So many people I know are going to Iceland. Back in November when Jamie and I booked this trip for my 30th birthday, I though we were cool, hip adventurers going where no hipster had gone before. Turns out everyone and their spray tan technician are going to Iceland, so I thought I should post a bit about it for people who are planning a trip!
First thing: Jamie and I went at the end of May. Which can be a blessing and a curse. It’s between seasons so there are a bunch of tours that don’t run because Winter is over but the Summer season tours haven’t begun yet. There are also a few roads you can’t access because the thawing snow and ice make the roads too muddy. So while you may be limited in your activity options somewhat, it’s also much less busy during this time of year than the summer and a little bit cheaper too. Speaking of which, you know how they say Iceland is Greener than Greenland? That’s because there’s SO MUCH CASH MONEY COMING INTO THIS PLACE. Iceland is the most expensive place I’ve ever visited. It’s worth it and I loved it, but be prepared to spend some money, even doing it the cheap way like we did.
So because I took 1 thousand pictures, I’ve split this post into parts. This is part 1. How many parts will there be? I have no idea. Also, sorry for all the landscapes but this is my post, not yours so just deal with it.
As Jamie and I were flying above Reykjavik, we watched the sun shining over the clouds at 4am. It was exciting to see we might get some sun on our first day! However, as the plane started its decent, we broke through a thick shelf of clouds and all of a sudden the sun was gone. We wouldn’t see it again for another 3 days. Iceland!
Our first morning we landed in Keflavik, took a shuttle to the downtown Reykjavik bus station, took a cab to get breakfast at the only hotel that had breakfast that early then went to pick up our camper van. We used CampEasy and while there were a few hiccups at the start (did you know it’s not legally necessary to have a rearview mirror in Iceland?), ultimately they were great and even came to us to replace to our tiny fridge later on the trip when it conked out. Note: Standard vehicles in Iceland are always cheaper and more easily available. If you can’t drive a stick like us, make sure to book well in advance and be prepared to pay a little more.
Then we went to the Bonus supermarket to pick up groceries for our trip. This is where we discovered Iceland’s answer to the greek yogurt craze “Skyr”. Looks like President’s choice has recently released a “Skyr – style yogurt” of their own, but honestly it’s not like the real thing. It’s just yummy. And it’s everywhere in Iceland. And we ate it for breakfast every day.
So, by the time we started to head out of the city towards Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we were pretty tired as we had been up for 30 something hours, so at one point we pulled over to the side of the road on a cliff face and had a nap in our van. Waking up and looking out your window at the Icelandic scenery never got old. Every 10 minutes you’re driving through a completely different type of landscape that varies from “looks like the moon” to “looks like a a giant moss monster lay down on everything”. We drove a couple of hours through super windy mountainous roads and legit creepy fog to reach our first campsite, Olafsvik.
The campsite was lovely – it had nice heated washrooms and showers and a kitchen room that everyone could share. We met some cool people from around the world and ended up chatting through dinner and getting some ideas for the rest of trip.
The next day, we woke up to pouring rain and howling wind (that day would end up being a high of 10° and a low of 4°) and started driving west along the northern edge of the peninsula to Skorosvik. There’s a place you can park your car to lookout over a beautiful beach. We thought it would be a nice place for our first hike of the trip, so we started walking along the cliffs towards the Ondveroarnes lighthouse. This hike was super windy and a little rainy but it really felt like we were walking along the edge of the Earth. There was no one else hiking there so we had it all to ourselves. We walked for about an hour and a half to the lighthouse, had some snacks and walked back to the car.
Then we drove about 20 minutes along the coast to Dritvik where there was a beautiful black sand beach with crazy gigantic waves. We only stayed there for a short time because the rain was starting to come down harder, so we drove to Hellnar for lunch at Primus Cafe . Sitting in the cafe eating lamb stew watching the rain on the Ocean from the floor to ceiling windows I remember it being half cozy and gorgeous, half dreary and desolate. Iceland for me fits this description a lot of the time. Eerily beautiful minimalism can also sometimes feel like bleak isolation. It’s so gorgeous and it’s not Mexico. Remember that.
We kept driving to our next campsite, which turned out to be the cutest working sheep farm where they also let travellers set up tents and campervans on their front lawn. They had a little cafe for food, warm washrooms and a food prep area for visitors. We met a couple from Ontario who were touring Iceland, sleeping in their tent…brave souls. That night was just as rainy and windy as all the rest of our nights had been and it caused us to sleep in a little later the next day. The Bjarteyjarsandur Family Farm also gives school tours. So imagine our surprise when we woke up the next morning and walked out of our van in our PJs to a group of 30 adorable Icelandic kindergarten students staring at us while eating their morning snack. Góðan daginn!
While we were packing up to head out, a couple of the resident goats broke the rules and made their way into the cafe, standing on the tables and chairs, causing quite the ruckus. They were super cute and everyone wanted to take them home with them.
We stopped at a gas station for our free coffee (pro tip: all the gas stations have a sketchy pot of coffee that is free for anyone who wants it. Don’t ask questions…just take the coffee. It’s allowed) and started driving towards Glymur, my favourite of all the waterfalls we saw in Iceland (and there were a lot). This was my favourite day in Iceland. The sun was shining a little bit off and on, and while the Glymur hike is not for everyone (the beginning is easy but the higher you get, the harder the hike and people afraid of heights may not enjoy it so much), I loved it. The views from the top of our hike were amazing and the challenge is so worth it when you get to the top. You can actually hike much farther than we did, going around to the other side of the falls, but we did about a 4 hour hike up one side to the top and back down.
Then it was time for the Golden Circle. In my opinion, this Golden Circle is the most overrated, over-publicized part of Iceland. Or maybe we didn’t do it right? I dunno, but in comparison to the other things we saw and did, it makes me think this part of Iceland is so popular because it provides a few different types of things to see (a couple geysers, a waterfall, some National Park land), it’s relatively close to Reykjavik and you can do the whole thing in a few hours. This is the perfect tour for a 82 year old who is very into turbines, tourist families and waterfalls covered in safety warnings. Skip it.
Ugly: As I’m remembering these days, I think of them so fondly but I also remember how dark and dreary these days were. I know during other seasons, the weather is a bit sunnier and warmer but I would caution anyone thinking of going: It can get a little depressing. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to experience it, but I think I learned how much I appreciate the sun on this trip and how much a lack of sun affects my personality. Sun worshipers beware.
Awesome: I will always remember our camper van with love. It was such a cozy retreat from the wind and rain and Jamie and I got into such a comfortable routine every morning and night. To find out if you really love someone: Spend 8 days together cooking, changing and sleeping in a 17 ft by 7 ft van. Also these first few days really felt like we were exploring new terrain. Every hour seeing new landscapes that I had never known about let alone seen before made the long drives seem more like discoveries.
And thus concludes part 1 of the Iceland series! Come back next time for harrowing tales of black sand beach surfing, $40 fish and chips and what happens when you get in a hot spring with a thousand British children!