We Survived Iceland – The Land of Fire and Ice
- published on May 06, 2018
- 7 Comments
Are we landing on Mars?
These were our first thoughts as our Wizz Air flight prepared for landing at the Keflavík International Airport. But, hold your thoughts and emotions if you think these feelings describe Iceland or what you will encounter there. The initial scenery is not even an iota of magic you will witness in your time in this island country. In our 9 days there, we drove through sunlight, rain, hailstorms, and snowfall and we drove by lava fields, volcanic rocks, gravel roads, sea, waterfalls, geysers and craters. It took time to come to terms with the fact that we were still on earth.
Trust me, this exaggerated claim is really necessary to make you understand the uniqueness of this island.
Lets get some facts straight
No doubt, Iceland is an expensive country, but not, if you plan well. In our 9 days / 8 nights there, we spent all in around INR 1,50,000 (including hotels, food, inland travel and sightseeing minus return flight tickets). Few things we realised while planning and along the journey, that can be really helpful in your Icelandic adventure:
We circled the country with the Ring Road : Road no.1 (Check: Journeys of a Lifetime #JOAL)
Most of the Icelandic highlights are either on the road or a small detour from there. We recommend you drive yourself. If you have inhibitions about left hand drive (Honestly I had, because I have never driven left-hand before), take an automatic and not a manual car, be brave and go for it. The roads are fantabulous and there are long stretches where you will drive without another car in sight.
In spring and summer, an automatic 2WD is more than sufficient for the road trip. We rented ours from Blue Car Rental and had a hiccup-less experience. Honestly, I am in love with my automatic Kia Rio and surely planning to buy one once I am back in India.
Everyone one cooks in Iceland, eateries are sparse and excruciatingly expensive. We met people from other European cities and from Asia; everyone cooked their own food. Even the hotel people know this, hence you will have access to shared kitchen or a small kitchenette in your room without fail at every stop. We stocked up on food (fruits, bread, cheese, nachos and cookies) in one of the supermarkets (Netto was our favourite, but there are the likes of Kronan and Bonus as well). A few ready-to-eat packets from India can also be a life-saver if you are craving for vegetarian Indian food.
We did a funny thing while booking our accommodation, and now to think of it, a smart decision. We booked all our hotels from Hotel Aggregator website www.booking.com and sorted all the hotels in Iceland based on prices and selected them based on three factors:
those within our budget
those which fall on the ring road and were convenient 3-4 hours away from each other
those that had traveller rating more than 8/10
You will not believe the excellent options you have at your disposal at around INR 6,000 per night (a few also including breakfast). Please see the map below which summarises our plan and stays.
Our accommodation highlights
Selfoss – Borealis Hotel – Picturesque view from our cottage; serving an amazing breakfast. Even though the season ends in April; Keep an eye out for Northern Lights on clear sky nights; unfortunately we slept through it on our very first night here (and in Iceland). Lesson learnt. :/
Fossatun – Fossatun Camping Pods & Cottages – Cute wooden camping pods set against the troll waterfalls and troll park; perfect place to get you dreaming about a troll wonderland
Akureyri–Town Square Guesthouse – Right in the middle of the town with lot of bars and eateries nearby. Ask for the room with a sofa by the window. Try Akureryi backpackers hostel for a great bargain on drinks and food, try the Thai vegetarian burger and enjoy happy hours before 8 pm)
Vallanes – Mjóanes accommodation – Beautiful cottages by the lake. Delicious home-made Icelandic breads for breakfast baked overnight by the hostess herself
Höfn – Árnanes Country Hotel – Hearty breakfast included; cottages set in a picturesque farm. They are also part of Hey! Icelandic farm stays
Reykjavík – Captain Reykjavik Guesthouse – Cosy apartments in the centre of the town, very close to Laugavegur, the main shopping and eating street
The land of the midnight sun – Well… ALMOST
The sun in Iceland set at 10 pm everyday, which gave us ample daylight to drive. We set out at 8pm post dinner on most days to visit nearby places and were back around sunset. We also loved stopping by to say Hi! to the most handsome horses in the world- the Famous Icelandic horses. Please be careful and rest enough as well, because all sunlight disturbs the body clock little.
