Eternal sunshine on the cloudy island

My husband Rodrigo and I had been dreaming of a trip to Iceland for five years. We didn’t know what cities we would visit, what natural wonders we would find. We only knew what we had seen in photos and in movies. The true wonder of Iceland, we found, was its ability to elicit gasps from us with every turn of the bend and every new beautiful scene.

Day 1 – The Blue Lagoon

Pure wonder and awe filled my husband and I as we drove our first kilometers in our Camper van. Moss covered rocks felt alive. The purple lupine flowers waved hello as we navigated to our first destination: The Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon selfie The Blue Lagoon

We brought out our windbreakers under the overcast skies, concerning to two people about to dip into an outdoor pool—but that concern was soon washed away in the natural warmth of the blue water. We drifted under the bridges and up to the bar, covered our faces in mud, and snapped photos by the mossy hills.

We parked at a campground outside Reykjavik for a jet lag-induced nap, then headed into the city to explore. Like a scene out of a movie, I spotted a woman on the sidewalk who looked familiar, and sure enough, our friend from college was standing on the same street corner as us. After the shock wore off, Julia, Rod and I chatted for a bit (she was there for a friend’s destination wedding) and snapped a photo to remember this serendipitous occasion.

Reykjavik City

Tips:
Take a sip from the Pure Icelandic Water fountains under the bridges. Also, tie your hair up before getting in the pool. I submerged my head, and my hair remained unmanageably dry for the remainder of the trip. Also, don’t be afraid to take a camera with you into the lagoon; you’re going to want to capture this experience on film.

Must haves:
Windbreakers
Swimsuits
Waterproof phone/camera case
Conditioner

Day 2 – The Golden Circle

We woke up the next morning refreshed from nearly 12 hours of sleeping (thanks, jet lag). We couldn’t believe how comfortably we slept in the Camper van, and we slept just as comfortably the entirety of our trip. We heated water on our portable gas stove for our coffee and soaked in the reality that we were camping in the place we’d been dreaming of since watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in 2013.

Tourist Cairns Iceland Small Tourist Cairn Iceland

Before committing to the Ring Road, we started on the Golden Circle, only driving the north side to get to the Geysir and Gullfoss. The geysir area was a landscape we’d never witnessed, me being from the US’s midwest, and Rod being from northern Brazil. The springs bubbled and steamed, and of course we watched the Geysir burst from the ground (at least three times). Just a few minutes further on the road, we arrived at Gullfoss. The waterfall is grand and expansive. All us tourists appeared as tiny specks along the path up, down and around the falls.

Golden circle destination Waterfall on the Golden Circle

After we dried off, we set course on the Ring Road and drove several hours north. The drive took our breaths away. Mountains, sheep, snow-capped mountains, and impressive graffiti kept us in awe. We stopped at the Hraunfossar lava falls and hiked up the path to see the hundreds of tiny waterfalls gushing from the rocks.

Our growling stomachs informed us it was time to find a campsite and make dinner, so we turned on the in-car wifi and navigated to the nearest, cheapest campground we found.

Tips:
Watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty before you come to feel even more stoked for your trip! Climb up the path around the geysir area to look down on the entire landscape, and do the same at Gullfoss to take in each new angle of the enormous falls. Everyone was very willing to take our photo, so don’t be afraid to ask. We also brought boxes of instant meals like rice and noodles for our dinner meals, keeping our trip much more affordable. Eating out is very expensive, and besides sharing a hot dog at a hot dog stand, we only ate out once our entire trip.

Iceland Graffiti Iceland Camping

Must haves:
Nescafé instant coffee
Waterproof shoes/hiking boots
Warm hat/beanie
Instant box dinners

Day 3 – Akureyri & Goðafoss

The landscape continued to amaze us as we drove. We stopped on a hill to look down after climbing to ear-popping heights, and again to photograph a mama sheep with her two babies and taste more pure Icelandic water. We made it all the way to Akureyri, almost the northernmost point on the Ring Road. We climbed the steps of the Akureyrarkirkja Lutheran Church and continued behind it to find the city’s botanical garden. We walked the town, snapped photos with street art, and tried our first Icelandic food: a hot dog covered in potato sticks (yum!)

Street Art Iceland Hot dog North Iceland

We continued east on the Ring Road, and caught a glimpse of a rare arctic fox chasing a bird off the road! We then almost missed our next stop, but a sign for Goðafoss and a mass of cars parked up ahead caused us to do the same. Goðafoss reminded us of Niagara Falls, round and uniform and spectacular. Along the water, we found our first black sand, but we knew more was to come. After experiencing our first time being stopped by sheep crossing the road, we made camp for the night in Mývatn. A swarm of midges, which are these little black bugs, greeted us. They only appear in mid-June, and we just so happened to arrive during their 7-day lifespan. By morning, they had all been swept away by the intense winds. If you happen to hit Mývatn in June, be sure to bring something to protect yourself from these bugs.

The Waterfalls of the gods

Tips:
Stop often. The Ring Road offers countless stopping points, gravel plots where you can park then hike out into nature. These were some of our favorite moments and offered incredible views.

