Iceland Recap and Suggestions

Iceland is a fascinating country. If you read our blog you probably enjoy the outdoors and will love the beauty of rugged Iceland.

Below are some of the things to keep in mind should you choose to visit this stunning country.

Driving in Iceland

We drove 2,712 km in Iceland. That’s almost 1,700 miles, or nearly the distance from Oakland, California to Dallas, Texas.

Andy did all the driving and found it to be pretty straightforward. He felt as if he was still in the States because we drove on the right side of the road and the steering wheel was on the left.

The familiar driving position coupled with roads, landmarks and towns being very well marked limited stress behind the wheel, allowing him to focus on the driving and avoiding distracted tourists behind the wheel of their rentals.

Even though getting around was pretty easy, we relied on Google maps everyday (particularly when Laurie – the copilot fell asleep) and for the most part it worked well to get us close to our hostels and landmarks.

Rental Cars

Renting a car is easy in Iceland. Our recommendation is to rent from the major companies located at the airport. You’ll recognize most of the names there – Hertz, Avis, Budget, etc.

While it costs a bit more to rent from the major brands, the counters are at the airport proper avoiding the up to 90 minute wait for a shuttle to the offsite location.

We rented from Firefly, an off site company. Thankfully we only waited about 30 minutes for the shuttle van to pick us up. The car was cheap and worked well, until it didn’t.

We don’t know if this would have happened with rentals from the major companies but we experienced brake failure and received a haphazard explanation that they are usually too busy to maintain their fleet consistently.

Andy found this explanation unacceptable and hopes the major companies hold themselves to more stringent repair requirements.

One more tip – Park far away from other cars, particularly in windy places. Park facing the wind so your door doesn’t rip off the car when opening it. No joke.

Also, if you are thinking about renting a camper, we have no direct experience with this but saw A LOT of campers on our travels.

Using American Credit Cards for Purchases

You can use a credit card in most places in Iceland.

Gas stations are well spread throughout the Ring Road. American credit cards generally do not work at gas stations since there is no pin associated with it for purchases (debit cards don’t work either).

Because of this, as an American you must use gas stations with attendants to either purchase a prepaid card inside or kindly ask them to unlock the pump and pay afterwards.

Gas stations serve as mini grocery stores and many have cafes associated with them. We can’t speak to the quality of the food but at least you can count on them to have something to eat.

Cell Service

We had WiFi everywhere we stayed and only needed to worry about cell coverage while on the road.

In terms of international phone coverage there are some options:

You can buy a SIM card as you would in any other country so long as your phone is unlocked.

Another option is to use international plans through your carrier. Both AT&T and Verizon offer international plans for $10 per day which extend your home plan to wherever you are. Our pre-trip research indicated decent coverage with Verizon but less was said about AT&T.

At times there was slow Internet speeds but we had service almost everywhere.

Water

You can drink water from the tap. The water is delicious and, according to Iceland, chemical and additive free.

While you can buy bottled water we never felt the need.

Some of the water in the geyser belt smelled of sulfur but we never got sick.

Public Pools

We chose to skip the fancy commercialized hot springs (Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths) and instead spent time and money at the public pools. They were awesome! Most have kid pools, water slides, lap pools and hot tubs and cost around $10 per person.

Year round, this seems to be a popular way for adults to relax while keeping their children entertained.

Seasons and When To Visit

Summer is the most popular time to visit Iceland. The weather is generally nicer with long hours of daylight. This also equates to more people.

You can access more of the country in the summer than you can other times of the year. For example F Roads that lead to Iceland’s interior are only open and accessible during the summer months.

In the shoulder seasons there are less visitors and flights and lodging are cheaper, but the weather is unpredictable. And even though there is less daylight your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis is slim.

Winter brings more darkness and your best chance to see the northern lights. These are their coldest months but from what we read and heard, the Ring Road is open all year round (major storms close parts of the road at times) and you get to see the waterfalls and other attractions with the added beauty of snow.

Helpful Websites

Verdur.is has the most accurate weather for Iceland. We checked this website every evening to know what to expect the following day.

We also checked it to track Aurora Borealis activity.

Road.is has the most up-to-date road conditions info for all of Iceland. This is another website we checked every evening to ensure we could get to where we wanted to go.

Thanks for reading our Iceland blog. We hope our posts will be useful when you plan your trip to this magical land.

Laurie finally got a picture of a sheep up close!

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Day 10 – Bye Bye Iceland

October 24, 2018

Lambafell to Keflavík

We woke up to a dark sky. Like most mornings it was hard for Laurie to get out of bed.

We kept the day’s itinerary simple – swimming pool, return car and head to airport.

It was a 90 minute drive to the outskirts of Reykjavík where we wound through a neighborhood to the Árbæjarlaug pool.

This pool was used to foreigners as they had the instructions for the changing rooms written in English. Apparently this was confusing initially to others as well!

By this time we were pros.

We quickly changed and jumped in the pool at the base of the slide. The water in this pool was not as warm as previous ones but it was much warmer than the outside temperature and falling rain.

