columns because it was pouring rain and Sarah still had her eye on getting some new pants at the IceWear factory (#priorities). If you do end up buying a more expensive item, be sure to get the tax free form from the cashier. At the airport you can submit the form and your credit card will be reimbursed a week or so later. For the new pants, we got back about $14 worth of taxes.
Continuing on our journey to Fjaðrárgljúfur we discovered that the gates to the access roads were still closed for the winter. So we went on to Svartifoss (which is determinedly the most fun waterfall name in Iceland). This stop required a hike to get to the waterfall but the rain had slowed by this time so the hike was pleasant.
We decided to take advantage of the daylight and drive onward to the glacier lagoons. First stop, Fjallsárlón, followed by the more popular, Jökulsárlón. The timing was perfect for Fjallsárlón, we had the entire lagoon to ourselves and it was incredibly peaceful. Jökulsárlón still had some tourists around but it was still way less than peak times. It was awesome seeing the icebergs floating in the lagoon and making their way to the ocean.
We spent the night at Jökulsárlón with a handful of other camper vans. It was our own camper van community. In fact, we were approached by a fellow camper who was doing some research on the Iceland camper van experience and the policies around it.
Pro Tip #3: Icelandic chocolate is the solution to stressful driving.
In the morning we took another glance at the glacier lagoons (you could stare at it all day!) and strolled the beach covered with giant ice chunks before continuing on our journey.
We veered off the Ring Road to one of the inner roads. Low visibility (yes). Dirt roads with hidden potholes (yes). Uphill (yes). We had reached the notoriously difficult terrain of eastern Iceland. Driving through the thick mist was definitely stressful. Only being able to see about 10 feet in front of you and through the rugged mountainous terrain was terrifying at times but luckily the van’s headlights provided just enough for us to make our way, albeit at speeds half of those posted. And a piece of Nói Síríus chocolate will always bring you back to your happy place.
Once you make it past the initial steep hike, the rest of the views are worth it. We stopped at Hengifoss. This was one of our favorite waterfalls. The basalt columns at the lower falls were stunning at the weather cooperated so we took our time exploring the trail along the waterfalls.
To end our day, we drove to the Mývatn Nature baths for a swim. These hot springs are half the price of the Blue Lagoon and less crowded. While we didn’t stay until closing (midnight), we swam until our fingers had turned into prunes. After the swim and a fresh shower we hopped back into the car to find a perfect spot along the road to retire for the night.
Pro Tip #4: Download Google Maps on to your phone but also trust the road signs
We backtracked a little in order to go see the Selfoss and Dettifoss Waterfalls first thing in the morning. While Google Maps had been incredibly helpful so far, it was apparent that the new roads to Dettifoss had not been updated. We did a couple of turnarounds before we just followed the road signs and arrived without a problem. On the note of following signs, be sure to follow the speed as well. Rumor has it that if you get pulled over for speeding, the officer will make you pay the speeding ticket right away with your credit card. While at times it may seem police is nowhere in sight, we did see people get pulled over.
Unfortunately, the road north to the Ásbyrgi Canyon was closed so rather than head north, we headed back into the Lake Mývatn area. When we first arrived at the Krafla volcano, we were met with the sounds of people clapping their boots and one of the thermal vents screeching to the heavens. We hopped out and made our way up to the top of the crater and found a gigantic pool of water not dissimilar to the water we swam in the night before. By the time we got back to the camper van, we looked at our boots and realized that the clapping was not for Vin’s incredible ability to back the van into a parking spot, but for half the crater we took back on our boots.
There were so many things to see in the Lake Mývatn area. We stopped at the Hverir geothermal area and developed a new meaning for the word “stinky.” The Grjótagjá Caves were magical. We deemed the Hverfjall crater a giant pizza oven, wandered around Dimmuborgir lava fields and warded off flies at Höfði to get some pictures of the lava formations in the lake.
We powered on to Akureyri, one of the largest cities in Iceland. Our favorite part: the heart-shaped stoplights. How can you be mad when it’s a heart? We wandered the streets, shopped a bit, including a 66 degree north outlet store (score!) and grabbed a bite to eat.
We drove until we couldn’t drive anymore and stumbled upon Hvammstangi, “home of the seals” and the KIDKA Wool Factory. This town had a designated camping area that provided bathrooms and a kitchenette for numerous camper vans. We parked next to the stream at the campsite and slept there for the evening.
Pro Tip #5: Stock up on good podcasts and music
This was the final stretch back to Keflavik to return the van. While we weren’t ready to end this adventure, our reservation was ending. We did take a mini detour to check out the Gerðuberg Basalt Columns. It helps to look at pictures of these before you go so you know what you’re looking for.
We finished the final 3 ½ hours of driving as we savored the final one-way bridges, looped through the roundabouts, and traveled underwater through the Hvalfjörður tunnel (which costs 1000 kr to use). All the while, listening to some good podcasts (we love “How I Build This”), singing along to music, and swapping stories and reflections.
Pro-Tip #6: Seven Days to do the Ring Road is ideal
If we had to do it again, we would take 6-7 days to get around Iceland. That would have allowed us to explore the Northwest part of the country. Weather, roads, and stamina all play a role in how much can be accomplished in a day so it’s really important to be flexible. We only had the van for 5 days so we hustled to get from site to site. Nonetheless, we thought the experience was incredible and are so glad we experienced Iceland in a camper van.
Read more: Our Icelandic honeymoon
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