Eastfjords Iceland

Must haves:
Scarf (for protection from wind, especially in towns along the ocean)

Day 4 – East Iceland

The mountain pass to Seyðisfjörður

Lake Mývatn is a beautiful, blue-green lake. We parked nearby for a while in the morning just to look out over it. We quickly set out for Seyðisfjörður, which quickly became our favorite part of the trip. The drive up, up, up the mountain reminded me of my propensity to fear heights, but I swallowed my fear in time to stop at the top, get out of the camper van, and take in the view. I balled together some snow from the snow-capped mountain and threw it right at my husband, which felt like a perfect movie moment. We finished the drive into the valley where the town of Seyðisfjörður sits, and experienced a true movie-moment. Rod suddenly felt the setting looked familiar, like a scene from Walter Mitty. A quick online search proved him correct, and we of course recreated the scene based on a screen shot from the film. This town was perfect for strolling, shopping, and even hiking.

Cooking & Campervanning Seyðisfjörður

We drove back up and down the mountains to get back on the Ring Road and start along the southern stretch of our journey. We camped at hands-down our favorite campground of the trip in Fáskrúðsfjörður. The setting is unbeatable–don’t let the gravel road up to the campground intimidate you. It’s worth it.

Lake Mývatn Fáskrúðsfjörður Camping

Tips:
Stop and stay at the Fáskrúðsfjörður campground. We loved it so much we didn’t leave until the afternoon after playing an intense game of frisbee.

Day 5 – Jökulsárlón

Glaciers were on our mind when we woke. Neither of us had ever seen them, and I hardly knew what to expect. The glaciers at Jökulsárlón were bright blue, almost turquoise. You can take a boat ride into the waters to get closer, but the shore was close enough for us to appreciate them. Blocks of smooth, glass-like ice washed ashore, as well as across the road at Diamond Beach.

Jökulsárlón

Sunshine burst through the clouds and brightened our drive to our next campground in Hornafjörður, which again offered us a view of mountains.

Day 6 – Reynisfjara

Rod waited patiently for Reynisfjara–the black sand beach. We walked the shore, scooping up shells and rocks for closer looks. I did not climb the basalt rock formations as gracefully as others, but we enjoyed peeking inside the cavern much more. We also finally found a moss-covered house here that we could get close to. I took advantage of this find.

Basalt Rock Cavern Farm shed Iceland

Black sand beach selfie

Day 7 – Puffins & the crashed airplane

The plan for today was to return to Reynisfjara, but while we were heating water for our coffee in our campground’s common room in the morning, we noticed a large poster hanging that showed where to spot puffins. My research on where to find these adorable creatures led me to Puffin Island, a trip that costs more than we were willing to spend. But this poster said puffins lived on two mountains that happen to be minutes away. So we sped off to the mountain that seemed more accessible. We chose correctly. Further west along Reynisfjara Beach, in a spot also called Kirkjufjara Beach, hundreds of puffins flew above, below, and sometimes right next to us.

Puffins South Iceland Puffin

Reynisfjara Fog at Reynisfjara

Rod was especially curious to see the Sólheimasandur plane wreck up close. Google Maps will get you close, but if you keep driving a bit further, you can’t miss the parking lot created just for this trek. The sign exaggerates the time it’ll take you to walk there by a bit. The trail took us about 50 minutes to finish, one way. The white wreckage formed a stark silhouette against the black sand. We stepped inside and peered under the peeled back interior walls. We didn’t follow the marked path back, but instead walked directly to the parking lot. We could see it from the wreckage once we climbed the small hill, so we weren’t worried about getting lost.

Sólheimasandur plane crash Sólheimasandur plane wreck

The Skógafoss waterfall was just down the road, an undeniable stop for us Walter Mitty fans because the film used the falls for a scene that supposedly took place in the Himalayas. Another reenactment ensued.

Skógafoss

We drove all the way to Selfoss and decided to enjoy our first sit-down meal in Iceland. After a quick price comparison, we chose Tommi’s Burger Joint and ordered two burgers and fries. The burgers tasted delicious, and they were accompanied by the largest basket of fries we’d ever seen. These two hungry campers ate every last fry and slept happy and full that night in Selfoss.

Tips:
Go see the puffins! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, observing these adorable creatures in their wild home. Also, the trek to the plane wreck is not for the faint of heart. The wind is intense, and the long walk is monotonous. We thought seeing the wreckage was worth it, though!

Day 8 – Reykjavík

Our final day. We wanted to take it slow and relax before travelling home, so we sat in Bókakaffið, a coffee shop-bookstore hybrid, and sipped a latte together while Rod sketched and I read. Good decision after a week of existing always on-the-go. We made it to Reykjavík by the afternoon, and did some proper shopping downtown. I love outdoor markets, so I bought a hoodie from an artist there with the shape of Iceland printed on it in a magnificent blue that reminds me of its crystal clear waters. We strolled up and down the streets for the last time and made camp at a campground near the airport. We cooked our last box of macaroni and cheese and set an alarm for the next morning for the first time.

Days of Gray Iceland Bokakaffið Street of Hearts Reykjavik

It’s sometimes hard to accept that the dream of Iceland has been realized. The photo magnets on my fridge and the background on my phone remind me this trip was real, but the beauty we experienced exists mostly in our minds and in the hope of returning to this place.

 

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