It had an exposed (as in not enclosed and thus colder) stairwell to the top of the slide. The 5 degree weather did not deter us from playing on the slide for a good 20 minutes. A few slides in Andy showed Laurie how to use a swinging motion to gain momentum and go even faster.

It was not as fast or exhilarating as the slides in Akureyri but it was faster than the ones in the previous pool.

Laurie swam some laps while Andy hung out in the hot pots and massaged his neck and shoulders under a powerful fountain.

We spent about 90 minutes in the pool splashing about and moving our bodies before the 9 hour flight home.

The car drop off was uneventful other than a few trips past a round-about trying to locate the entrance to a gas station.

Andy did let the rental car company employees know he was displeased with the brakes of the first car and got a haphazard apology. He believes Europeans don’t do apologies very well.

We paced through the airport multiple times stretching our legs prior to the flight.

As US citizens we had the privilege of multiple extra security checks. While most people procedeeded through the passport check with green lights, us Americans received a red light and loud buzz as we attempted to go through the turn style.

We were corralled to a separate line and had to answer questions on our purpose of travel, where we had gone, where we had stayed, etc. The agents were very friendly, particularly after Andy talked them up and Laurie made them smile attempting to pronounce the names of various places.

Once through Passport control we figured we were good so we wandered the extent of the terminal.

Our gate was through another checkpoint where they sent all Americans into a small room and patted us down and went through our bags. Apparently they do this because of TSA requirements. Or maybe it is a way to employ a lot of people..

In any case, the agents were all friendly and we had plenty of time to spare so it wasn’t a big inconvenience.

By the time we got to our gate people were already lining up. We joined them and waited another 20 minutes before they began loading the plane.

Wow airlines has very specific guidelines on the size of “personal items” vs “carry on.” One couple on our flight got in a huge argument with the airline staff because their carry on did not fit in the plastic measuring containers. Apparently they took off the luggage wheels to make them fit to avoid the extra charge.

We were glad we had payed a little extra to check in bags in addition to carry on luggage and a personal item to avoid this hassle.

We took a bus to our plane, inhaling our last breaths of cool, crisp Icelandic air before ascending the steps to our bird.

Once on the plane we settled into our seats, Laurie eyeing the empty rows in hopes of snagging one to sleep across. The suspense grew as the time between the buses extended.

There were no announcements but it seemed too good to be true to have so many empty seats. Eventually the facial expressions on the flight attendants relaxed and a large number of people boarded the plane. We had waited for a few dozen travelers who had been delayed and were connecting to our flight.

Suddenly the chances of sleeping comfortably on the plane diminished and we resigned to our original seats.

The flight was fine – long but fine. We snacked, napped, walked and repeated.

Coming home is never as fun as leaving but we were content with our trip. We had a great time and will certainly visit Iceland again in the future.

Tonight we are grateful for sleeping in a horizontal position and loving family who welcomed us home with salad!

Larger than normal thermal activity near the main road

Day 9 – A Beautiful Grey Day

October 23, 2018

Akranes to Lambafell

We slept well. It sounds like we say that at the start of every entry but our beds really have been quite comfy and we’ve been sleeping through the night and waking up rested.

Something else we keep doing is setting alarms and sleeping through them because it’s always dark when we get up.

This morning was no different.

Our alarm sounded at 730am but we didn’t get out of bed until about 8am.

Laurie showered and put on her robe. She felt fancy and was grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes it’s just the little things that we need to help us feel extra special.

We packed and headed to breakfast. Toast, jam, pickled herring, peppered cold cuts, 8 types of cheese, eggs, granola, flaky mini croissants and chocolate pastries. Yum! Hands down the best breakfast yet.

We drove 5 minutes down the road to Skogafoss. The crowds hadn’t arrived yet but there were at least a dozen camper vans in the parking lot. Some people were outside drinking coffee and making breakfast but others seemed to have not woken up yet. It clearly states no camping, but apparently some people disregard these signs.

We hope this does not lead to more stringent regulations and enforcement in the future. Part of what makes this country so enjoyable is it’s wild nature, lack of guard rails/fences and police presence.

We hiked up the metal stairs to the top of the waterfall. The trail continues here for miles and miles. In the summer it is possible to start a 4 day trek from this location with huts along the way. We hope to do that someday.

We were the only ones at the top of the falls but couldn’t fully enjoy the water crashing down because of the annoying buzz from a drone. Again, there are signs that clearly state no flying drones but we saw plenty of people ignoring this restriction.

At 10am we met our ice cave tour group in the rear of a supermarket parking lot. There seemed to be more people than they anticipated and it took some juggling to fit everyone into two 12 passenger vans.

Laurie asked to sit in the front seat since nobody else had claimed it. We drove through town and on Road 1 for about 10 minutes, then pulled off on an unnamed road.

The Ford Econoline vans were lifted, converted to a 4×4 and had massive tires with an onboard inflate/deflate system to provide a softer ride off road. (You can tell Andy has a slight obsession with these kinds of trucks).

The falling snow provided a nice dusting and contrast to the black volcanic rock.

