Completing the Ring Road
The smell was overwhelming, in the best way. The crisp smell of tomatoes, on the vine, combined with freshly chopped basil and the earthy aroma of dirt. This was not what we were expecting a few degrees below the Arctic Circle. Though we also enjoyed kjötsúpa, pylsur, Skýr and amazing seafood while in Iceland, our most memorable meal was in the greenhouse of Friðheimar Farms. In a climate where the warmest month has an average temperature of 52°F and only 6 hours of sunlight, they grow the most flavorful tomatoes in a sustainable fashion, harnessing readily available geothermal energy. Have for lunch what we enjoyed: to drink, a Happy Mary, and to eat, the fresh tomato soup with bread buffet. We can’t wait to go back for more!
We are two resident physicians (doctors in training), in surgical specialties, in the US. This means we spend the majority of our time in operating rooms without windows, living like people in casinos where the time of day is irrelevant. Our vacation schedules are in flux and rigidly one week. Not wanting to miss one drop of what Iceland had to offer, we were determined to complete the Ring Road during our eight days. We only had six weeks to plan this Icelandic expedition; it needed to get us outside on adventures, and also be relaxing and restorative. We were asking for a lot from Iceland. It delivered.
When we started planning, we wanted to rent a car and drive from guesthouse to guesthouse. What became immediately apparent was that these book up early, even in late September. The accommodations that were available would severely limit our flexibility and break the bank. This is when we started thinking about a campervan. This was the best decision we made in trip planning.
We are planners who typically have an itinerary complete with military time and were initially hesitant to not know exactly where we were sleeping each night. But campsites are readily available and easily found on Google Maps (a feature accessible using the free WiFi our van “Harold” provided!). We were concerned campsites may only take cash, but were able to use our American credit cards without issue. Our most memorable campsite was on our second day: we were finishing up the Golden Circle and en route to Skógafoss while deciding where to settle for the night. We saw on a map that the Skógafoss campsite was close to this landmark and we decided to finish the day there. As we approached what became our favorite waterfall of the trip, we realized the campsite was at the base of the fall. We fell asleep to the lullaby of Skógafoss a mere 250 meters away.
Our first four days went exactly as planned, with favorable weather! These days included the tourist-heavy but enjoyable Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle with the awe of tectonic plates, tomato lunch and Skógafoss, an ATV tour on black sand beaches with education on Iceland’s glaciers and volcanoes, Skaftafell and the wonder of the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon experienced at 40 knots, in a Zodiac boat.
The fifth day was when flexibility in the plans became necessary. The east coast had received significant rainfall for the two weeks prior. This day had no change in the forecast. We had planned to snowmobile on Vatnajökull glacier in the morning, but it seemed the weather would not allow for it. The company due to take us up route F985 to the glacier told us with the visibility and rain, it would not be enjoyable to go on the outing. They offered to reschedule for a different day or refund the trip in full. We selected a refund, which was in our bank account that day, and continued along the Ring Road. This cancellation turned out to be a great piece of luck. It allowed us to get to the north prior to a portion of the Ring Road being closed later that day, due to flooding. As if to highlight our good fortune, the largest rainbow we have ever seen covered the road during our drive north. The WiFi in our camper van and the Lonely Planet Ring Road guide help us alter our plans for the day. Make sure to keep informed about road conditions during your trip by using www.road.is.
The final day of our adventure was Reykjavík. We had seven hours to explore a city we could have easily enjoyed for the whole week. We arrived early and parked Harold at Hallgrímskirkja, as it has a free lot. We then began our food tour: Brauð &Co for croissants, Reykjavík Roasters for caffeine, Sægreifinn for a final bowl of langoustine soup and fresh fish, Bæjarins Beztu for a hotdog with everything and Micro Bar for a final flight of Icelandic beer. With our stomachs filled to the brim, we reluctantly headed back to Rent.is to part ways with Harold at Keflavik Airport and catch our flight back to the United States.
We can’t wait to start planning a return trip to Iceland. We jammed as much as we could into our eight days. But, there is so much more on this special island at the top of the globe. We will be back to see the Northern Lights more clearly, to see rainbows at waterfalls, to hike on a glacier and ride on F985, to spend proper time in Akureyri with its heart-shaped red stoplights, to explore the Western fjords, to drink more Borg Greta beer, to take in a concert at Harpa, to see Icelandic wool be spun and once again be stirred by the mighty force and splendor of our world.
- Follow the Icelandic Pledge.
- For US travelers, request a PIN number for your credit card. You will need one at gas stations.
- Backpacker’s Pantry and Alpine Aire branded freeze-dried meals are very tasty, especially if you add plain Skýr to the rice dishes.
- Fall is an amazing time to visit. The fall foliage partnered with moss-covered lava fields or the dark columns of Svartifoss is breathtaking. Additionally, the campsites are less crowded and the weather isn’t too cold. At night, we turned the heater on, in the van, for about ten minutes as we got into our sleeping bags. We were comfortable for the rest of the night without heat.
- Invest in quality waterproof pants, jacket and boots and layer, layer, layer!
- Keep a waterfall count. Our record for waterfalls visualized at one time was 92!
- Kirsuberjatréð – wonderful collective in Reykjavík with jewelry, purses, children’s cloths, art and much more designed by eleven Icelandic women. Stop by for wonderful gifts for yourself and friends.
- Grindavik Campsite: If you are making Blue Lagoon your first stop on arrival, this campsite is very close. It has incredibly clean bathrooms. It also has a shared indoor kitchen space, which closes at 10PM. We found this very helpful, on the first night; to go through the kitchen supplies provided by Rent.Is and arrange things for the week. Many travelers use this campsite for their final night. Because of this, there is large donation area of food and supplies for travellers just starting out.
- Skógar Campsite: Right at the base of Skógafoss allowing for both a sunset and sunrise hike above the falls. Basic but clean bathrooms. Great setup on a clear night for Northern Lights.
- Skaftafell Campsite: Great location to pull into at night and be poised for sunrise hiking to Svartifoss. Our favorite hike in Skaftafell was Sjónarnipa, labeled as difficult, it is only moderately challenging and gives an amazing panoramic view of Skaftafellsjökull.
- Fjalladýrð Campsite: If you want to disconnect from the world visit this remote campsite in Möðrudalur. Warm up with lamb soup and hot chocolate in the accompanying restaurant.
Read more: Exploring Iceland in a VW Camper – Day 2
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