Updated: May 11
I have travelled to a total of 62 countries so far and whenever anyone asks me for my top 3, the answer is always the same: New Zealand, South Africa and Iceland (Canada's Alberta is a close fourth). My first visit to Iceland back in March, 2016 lasted around 5 days and I knew that wasn't nearly enough. I also realized that staying in a hotel and booking daily tours was not the right way to do it; despite that, it was still a blast. We got to do things I never thought I would do, from walking on a glacier to witnesses the Northern Lights phenomenon.
I decided to visit again at the end of August 2017, but vouched to do things differently this time. I paired the trip with a weekend in Copenhagen and 4 days in the Faroe Islands, another destination that I recommend everyone to visit. I then spent a total of 8 days in Iceland, but this time, in a camper-van. I must admit, planning a trip to Iceland is no walk in the park. The camper-vans and RVs sell out months in advance, we booked ours two months before the trip and still had to pay almost double what we would because most options were sold out. Another thing is, there is so much to do and see, countless tours of which most need to be booked months in advance too. You'll simply become overwhelmed if you try to do it all; that is why narrowing down your options is key. I hope this blog can you help you do that!
Day 1: Reykjavik & The Golden Circle
After saying our goodbyes to Victoria; Mustafa, Maddie and I took a direct flight from The Faroe Islands to Reykjavik using Air Iceland Connect. It is worth mentioning that this is the only direct flight between the two countries and flights are not available daily. Therefore, make sure you check the flight schedule if you’re planning a similar trip. Another alternative is to take the ferry across to Iceland; the ferry doesn’t make the trip daily either though so it’s all a matter of timing.
To get you guys on the same page, two more friends were joining us in Iceland from the UAE. Mohamed Motassem was meant to land at 11 AM but was delayed a couple of hours and Ahmad Khayat arrived in Reykjavik at around 3 PM. The plan was to wait for Motassem at the domestic airport and then head over to Camp Easy using the free cab ride that they so generously offer. Of course, I missed the part where they clearly instructed us to only use HREYFILL taxi so we ended up paying for that ride; make sure you don’t make the same mistake. Since Camp Easy are pretty awesome though, they gave us the taxi vouchers to use at the end of our trip anyway (Icelanders in general are very friendly and not at all materialistic). All in all, we were very impressed with Camp Easy. The camper itself was in great condition and had loads of awesome features, the guys who work there are really cool too and threw in a number of freebees. Now that we had our car and home for the next 8 days, we made our way to Reykjavik City Center to burn some time until Khayat arrived.
It’s no secret that Reykjavik ain’t exactly the most interesting city in Europe; however, it can still keep you entertained for a day or two. So while in the city make sure you check out the following:
Aurora Reykjavik is a museum that shows you some great insights on the Northern Lights and even explains how you can up your chances of seeing them. You can even experience the lights in their very own theatre… who am I kidding haha it is nothing like the real thing!
Saga and Maritime museums are pretty interesting if you’re into the history of Iceland, the early settlements and Vikings
Horse and whale steak at ‘The Steakhouse’. It is a high-end pretty pricey restaurant but the food is definitely worth it. Make sure you make a reservation if planning to visit on a weekend as it does get crowded
Chocolate cake at Stofan
Local dishes at Cafe Loki
Hallgrímskirkja is probably Reykjavik’s most famous landmark as it is seen from almost anywhere in the city. The church is 74.5 meters high making it among the highest structures in Iceland
The Statue of Leifur Eiriksson posing mightily with the church in the background. Viking history isn’t very clear and you’ll often hear different stories from different people. I have gathered some history during my trip in case you are into Viking history and will share the link as soon as the post is up
Walk around the bustling streets of Reykjavik’s City Center District
Once Khayyat finally arrived, we made our way to GoCampers to pick up our second, two person camper van. I must admit, seeing this camper after spending the day in the 4-person one was pretty damn disappointing. I should have expected it not to be on par with the first one since it did cost a fraction of the price, but I guess a part of me was allowed to dream. While one camper boasted a heater, sink, fridge, dining table and many other features; the second camper could barely fit in a bed and a couple of drawers to hold our necessities. The pick-up process wasn’t as smooth nor structured as it was with Camp Easy; they didn’t give us as much information or pointers either which I imagine would’ve sucked if we hadn’t already been well informed by the Camp Easy staff. There were a couple more things that went wrong too but I’ll get into that later.
