Hiking on a Glacier

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The day after our exciting snorkel adventure at Silfra and a one-night stop-over in Vik, we continued along the Ring Road, an easy two hours drive to the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center.

On the approach, we knew we had made the right decision to come here; in the distance we saw dramatic mountains hiding behind curtains of clouds with glaciers carving their way the the massive rocks. This truly was a spectacular view, and it made us even more excited for our next activity, a glacier hike!

Skaftafell is located inside the Vatnajökull National Park, which is so big, it covers 14% of Iceland! It’s special in the sense that it has a great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, volcanic and geothermal activity. Iceland is concerned about the protection and conservation of this area, but also makes it accessible to nature lovers and hikers to make the most of it. There is an informative 15 minute free documentary about the region in the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center which I’d recommend you watch when you arrive.

We arrived at 11:30am, and it wasn’t long before we were given our crampons and pick-axes and jumping into an American yellow school bus to head off to the starting point. Interesting fact: apparently Iceland is the easiest place in the world to obtain a bus driving license.

All in all, the hike lasted about 3 hours, but it was a definite highlight of the trip (along with everything else!).

Short hike to get to the glacier

Short hike to get to the glacier

From the bus, we had an easy 30 minute-ish hike before we got on the ice. This was due to the fact that the glacier we were visiting (Öræfajökull) was a retreating glacier, and so over the last few decades it has considerably shrunken and it now takes longer to get on the glacier than in the past! There is actually a then and now photo in the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center on the wall, and afterwards, we took a look at it and were shocked to see just how different it looked in the past (early 1900s).

Along the way, it was interesting to spot some icebergs in the glacial lake, a newly formed ice cave and the moraines that have been created from where the glacier carved its way into the rock. I studied Glacial Systems during my A Level Geography, but it is so very different to see these formations in real life compared to reading about them from a textbook.

The glacial lake, moraines in the background (left) and glacier (right)

The glacial lake, moraines in the background (left) and glacier (right)

Ice cave, recently formed

Ice cave, recently formed

Soon, we were putting on our crampons and being given advice on how we should use them and our pick-axes, so we would walk on the ice safely! Normally, if you walk on ice you would fall flat on your face, but with crampons, you are defying everything. It was at first a little weird, as walking confidently on ice isn’t something I was used to, but I was stomping around comfortably very quickly.

Looking back on where we walked from, view of the glacier's retreat and

Looking back on where we walked from, view of the glacier’s retreat and

Along the way, we stopped and peered in (not too far though!) into some crevasses and learning some horror stories of what could happen if we were to fall in. Word of advice: don’t fall into a crevasse! There was also some glacial water flowing on the top of the glacier at one point, and we were given the opportunity to drink it. It was very clean water, but as it has no minerals in it, it is not recommended to use as your only source of hydration.

Our guide was full of wit and had many anecdotes to share of his life and times on the glacier, and the glacier’s history. Unfortunately, not all the information was pleasant, and we learned about the terrible occurrence of what happened to two university students, Ian and Tony, from The University of Nottingham in 1953. The young men went missing on the glacier and although they say ‘the glacier gives up what it takes’, their bodies have still not been retrieved. However, since the disappearance, some of their equipment, clothes etc. from the expedition has been recovered from the surface of the glacier in recent years. The items are in a display cabinet in the Skaftafell Visitor’s Center. This article is an interesting read to find out more.

Items retrieved from the 1953 expedition

Items retrieved from the 1953 expedition

Before we left the glacier, our guide offered to take group pictures of us on the glacier which have given us a fond momento of our time there!

Conquerers of the ice

Conquerers of the ice

We walked back to the bus to head to the Visitor’s Center, where we were offered a hot chocolate which was very welcome after being on the ice.

We stayed overnight at the campsite at Skaftafell, next to the Visitor’s center, and it was an excellent base to visit Jökulsárlón Glacial Lake and Beach (45 minute drive) and a short hike to Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), a popular hike which starts next to the campsite, which we did the following morning.

Svartifoss, Black Waterfall, featuring basalt columns

Svartifoss, Black Waterfall, featuring basalt columns

Two minutes down the road is a Gas Station which also has a café, where we dined that evening. Unless you are staying in the hotel, take note that there are not many other food options in the area.

