Iceland is one of the most photogenic places I have ever been to. We spent 10 days circling the island and taking in all the sights. It was by far the highlight of our trip [mostly because we got to spend the most time there!] The most common way to see Iceland is taking Route 1 [or "Ring Road"] around the island. Route 1 is about 1332 Kilometers and hits the most popular attractions. Before I go into the details here are the basics:
Language: Icelandic, English
Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time Zone UTC+00.00
Exchange Rate: 131 ISK to 1 USD
Price of Gas: $1.78/Liter
Now, there are a lot of different ways to see/do Iceland. Some people hitch-hike around the whole island [and I give them credit.. seems rough!] Then there are people like Beyonce and Justin Bieber who have more recently been to Iceland. I am sure they did it very glamorously. 5 star hotels, private jets, you know. No big deal. Those are two extreme examples. Personally, I like to leave my private jet at home, get a little dirty when I travel, and discover the island without a tour group. And this is how we did it.
HOW TO DO ICELAND:
1. RENT A CAMPERVAN. The best way to see the island is with a camper. We decided to rent a 4x4 Toyota Van from KuKu Campers based on their affordable prices and great branding.
There is a law in Iceland that allows you to legally camp anywhere for one night. This gives you the freedom to see the island without the stress of finding your hotel and/or limiting your experience based on time constraints. You can pull up at any scenic point, stay the night, and wake up to some of the most beautiful scenery! [Note: As a traveler I feel obligated to mention the "leave it better than you saw it" rule. Always be respectful of the environment and people no matter where you are. Wherever you decide to stay the night, always take all your trash, don't disrupt the area, and try to contribute some goodness to the area before you leave.]
The camper did not disappoint. My sister Tami and I slept comfortably for the first half of our trip and could even fit all three of us when we picked up our sister Sierra in Egilsstaðir! We stayed a couple of nights with the ocean as our backdrop and other nights in camping areas. It was incredibly convenient and never felt unsafe or unsure throughout our stay.
*Over the course of ten days we spent about 530 USD on gas [keep in mind that we got lost quite a bit, went on a lot of detours, and backtracked along the way!]
2. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Doing a bit of research before you go anywhere is always helpful! I have traveled with people in the past that don't want to plan and hope that everything will happen serendipitously. "We'll figure it out when we're there" can waste a lot of valuable travel time [especially if you have limited travel days.] All good things happen with balance. Have an idea of where you want to go and what you want to see. Be sure to save directions and/or have a map to take notes on. Not having cell phone reception and/or ridiculously high costs for international data can be inconvenient. We usually mapped out where we were going to go the night before [with WiFi from one of the gas stations off Route 1], screenshot the directions, then we were set for the day! But don't be completely rigid with your itinerary and always be flexible to although for unexpected adventures [THE best kind!!]
3. TAKE YOUR TIME. Never try to rush it.. especially if you're having a good time. We would spend a lot more time at places we really enjoyed and ended up missing a couple of attractions because of it. But that's okay. I would much rather have a rich, memorable experience of a place than check it off my list.
4. EXPLORE. All of the most popular natural attractions are incredibly accessible from Ring Road. And it is easy to get out of the car, take mandatory photos, get back in the car and head to the next destination. Try as much as you can do avoid this method of travel! Obviously there are times that the location doesn't interest you or you don't have enough time to explore.. but if you really like a place.. stay a while! Take up one of the activities in the area [i.e. glacier walking tours, sky diving, etc.] or just wander around. Sometimes there is more to see then the main attraction!
5. TREAT YO SELF! When you're living out of campervan a lot of your meals come from grocery stores or gas stations. We made it a point to have a really good meal if there was a restaurant that called for it. We had an amazing lobster meal at Humarhöfnin in Höfn, the lobster capital of the North. And in Reykjavik we asked a couple of trendy looking locals their favorite place to eat and enjoyed an amazing dinner at Kol Restaurant. Even though both meals were really pricy.. it was worth it and we're not one of those people saying the food in Iceland is bad [because we all know it isn't!!]
POINTS OF INTEREST
NORTHERN LIGHTS. We got to see the Aurora Borealis the first night we were in Iceland. The lights are usually always visible depending on the weather. The best time to see the lights are between September-March. But Iceland’s weather can be unpredictable and it rained most of the time we were there. We were fortunate enough to see it a couple of nights throughout the trip and experience one of the most incredible natural phenomenon’s.
WATERFALLS. If there is one thing Iceland has it is waterfalls. Any word with “foss” at the end means waterfall. Several of the most popular and beautiful falls include:
All these waterfalls are easily accessible throughout Route 1.
GEOTHERMAL ACTIVITY. Iceland is very volcanic and has geothermal activity all over the island. One of the major benefits of geothermal is it’s natural hot springs. This provides one of the most unique and popular experiences in Iceland including hot spots like:
The bright cloudy blue water is filled with natural minerals like Silica and Sulfur that have proven health benefits. It also makes for amazing photos and a relaxing way to spend the day on a very chilly island!
One other spot [that was a major highlight] was the oldest swimming pool right outside of Vik:
From my experience I don't like feeling like a tourist or be surrounded by them all the time. I noticed that most tourists in Iceland didn't start their day until 9-10am. To beat the crowd and really enjoy Seljavallalaug we made sure we hiked to the location first thing in the morning. We were able to enjoy the pool for several hours before other people showed up! *[this is my one secret tip!! take advantage of it!] It was an amazing experience to be swimming in a naturally heated pool surrounded by mountains and even a little bit of snow!
THE HIGHLANDS. Going to Landmannalauger is a little bit of a mission and requires 4x4 to do so. But it is totally worth it. We didn't get to see the colorful mountains and mud baths because we got caught in a snow storm! But we went on a hike anyway and swam in the hot springs afterwards [while it was snowing!!] The spring has a ways away from the bathroom and we all decided to run barefoot back to the bathroom. It was such a crazy experience and we practically had the whole places to ourselves [minus the construction workers who threw snowballs at us as we ran towards the bathroom, soaking wet, barefoot and freezing!! Haha!]
All and all, Iceland did not disappoint. It was adventurous, picturesque, seemingly empty, and one of the funnest times I ever had on a trip! I got to see the Northern Lights [something I only dreamed of experiencing!] and spend quality time with my sisters. It was all worth the credit card debit. Hehe.
Iceland. WOW. Just wow.