This post was supposed to be entitled, ‘Adventures around Iceland’, since our original plan was to loop around the country via Route 1 or the Ring Road.
However, as our tour group found out, things don’t always go according to plan in Iceland. As a matter of fact, Icelandic weather gives a whole new meaning to the word, ‘unpredictable’. One minute, it was bright and sunny. Then out of the blue, it would start to drizzle. Then before we knew it, we were stuck in the middle of a storm so bad it damaged a bridge on the Ring Road and forced Icelandic authorities to close the Southeastern part of the main highway for a week.
So instead of a circle, our 10-day itinerary ended up looking more crescent-shaped.
But you know what they say, ‘There’s always a rainbow after a storm’. And in Iceland, you can take this quote literally. So I didn’t feel a hint of disappointment at our last-minute change of plans. Besides, a trip can’t be called an adventure without a bit of spontaneity. Also, I don’t think we would’ve seen the Northern Lights if we didn’t get rerouted. But more on that later..
So you can forget about getting a day-to-day Iceland itinerary from me since we pretty much threw ours out the window! Instead, I’m just going to give you a rundown of the places and experiences you shouldn’t miss in the magical ‘Land of Fire and Ice’:
1. Take a dip in the Blue Lagoon
Getting to Iceland can be quite a journey, especially if you’re coming all the way from Asia. In fact, it took me 3 flights (Manila – Doha – Copenhagen – Reykjavík) just to get there. So by the time I reached Keflavík International Airport, I was in desperate need of some R&R. Luckily, the Blue Lagoon is located just a few minutes away from the airport by car so our group headed there immediately after checking into our hotel. This outdoor geothermal spa, which is rich in minerals like silica and algae, was just what my plane-dehydrated skin needed to look fresh and dewy again.
Although, please note that while the mineral-rich water has a ton of positive effects on the skin, the same can’t be said about its effects on hair and jewelry. It won’t really harm your hair but it can make your hair unbelievably dry so I suggest wrapping your hair in a bun before entering the lagoon. Similarly, the water can tarnish some metals so don’t bathe with your jewelry on.
The Blue Lagoon offers 4 kinds of admission packages per person — Standard (ISK 6,100), Comfort (ISK 8,100), Premium (ISK 10,200) and Luxury (ISK 51,000) — but I think the Standard one is all you need. With this ticket, you get entrance to the lagoon, access to the locker room and a silica mud mask. Just bring your own bathrobe, towel and slippers so you won’t have to pay to rent them. The Blue Lagoon constantly updates their pricing and packages so check the website here before your trip.
2. Follow Justin Bieber’s footsteps
Whether or not you’re a Belieber, you have to admit that the Icelandic locations Justin Bieber chose for his 2015 music video, ‘I’ll Show You’, looked incredible. Fortunately for us, normal people, most of these sites are easily accessible via the Ring Road such as Fjaðrárgljúfur (a massive thousand-year-old canyon with an amazing view), Seljalandsfoss (an incredible waterfall with a pathway that allows visitors to walk behind its curtain of plummeting water), and Skógafoss (a majestic waterfall that constantly creates single and double rainbows on sunny days due to the heavy cloud of spray it produces) so you can go see them for yourself.
Although, on a side note, while Justin Bieber’s music video got rave reviews internationally for its awe-inspiring scenery, his risky behavior and total disregard for Iceland’s prized ecosystem drew the ire of the country’s locals. So let me warn you, if you don’t want to be declared ‘persona non grata’ — officially or unofficially — by one of the most beautiful countries in the world, always keep yourself in check. Do not sit on the edge of a cliff. Do not bathe in an ice-cold river. And definitely do not roll on the delicate moss! I’m not saying this just for the protection and preservation of Iceland’s unspoilt nature but for your safety too! So yeah, that Instagram post is not worth putting your life in danger.
3. Take a walk in Reynisfjara
Reynisfjara is a black sand beach near the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal on the south coast of Iceland. In 1991, National Geographic included it in their list of top non-tropical beaches in the world for its dark volcanic sand, towering basalt columns, cool caves and rolling waves
Walking on this beach will feel surreal, especially if you’re like me and you’re used to the white sand beaches of the tropics, so I’m sure you’d want to take a photo or two. While the beach can appear calm and quiet, please be wary of potential dangers. ‘Sneaker waves’ (strong, large waves that appear without warning) are always lurking and they can be deadly. In fact, a number of fatal accidents involving tourists have occurred on this beach in recent years. So never turn your back on the water and keep a safe distance from the shore.
4. Traverse along Skaftáreldahraun
Hundreds of years ago, a huge eruption from the Lakagígar crater row created Skaftáreldahraun, one of the largest lava flows in the world. While this vast lava field now looks like a picturesque lumpy green carpet, it was one of the greatest natural catastrophes to ever strike Iceland as it wiped out almost 20% of the population. So think of this site as an astonishing testament to Mother Nature’s power!
5. Marvel at the beauty of Foss á Síðu
There are countless of waterfalls in Iceland but I think this one is underrated. What makes this waterfall, which sits right next to the Ring Road in Southern Iceland, my favourite out of all the waterfalls I saw is its surroundings. It quietly falls from a cliff above a small farm and lake. It’s so eye-catching that anyone passing by is bound to stop and stare for a few minutes.
6. Go hiking on Svínafellsjökull
A lot of locations in Iceland will make you feel like you’ve left Earth and have been transported to an alien planet. Svínafellsjökull, in particular, was used by director, Christopher Nolan, as exactly that in his movie, ‘Interstellar’. You, too, can explore this dramatic glacier tongue, which is a part of the Vatnajökull National Park, and take in the spectacular views of its frosty landscape by joining an easy guided hike.