I like to think of myself as quite the expert when it comes to sleep. I have a talent of being able to fall asleep anywhere and everywhere… but most importantly, at any time. It doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the comfort of a cozy bed though. I have spent nights in 5 star hotels such as the Emirates Palace and the Marriott but also spent others in prisons turned into hostels like the one in Slovenia. I spent countless nights camping on the ground under the starry night and others curled up in the back of my truck. The crazy thing is, I never felt cozier than I did in the back of that 2-person camper van.
The Golden Circle:
This is Iceland’s most common route along with the Northern Lights Tour and the Blue Lagoon due to their convenient locations near Reykjavik. The Golden Circle, named as such since the route literally forms a loop from Reykjavik, has three primary stops and can be completed in one day.
Stop 1: Þingvellir National Park: Park your car at the parking lot and make your way down by foot. While you’re here, take a couple of pictures of Oxarafoss Waterfall since it’s technically the first one you see in Iceland, though definitely not the most magnificent (it’s actually a really small one). Continue your walk down to the Silfra canyon, which is where the North American and European tectonic plates drift apart at a rate of 2cm per year. In fact, many activities are offered at the Silfra Canyon; you can kayak, snorkel and even scuba dive! Make sure you book these activities well in advance via Extreme Iceland because they sell out pretty damn fast.
Stop 2: Although this is not one of the primary destinations, feel free to stop by Laugarvatn Village for some traditional, homemade rye bread
Stop 3: This next primary stop is one most people are often quite excited about… The Geysers at Haukadalur. The main attraction of this area is the Strokkur Geyser which erupts every 5-8 minutes, shooting boiling water 30 meters high before it evaporates into thin air. So set up your tripods, make sure you capture in slow-mo but most importantly, be patient. After you take that perfect video for your instagram, put your phones and cameras away and actually enjoy this miraculous phenomenon a couple of times.
Although the plan was to complete the entire Golden Circle before nightfall, the weather quickly took a turn for the worse; dark, heavy clouds filled the skies forcing us to call quits. Anyone who visited Iceland a couple of years ago probably camped anywhere, anytime; unfortunately Iceland’s new laws now forbid that. You are only permitted to camp in dedicated camp sites. Luckily, there are about as many sites as there are sheep in Iceland, it’s just a matter of difference in quality. You’ll find loads of really good ones along the Golden Route though, so if the weather decides to go all apocalypse on you, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Day 2: Dog Sledding & Discovering the West
The weather did not get any better and I was not happy about it… let’s just say Maddie had to put up with a lot of sulking. Nevertheless, we were tight on time and there was so much to be seen so we couldn’t wait the rain and fog out; thank God we didn’t try too because nothing changed before nightfall. We started off by visiting the well known Gullfoss waterfall to complete the Golden Circle.
With still some time to waste, we decided to go check out the Kerid Crater Lake which is one of the optional, less famous stops along the Circle. By this point though, the fog was so thick that we had to walk around blindly looking for the crater. After around half an hour of trial and error, we finally found what we were looking for. I’m sure the crater would’ve looked a lot more magnificent if the sun was out; but I have to admit, there was a unique, mystical sensation of walking around this barren land in thick fog trying to find what was once a raging volcano.
It was finally… DOG SLEDDING TIME!!! This activity has been on my bucket list ever since I watched Balto back in the 3rd grade. I was kinda upset to discover that we’d be using a kart instead of a sled due to dry conditions; however, it was still pretty darn exciting. Now, if you are worried about animal cruelty and unsure about trying this because you think the dogs might be unhappy, think again. I have seen with my own eyes the care that the owner and the employees have for these huskies but what is even more evident is how much the dogs actually love pulling the sleds and karts. Dogs aren't exactly hard to read and they were extremely excited to show us what they can do, wagging tails and everything! Matter of fact, some would say they may have been a little bit too excited, but I'll get into that in a minute.
