Leslie and I visited South Iceland in January 2017 for our first overseas plane flight together!
We had originally planned on saving up for a trip to Iceland for once we decided to be done doing traveling physical therapy. Instead, we ended up going after completing our first contract...and it was a great decision! It helped finding non-stop flights for $99 from SFO to KEF. We were able to fly round-trip for $730 total for the two of us.
DAY 1 WED 01.18.2017
We flew out on Tuesday and with the time changes and such, we arrived at 04:00 Iceland time. We had set up our car rental through Route 1 Car Rental (after doing extensive research based on reviews). The car rental process was very smooth. The man was waiting for us at the airport and we had the keys within 30 minutes and were ready to explore. We had a pretty big day planned
Day 1 Map
Leif the Lucky Bridge
Leif the Lucky Bridge is the bridge between the continents (North America & Europe). This was carefully mapped out as the first thing to see. Being Winter at about 05:00, it was pitch black and hard to see anything without our headlamps. As I pulled out my camera to attempt a night photo, the strangest thing happened. We could see the Northern Lights!!! Except we could only see them in the camera. That's when it really hit me regarding the camera being able to "see" more light than the naked eye.
Gunnuhver is a large geothermal mud pool but definitely not one you'd want to even think about dipping in. There is a boardwalk and places to walk around and see the steam. Again, we were there in the dark but could kind of see some stuff. Bring your flashlight if you go at night!
Blue Lagoon: When we told people we were going to Iceland, most people asked if we're going to the Blue Lagoon. Yes, we did! We had been to many hot springs but this one is probably the most fancy. We bought tickets for an arrival time of 09:00 (it was still dark out). We ended up arriving kind of early and instead of going inside right away, took a short nap in the car. We went in at about 08:30 and they had no problem letting us in early. The sun was just starting to rise as we went in.
In my research leading up to the trip, I had read a lot about how you have to shower first in front of people. It's no different than any other locker room. They have a male locker room and a female locker room. There are private showers even in the male locker room so you don't have to be naked in front of a room full of people watching you. There's just one guy (I'm sure it's a female in the women's room) making sure you shower before entering the pool. The pool was absolutely huge and even with crowds, there is plenty of space. The water is that awesome milky blue color (which I'm convinced comes from the face mask). The water felt nice and it was definitely worth the high price tag. If we go back to Iceland, I probably wouldn't do it again, only because it is pricey and I'd like to explore some of the other, natural hot springs they have but is definitely worth the trip if you haven't been. *Tip: Don't go into the pool area with clothes on. They yell at you (politely).
Krysuvik is another geothermal area. It was tough deciding to leave the Blue Lagoon, however, we made a stop here on our way up to Reykjavik. Here you will find steaming volcanic vents and boiling hot springs with all kinds of colors of land around them. It appeared to be a pretty unique place. There are some short trails around the area.
Reykjavik: Before heading out on the town, we checked in to our Airbnb in Reykjavik as early as we were allowed to and napped for about 3 hours. Then we were ready to party. Well, we didn't have a crazy night out unless you consider getting dinner, going to a coffee shop, and walking around main street as crazy. It was tough to pick a restaurant. We were looking for something good, affordable, and fun. We ended up choosing to go to Glo for dinner. I would absolutely recommend Glo. Not only are the prices extremely reasonable, the food was delicious. We both loved it. Afterward, we ended up getting a Chai at one of the coffee shops with a bookstore and Leslie said it was the best Chai she has ever had. Walking the streets was fun and we finished the night by taking a look at the famous Hallgrimskirkja church.
DAY 2 THURS 01.19.2017
What did we have planned? A big day, indeed! You feel like you're getting up a lot earlier than it really is when it's still dark out at 07:30. After getting a quick breakfast at a local cafe, we began our eventful day. Here's what we had planned...
Day 2 Map
Thingvellir National Park [$5 parking pass]
Lunch @ Efstidalur II
Oxararfoss Waterfall: We first drove up to Thingvellir National Park to hike to Oxararfoss Waterfall (foss in Icelandic means waterfall so yes, I am be redundant). When we got there, it was still dark out even though it was almost 09:00. By the time we got started with the hike, some light was just starting to come through. The sky was full of clouds and it felt like we were in black & white for the first couple hours of the morning. The hike was 2.7 miles RT and was not strenuous. The viewing point of the falls is from a little boardwalk at the end. The photo below is not in black & white!
Efstidalur II: We stopped here for lunch and it was the best overpriced burger I've ever had. I think it was $21 USD but it was delicious! Then we went to the ice cream room for ice cream! I love ice cream!
Bruarfoss Waterfall was definitely what I was most excited about for the day and one of the things I was most excited for in the whole trip. As amazing as it was, it's different from other tourist attractions. It is very difficult to find and is very unpopulated. From the time we arrived to the time we ended up finding it, it probably took about 90 minutes. If you know exactly where it is from when you park, it's about a 5 minute walk. I would love to explain to you how to easily find it but I don't think I could if I tried. I remember there being a sign toward the end of the road that says "Bruarfoss" and it points straight ahead. Do Not Follow That Sign. It does not get you there!! If you see that sign, drive about half a mile back toward the main road, and find a little pull off area on your right. That is really the best I can do to describe it. As frustrating as our search was, it was one of the most memorable experiences in Iceland and couldn't have been more worth it.
Geysir is a little town with some geysers! There is a parking lot across the street and you walk across and there's a path you can go to check them all out. There is one special geyser, of course. We got to it and didn't really know what to expect (I had never seen one before). I took out my camera and within 10 seconds, kablamo! Great timing. Really cool eruption. Definitely worth the stop, especially since we were driving right by it to the next destination.
