1875 kilometers on a journey through pure beauty
Let me start by introducing ourselves: We are 2 engineers, 2 nurses but only 3 Portuguese girls. How is that possible, you say? Well, let’s just say that one of us decided that collecting degrees could be fun 🙂 and why Iceland? Iceland was a bucket list item for us and this was simply the year we decided to cross it off. We chose to go in early October, so that we had a chance to see the Northern lights (another bucket list item!) but still have enough daylight to be able to take in all the wonderful sights. We started planning a few months before we went, listing all the places we wanted to see. As you can tell by our map, we were way too ambitious…! But that only meant we had to pick the top spots we wanted to check out this time and make sure we come to Iceland again to see everything else that was left out.
The journey naturally started at Reykjavík, where we spent our first 2 days in Iceland. We started by taking a free walking tour of the city and it was the perfect way to start, as it was very informative and fun. One of the people taking the tour with us happened to work for a very well-known travel guide company so we are hoping to be featured on one of their articles about the city! Also, as part of the tour, we had a micro-lesson on how to speak Icelandic and that was when I decided to take on the challenge of pronouncing Eyjafjallajökull. With a little help of the internet and a lot of patience from my travel companions, which had to hear me say it over and over again, I think I managed to do it. I guess I’m ready to move to Iceland now!
I also must thank our Reykjavík hotel for giving us a discount book with coupons for restaurants all over Iceland and also some shops, like the one where we bought beautiful local wool hats and gloves. If you manage to get a hold of one of those (I saw them being sold for 1500 ISK in one or two tourist information spots), it is really a good way of saving some money.
After Reykjavík, we set off to explore the rest of the country. We went for renting a camper van. It was the first time any of us rented one but it proved to be the right choice. It allowed us to go around the Ring road at our own pace, have our meals whenever and wherever we wanted and with no need to worry about check-in/check-out times. It was also a great way to save money on both accommodation and food. But talking about food, please do not go to Iceland and leave without tasting the local food! Even if you are traveling on a budget, make sure you have enough to try the famous hot-dogs, buy Skýr at the supermarket (even the cheapest brands tasted so much better than the ones we can get back home), try homemade cakes at a cafe and eat at least one fish dish (which tastes amazingly fresh!). Aw and get a beer (or two actually) at a nice bar at happy hour!
We started our road trip with the Golden circle so that we could see the most well-known sights first, such as Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, Strokkur Geysir and Kerið crater. We also stopped by Skálholt which was a nice surprise. The cathedral is not what we are used to cathedrals being like, as we are from an old catholic country, but it was really pretty in its simplicity. And the turf house next to it was adorable.
We then set off to do the Ring road and decided to do it counter clockwise just because we had a few more sights to see on the south part than on the north and therefore we thought it would be best to tackle them first. We visited the unmissable Seljalandsfoss (get ready to get wet!), my friend Eyjafjallajökull (by then I already knew how to pronounce it, score!!), Skógafoss and the beach at Vík. On the way, we also stopped by the DC3 plane wreck site at Sólheimasandur. It is a nice spot and the fact that the remains of the plane are still somewhat intact after so many years and so many tourists is quite impressive.
But talking about tourists, be ready to wait a while if you want to take one of those perfect pictures where all you can see is just the plane and the sights. That is probably going to be impossible, as there is always people around and also, very unfortunately, on top of the plane itself.
Another must-see for us was Jökulsárlón (the glacier lagoon). On our way there, we visited Hofskirkja, which is a turf church and well worth a quick stop along the way. At the lagoon, we went on a tour and had a chance to hold a block of ice as trans-lucid as glass. And we tasted the ice too! After the tour, we crossed the road to go the Diamond beach and it was quite a sight. We are not at all used to going to a black sand, let alone a beach with ice lying around.
Heading east was when we started to notice the biggest differences in the scenery. East Iceland is a lot more deserted than the west. Villages were a rare sight so we started looking around for other stuff. Like whenever we saw the road sign with the table and the pine tree, we would look for them but i am afraid i have to say it was false advertising because there was never a table with a pine tree, it as either the table (or tables) or the tree, never both!
The road sign with sheep, however, was totally correct. Even along the most deserted stretches of the road we would find them eating their way along the fields.
Also, the Ring road on the East has a few stretches which are not in the condition I believe you expected, being it the country’s main road. Part of it is in gravel and it is the part where you have to go up and down a few hills so here is a little heads up for the drivers: please be cautious and drive slowly. We ourselves had to be the roadside assistance for a couple of tourists who managed to drive their car into a ditch on the side of the road. It was my very first 112 phone call and the chance to try to explain to the situation to the Police and speak 3 languages at time. It was quite a challenge but luckily everything turn out ok as no one got hurt and we got to see some Icelandic good-will into play because a local man also stopped to help and managed to pull the car out of the ditch using a rope he had on his pick-up truck. No need for the police to come after all!
Up north, we went to Dettifoss and here is another piece of advice for the drivers: use road 862 instead of road 864 because it is in way better shape. Around Mývatn, we visited Hverir/Hverarönd geothermal area, Grjótagjá cave and Dimmuborgir. We also went to the Mývatn nature baths and we loved it! The view over the lake was great and we were lucky enough to be there on a sunny day and watch a beautiful sunset. Comparing it to the Blue Lagoon, where we also went to (more on that latter), we actually liked Mývatn better because it is a little less touristy, so it was more relaxing. That night, we lived one of the episodes of our trip that will stay in our memory forever. We were on our way to the campsite, driving on a gravel road across dark farmland. The Northern lights decided to put on a show for us, so we pulled off the road to set up the tripod. As we were taking pictures, we heard heavy footsteps. Our company had arrived: fifteen strong, wild, pure Icelanders joined us to watch the show! What else could three girls standing alone in the dark could ask for? Aw i forgot to mention that they were quite hairy as well because they were horses, of course!! 🙂
Our journey continued on to Goðafoss and Akureyri. On our last day, although we did not have enough time to explore Snæfellsnes peninsula as we wanted it, we decided to drive a few kilometers more just to see Kirkjufell mountain and it was well worth it! Then that afternoon, our last in Iceland, was spent chilling at the Blue Lagoon. We had imagined that this would be the perfect ending to our trip, just enjoying the scenery and relaxing in the hot pool. What we could not have imagined was being so lucky to the point of seeing Northern lights while we were there! It is the kind of thing you would think that only happens to others but this time we were part of those chosen ones. It was awesome to see the fog just opening up and hear a choir of enthusiastic “aws” and “uhs” accompanied by a weird choreography of wet tourists in bathing suits pointing to sky and witnessing such a natural wonder. Iceland at its best for sure!
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