Look at those crazy adorable creatures… and the two dogs with them. Seriously though, if you’re ever in Iceland, Greenland, Norway or Canada then dog sledding needs to be on your list of things to do. Remember when I said the dogs may have been a little too excited? To be honest, I was kinda hesitant about whether I should share this story at first; but finally I decided that leaving out any details would be robbing you and future me from one of the most important events of this trip. During our dog sledding experience, we witnessed an accident that could’ve easily been fatal; fortunately though, no one was badly hurt. Keep in mind that accidents on this tour barely ever happen but although dog sledding is extremely safe it is slightly unpredictable. Even with the full brakes applied, one dog can easily jerk the kart forward begging it to budge and release; when all 12 dogs decide they wanna go, it will go… no matter whose on it, or whose standing right in front of it.
The guides always stop half-way through the tour to allow us to take some photos with the dogs while also giving them a chance to rest for a little bit. If you own a dog and regularly take them out on walks, then you probably how excited they get to run on the way back. These dogs were no different, they understood that this break meant it was time to loop back and head home, naturally they got excited. Our guide followed the necessary precautions, he applied the kart brakes and placed a concrete slab in front of the wheel to prevent it from moving; nevertheless, we felt the kart jerk a little whenever a dog would try to pull. All of a sudden, the pack leader decided it was time to go and when he pulled, they all pulled. Due to the rain and the wet conditions, the wheel slipped and before anyone could do anything about it, the kart was in full motion. Fortunately, Maddie and I were out of the way, but there was another couple on the kart with us and the lady was standing right in front it when it came crashing into her and then dragging her underneath as the dogs sped away.
As the dogs pulled, they didn't realize there was a lady being crushed underneath the kart. The guide jumped on quickly re-applying the brakes, but that did not help since the grass was too wet. The ground clearance was not enough to let her through so she continued to get dragged while the rest of us held onto the sides of the karts trying to stop it, with little hope. I still remember her husband's cries and screams, it was probably the scariest thing about that entire ordeal! The guide from the second kart (which had the rest of our friends) came running towards ours signaling the dogs to stop but they ran past him. About a minute or two later, we hit a small bump which caused the kart to lift off the ground a little, in addition to our combined forces lifting it up, the lady came rolling out the back. The company's owner showed up an instance later and took the couple to the hospital, the lady did not suffer any severe injuries. Maddie and I enjoyed the rest of the ride, solo.
That was actually the first time since they started operating that they had any sort of accident on the tour, and I sincerely hope it was their last. Like I said guys, the activity is extremely safe and I hope I did not put you off it, but accidents do happen. The funny thing is though, that while our friends' guide was out trying to help us, he left their kart in their responsibility, asking them to just stay put until he was back... big mistake.
We weren’t having the best luck with weather and it didn't look like it was about to get better anytime soon. Rain was pouring down on us all morning long and we were soaked by the time we had finished sledding. To our dismay, we also realized that the GoCampers didn’t give us the bbq I booked and that the Wifi in the camper stopped working. Their service wasn’t great during the pick-up, especially after Camp Easy set the bar pretty high, and the fact that we now had to drive all the way back to Reykjavik was not making it any better. Credit where it’s due though, when we got back to the office and informed them of our issue, they were extremely apologetic and offered to refund all the extras I had paid for which was around 200 euros! You have been forgiven GoCampers.
With all that sorted, it was time to head north and explore the western region of the island, starting with a small yet fascinating church known as Buðir. I’d be lying if I said this was one of Iceland’s ‘must sees’ but something about the eerie allure of this church really made it worth the visit. The rain had stopped just as we arrived and a thick, heavy fog hid everything but the mossy ground covered in volcanic rocks. Like a scene out of a movie, a gust of wind blew the fog away suddenly revealing the church sitting on top of a tiny hill with a cemetery by its side. There was absolutely nobody there but us and I was half expecting an arm to reach out of one of the graves to grab my leg.