Glacier Guides were informative, professional and concerned about our safety on the ice. It was such an enjoyable afternoon and Skaftafell is a wonderful area in Iceland to explore, and a favourite among the places I visited during the trip!

Tour Company: Glacier Guides

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The Beautiful Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Beach

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After completing our Glacier Hike in Skaftafell at 3pm, having lunch and a brief rest at the Visitor’s Center café, we went straight to the Skaftafell camp site (just behind the Visitor’s Center) to set up our tent.

After we were fed, watered and relieved to have a roof over our heads for another night of camping, we jumped back in the car at about 4:30pm to drive the easy 45 minutes down the Ring Road to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, somewhere I was extremely excited to see for myself!

Jokulsarlon Glacer Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacer Lagoon

The Glacier Lagoon, along with the Golden Circle, is considered one of the top ‘must-see’ places in Iceland. Many travellers who don’t have a car opt to take a day-trip from Reykjavik straight to the Glacier Lagoon, and there are many tour companies that offer this. At a whopping 4h30 minute drive straight from Reykjavik, it sounds crazy, but many choose to visit Jökulsárlón for the day, with 9 hours on a coach. My personal hell as I get travel sick! Luckily for me, I had a car, and had several days to drive the same distance with plenty of stops along the way.

On arrival at the Glacier Lagoon however, you instantly understand why people choose to sit on a coach for hours and hours just to come here; if I were in their position, I would do the same thing, travel sickness and all. It is simply incredible! No matter how many pictures you find online of this place, you will still be astounded that somewhere like this can exist.

IMG_2555With floating icebergs (broken off from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier nearby) and the occasional seal bobbing around, it is one of the most mesmerising, other-wordly places I have been to – and one of the coldest!

There is the option to pay for a boat ride, to get up close to the icebergs in the lagoon, but we were told that the last boat had already left for that day. We were disappointed but felt we didn’t miss out on much, as we were still able to see the icebergs from the shore, and even saved 4,000ISK!

IMG_2549After being transfixed by the ice-cold beauty all around us, we were somehow able to tear ourselves away from the Glacier Lagoon, to drive across the road towards the black sand beach.

View of where the icebergs come from the Glacier Lagoon, towards the beach

View of where the icebergs come from in the Glacier Lagoon, towards the beach

Some of the icebergs get washed up here on their journey from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and it’s a place where you can get up close and personal with the ice – for free!

The Glacier Lagoon is where most people go, but the beach, although still popular with photographers and other tourists, is like a hidden gem. Personally, we agreed that the beach is even better than the Glacier Lagoon! The beach isn’t sign posted, so it would be easy to miss if you hadn’t read up about it before your visit. It is easy to find, when you know what you are looking for…

IMG_2594IMG_2637Iceland has so much natural beauty and each place we went to seemed to be just as good, if not better, than the last. My visit to the Glacier Lagoon and black sand beach at Jökulsárlón is a moment I will treasure – it’s an extremely special place behold.

Me at Jokulsarlon beach

Me at Jökulsárlón beach

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Snorkeling Between Continents

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Snorkeling in the Silfra fissure, known as one of the top dive/snorkeling sites in the world, is something I will never forget. It was my third day in Iceland on a trip where each day just got better and better. I had already experienced Reykjavik and driven around the Golden Circle, but little did I know there was so much more to come, starting with Silfra.

The Silfra fissure is a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents. It is the only location on Earth where you can snorkel or dive between continents. That sounded amazing, so I obviously really wanted to go! At Silfra, the continental plates meet and drift apart about 2cm per year. The underwater visibility is over 100 meters, which is definitely something, so you can see very deep down. The water is so pure, as it is glacial water from the nearby Langjökull glacier. During our snorkel experience, we were encouraged to drink as we swam along! It all sounds pretty incredible, but there is just one catch – the water is very, very, very cold, 2°C – 4°C year round, in fact.

025One thing I would highlight, is that the meeting point (if you are not being picked up from Reykjavik). It is at the Information Center in Thingvellir National Park, NOT the Visitor’s Center. I don’t think their website stresses this enough, and I’m sure many people end up doing exactly the same mistake as us. Luckily, we realised we were in the wrong place and the Information Center was only a 5 minute drive down the road. It would be a lot less stressful to just turn up at the right location in the first place though!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were to wear thermal tops and trousers with two pairs of thick socks which would go underneath a suit (like a sleeping bag, buut in clothes-form) and then a dry suit on top which they would both provide. Getting the dry suit on was not the easiest task. No wait, it was near impossible to get it on!

