When planning a trip to Iceland, you don’t have to balance options. No need to make dining reservations, study museum hours, or finagle time for shopping. If you’re going to Iceland, you should go solely to experience one-on-one its raw, primeval nature. And, you will not be disappointed!
Our magnificent encounter happened in July thanks to a five day layover with Icelandair. (Not only was our trek to Spain, our final destination, less expensive, but we also received the bonus of extending our vacation in Iceland for “free”.)
As we only had five days to explore, we limited our route to the southern region of the island. This gave us a reasonable amount of driving each day and the perfect excuse to return soon to this volcanic paradise.
Let’s Talk About the Challenges
For starters, be clear about the type of terrain that you’re going to be driving. Our route did not require a 4-wheel drive. This worked out for us this time, although we missed some spectacular scenery that we could have visited off of the main road. There are five types of roads in Iceland that you should be familiar with. Many roads have terrain and river crossings that are not for the weak-kneed. Also, be aware that it is highly advised to get all insurance coverages offered such as those for gravel and ash. When renting vehicles, we usually go bare-bones on coverages but we made sure to get full coverage on this trip. Upon returning our car, the rental agent inspected it top to bottom, much more thoroughly than anywhere else that we’ve ever rented.
Another transportation challenge is buying gas. You’d think that it would be pretty straight forward. It’s not. The first obstacle is finding an outpost large enough to have a gas station. Then, you often have to buy a prepaid card such as this one from N1. For more information about the gas station culture of Iceland, read this post with insights such as “For many people in Iceland, the big night out on the town is dinner at the N1 gas station.”
Iceland is expensive. Incredibly so! A fellow tourist that we talked to paid $23 for a breakfast bagel with an egg on top. To combat food expense, we took pasta packets and canned tuna with us. These were easy to prepare in a house/apartment kitchen and quite delicious after a long day of adventures!! Luckily some friends recommended to us the supermarket, Bonus. Here, we were able to stock up on some essentials for fairly reasonable prices. (Although even here, a ¾ pound of salmon cost $60.) To reduce housing costs, book early and be willing to share bathrooms with other guests. Close to the airport, we stayed at the Base Hotel, a former NATO base used by the US Navy and US Air Force until 2006. While the room was super small, it was exceptionally clean and the staff very friendly and accommodating.
Iceland has one main road that goes around the country. Highway 1 is a fairly straight, easy-to-drive two-lane highway. Most certainly it is more challenging to drive during the dark, icy winter months. Although this is the main road, we often found ourselves alone in desolate areas even during the busy summer tourist season. It was thrilling to have the vistas all to ourselves but it’s also something to consider when planning your trip, especially if you will be traveling alone. For more information on driving the Ring Road, see this article by Rick Steves, one of our favorite guidebook authors.
The Rewards are So Worth It
Around every bend, there are rewards of panoramic views, towering waterfalls, and otherworldly terrain. In this region, we were often driving between the immense glaciers of Vatnajökull National Park on one side of the road and artic blue ocean on the other. Throw in a sod covered church, hay bales, and a glacier lagoon boat tour and you can see why we were totally captivated with this country.
Reynisfjara, black sand beach, close to Vik
Seljalandfoss waterfall and David standing in front of Skógafoss waterfall
Oddi and Hofskirkja churches
Icelandic horses at the Arabaer Farm, our AirBnB in Selfoss.