Another Icelandic site that has appeared in numerous Hollywood movies — 2 James Bond films included — is Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon that sits on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Huge chunks of ice dot this gorgeous blue lake, making it a popular attraction to visitors. Want to see the icebergs up close? Hop into an amphibian boat for your ‘Titanic moment’ — minus the sad and dramatic ending, of course.
8. Inspect the ice crystals on Diamond Beach
Just a stone’s throw from Jökulsárlón is a unique black sand beach called Diamond Beach. It got its name from the glittering ice crystals that break off from Breiðamerkurjökull, one of the glacier tongues of the larger Vatnajökull, and constantly wash up on its shores. The ice chunks that drift ashore come in a range of shapes and colours plus they look different everyday so part of the thrill when you go is not knowing what to expect when you get there!
9. See the Northern Lights at Kirkjufell
As I mentioned earlier, we had to reroute and drive for almost a day to avoid a storm while we were in Iceland. Our efforts — to remain optimistic and in high spirits — were not in vain, though, as we were greeted by clear skies and high aurora activity when we arrived at the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
The Northern Lights looked even better with Kirkjufell — also known as ‘the arrowhead mountain’ to my dear The Game of Thrones (GoT) fanatics — as a backdrop!
10. Watch the cascading waters of Dettifoss
Another waterfall to add to your Iceland bucket list is Dettifoss, which is found in Northeast Iceland. If the sheer power and force of this beast won’t blow you away, I don’t know what will!
11. Go whale watching in Húsavík
If you’re like me and you prefer observing wildlife in their natural habitat than amusement parks, then you must head over to Húsavík, ‘The Whale Watching Capital of Iceland’. There, you must board a traditional Icelandic oak boat, sail across its magnificent Skjálfandi Bay and hopefully spot a variety of whale, dolphin and bird species.
I highly recommend booking a tour with North Sailing because of their dedication to sustainable tourism and responsible whale watching. Their well-trained crew will ensure your safety onboard as well as observe a strict code of conduct to respect and protect the cetaceans in the wild. Bonus: You get hot chocolate and cinnamon buns on the way back to shore! To check out their tours, click here.
12. Explore Dimmuborgir
GoT fans rejoice! Here’s another filming location to cross off your list — Dimmuborgir! This impressive lava field, which served as a wildling camp in the hit TV show, is full of unusual rock formations and caves for you to explore! Just be sure to follow the marked paths to avoid getting lost as this place is a maze!
13. Wander around Námafjall Hverir
One look at this geothermal site and you’ll immediately feel like you’ve teleported to a different planet! Don’t worry, though. The rotten-egg smell of sulphur will bring you back to Earth and will make you realise that the intriguing colours you’re seeing are just products of steamy fumaroles, bubbling mud pots and hot springs.
14. Take a selfie with Icelandic horses
You’ll find them all over Iceland so don’t forget to pull over on the side of the road and say, ‘Hello’! Icelandic horses are known to be friendly so they’ll most likely trot over and let you pat them!
In case you don’t know yet, these loveable creatures are highly prized in Iceland! In fact, the country has very strict regulations when it comes to handling and exporting them to ensure their breed remains pure and disease-free.
15. Catch the sunset at Búðakirkja
Iceland’s fascination with black doesn’t end with its black beaches, it has a couple of black churches too. And one of them, Búðakirkja, can be found in the south coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula surrounded by a lava field and an ice-capped volcano. If quiet minimalism is your thing, then this is the perfect spot for you to catch the sunset — or to even watch the Northern Lights dance, if you’re lucky.
16. Drive around the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle route is one of the most common day trips in Iceland due to its proximity to Reykjavík. This sightseeing trip will take you to 3 natural attractions in just over 100 miles: Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’ll let you walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, the Geysir Geothermal Area, where (with a lot of patience) you can watch boiling water shoot up in the air like a fountain, and the Gullfoss Waterfall, a two-tiered waterfall that dramatically cascades over cliffs.
17. Go on a food trip in Reykjavík
Save Iceland’s capital city for your last stop and go on a food trip whilst there. After days of having limited food options in Iceland’s small towns, Reykjavík’s countless restaurants and bars serving both local and international cuisine will be exactly what you’ll need. Just don’t forget to check out Hallgrímskirkja, the city’s most recognisable landmark/church, in between hungry bites!
While it is totally possible to do a self-guided tour and see all of these sites on your own, as I mentioned earlier, Icelandic weather is terribly unpredictable and unfortunately, last-minute itinerary changes are common. Thus, I highly recommend booking a tour with a travel agency for your peace of mind.
For my trip, I joined a special Iceland tour, which was arranged by Access Travel & Tours under their ‘Access Expeditions’ premium tour service, and I was quite satisfied with how everything turned out. Whenever we got diverted due to unforeseen circumstances, their staff would work overtime to fix our schedule and hotel bookings. Based on experience, very few tour companies would do that without extra charges, just to give their clients the experience they’ve always dreamt of. Also, the tour was run and joined by Access Travel & Tours’ Filipina-at-heart CEO, Angely Dub, so you get that ‘Pinoy touch’ when you travel with them — from arranging visas to booking flights to cracking jokes on the road. But for me, the best part about joining an all-Filipino tour, is meeting fellow ‘kababayan’ travel enthusiasts in a new country. I wouldn’t have chosen a better group to be ‘stuck’ in Iceland with for 10 days! We all got along so well that we want to travel together again!
Access Travel & Tours has 2 Iceland premium tours in 2018 — the first one is from September 23 to October 2 while the next one is from October 7 to October 16. For more details, you can click here. Hurry! Book before slots run out! Who knows, you might meet your future travel buddies there too!
This post first appeared in TripZilla Magazine as a contribution by The Wandercat. You can check out the original article here.