When they realised that the suit they had given me would not fit, after much struggling to squeeze me in, I had to lie on a table and cling myself tightly to the edges while two people had to yank the suit off me. I also received a special treatment which involved me having to be lifted in the air to get the larger size on. There was also something called ‘The Strangler,’ a neck choker, to tighten the suit at the neck, to prevent water from entering. It was all very tight and uncomfortable, and we were assured that this was how it was meant to be.

It was also very difficult to walk, and as they had selected a Men’s medium size for me to wear instead, I ended up waddling everywhere, as the suit was not the right fit. It was all rather funny, and making jokes about it made us put aside the thought that we were very soon going to have to plunge into icy-cold water.

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We were in the water for a total of thirty minutes. It may not sound like that much, but you don’t want to be in there for much longer. By the time I had got out, my lips were so numb and abnormally puffy. It was then that I knew what it must feel like to have had lip fillers/botox.

The dry suit worked incredibly well and my body remained dry. Only my face and hands were exposed to the cold which was painful enough. Still, Kam wasn’t as successful with her suit and water had leaked in everywhere. She was absolutely soaked and freezing which was not enjoyable at all, and needed to change into dry clothes afterwards. (tip: bring dry clothes in case this happens to you!).

They warned us that there is usually one person in the group who ends up getting wet, and for our group, that was Kam. Oh dear. Still, she did say that she would like to do it again, but next time not get wet, so she can better appreciate the snorkeling side and not only think of how excruciatingly cold she was. At least it hasn’t put her totally off going back!

As my neck was so restricted, it was difficult to breathe and while I was in the water, I developed a headache and didn’t want to move my head too much. It was such a relief to get the dry suit off and be able to breathe again when I got out.

046aI was also worried about the visibility. As I said, the water is so clear and I thought I would be afraid of the depth and wouldn’t enjoy the experience. Surprisingly, it wasn’t scary at all, instead it was incredibly fascinating to swim through the fissure and look at the natural wonder all around me. The colours and sights were so beautiful, which made the headache and the numbing pain worth it.

Although exhausted from our snorkeling, there was still much to get done. We managed to drive down to Vik, two hours south afterwards, with a short detour to Kerid crater after blasting the heating on in the car for a good while. In Vik, we ate at the Gas Station, where I ate the most delicious chicken burger and fries in my entire life. When travelling around Iceland, you soon begin to appreciate any chance at getting your hands on some good hot food!

I took the DIVE.IS Silfra Snorkeling Day Tour (16,990 ISK), but they have several other options to tailor your visit to Iceland.

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3 Ways to Not Blow Your Budget on Accommodation in Iceland

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In this post I will focus on my experience at hostels, camp sites and an Airbnb flat, during our nine day trip to Iceland in early September, in Reykjavík and the South. 

Hostelling

Iceland is very different from Spain and Portugal where I have spent the best part of 2015 so far. Finding excellent hostels for weekends away affordably there had been painless. For an equivalent in Iceland, we were looking at 60€/night – quite the contrast. Even so, many places en route outside of Reykjavik are quite isolated with few options and thus even more expensive.

We ended up booking a stay at Hlemmur Square, a hostel on the main street. It worked out at about £25/night which ‘isn’t bad for Iceland’ and we were lucky enough to get our own private room. Breakfast however is not included, but you can pay for it as an extra (£9 which was quite expensive). It is a continental breakfast though, and we opted to do this the day we left for the Golden Circle, to fill up on lots of food! Alternatively, walk across the street and pick up breakfast from the convenience store.

If you are looking for somewhere affordable to stay in Reykjavik with a comfortable bed, then this hostel is the place, but it isn’t somewhere I’d rave about.

There is also a camp site in Reykjavik, so if you’re looking to save even more money than a hostel, you know where to go.

