I had been planning my second trip to Iceland ever since the first one – the places I’d return to, the sites I’d make time for that I had previously missed, the method of getting around, what time of year, and so on. Nearly every site in Iceland is the kind of place that would be a highlight anywhere else, so while I liked the idea of having no real plan and no reservations, I ended up doing plenty of research and mapping out the coordinates of everywhere I wanted to go. We still had no reservations, so there was flexibility if we wanted it, but I also appreciated having a plan to sort of guide us along the way. Overall, it turned out fantastic, but below are the real high points for us, and the things that were better in thought than in practice.
When looking back at this trip, the moments that stand out in my mind the most are the ones where we got away from the crowds. While Iceland is no New York City or Paris, it does have its fair share of tourists these days, and crowds of people are not what you’re looking for when you’re taking in beautiful landscapes and nature. The first place we visited that gave us that wonderful combination of solitude and that “WOW” kind of beauty was…
Aldeyjarfoss – A stunning blue waterfall being forced through a narrow opening between tan basalt columns. The contrast of colors here, the rather barren surroundings, the cool rock formations made this just a truly unique waterfall. It was a long detour to get there which deterred most people, so we got to just sit directly across from it and enjoy its magnificence. The beautiful sunshine we had that day didn’t hurt either.
Continuing clockwise, the rest of the highlights were…
The East Fjords – I 100% fell in love with the fjords. Seyðisfjörður was an idyllic little town, Mjóifjörður offered the most stunning views and weather the whole way through, and just zig-zagging through, driving along the coast through the fjords was heavenly. Where mountains and ocean meet, magic happens. Dreams of spending my summers in Mjóifjörður or Seyðisfjörður will be following me for quite awhile, I expect. They also made me feel like I need to come back to see the Westfjords next!
Jökulsárlón – The only real touristy place on this list, and I think part of it was due to low expectations. Jökulsárlón was pretty “meh” to us the first time we visited. It had been overcast and dreary and the shoreline was packed with photographers and their tripods. This time, the sun shone brilliantly on the ice, seals were swimming around, and it was just so much more spectacular than we had remembered. A pleasant surprise.
Þakgil – Absolutely, the best campground I can imagine. As with most of our favorite sites, I almost decided to not go due to the effort in getting there. I was sick, and we had to drive about an hour on a rough gravel road over a mountain with the wind howling in order to get there. But the views the entire way were out of this world, and once we reached the peaceful little valley, the sun shone and the wind calmed. We hiked through flowers and berries and across streams to climb up and get a view of the area. The campground was beautiful and had a neat little kitchen in a cave. It was my happy place.
Kvernufoss – We almost didn’t find this waterfall. Through persistence and luck, we just happened to find the river that eventually led us the rest of the way, all the while Anthony was teasing me about trying so hard to find just yet another waterfall in Iceland. But then we reached it, and we had it completely to ourselves, and it was just beautiful. It slammed into the rocks underneath it, the sound almost deafening close to it. There was a little path behind it, but even being 50 feet in front of it, we were getting soaked. There are countless spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, but Kvernufoss was my favorite of them all.
Gjáin – There was nothing specific here to just blow you away, but as soon as I looked over the edge down into this little waterfall-and-river-filled valley, it felt like a special place to me. An easy place to explore and enjoy the natural world. It would be a fabulous spot for a picnic on a nice day, listening to the water flowing around you and the birds chirping.
What I Would Do Differently
Sleeper Car – This one pains me to say because I adored our little Jimny, and the top tent was such a fast and easy solution to camping. However, the top tent somehow leaked during the day causing us to have a sopping wet mattress a few nights. While I still don’t think we would have wanted to spend the time putting up and tearing down an actual tent every day, I think having a bigger vehicle with a mattress inside to sleep would have been nice.
Bring a Hairdryer – I always try to pack light when traveling, and while camping around Iceland, this seemed even more of a necessity. I rarely even blow-dry my hair in my day-to-day life, so why would I think I needed to while living out of a car?! Thus, the hairdryer stayed home. After my first shower while camping, though, when I had to go sleep in my cold top-tent with wet hair, I realized my mistake. I skipped washing my hair for, like, four nights after that, and any of my fellow ladies with fine blonde hair will know that that’s a big deal. Some of the public pools/paid hot springs do have hairdryers provided in the bathrooms, so if you find those, you’ll be ok. I didn’t realize this until the end, though. But at least I did bring dry shampoo which was a life saver.
Do a Tour – To be fair, I did try to do a tour. I had booked a helicopter ride for us as an elaborate present to ourselves, but the weather didn’t work out either of the days we were in Reykjavik. I think having something to break up the drive-hike-camp routine is a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, the drive-hike-camp routine is a great one in Iceland, but it’s still nice to have something different to do at some point on your trip, whether that’s snorkeling or horseback riding or whale watching.
I loved this trip. Iceland is beautiful and interesting, and we had a good amount of adventure. I think the most important thing when planning a similar one is to have some flexibility in your schedule, pack plenty of layers and water-proof gear, and be prepared by checking the weather and road closures every day. Things will almost certainly go wrong as they tend to do while traveling, but just adjust and enjoy!!