On queue, the rain resumed its downpour as we rushed back to our campers and drove towards our next destination, Hellnar. Hellnar is an ancient fishing village on the westernmost part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. However, we weren’t going to check out the village; instead, we were driving up the coast to admire one of Iceland’s many unique rock formations and dragon gates. Unfortunately, the pictures didn’t turn out great due to the gloomy skies and rain but I’m sure you’d be able to get some epic shots on a clearer day.
I was done with the weather and really believed that the entire trip would be ruined if the sun didn’t decide to make an appearance. There was no point trying to see anything else so we cut our losses and camped as close to Kirkjufell Mountain as possible. We hoped that the weather would clear up overnight and that we’d witness the magnificent sunrise behind the mountain, little did we know…
Worth mentioning that there are no nice camp grounds in this area, the one we found was less than mediocre with no shower facilities. The ground was wet and mushy and we had to watch our steps as to not drown on the way to the toilets! Needless to say that this was not one of our best nights. When it’s all said and done though, there is nothing quite like camping in Iceland; I promise you’ll leave the entire world behind and sleep like you’ve never slept before.
Day 3: Hello Sunshine My Old Friend
Catching sunrise on the other side of Mount Kirkjufell never happened. Cold and lost in the fog, we decided to skip the rest of the west coast and make our way north towards Hraunfossar and the Kolugljúfur canyon.
Just as I was about to lose all hope of good weather, the first rays of sunshine cut through the cloudy sky giving the land around us a whole new perspective. In a matter of minutes, the skies were clear and the jackets came off… well except for Khayyat of course, man’s not hot! We were all so happy with this sudden change in climate that we stopped on the side of the road to rejoice. I felt like the British people do when they get a brief moment of sunshine in between two clouds. I swear I've never seen a nation put their lives on pause to enjoy something so brief until I visited the UK. I am happy to say though that in our case, the good weather lasted much longer than just a brief moment.
Although you won’t see the name mentioned in many of the commercial tours of Iceland, the Hraunfossar waterfalls are extraordinary and among my favorites in this magnificent country. Hraunfossar literally translates to Lava Falls and their uniqueness stems from their bizarre appearance and the unusual natural phenomena behind their existence. All the waterfalls we have previously seen start with a river or stream and end with a precipice or steep incline. In Hraunfossar, you’ll spot the latter but not the former; i.e. there is no river or stream of water to begin with. From the pictures below, you’d think that the water magically appears from the lava. In reality though, it is actually a clear cold spring that surges through the ground and runs in rapids down into the Hvita River.
On the way from Hraunfossar to Kolugljúfur we came across three craters known as Grabrokargigar. A little about this place: The craters are protected as natural monuments since 1962 mainly to preserve the beautiful scoria cones that formed in relatively modern times. Like I said, there are three craters, Stora (big) Grabrok, Litla (small) and Grabrokarfell. Sadly, Litla has mostly disappeared due to mining operations which took place before their protection. This volcanic system is believed to be 3600 years old and the lava from the craters cover a large proportion of the Nordurardalur valley. The more you visit volcanoes in Iceland, the more you’ll come to see why the whole island is covered in a mystical layer of black hardened lava.
Kolugljúfur canyon isn’t one of the more famous waterfalls in Iceland either which actually makes this spot really worth visiting. The canyon itself is not very long but it is deep with several falls which makes for an impressive sight. Another great advantage here is the lack of tourists which makes it a really good opportunity to take some uninterrupted photos. One of things I really enjoyed about this location is that it allows you to get right over the canyon, with the raging falls to your back and the calm rift ahead of you; the contrast in turbulence separated by nothing but the strip of land you’re standing on.
On our way to Hvitserkur, we were struck by the reflection of an endless bed of clouds and green fields against the calm waters of Lake Vesturhopsvatn. Before we knew it, we were out the camper-vans and running through the meadow like the ending of a Bollywood movie (shame non of us could sing though). Standing there in the silence of the lake, I felt the same tranquility that I had once experienced at Wilderness Beach, South Africa. At that very moment, I was reminded why I loved traveling so damn much.
Relaxed and rejuvenated, we got back in the cars and made our way to Hvitserkur, a 15 meter high basalt stack standing magnificently along the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes peninsula. As you can see in the picture, the rock has two holes at the base which kinda makes it look like a dragon taking a cheeky drink after feasting on sheep… and some farmers (damn it Khaleesi I told you to control your dragons!).