Camping in Iceland

The camping season in Iceland ends with the summer tourist season (31st August) according to online tourist information. Our travel dates were the 3rd-11th September but we managed to make it work! We were expecting to be camping out of season, in closed campsites (no services – running water, toilets etc.) or maybe even wild camping, as this is actually allowed in certain areas of the country (not in National Parks). Yet after much research, I managed to find a small list of campsites open during our trip, that were still open! We spent four nights camping and every time, we were at open campsites, with facilities and even quite a few other campers (we were not the only crazy ones!).

The average price per person was about 1200-1700ISK/night, which works out at roughly £7. And a 200-400ISK add-on to have a hot shower. Paying £7/8 for accommodation each night was much better than paying the price of hotels/B&Bs!

Still, after four nights of camping in the wet, the ferocious wind and the unforgiving cold, despite our thermals, thick sleeping bags and sleeping bag liners, we were so relieved to arrive at our AirBnB accommodation in Keflavik, near the airport, where we would spend our final two nights in luxury.

Whenever we told people that we had been camping, they would look at us like we were crazy. They were probably right. The weather was particularly bad during our trip. If I could return to Iceland in the future, I would invest more in my accommodation and stay in hotels or B&Bs, anywhere that isn’t camping. When you’re out and about in the cold all day, doing adventurous activities such as snorkelling or glacier hiking like us, what you really need is a nice, warm, comfortable bed to sink into at the end of the day, not a hard sleeping mat in a tent you fear is going to blow away with the wind!

Still, I’m pleased that for this trip we did go camping, as we saved so much money and put it elsewhere to do some incredible things! Below I have listed the campsites we used:

  • Geysir Camp Site

On the Golden Circle and within walking distance of Geysir and the shop and cafés. Click here for the Official Website

This was my favourite campsite. The shower and toilet areas were spotlessly clean and we were so close to all the amenities at Geysir. The lady who runs it is friendly and welcoming.

  • Vik Camp Site (two nights here)

Very close to the Gas Station where you can eat at the café (amazing burgers!). Easy to find when you arrive in town thanks to signposts.

The toilets and showers were much less clean here. There is a room where you can eat and cook food in the hut, but there were limited tables and it was very busy. There is free WIFI though!

Vik is the rainiest place in Iceland, and it sure did rain. On our final night here, the wind was exceptionally bad. Amazing views over the mountains though. It was the most scenic campsite in my opinion!

Click here for their TripAdvisor page

  • Skaftafell 

Glacier in Skaftafell

How often to you get to camp near to a glacier? This was also a very scenic campsite but also a little bit chillier for obvious reasons.

Very close to the Visitor’s Center and the starting point to hike to Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), which we did on our final morning there. Free WIFI in Visitor’s Center.

The ground is very bad to pitch a tent in, which is ridiculous as it is a campsite!

Facilities are good, however you have to buy a shower card to use the showers, which you have to pay for with your debit/credit card, no cash allowed. It is 500ISK per shower, the most expensive one we encountered AND the hot water only lasts 5 minutes, which we were not impressed with at all. Maybe stay at the hotel down the road or use a campavan.

Airbnb

After the horror of our camping episode, (well, it wasn’t that bad, but we were relieved that it was over!) we arrived at our Airbnb accommodation, excited to return to civilisation, central heating and a real mattress. Our hosts were the most welcoming Airbnb hosts I have been lucky enough to stay with and I could not recommend them highly enough. I would 100% go back to stay with them if I could go back to Iceland.

The kitchen had been stocked for us with yogurts, milk, cheese, fresh juices, cereal bars, fresh fruit, a selection of breads, hot drinks, nutella… it was like looking into heaven! Never had an Airbnb host been so generous with food. After only surviving on snacking and an average of one proper meal a day (due to the lack of food services during our trip), we couldn’t be more grateful. We were even able to air our very wet tent in the garage to dry. As you can see, they went out of their way and were extremely hospitable.

If you would like accommodation near Keflavik airport during your trip to Iceland, I would obviously recommend this place. Here is the link to ‘Natalia Home guesthouse,’ which is rated 5* on Airbnb

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Of course, these are not the only budget options when travelling to Iceland. Hiring a campervan or Couchsurfing both come to mind. I hope this post helps some readers who might be thinking about planning a trip to Iceland and looking for budget accommodation for their trip around the Golden Circle and the South.