While driving, our guide gave us some nice history of the area. The Ring Road (which we drove on and appreciated the smoothness of everyday) was completed in 1974. Prior to that the main road around the island was gravel and located in the foothills. Many places where the current road was built upon in the south was still underwater prior to the 1970s.

He spoke about the shrinking coast line and how floods often follow volcanic or earthquake acitivy, which is why the new road had so many bridges and dikes.

We learned that the locals don’t know road numbers, only names. And not just names of roads but the names each ravine, hillside and large rock in the area – usually names after the first settlers. They locate their sheep by using such landmarks.

Once at the base of the glacier we put on Kahtoola microspikes and helmets and headed to the cave. We had to wait a few minutes to let another tour exit. We were both excited and Laurie nearly ran into our guide when he suddenly stopped.

The ice caves form by water running through and off the glacier. They change every few months depending on the rains.

Unfortunately, as it was snowing, the light was too bright so the glacier wasn’t blue like we had seen in pictures but it was still cool to walk inside.

Laurie scampered around and climbed whatever she could. The volcanic rock was loose and deep and the microspikes aren’t made for climbing so she didn’t get very far.

We wandered around the glacier a bit as a group, looking at old cave locations and remnants from sink holes.

Eventually we made our way back to the 4×4 and back to town.

It was raining in Vik so we weren’t in any rush to head to the waterfalls. We had a tasty lunch (more arctic char and lamb, although this time a marinated lamb sandwich). Very tasty.

We drove to the black sand beach to check out Reynisdrangar, which is quite popular given the number of tour buses and cars in the parking lot.

It was cold and miserable walking to the beach with rain and wind whipping our faces. Reysindrangar are hexagonal basalt sea stacks located up the hillside adjacent to the beach. There are tall and interesting rock formations not too far out into the sea as well.

The natural geometric basalt shapes are so amazing. There were other thinner pancake like stacks inside a basalt cave, all of which are a result of the volcanic activity of the region.

Given the poor visibility, we didn’t walk on the beach much and headed for our next stop Kirkjufjara beach. There were more basalt formations here along with more interesting rocks in the sea that weren’t clearly visible given the rain and fog.

We can see how these beaches would be beautiful with sunny skies, however in the rain it looked like just another coastline with some cool arches made from crashing waves.

We hurried back to the car to get warm. Again we passed up an opportunity to see more rock formations and drove past our accommodations to visit two waterfalls.

This was the third time we had attempted to visit Seljalandsfoss. The first time it was dark, second was yesterday and it was getting dark. Third time had to be a charm.

We parked away from the crowds closer to Glúfrabúi. This is a waterfall that falls into a cave. One must walk through the river to enter into the cave.

We started out stepping on stones to get in and met a line of people partway through trying to get out. Andy kindly helped each of the 15 people identify which rock to step on while Laurie desperately clungto the rock wall trying to make herself as small as possible so as not to be in the way.

It was entertaining to see the differing comforts of people’s rock hopping skills and getting wet feet. Some people clung to Andy and then onto Laurie to avoid dunking their feet into the river, while others laughed as they skipped along the rocks.

The cave was cool, although like with most things, it would have looked better in the sunlight.

We walked about 500 meters to Seljalandsfoss, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. This one is popular because you can walk behind it, making it a nice place to take sunset photos.

There was not going to be any beautiful sunset shots tonight so we didn’t hesitate in walking around for the experience.

We entered from a different direction than most and one American “recommended that we don’t go that way because it was treacherous and she couldn’t see how we could possibly face the wet rocks and mud going downhill.”

We smiled and continued – aware of our abilities and comfort zones. The trail was no worse than the mist trail in Yosemite without the steepness, duration or mud.

The issue, more than the condition of the trail, was waiting for a break in the trail of people to get a chance to walk.

We were soaked from the rain so the mist from the fall didn’t phase us. It was cool to watch the water crash down in spurts from 60 meters (197 feet) above.

We had one more stop on our itinerary, but Andy was done. The one place that we had identified and had hoped to see on multiple days was Iceland’s first swimming pool. It has one wall made out of rocks to trap geothermal water. The pool was located very close to our accommodation (a short drive and 15 minute walk) up the valley but it was 4:45pm and very wet out.

Laurie reluctantly agreed that it made sense to get settled, eat early, relax, work on the blog and sleep early on our last evening, however she had trouble letting go of “seeing it all.”

This entire trip was about letting go of seeing it all given the variable weather but the need to see and do it all runs deep within Laurie.

Eventually we settled into our room, played 2 rounds of pool and attempted to watch TV (but nothing good was on). It started to pour which made Laurie feel a little better about passing up on the hike and swim.

This trip was wonderful and we both are left with a desire to return to explore more.

Next time we would hope for sunnier skies but one never knows with the weather. All you can do is bring your rain gear and hope it stays in your pack.

Tonight we are grateful for compatible traveling styles and cozy evenings while listening to the rain fall outside.

Skogafoss

Our tour guide in the shot for perspective

Andy – the keeper of the ice cave

Reysindrangar

Glúfrabúi

Seljalandsfoss