With the day coming to an end, we decided to ditch the last two stops and hit up a thermal spring instead. Finding thermal springs in Iceland is kinda like finding a teddy bear in an 8 year old’s bedroom. To make things even easier, the camper-vans often come with a little guide that shows you the locations of all the camp sites, gas stations and thermal springs. So wherever you decide to stop, just check to see what’s around you. I cannot remember the name of the thermal spring we visited which sucks because it was awesome! Maddie the buzzkill was afraid of how cold she’d get after swimming, so she decided to stay behind and start up the bbq while the boys and I chilled in this earth-made jacuzzi. What’s awesome too is that the river right by the pool is freezing cold, so if you get too hot, you can take a quick dip in there to refresh… Khayyat never needed to do that though, you know why? Because man’s not hot!
Day 4: Speed Boats & Whales
We couldn’t possibly conclude our exploration of the west and north coasts of Iceland without some whale watching. Like all the other activities, whale watching can be booked via Extreme Iceland and I highly recommend that you go for the Rib Boat Experience. Honestly speaking, the whale watching part was cool and all but what really made this trip worthwhile was the actual boat ride. The seats are equipped with dampeners to prevent any back and neck injuries which really allows the captain to… fly! I can’t tell you the exact top speed of the boat but I know for a fact that we were getting air time longer than 1-2 seconds which is a lot crazier than it may sound, trust me. So basically, if you wanna check out some cool humpback whales and get a sick adrenaline rush while you’re at it, make sure you book the rib boat tour. However, if you get seasick, I strongly advise taking some anti-nausea pills before getting on the boat. Oh and how can I forget… they’ll give you overalls so that you look badass during the trip.
I also recommend that you spend the night in Dalvik if you’ll be taking part in any whale watching tours from there. It just means that you get to sleep in a little later and the camp sites are actually very decent. We stayed at a ground right by the whale watching office (around a 3 minute drive) and it was probably the nicest one that we stayed at.
Next, it was time to visit one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland, the Godafoss. In addition to it’s size and magnificence, what really makes this place a favorite for me is merely the history behind the falls and how they received their name, Godafoss, which translates to waterfall of the gods. Now that I’ve built enough suspense, here is what history tells us about this place:
In the year 1000, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, chieftain of Ljósvatn district and Lawspeaker of the Althing, was entrusted with the momentous task of deciding whether Icelanders should adopt the Christian faith or stick to their own Nordic gods. When his decision was formally adopted, he went home and threw his statues of the pagan gods into the waterfall. Godafoss is said to derive its name from this event. The fall is 12 meters high and Skjalfandafljot is the country’s fourth longest river spanning 180 kms. The lava by the waterfall flowed through the valley Bardardalur in ancient times. Unbelievable as it may be, the lava is almost as long as the river itself and originates in the highlands by the edge of the biggest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajokull.
This next stop is one for the Game of Thrones fans, myself included. So to all the fans, let me give you a couple of hints and see if you can figure it out all alone.
You know nothin John Snow
Where John Snow breaks his oath to the Night’s Watch
John Snow and one red head wildling get a little wild
Yes, you can actually visit and enter that same cave if you happen to be in the northern side of Iceland. The name of the cave is Grjotagja and its located in the Myvatn lake area. The cave was a popular bathing place once upon a time; however, geological activity in the period 1975-1984 (or maybe Kaleesi’s dragons way before that) caused the temperature of the water to rise significantly deeming the pool un-bathable. It’s a damn shame too because believe me, when you peak into that cave and it’s crystal blue waters, you’ll want nothing more than a cozy swim.
Ok as much as I enjoyed watching at least 10 people slip on the rocks, and a little less than half of them dropping their phones into the water only to spend an hour trying to fish them out… all whilst ruining my idea of a perfect photo; I have to warn you. The rocks are slippery, so maybe keep your phones in your pockets until you find your base at a nice and flat rock.