We took off from there and headed toward our Airbnb, "Efra-Sel." We were the only ones staying at the hostel-style Airbnb that night so it was kind of like having an entire house to ourselves. We stayed at the Efra-Sel, which gave us 2 single beds, a kitchen, a living room, and a hot tub. We went out back and here was our view.
DAY 3 FRI 01.20.2017
Another fun day! As I will mention below, we didn't make it to Gaijan and Haifoss. This ended up being a day of more waterfalls and Northern Lights. It also got us back on the main Ring Road. Here's what we did:
Unfortunately Gaijan & Haifoss did not end up making the cut. The road to Haifoss was closed at the time due to excessive snow on the road and the overall trip to attempt to get to both added about 2 hours of drive time to the day. As disappointing as it was to have to cut both of them, it ended up being a good decision in terms of planning!
We got up early and started the morning off with some coffee and tea at the airbnb before heading out for the day!
Gluggafoss is only about 20 minutes out of the way of the rest of the plans and was worth the visit. When we arrived, it was very rainy and windy but after waiting it out for about 10 minutes, we were okay. You're able to see the waterfall from the parking area, however, if you walk over to the fall, you can go behind it and check out more than you can see from the car. The photo below was taken from the car during the rainstorm.
Seljalandfoss has some amazing photos around the internet. I've even seen one pop up as my rotating login screen background on Windows. They all display it on a sunny day. We definitely didn't get to experience it on a sunny day, however, it's still an amazing waterfall. On top of the view from the front, there's a trail that allows you to walk behind it (expect to get a little wet!). It's another waterfall with a very short walk from the parking area, so be sure to check it out.
Gljúfrabúi aka Gljúfrafoss is a "secret waterfall" right near Seljalandfoss and nobody was there. I have seen pictures from the bottom of it but maybe we couldn't even find the right thing. From Seljalandfoss, instead of heading back to the parking lot, continue on the path (away from the lot) about a third of a mile or so. From there, you'll see another waterfall kind of behind a difficult trail. When we went, it was snowy, rainy, and very wet, which made trying to climb this mountainside pretty tricky. There were chains to help pull yourself up. From the tippy-top, I had to leap to make it on top of a ledge where you could see the entire waterfall. If I had jumped over and tried to land on the other side, I would have been in big trouble, as it was like a well below. I'm not sure how anyone would get to the bottom, so you better keep searching the internet for more help.
Skogafoss is spectacular and is as easy to access as anything if you're driving that far East on the Ring Road. You can see it from the road without even pulling over (but pulling over and seeing it closer is a must). Seeing this waterfall from the bottom is a treat. If you feel like getting some cardio, there are a whole bunch of stairs that will take you up to the top for an entirely different view.
Evening in Vik: After spending a whole bunch of time at Skogafoss, we proceeded to our Airbnb (link) which was by far coolest place we stayed while there. Ragnar has a few of these little cottages right on the Black Sand Beach in Vik and they are too cool and a great place to view the Northern Lights. That night we bought some food from the grocery store and had a nice pasta and steak meal. We had been looking out all evening to check for the lights and couldn't see them. We were pretty tired and decided to go to bed around 10:30. We were in bed with the lights out and figured we'd check once more. I opened the front door and could see the lights the brightest we had seem them yet. We ended up staying up for another 3 hours and were able to capture these pretty sweet shots.
DAY 4 SAT 01.21.2017
Most of the plans for this day were based in the Vik area. We enjoyed settling in Vik the night before and then knowing we didn't have to drive too far for the majority of what we'd be doing.
Day 4 Map
Black Sand Beach
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Lodging: Guesthouse Skalafell
Black Sand Beach: Well, this beach was practically outside the front door of the Airbnb from the night before. We got here just as the sun was rising. The black sand is really cool and there are some very interested structures on the beach as well that you can check out in the photos below.
Dyrholary Arch was about 20 minutes west, so slightly backtracking from our final destination for the day, however, it was not very difficult to find. There are a couple of different places you can take the vehicle from there. You can go up to the top or keep going straight and explore that way. Each way gives you a different view of what you're seeing and I can't really say one's better than the other. There is, however, more than just the arch to look at from here.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck was very interesting. The story behind this is that in 1973, a US Navy DC-3 plane was forced to land on this beach after experiencing some difficulties in flight. From what I've read, all crew members survived. The remains were abandoned and are here for the rest of us to enjoy. I was worried about whether we'd be able to find it. Google maps will tell you to stop at one spot. There is now a sign in front of the fence there saying that is NOT the spot to park for the plane wreck. Coming from the East, you will go about another mile and a half and you will see a big parking area on the left (if you're coming from the West and you go to where Google maps told you to go, you've gone too far. Turn around and head back to the big parking lot. If Google has updated its location since, then just park in the big lot!). From there, you still have a long walk til you're there. There are markers on the side of the path and its easy to follow. At the very end, the markers are harder to see so if you go at night, kind of bear left. Enjoy
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a canyon with excellent viewpoints that I wasn't as excited about as I should have been. This is now Northeast of Vik but only a couple miles off the Ring Road and right on the way toward our stopping point for the evening. The sun was getting close to setting time and the wind was picking up. We followed the unpaved road toward the parking area. There is a fenced off area that stops you at a certain spot but I believe you can continue on the grass (we did not do this and I can't say for sure if it's allowed).
Jokulsarlon was an unexpected stop for the night. We expected to come the next morning for our Ice Cave Tour, but not this night. I was driving and Leslie was sleeping and when I realized we were driving by here (about 30 minutes away from our B&B), I had to stop and check it out at night. It was freezing, maybe the second coldest of the trip, but this place was unbelievable. Especially at night with the Northern Lights right behind it!