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Reykjavik Photo Diary and 1-Day Itinerary

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Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital. The name means ‘smoky-bay’ in Icelandic and it’s where 60% of the country’s population live. Sheffield may be Europe’s greenest city, but Reykjavik is the greenest city in the world! It was a charming place to start our week-long trip to the country, but instead of talking about it, let’s just experience it:

(Scroll down to see 1-Day Itinerary)

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Hallgrímskirkja Church

View from Hallgrímskirkja church tower

View from Hallgrímskirkja church tower

Inside Hallgrímskirkja church

Inside Hallgrímskirkja church

View from Hallgrímskirkja church tower

View from Hallgrímskirkja church tower

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Rainbow Road from Reykjavik PRIDE in August 2015

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Inside the Harpa

Inside the Harpa

Outside the Harpa

Outside the Harpa

Inside the Harpa

Inside the Harpa

Inside the Harpa

Inside the Harpa

The Sun Voyager sculpture

The Sun Voyager sculpture

Interior of Café Babalú

Interior of Café Babalú. Their cakes and cookies are great. Don’t forget to go to the upstairs bathroom and write something in the Visitor’s Book while on the toilet…

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Mexican Vegetable Soup in an Irish Pub… in Iceland

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This cat has made it in life: sleeping on a woolly jumper in a clothes shop window

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What colour do you prefer? I like the blue on the far left.


We arrived in Iceland on the evening of Thursday 3rd September 2015. After a delayed flight, we took the FlyBus Shuttle Service (1 hour) straight to our hostel in Reykjavik city center where we were staying for two nights.

We had one full day on the Friday to explore the city before we got our hire car to explore the Golden Circle and Southern Iceland. Look below to find our itinerary for the day:

Our 1-Day Reykjavik Itinerary:

  • Picked up food for breakfast at a supermarket across the road instead of hostel (to save money!)
  • Hallgrímskirkja Church. Entrance fee to go up the tower: 800ISK (worth going up)
  • Walk around historic center
  • Budget Lunch @ Celtic Cross: soup in bread bowl (delicious). 1490ISK
  • Marvel at the incredible architecture in the Harpa Concert Hall
  • Walk along the habour and then see the Sun Voyager Sculpure
  • Reykjavik Photography Museum: a small museum above the library with some collections by local photograhers
  • Aurora Reykjavik (recommend) 1200ISK. A small interactive museum to find out about the myths and scientific explanations behind the Northern Lights. We didn’t get to see the real thing during our trip though but there was an area where it gave advice on how to take pictures of the Northern Lights on a DSLR which was useful for whenever I do get to see them…
  • Café Babalú (highly recommend) for cake and a hot drink
  • Budget Dinner @ Noodle Station for dinner (highly recommend). Chicken noodle soup: 1420ISK. Vegetable and beef soups also available
  • Accommodation: Hlemmur Square hostel

What are your thoughts on Reykjavik?

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The Best of The Golden Circle, Iceland

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The Golden Circle is one of the most popular travel destinations in Iceland, especially for those who are only in the country on a short lay-over. It has in fact become compulsory for any Iceland itinerary; it combines history, natural wonders and incredible sights in a very concentrated region, which is perfect for people who want to see a variety of things in a short space of time.

Thingvellir

Thingvellir, only an hour’s drive from Reykjavik is the first stop en route. It is a site of historical, cultural, and geological interest. It is remarkably, the sight of where the Icelandic Parliament was established all the way back in 930. It seems so strange as it is in quite a remote and desolate location when you get there!

Walking down from the Visitor’s Center, you find a large rift valley which you can walk through, which marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It is incredible to marvel at the geological formations there.

Rift Valley at Thingvellir

Rift Valley at Thingvellir

IMG_2407IMG_2405The Visitor’s Center has some interesting videos and you can learn all about the area, the natural wildlife which resides there, how the rift valley came to be created and the founding of the Parliament.

Gullfoss

Jumping back in our car, we heading straight to Gullfoss waterfall which took about an hour’s drive. We decided to bypass Geysir which is situated between the two and visit there last, as that was where our campsite was that evening.