On the way from Grjotagia cave to Dettifoss, you’re gonna come across a surreal lagoon of turquoise water like you’ve never seen before. The water is over 70 degrees Celsius so don’t even think of going for a swim, no matter how tempting it gets. However, make sure you stop there anyway to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery.
And some photo shenanigans of course!
Your final stop of the day, and in fact the conclusion of Northern Iceland is Dettifoss. There are two falls in the area, each around a 20 minute walk from the parking lot so make sure you get there well before sunset to really take in everything. We made the mistake of getting there late and by the time we got to the second falls, it was already too dark.
Dettifoss is a waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park and boasts a land decorated with beautiful rock formations. It is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe… for good reason too you’ll see when you get there. The water comes from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier whose sediment-rich runoff colors the fall a greyish white. Imagine the waters of the wide Jokulsa a Fjollum river falling over 44 meters, causing an intense crashing spray. Bad news is, that intense spray is also the reason you won’t be able to take any good pictures unless you have proper water protection for your camera. Combined with the late hour and lack of light, I am extremely sorry for the crappy photography.
Highlight of this spot however, were the two drugged out hippies we spotted at the falls. In all honesty, I’m A ok with people doing there own thing and enjoying what they enjoy in life; however, it does get a bit scary when they start dancing on the edge of a 44 meter drop. At first, we thought they were meditating, and then the girl started shaking aggressively and I thought something was wrong with her, but turns out it was only her way of dancing. It was only then that she kept stepping closer and closer to the edge, without even looking down to see where she was placing her feet. Meanwhile, the dude was just standing there, solid as a rock, staring up into the sky, arms stretched wide open and barely breathing. I can’t say what they were on, but I really hope they made it safely to their camp grounds.
Despite the darkness, we made our way to the second falls real quick simply because, FOMO. Luckily they weren’t as magnificent as the first ones so we didn’t feel too bad and hurried back to the cars. It was hectic to think that we still had a 2 hour 50 minute drive ahead of us to make it to Seydisfjordur.
You know those moments when you’re extremely exhausted, but you’re just pushing your last energy reserves to make it to your destination? That was pretty much us 1.5 hours into the drive to Seydisfjordur, knowing we were only half way there wasn’t helping too much either. Just when you start to think things can’t get any worse… you get a slap right across your face. To keep myself awake, I asked Maddie to download the photos off my camera and at that exact moment, I realized I had forgotten it at the Dettifoss Parking lot toilet. The problem with losing cameras is not merely the value of the device, but the memories it holds within it. That being said, I did what anyone would’ve done (not really), I told the guys to continue onwards until they found a nice campground while I turned back to go get it. 3 hours later, Maddie, my camera and I met the rest of the guys at the camp ground and within 5 minutes, I was in the deepest slumber of my life.
Day 5: The Famous South
You know how they say everything happens for a reason? Well I for one am glad I forgot my camera the night before because it would've been a shame to take the drive to Seydisfjordur at night. The winding road that takes you across the mountains to this small, picturesque town is spectacular. We stopped right at the top and actually decided to have our breakfast on the side of the road overlooking a scenic valley. Sitting on our camping chairs drinking hot chocolates to that view is one of those memories that will forever be with me.
The town of Seydisfjordur is what comes to mind when I think of the perfect retirement destination. This quaint and charming town falls right on the fjord and features an array of colorful houses, cafes and restaurants. It is also known for the famous rainbow road which is very photogenic. I definitely recommend you spend a couple of hours here. It was in this town that Maddie proved she can pull off some cool flips and stunts off of a bench; we were still more impressed with Motassem's little side-step though!
Our next destination was the town of Hofn. The drive along the coast is extremely beautiful and packs a nice surprise for those who take it. You all probably heard of the renown Black Beach which is further down south but I would actually advise you to stop and take in the beaches between Seydisfjordur and Hofn. They lack the eroded stone structures that you'll later see at the Black Beach but they make up for that with silence, tranquility and the simple fact that you will not be surrounded by hundreds of tourists. Although it was not on our plan, we had to stop for an hour or so to take in the dark beauty of the black sand as the waves crash into it. The beach ran as far as our eyes can see... and we were the only ones there.
