Iceland // October 2017
this blog post has been a long time coming. i really never could find the words for this trip and I still can't six months later. but here I am trying to summarize the greatest trip ever down into a blog post.
Iceland has always been at the top of my bucket list. it's the closet part of Europe and won't break the bank in comparison to other destinations. oh, and you can legally rent a car at 18 with no extra fees!?! so when my friend Kristine and I stumbled upon some cheap flights to Iceland you know we booked them right away!
we did our research, made a map of all of the places we had to see, found an airbnb on the side of the island that we wanted to spend a majority of our time on, and we booked that too!
after months of anticipation, we drove 8 hours to Chicago International Airport (anything for that cheap fare right?). we hopped off our red eye to start our journey in the most beautiful country ever! such a dream come true. we picked up our cute lil smart car that we later named Bert (pictured below) and began exploring. we landed several hours before we were able to check into our airbnb so we went straight to adventuring around this new territory. on our way to the town of our airbnb, we stopped along the coast, drove by massive waterfalls, and even met some wild Icelandic ponies! the time came that we could check into our airbnb and it was the cutest place ever! it was on a little Icelandic farm with lots of ponies and the owners were SO NICE. it was for real such a score!
when we arrived, we were basically dead from the 8 hour drive, 8 hours of airport + flights, and several hours of killing time. we crashed and also began to plan out how we wanted to spend our time each day and what we wanted to go and see. guys, there is seriously SO MUCH to see in this crazy country!
our airbnb was on the southern part of the island near Selfoss. it was pretty close to a bunch of the places we really wanted to see. a lot of the places were all within 2.5 hours either east or west of our point on the circular highway 1 that goes all around the island. our plan was to see everything that was within a few hours of our airbnb. as we were making a tentative itinerary, we were a bit bummed out to see that there was a lot of super cool spots 5 or more hours away from our airbnb.
not a big deal, right? we can road trip up to that point and maybe spend a night or two there in a motel to see that too. we could cancel just like one night of the airbnb and sleep in a town near that cool spot. but wait, what about that mountain on the east tip?? or that waterfall on the north tip?? or that red sand beach on the western tip?? ok yeah, we're literally in ICELAND right now. we can't just settle for seeing only a fourth of the country and spending a majority of our time driving to see anything else.
deuces, cute airbnb! after a small amount of not so careful consideration, we canceled our airbnb for the remaining 7 nights and hit the road.
as crazy as it sounds, we decided to live a little and road trip the entire island counter clockwise while seeing literally everything there was to see. no regrets whatsoever!!! we bought some thick comforters + little couch pillows at the local supermarket and went camping in our mini manual transmission smart car. the average night temps were 30-40 degrees but it really wasn't bad at all! we parked at a new pull off about 100-500 miles apart from the last every night. BEST IDEA EVER!!!!!!!!!!!
for the most part, our decision was incredible. one night (of course the one night that we were parked on the most desolate part of the island) we charged our devices in the car for a bit too long and woke up with a dead battery. oops! thankfully the locals here are super kind and one agreed to give us a jump start. probably the only other negative thing that happened is I got identity theft-ed during the first day on the road! it turns out that because I hadn't updated my phone in forever, it had some major security holes in it and someone was able to hack into it as soon as I connected to the airport's wifi. during our first night without our airbnb, we stopped at a cafe and my phone instantly locked up when I turned it on and connected to wifi. after hours on the phone with apple, it turns out that I was hacked and there was literally nothing I could've done about it. a few days later, we discovered that I was definitely identity theft-ed as they managed to spend $500 on my card. with that, I had to shut down my account. so I definitely recommend that you watch out for that if you're traveling to there or anywhere else international!! that certainly didn't make this foreign adventure go any smoother, but hey now I've got another story to tell ;)
below is the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the first one we stopped to see. this one was super cool because there was a little path along the backside so you could see a 360 view of the waterfall! every waterfall here was so powerful that we were constantly wiping our lenses off because the mist was blowing at us no matter how far away from the falls we were (as seen in the 3rd and 4th photos).
just a short walk to the left was another super awesome, less touristy, hidden waterfall. it was tucked into a little cave type of thing and you had to walk through the river to access it! there was no way to not get drenched in mist when seeing this one.
another thing, there's so many farm animals all over the country! especially horses. this friendly guy was just chillin on the side of the road and we couldn't just not say hello :)
definitely the most touristy waterfall in the country, but for SUCH GOOD REASON! Skógafoss is actually unbelievable. this thing was massive. 82 foot wide and 200 foot tall!!!! wut!!!!!
