Iceland Travels: A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

I know that I say this a lot, but I really liked insert name of place here and would definitely visit again and/or live there. But, seriously, no joke. Iceland will make you want to give it all up and go become a sheep farmer. At least, that’s the effect it had on me.

iceland travels mountain ridges

Taking into account that I went during the summer, which was still very chilly and sometimes downright cold, my Iceland travels really were the most breathtaking that I have ever done. The thing that really struck me as unique about Iceland was that almost anywhere the eye settled, there was almost always something interesting or impressive to see. This could be anything from the moss-covered rocks in the lava fields, the shadow-laden mountains, or the fjords that frequently decorated the landscape. If I had stopped to take pictures every time I wanted to, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

I spent only about six days in Iceland and therefore, only saw a fraction of what I would have liked to make time for. I’ve chosen to think of it as more of a reconnaissance mission for a future trip. What follows next are a few pointers that I can give you through my trial and error method of traveling in addition to describing the extra-intriguing things that I saw during my — you guessed it — Iceland travels.

waterfall

Getting Started in Iceland

My Iceland travels were such extraordinary experiences for me not just because of the destination but because of the method of traveling. In an effort to save money, I opted to rent a Jeep with a camper on top instead of paying for hostels or Airbnbs. This also had the added benefit of flexibility since camping sites were significantly cheaper and were never full. All of the camping sites I visited had hot showers, covered areas where we could cook in cases of bad weather, and were usually very scenic.

My friend and I arrived to Iceland at about 1:00 a.m. The car rental place, Northern Lights Car Rental (through a third party platform called Northbound), let us sleep in their parking lot until we were rested enough to move on. Also, they threw in an extra sleeping bag at no extra cost. We thought we could cut corners by using only one. This was a bad idea as Iceland was much colder than the Internet led me to believe. I’m never believing the Internet about climate averages ever again. I’m looking at you, Internet people, who said Malta had the best climate in the world!

Heading Out for Iceland Travels

traveling in Iceland

The first thing that I noticed after setting out on that first morning west from Keflavik was the expansive lava fields. I saw what I thought was a white and black volcanic rock as far as the eye could see. Moss actually covered the white rock. The moss became very green by the end of the trip when we returned the Jeep. It rains in Iceland. A lot.

Iceland rocks and westfords

The next day we headed north to the Westfjords. It really started to sink in just how special Iceland is. We drove along the coast and I couldn’t believe how green it all was. Landforms like plateaus and mountains shone in the water and half-wild, half-domesticated shaggy sheep dotted the countryside. Houses were picturesque and belonged in paintings, not in real life. Waterfalls were plentiful as well and there was a glacier, Snæfellsjökull, that could be seen from the ocean shore.

Iceland Travels to the Westfjords

Westfjords sheep

Going into the Westfjords was important to me. I found while researching that the fjords present some of the most incredible views of Iceland. Nonetheless, people don’t visit often. During winter, many fjords can’t be accessed because the roads are completely closed. In the summer it’s not so much of an issue. Nonetheless, let me just warn you now… if you plan on going into the fjords, you need to mentally fortify yourself. Besides this, rent a vehicle with 4×4 capabilities!

Terror on the Cliffs

We went during the summer when the roads were fairly decent. Nonetheless, we drove for many miles on end at extremely high altitudes. We were right along intensely steep cliffs. There were no guardrails to protect you from rolling down into the rocky coast below. Just when I thought that I was getting accustomed to driving under those unnerving conditions, I happened to look over and down to my left to see an upside down car all the way at the bottom which had crashed only minutes before. We stopped and got out to help. Miraculously enough, the two locals who had crashed survived with only a few bloody cuts. Talk about a shitty reality check.

car crash off ridge
(Upside down crashed car. Was wayyyy more of a drop off than it looks like in this photo)

 

I realized while in the Westfjords that one could spend their entire trip just exploring that section of Iceland. It is expansive and mysterious and wild. There are few roads and even fewer places to get supplies. Some of my favorite things that we saw while there were puffins. I also saw a gigantic waterfall named Dynjandi. Plus, I was able to experience a hot spring carved into solid rock located right on the beach. Talk about some serious Iceland travels!

puffins

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is probably the most touristy thing that you can do in Iceland. The name itself tends to imply that there are amazing sights to see frequently. Don’t get me wrong. Iceland is so incredibly amazing at all times (and I’m not even being hyperbolic here). It’s pretty easy to become difficult to impress after a short amount of time (like maybe a day of driving).

There were definitely a few majorly impressive things to see on the Golden Circle path. We saw a waterfall comparable to Niagara Falls as well as a geyser park similar to Old Faithful. We saw a gorgeous crater lake. Although we chose to skip it, the Blue Lagoon gets an honorable mention. The entire Circle takes hours and hours of driving just to see a few things. Their national maximum speed limit is 90 kph (55 mph) on paved roads. On dirt roads, it’s 80 kpm (49 mph). You won’t be traveling as rapidly as you might imagine. It was when we finished with the Golden Circle that we really came upon a true hidden treasure: the town of Hveragerði.

Golden Circle lake

 

lake and cave in Hveragerði.

town of hveragerði iceland

Hveragerði South Iceland

The day that we got done with the Golden Circle, my friend and I were tired, hungry, and soaked to the bone. Even so, we passed up a camping site that was extremely close. It had no covered cooking area so we decided on a much nicer one about an hour away. Fortunately, this one did have a covered cooking area, along with free wifi, cell phone charging centers, great reviews, and hot showers.

About a few minutes away on foot, there was a place where you could get in geothermal hot tubs and relax on the cheap. There was also a small geyser park a little further up the road. There, they sold delicious bread made with geothermal water. Plus, there were even hiking trails where you could see even more geysers in their natural habitat (not in the same place as the geyser park). However, none of that could compare to the most amazing experience of my life so far.

Hveragerði foggy ridge

At the end of a deceptively long, steep hike up a mountain shrouded mist and mystery was a hot, geothermal river. Yes, a terraced, hot and steamy river. Talk about crossing something off on your bucket list that you never knew was listed! I had always imagined getting to plop into a natural hot spring in the mountains. However, that vision had never included anything bigger than a large tub.

After that, not much could compare. We visited a couple of museums in order to kill time before my friend’s flight. I even tried a bit of Minke whale before mine. It was delicious by the way — but please don’t be too mad at me even though I know I probably deserve it.

Experiencing Iceland Travels

breakfast in icelandIceland was probably the most expensive place I have visited or ever will visit but I have to say that every penny, or well, krona, was worth it. It was extremely safe and I never felt in danger. Despite us being two women out in the wilds, I never felt creeped out. I could have gone by myself and been completely fine. Actually, on several occasions when we saw hitchhikers, many were also ladies.

I learned a lot of interesting facts from reading magazines at our campsites. I learned that the Icelandic minimum wage is about 2,400 euros a month. That sounds out of this world until you learn that it is taxed at a rate of 51 percent. Woowee! All in all, I look forward to going back and exploring the Southern and Eastern sides of Iceland. If the West and North paralyzed me with wonder for six days, I can only imagine how much more there is for me to see and experience in the other directions.

P.S. Don’t walk on the moss!

by Amanda Whitten