Besides the Golden Circle, almost all of Iceland's most famous spots fall on the south coast between Reykjavik and Hofn. As a town, Hofn doesn't offer much besides a restaurant that serves pretty awesome reindeer burgers and a killer lobster bisque. After lunch, head down to Diamond Beach and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon where you'll enjoy a mesmerizing sunset and one of the coldest nights of your life. I remember standing on a little hill taking photos of the floating glaciers when Maddie came up to me fuming with tears in her eyes, the culprits that caused this anger were one other than her hiking boots and camera tripod! Once again, she hadn't tied her laced properly so the hooks on her shoes latched onto each other sending her flying onto the ground. This time though, instead of landing on her suitcase, she landed on her tripod and the handle went straight into her neck. As painful as it sounds, I could not hold in my laughter and neither could she.
During my first visit to Iceland, I actually got to witness the Northern Lights at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon so this time we took shifts waking up to check if they were visible. The wind blows over the glacier before hitting the lagoon you'll be camping at so it's safe to say it gets pretty cold. Getting back under the blankets of our camper van after nearly freezing to death would've been worth it, if we actually got to witness the aurora; unfortunately, we did not.
Day 6: Diamonds, Waterfalls & Black Beaches
Today is possibly the most important and busiest of the entire trip so try to wake up in time for sunrise. Diamond Beach looks very different early in the morning with the sun beating down on the scattered, glistening icebergs. Did you know that these icebergs were once part of the major glacier? After breaking off, they float around in the glacier lagoon which was also the result of the glacier melting. Some of the smaller glaciers get pushed out onto the sea and then get washed up on the beach. The size of the lagoons serve as powerful reminder of global warming and the rate at which these glaciers are melting. It is earth's plea to mankind to wake up and realize the damage that we have done... will anyone head her plead though?
Next, Svinafellsjokull Glacier is worth visiting because it allows you to get pretty close to it without having to book a tour. That being said, you will not be able to actually walk on the glacier. It is a magnificent site and on the way to Skaftafell so definitely stop there.
After enjoying the glacier, head over to Skafatfell National Park where you'll enjoy a beautiful, short hike to Svartifoss. The hike is not technical or physically demanding, we actually saw a couple that couldn't have been younger than 80 on the trail so if you don't think you can do it... shame on you. Here is also where you'll notice the major difference between attractions on the southern coast of Iceland versus the rest of the ring road. The parking lot extends for miles to accommodate all the cars, RVs and tourist buses, you must purchase tickets to enter the park and parking isn't even included. There are toilets, changing rooms and food trucks that will cost you a kidney for a small cup of lobster bisque. Yes, the sites on the south are the most beautiful, but I think I preferred the freedom and silence of the ring road.
Next on the list is Fjadrargljufur Canyon which is around 100 meters deep and 2 km long. What makes it a sight worth seeing is the Fjaðrá river which flows through it. once again, I really wish we had our wide-angle lens and drone to really capture the beauty of this place. Alas, I guess I am going to have to visit Iceland a third time as I believe my photos did not do it justice (my trip was before I got into photography and got my DSLR).
We decided to skip the abandoned plane wreck near the town of Vik simply because it was not abandoned... at all. The plane became a major attraction so the only way you'd get there before the masses is to hike up early before sunrise, we just weren't willing to put in the effort. Instead, we went straight from the canyon to Reynisfjara and the Black Beach. Already accustomed to the black sand from our visit to the beaches north of Hofn, we spent most our time admiring the phenomenal rock formations that were formed through years and years of erosion.
The real treasure here that most people miss is the sunset along the western side of the black beach. It is a short drive up the mountain and the view is definitely worth it. Once again, the photos do not do it any justice whatsoever, but I remember each one of us saying at least once, that it was the best sunset we had ever witnessed.
As promised, this was a day rich with adventures and life-changing memories. Head over to one of the camps at Skogafoss to spend the night. Get a good night sleep with the sound of the mighty waterfall in the background, tomorrow, we climb a glacier.
Day 7: I'm on a Glacier
A trip to Iceland is not complete without getting completely drenched under Skogafoss. Granted you will probably freeze afterwards and get a cold, but you simply must do it. Also, the closer you get, the less tourists in your camera shot. Who needs a morning shower when you're camped right by this waterfall huh?