The mighty Gullfoss

The mighty Gullfoss

Gullfoss area was extremely windy, wet and cold when we were there, and our Lonely Planet travel guide advised that Gullfoss can be ‘disappointing’ in bad weather. We neared with low expectations as visibility was quite bad, but we were blown away by the sheer awesomeness of this waterfall!

It was a bit cold

It was a bit cold and wet

There are several paths to take; one where you can see the waterfall from above and another one to go down by the water and see it up close, with the danger of getting very, very wet! We of course, took both paths. It was great to see the waterfall from different perspectives, but it was quite exhilarating to go so close to the waterfall and get splashed.

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Geysir

We drove back towards Geysir, which was a 30 minute drive from Gullfoss. As it was my first day driving, I was relieved to have survived Day 1 intact without too many problems. We did end up getting lost at the beginning as we took the wrong road. But after getting an Icelandic SIM and connecting to my phone’s GPS navigation, we were back on track in no time. There was a slight problem with the car not starting, but we were saved by our Icelandic hero, who I only know as Titi who got it working again. He was so helpful and friendly and I’m so grateful for his help. He works in the Gullfoss shop, so if you see him, say hi from the distressed English traveller who didn’t have her car properly in the ‘Park’ mode on the automatic gearbox… 

Geysir is the best place along the Golden Circle route, in my opinion, to go for a meal. There are more options here than at Thingvellir or Gullfoss. Thingvellir Information Center, a five minute drive from Thingvellir Visitor’s Center (more on this in the snorkelling post!), has a café and Gullfoss also has a café. Geysir has a hotel restaurant and two cafés, one has a little tuck shop for snacks, both adjacent to the souvenir shop.

Before even considering seeing Geysir, we located the café and enjoyed a very tasty Lamb Soup in the warm. We also asked where the campsite was located, and it was literally across the road which was very handy. We took the car across and decided to pitch the tent while it wasn’t raining, before walking across to Geysir.

Geysir is the most exciting stop on the Golden Circle, as although we know Stokkur is active and erupts every 5-10 minutes, it is difficult to time exactly when it will happen! Everyone is standing there, poised with their cameras ready and their fingers on the shutter, waiting to shoot this natural wonder.

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Waiting patiently

Waiting patiently

It all happens so fast and before you know it, there is this massive jet of boiling water about 20m into the air!

Stokkur erupts

Stokkur erupts

Then all of a sudden, it is over, and there is just some steam floating about in the air. And you find yourself waiting for it to happen all over again, and again!

IMG_2475This was the final stop of our Golden Circle tour that day but the best was yet to come…

Silfra

The next day we drove to Silfra, near Thingvellir, to experience snorkelling between two continents in clear, icy water with DIVE.is (I will be doing a separate post just on this). It was an incredible experience and was an massive highlight of the trip!

Kerið

We also drove to Kerð (Kerid), a volcanic crater lake, 30 minutes drive south of Thingvellir. There was an entrance fee for this (400ISK), but it was worth paying to see it.

Kerid volcanic crater

Kerið volcanic crater

We were pressed for time, as we still had to drive to Vik that evening, which is a two hour drive south and it was already 4pm by then. Still, we stretched our legs briefly and walked around the top of the crater which takes about 15 minutes. You can also walk down to the lake which takes 5 minutes. The water is a beautiful shade of blue.

Being awesome

Being awesome

Our drive through the Golden Circle was a fantastic start to our Icelandic Road Trip to get a taster for Iceland’s magnificent nature and variety in landscapes, more was sure to come! My favourite region however, was in the South, when we visited Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón in the Vatnajökull National Park (1 hour 30 minute drive east of Vik). If I could only go back to one or the other, it would have to be Vatnajökull National Park, for reasons you will have to find out about in a coming post…

Where’s your favourite place in Iceland? What do you want to see the most?

Let me know in the comments below.

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Roadtrip: Iceland

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“Why Iceland?”

It really surprised me how many times this question got asked whenever I told people I was going there this summer. When I said, “just Google Image ‘Iceland,’ you’ll understand…” and then they understood perfectly.

Despite doing so much research for Iceland and seeing all the places I was going to visit in photos online, nothing, I repeat nothing prepared me for what was to come. It is impossible to articulate properly what Iceland is really like, except, “WOW” and “When can I go back?!” It is like a whole other world at times.