A smaller circle before the larger circle
The Golden circle around the National capital region prepped us well for our journey. The Kerið crater (A volcanic crater filled with eye-popping blue water) and the Geysir Geothermal area (the original source for the English word “Geyser”) are wonders of nature that cannot be missed. We also visited the Þingvellir National Park, the only UNESCO listed heritage site in Iceland; also the only place in the world where you can see the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates drifting apart. It’s astonishing thinking about the ongoing drift between the two plates (Mind you, these plates are very lazy and have moved only 70 m in the last 9,000 years)
Chasing the largest mammal on earth
I am a wildlife buff! The whale watching trip from Húsavík, a quaint fishing village in the north of Akureyri, was my most anticipated part of the journey. We chose North Sailing’s Original Whale Watching Tour; as they are one of the pioneers of whale watching in Iceland and their refurbished fishing oak boats fancied us. We set sail and I did not move an inch for the next three hours (Umm...just once, when they were serving hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls). I had my eyes firmly set on the prize and was in day dream mode already; a majestic blue whale swimming right past our boat as I would click innumerable pictures of it. But wild nature had other plans that day. We saw a flock of dolphins and not the largest but the smallest of the whales; “Minke whales” are the smallest whales around. Nevertheless, an experience you cannot miss, as you never know it might just be your lucky day.
A mid-trip natural spa
The first view of the Mývatn Nature Baths left us awestruck; steam oozing out of a very large hot water pool set right beside a volcanic landscape. Imagine experiencing two extreme temperatures at the same time; taking your clothes off in sub-zero temperature and taking a dip in a pool of naturally heated water. Its cosmic, that’s all we can say. ATTENTION: Get a juicy 40% discount on the entry fee if you have a student id card.
The place to experience legit Mars
Lake Mývatn is a hotspot for volcanic activity and we stopped there on our journey down south. It is a very small detour from the Ring Road, where the geothermal heat spells its magic, Hverir. The magma underneath the area heats the ground water and the boiling water / steam comes out on the earth’s surface reacting with hydrogen sulphide in the process showing all sorts of wonders. There are boiling mud pools and the soil is blue, violet, yellow, orange and green; its like rainbow on earth. An absolute sight to behold.
Diamonds on the black beach
Basically, the south east part of Iceland is a huge chunk of ice, huge is an understatement as it (Vatnajökull Glacier) covers about 8% of the island’s total area and is the largest glacier mass in Europe. One of the outlets for the ice when it melts is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. We stood there and we froze; we could see chunks of ice breaking off from the parent glacier and slowly drifting towards the ocean. And somehow miraculously, some of these take a detour and end up on the beach which is filled with volcanic black sand. These sparkling objects look like diamonds scattered on the beach. Phew!! I spent a lot of time, setting these mini-icebergs on their right path; but they were too HEAVY for me.
Be alert: A herd of reindeers could photo bomb you anytime. For the first time, we saw reindeers jumping around the wilderness.
A Night-out in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is known for its sophisticated night-life and we surely wanted to get a taste for it. Try Bravó, a popular pub in the centre with probably the longest happy hours in town (1100 to 2100 everyday). Goto Noodle Station for wholesome noodle soups (vegetarian available) and Svarta Kaffid for traditional Icelandic soups (vegetarian available) served in an eatable bread bowl and with unlimited refills. For the shopaholics out there, if you want to buy anything Icelandic wool and hand-knitted in Iceland, look no further than the Handknitting Association of Iceland shops very near Laugavegur, as they say “buy directly from the people who make them”
The country’s mysticism gets to you
Iceland is a land of great stories and beliefs; one such belief is of Elves and Trolls. Over 80% of the Icelandic population believes in them! And somehow unexplainably, this mysticism gets to you, surely it got to us. Throughout our journey, both of us were so engrossed in the Icelandic folklore that we kept imagining every natural wonder we saw as part of a parallel world of trolls and elves that exists in this island. That’s how dreamy we became travelling through this God-made wonder. You can only experience it to believe it.
You must visit Iceland once in your lifetime.
Now it is time for some sun and beaches. Hola! Espana. Here we come. Catch us in Barcelona guys.