During my previous trip to Iceland, I signed up for a Glacier Walking tour, which was simply awesome. However, during the hike I saw another group that were not only walking on, but also climbing the glacier and I thought to myself, now that is something I need to do the next time around. So this time, that was exactly what we did. Funny enough, our guide was actually not Icelandic but was Italian. Nevertheless, he pact a ton of cool information about the glacier and kept the climb fun and interesting.
Here are some awesome facts about the glaciers in Iceland:
1. Solheimajokull (the one we were on), part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, actually sits on top of a volcano which is more than 20 years overdue its expected eruption date
2. The danger of this specific volcanic eruption is not the lava and smoke, it is the fact that it will cause the glacier to melt and flood the entire south of Iceland
3. The Vatnajokull Glacier is the largest in the world with an area of 8100 km2, that is more than 10 times the size of New York city
4. The Mýrdalsjökull glacier is the fifth largest in the world and more than 10 times the size of Manhattan
5. The black ashes that cover the glacier act as an insulator and protect the ice from melting
6. September 7th, 2017, a Glacier Climbing tour agency gained a free pair of hiking boots... that Almostafa forgot
After this magnificent tour, make your way back to Reykjavik. It is a long drive so make sure you stop often to enjoy the views of the south coast and take it all in one last time. Spend the night at any camp site before Reykjavik, the closer, the better.
Day 8: Way Down We Go... Into a Volcano
Early in the morning, complete your drive to Reykjavik to return your camper-vans and then take a taxi to the city center. Here, we had our first breakfast in 6 days that was not cooked out of the trunk of a camper van. We then went on a hunt for a clean bathroom in any hotel that would allow us to use it, safe to say we had to split up for this to work. After wasting some time souvenir shopping and checking out the famous Hallgrimskirkja church of Reykjavik, we got picked up for our final tour of the trip... Inside a Volcano.
Iceland is a place of glaciers and volcanoes. Since we climbed a glacier yesterday, it's only right that we enter into a volcano today. Did you know that Iceland is actually the only place in the world where you can enter a volcano? I'm talking about taking an elevator all the way down the crater. This tour is a little bit pricy but boy was it worth it! Firstly, our guide was an awesome Icelandic dude who does this as a part-time gig, he also works as an artist on movie sets and was involved with some big screen productions such as Fast & the Furious and Justice League. He told us all about that scene where Jason Mamoa, AKA Aqua Man, slowly backs away into the water. They filmed that during the dead of winter, the water was close to freezing and yet, Jason didn't even flinch... what a boss!
It was also interesting to learn that although volcanic eruptions cause a black, ash cloud to cover most of the European continent, Iceland is probably the least negatively effected because the cloud clears up faster; moreover, the minerals from the eruptions help native species strive and enriches the lands. For the Kaleo fans out there (if you don't them, make sure to check out this awesome Icelandic band), this is the same volcano that they shot 'Way Down We Go' in. I was shocked to discover that they had to film that overnight because the Icelandic government refused to close off the volcano to tourists for a day. They actually had to bring down all their equipment, shoot the video and then take it all back out before opening time. Lucky for them, the acoustics inside the volcano were perfect, they did not need to do much to the production to get the awesome result that you'll now find on Youtube. There are tons of other interesting facts that you'll learn about volcanos, their formations and most importantly, the unique things that you'll only get to see when you're all the way down. Photography inside the volcano is very tricky because of the lighting, the picture below is of the opening that the lava actually shot out from!
After the tour, we got dropped off back at Reykjavik where we concluded the trip with a delicious dinner at The Steakhouse. This restaurant is a little higher on the price scale and reservations are often needed, especially on weekends. However, their combination platter of horse and whale steak is a must-try, after all, you cannot leave Iceland without trying their delicacies.
Believe it or not, I am already counting down the days until I visit Iceland again, I guess two times still aren't enough. There is just something special about that country that you'll only udnerstand once you visit it. So what are you waiting for? Book a flight, an RV and go Grasp the Adventure already!