So, while other travellers were boarding gates to Málaga in shorts and flipflops at Gatwick Airport, we were boarding our flight to Keflavik International Airport at the neighbouring gate, donned with our woolly hats, jumpers and waterproof jackets prepared for what was to come. We had landed on Mars. Or so it seemed.

This is by far the most meticulously planned trip I have ever organised. Researching what activities to do, whether to do day-trip tours from Reykjavik or hire a car, how to find affordable accommodation etc. There as so many amazing things to see and do there so we wanted to make sure we were making the most of our time. Secondly, Iceland can be expensive if you’re not careful, so doing it on a budget required making some tough decisions.

Renting a Car

The best decision we made was hiring a car. If you or someone in your party can drive, seriously consider it. After a few calculations, it turned out to be so much cheaper to hire a car for five days and travel around the island, rather than pay for individual day-trip tours from Reykjavik every day and stay at a hostel there. Hostels and day-trips add up quite quickly! However, if you are a solo-traveller, day-trips might work out cheaper as you can’t share the cost of car hire with others.

It cost us £300 to hire an Automatic 2WD car with Blue Car Rental, who I would highly recommend. We split the cost between the three of us (£100pp + petrol).

We had asked for GPS with our car, but on arrival we were told that they had run out of GPS navigation systems and we would have to make do with paper maps (the horror as they were not very detailed). We were advised to go to the nearest petrol station and buy an Icelandic SIM card so we could get 3G internet and use GPS on my phone. This turned out to be much cheaper, but my phone battery suffered a lot from it obviously. Instead of a Suzuki Swift Automatic 2WD, we had been upgraded at no extra charge to a KIA Rio Automatic which was bigger and we had plenty of room for all our rucksacks in the back!

Although I have been driving in the UK for four years, this was my first experience driving on the other side of the road and using an automatic car, so naturally I was rather nervous for this part of the trip. I was relieved to find out that driving on the other side of the road was not that bad after all, and once I had got the hang of that, I could relax and enjoy the driving.

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Harrie and Kam with our faithful KIA Rio which got us around Iceland

Driving in Iceland

Iceland’s main highway, the Ring Road, is a road that circles around the country and has many points of interest along the way so you have many reasons to stop and stretch your legs. It takes about 10 days minimum to drive around the entire country, so we decided to just stick to the south as we didn’t have that much time.

The fastest you can drive in Iceland is 90kmh (55mph) which isn’t actually that fast. Plus, driving on the mostly flat and straight Ring Road makes it, for the most part, stress-free. As Iceland is sparely populated, there aren’t that many cars on the road either. Personally, it was a great country to drive in for my first road trip as I didn’t have to worry too much about other traffic, directions were easy to read and I could just focus on enjoying the scenic drive. Now I know I can drive anywhere in the world and not just countries on the Left! The one thing that was difficult to get used to, is that you have to have your lights on during all weather conditions – it can be difficult to remember when it’s bright sunshine and good visibility, but you still need your lights on!

As the scenery is so beautiful on the drive – passing active volcanoes, glaciers, mountains, completely flat and desolate plains – people are always stopping on the road to get out and take pictures. The road has been made with this in mind and there are plenty of pull-over points on the road for you to pull-over in safe places. How thoughtful.

The Icelandic are a tenacious and optimistic people for living in such harsh conditions. They’re not like us Brits who complain constantly about the weather. If it rains, they will either not bat an eyelid and tell you “this isn’t rain, but ohhh have I have seen rain!” or they will say “just wait five minutes, the sun may come out.” Living in this environment however is understandable, when there is so much natural beauty and wonder wherever you look. They are so lucky! Having nature on your doorstep, fresh air all around, the Northern Lights in winter… it makes up for putting up with the cold.

Hostel in Reykjavik: Hlemmur Square

Car Hire: Blue Car Rental (highly recommend)

AirBnB: Natalia Home guesthouse https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/2407489 (highly recommend)

I’m looking forward to sharing more posts on my trip to Iceland in my coming posts and reliving the beauty of the trip all over again, with lots of breathtaking pictures! Expect more on:

Reykjavik, Tips on Finding Budget Accommodation, The Golden Circle, Hiking on a Glacier, Snorkelling between Continents, Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon and Beach, The Blue Lagoon and so much more – be excited!

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