and then at sunset that night..... Reynisfjara black sand beach!!!!! it was actually so majestic. we dressed up a little, tried to make it look like we weren't living in a car, and took some cute pics while freezing our butts off :'). anything for the gram right? this magical beach is definitely a must see on the southern part of the island. the rock formations are also so wild!!
not only is Iceland magical in the daylight, the dark hours are just as incredible!!! we both got to see the Northern Lights for the very first time. ever single night we watched the aurora dance around in the sky. there are seriously no words for seeing this the first time!!!!! even without the aurora, the night sky stars are WILD! I'm totally no expert at night/long exposure photography, and we were using Bert the smart car + miscellaneous items as our tripod, so these photos do what we saw no justice. seeing pink and green streaks dance around in the sky was for real the craziest thing! at the time of year we went, the sun didn't rise until 9am and it was set by 5:30pm each day so we definitely had a good chunk of darkness in each day. we used an aurora tracking app to know exactly when to expect the northern lights which I absolutely recommend getting if you're traveling up there!
definitely one of my favorite things we visited there was this plane wreckage on another black sand beach, especially since the story behind it isn't too unfortunate. it was a United States Navy DC plane that ran out of fuel so they had to do a forced landing on Sólheimasandur beach and everyone survived. this happened way back in 1973 and the abandoned plane is still sitting there today! despite it being a windy hour long walk to the site, I'd absolutely go again. the photo below is probably one of my favorites ever!!
another nice detour off the ring road is Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. you can hike either along the tops of the cliffs or also along the floor of the canyon if you're down for hopping in the river a bit!
we ended this day of driving at the beach across from Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon. this place was pretty neat but keep in mind that the glaciers are pretty slippery...... Kristine may or may not have face planted on one as we were walking around......
but yo check out that little moon sliver in the glacier beach photo!!!!
the next day we drove up the east coast which was super neat. the terrain is like nothing I've seen before- it's all crazy lava rock covered in a thick moss blanket. these fields go on forever and the further north we went, the hillier it got. I felt like we were driving through a hidden valley ranch advertisement.
the north east portion of the ring road drive was definitely the most desolate part of the drive. we did most of it without stopping, but we definitely had to make a pit stop for the Goðafoss waterfall! this one was 100 foot wide and really freakin cool. it was just a short hike up along the river and so crazy pretty!!
by sunset of that driving day, we made it to the trailhead of a hike that lead to the Aldeyjarfoss waterfall. one thing we didn't do a great job of was seeing what it took to get to a certain destination. most sights were a very short walk from a paved road, but some required four wheel drive vehicles or hours of hiking. of course we didn't have cell phone service so we couldn't really look into the specifics, we just had directions to the falls from our offline map. we sort of assumed that this wouldn't be such a hassle to get to, but that wasn't the case! this waterfall was actually just .5 miles from a parking lot that we thought we could access, but it turned out you needed a four wheel drive vehicle to access that. so after a 30 mile long loose gravel detour, we discovered that we had to park in the little car parking lot and hike two miles to the falls. needless to say, we were hiking back in the dark. the good side though was that we had the waterfall all to ourselves!!!
if you are driving all the way around the island as we did though, this is a must see place. just make sure you're a little more prepared than we were. ;) even just the rock formations there were hard to believe!
we spent the next day driving west along the north coast to get to the little peninsula on the west coast. though we spent a ton of our time in the car that day but it wasn't much of a problem as the drive was always so gorgeous! everywhere we looked there was either crazy mountains, golden rolling hills, a wild drop off to the sea, or another roaring waterfall.
finishing up the loop, our last little bit of driving ended us up right back where we started- in Reykjavik. traveling on a budget, we of course didn't buy into the Blue Lagoon tourist trap, but we visited the not so warm little pools outside of the gates which was still pretty neat! that night we found a little hotel in Reykjavik to clean up and reorganize before heading back home the next day.
overall, things went pretty smooth. in no way do we regret cancelling the airbnb and roughin' it. if we could do it all over again, I wouldn't have booked one from the beginning at all! if you've got one week to explore an entire foreign country, you might as well go all out! we totally got the most out of the adventure by doing it this way. I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about this adventure! if this inspired you to visit this magical country at all, definitely don't hesitate to ask me any questions about anything at all!