The Wanderer’s Guide to the Westfjords on a Budget
By Kelsey Hoff
We only had a week to travel in our camper van in Iceland and we wanted to make the most out of our time, but not break our bank account. After doing much research, the grandeur, intrigue, and isolation of the Westfjords spoke to our souls and we decided to spend the whole week off the beaten path of the much traveled Ring Road. We are travelers who have a fascination with ‘end-of-the road’ places and, according to the Lonely Planet, the Westfjords – specifically the Strandir Coast – seems like the “edge of the universe” (2014, p. 206). Needless to say, we were not disappointed!
What did we do in that week? The following will provide a day-by-day overview of what we did that would be useful for fellow wanderers looking to go beyond “Tourist Land.”
Day 1 – Drangsnes Hot Pots
Arrive in Keflavik in the early morning and pick up the camper van near the airport (note: this is a great service that saves a lot of money in not having to take a shuttle into Reykjavik). We brought a lot of our own food, such as lentils, beans, rice, granola bars, etc., in order to save money. We then supplemented our food with veggies and fruit, which we bought from the Bónus grocery store a short distance outside of Keflavik. Although there are magnificent sights everywhere, we knew that the Westfjords were a fair distance away; as a result, we drove all of the way to Drangsnes on the first day (on the east side of the Westfjords). It is essential that you hit up the geothermal hotpot embedded in the side of the ocean wall in Drangsnes. Your jet-lag and aching legs from driving will thank you and you will sleep like a baby that night. There is a beach a few kilometers past the town that has a great pull out for camping. There is also a large amount of driftwood all the way from Siberia littering the beach. Cook some food, pour some wine, and enjoy the scenery!
Highlight of the day: seeing the landscape changing as we drove through lava fields, farming areas, mountainous regions, and ocean views. You never know what is around the next bend!
Day 2 – Driving Strandir
The following day we traveled further up the Strandir Coast. The potholes, switchbacks, and fog throughout were challenging, but we were very impressed by the trustworthiness of our camper van and the ease that it was to drive. We took our time more than the previous day and enjoyed the many pullouts for pictures, lunch, and short hikes. Each village along the way is so quaint and the farms are very picturesque. We ended up at the end of the road in Norðurfjörður, where you feel like you are a million miles away from the rest of civilization. We also indulged in the hotpot/outdoor swimming pool a few kilometers past Norðurfjörður. It is on a cliff hanging over the ocean and the view is absolutely amazing!
Highlight of the day: We happened to be in Norðurfjörður when there was a large iceberg floating nearby. It was amazing to watch the colors change with the sunset as we basked in the geothermal water.
Day 3 – Camping outside Ísafjörður
After a short hike up the side of a large hill overlooking the iceberg, we had a morning dip in the geothermal pool before hitting the road once again. We headed back down the Strandir Coast, continued through Staður, and then north on Hwy 61. We camped along Ísafjörður (the fjord itself, not the town) and spent the evening enjoying the pristine water and mind-boggling silence. We even had a seal pay us a short visit!
Highlight of the day: Listening to Sigurrós on repeat while staring out the window at all of the natural and undisturbed beauty. The waterfalls were astounding in this area!
Day 4 – Súðavík to Bolungarvík
We continued to follow the many vast fjords north. We stopped in Súðavík at the Arctic Fox Centre, as well as watched 20+ seals sun bathe in Skötufjörður. We then came to the town of Ísafjörður ; although fairly small, Ísafjörður felt like a metropolis in comparison to the few farms and villages that we had been passing the previous days. We had to keep moving, however, because there was another ‘end-of-the-road’ place that we needed to get to before nightfall. We continued through the tunnel to Bolungarvik, which is one of the most northern places accessible to cars in Iceland. We had a lovely conversation with a man from the UK who has lived in the town for many years. He helped us to understand the reality of living in such a remote place and how it was before the tunnel way built.
Highlight of the day: Seeing urban life in Ísafjörður and Bolungarvik. Also, seals are so fun to watch!
Day 5 – Dynjandi
We started down the west side of the region through the tunnels towards Breiðafell. At Þingeyri, we brought a picnic lunch on a hike up a large hill and enjoyed the view of the town and the fjord while we ate. Continuing on, we crossed the treacherous mountain pass towards Borgarfjörður in thick fog that made our surroundings seem mystical. The falls of Dynjandi were in the distance and we enjoyed a hike along the falls. They are astounding! After hiking up the side of the falls, we continued on around Suðurfjörður to near Bildudalur, where we camped for the night.
Highlight of the day: Coming off the mountain pass and seeing Dynjandi in the distance was simply spectacular. As we wove our way closer, the light shone on it in different ways, making it a new sight around every bend. Once we were actually next to the waterfall, the mist coming off was refreshing, majestic, and good for my soul.
Day 6 – Garður Camping
We didn’t have time to stop very much on this day, but the drive was still very fascinating and wonderful. We drove through Patreksfjörður and had lunch at the Vatnsfjörður Nature Reserve. We then followed Hwy 60 all the way south to the Ring Road, which brought us back to the Reykjavik area. We needed to return our camper van by 8:00am the next morning, so we camped near the airport in Garður.
Our camper van through Rent.is more than met our expectations and we felt that it was the perfect choice for what we were looking for in travel. We were aware of how expensive Iceland is and we did a lot of research into how to travel Iceland on a budget. Not only did our camper van provide huge amounts of flexibility in our travel, but it also was the most economical way to see Iceland on a budget. Sometimes budget travel leaves you feeling like you missed out; however, we both felt that we experienced more of Iceland because of our choice in vehicle/accommodation. We are wanderers who will very likely be back to rent another camper van to have more Icelandic adventures in the future.
Read more: The Camper Van Mabel
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