Tag Archives: Iceland road trip

A road trip in shoulder season….Iceland

There is a very good reason Iceland, with a population of about 330k people, had 1.8 million international visitors in 2016 (Iceland Tourist Board).  It is unlike any other place I have visited.  With majestic waterfalls, the original geyser, bubbly hot springs and bright blue icebergs washing up on black sand beaches, Iceland offers unique scenes that impress and awe its visitors.  That being said, it is not all scenic and natural like you might imagine, or conclude from the massive amounts of gorgeous pictures to follow.  Massive deforestation began with the Vikings, and continued as land was needed more and more for sheep grazing, an important food source. The forests that do still exist are few and far between, making it necessary to import wood from hundreds of miles across the ocean.  Not a cheap task.  Iceland continues to lose more vegetation due to wind erosion, making it even harder to reforest.  Iceland also hosts 3 aluminum smelters that depend on massive amounts of cheap hydro and geothermal power to provide enough energy to extract aluminum from imported alumina.  While they do use renewable energy, a multitude of environmental impacts make it a controversial industry.

Despite these issues, Iceland’s tourism industry is booming and it is evident that it could spiral out of control quickly.  A large part of the appeal of Iceland is that many of the main attractions are right along the ring road, are free and relatively easy to reach.  Small buses ply around the ring road dropping off small hordes of people to quickly snap their Instagram-worthy shot before being shuttled to the next attraction.  The Icelanders are fed up with their antics.  Tourists are not respecting the landscape and a few even died this year while straying off the marked paths.  Public pooping has even become a big problem.  We witnessed first-hand a lot of poor behavior, ranging from flying drones in clearly marked no-fly zones, to getting dangerously close to the edges of waterfalls.  To combat this, some of the sites have started charging for parking.  I’m guessing they will use some of the revenue to construct more barriers and signs to try to control the flow of tourists.  However, this may not be the best approach.  They are preparing to attract more tourists, but not the right kind.  They should be focused on the tourists who want to experience Icelandic life and culture, those that want to preserve the wilderness, not trample all over it.  In this way, they may be able to prevent the “Disneyland” effect that is plaguing places like Venice and Barcelona.  Perhaps they can follow Costa Rica’s example and focus on sustainable tourism.

Our 14 day itinerary can be found at Iceland in Two Weeks – Itinerary and Tips , but basically we started in Reykjavik and headed north to the Westfjords and then continued on the ring road clockwise, with a detour in the diamond circle and and day trip into the highlands. Here is a great map with lots of points of interest that you can even customize through Google maps: 14 day Iceland Itinerary Map. We skipped the Blue Lagoon, as it sounds like it has become a major tourist trap and certain members of our group don’t have the attention span to soak lazily in the water when there are photographs to be taken elsewhere.  Its also insanely expensive.  We managed a few hot pots instead (for free) and you can easily visit the local swimming pools in many towns.

Riki’s Favorite Photos

It was a fabulous trip, where we didn’t think we could see something cooler, until the next day, when we did.  Seals were the highlight for me. Riki obsessed a bit about capturing the Northern Lights.  And the sheer amount of beautiful scenery was astounding.  Hopefully, it will stay that way.

Iceland Map - Original

 

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On the way to Snaefells
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Some trees
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Raudfeldsgja Gorge
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Inside Raudfeldsgja Gorge
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Just outside Raudfeldsgja Gorge

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Saga Statue of Bárður Snæfellsás in Arnastapi
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Öndverđarnes lighthouse on Snaefells peninsula
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Washed up dolphin
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Kirkjufellsfoss with Kirkjufell Mountain beyond
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Kirkjufell Mountain
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Stykkishólmur harbor
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Stykkishólmur harbor
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Súgandisey Island Lighthouse in Stykkishólmur
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Into the Westfjords
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Westfjords rock formations
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Westfjords coastline
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Brjanslaekur harbor, West Fjords
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Birkimelur hot tub
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Westfjords – view from our guesthouse
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Westfjords church
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Westfjords waterfall
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Garðar BA 64 near Patreksfjörður
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Garðar BA 64 near Patreksfjörður
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Patreksfjörður harbor
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Westfjords
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Westfjords
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Rusty tractor east of Bíldudalur in Arnarfjörður
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Sheep crossing in Westfjords
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Family photo at Dynjandi waterfall
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Dynjandi waterfall
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Winding roads crossing the Westfjords
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Westfjords near Ísafjörður
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Seals at lowtide in Hestfjörður
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Wink, wink.
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Happy seal
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Fish ladder in the Westfjords
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Abandoned (?) house in the Westfjords
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Caution: Birds.
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Icelandic sheep
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Icelandic horse

Back on the ring road.

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Northern lights in Laugarbakki
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Seals on Vatnsnes peninsula
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Low tide at Hvitserkur on the Vatnsnes peninsula in the pouring rain
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Wind on the Vatnsnes peninsula
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Basalt fortress of Borgarvirki
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Windy on top of Borgarvirki fortress
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Víðimýrarkirkja
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Bumpy road on the way to Akureyri
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Akureyri – Iceland’s second largest city. Pop. 18,000
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Goðafoss
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Goðafoss
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Bracing the wind
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Sunny day at Mývatn
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Lava fields of Dimmuborgir near Mývatn
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Lava holes of Dimmuborgir
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Mývatn scenery
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Lava near Mývatn
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Lava road near Mývatn
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Hverfjall crater
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Hverfjall crater
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Walking the edge of Hverfjall crater
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Inside the Grjótagjá cave, Game of Thrones filmed a steamy scene here
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Blue Lake near Mývatn
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Steam along the Blue Lake near Mývatn
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Hverir geothermal area with sulphurous mud springs, steam vents, cracked mud and fumaroles
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Hverir geothermal area
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Hverir geothermal steam
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“Riki, are you done taking photos? It stinks here!”
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Sputtering mud at Hverir
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Krafla Crater near Mývatn
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Leirhnjukur geothermal area near Mývatn
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Lava fields of Leirhnjukur near Mývatn
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Húsavík church
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Húsavík street art
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Húsavík harbor
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Ásbyrgi canyon
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Hafragilsfoss just below Dettifoss
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Jökulságljúfur canyon
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Dettifoss
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Rainbow in Jökulságljúfur canyon at Dettifoss
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Above Dettifoss
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People getting way too close to the edge at Dettifoss
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Common road sign
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Yellow fields in East Iceland
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East Iceland
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Seydisfjordur – where the ferry from Denmark lands
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Unique house painting in Seydisfjordur
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Whooper swan crossing
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Last day of reindeer season in the eastern Highlands

Reindeer are non-native and there is a fixed number that are shot every year.  We spotted these hunters in the highlands in the east.  They half-joked that reindeer is the most expensive meat because the permits cost $700-1250 depending on the gender. And you have to hire a guide as well.  We also visited the East Iceland Heritage Museum in Egilsstaðir which houses an interesting exhibit on reindeer.  We saw a mink, another non-native species and Riki and I glimpsed an Arctic fox, the only native land mammal in Iceland.  Seals don’t count I guess, even though they seem to spend quite a bit of time on the beach.  Otherwise, it was a whole lot of sheep, some horses, and a spattering of birds.

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The exactness of these signs was very amusing
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Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach
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Smooth rocky beach at Hvalnes Nature Reserve
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Horse near Höfn
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Sometimes the roads suck
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Our first live reindeer
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Jökulsárlón icebergs
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Iceberg in Jökulsárlón
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Icebergs on the beach near Jökulsárlón
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Fjallsárlón glacier lake
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Edge of Fjallsárlón
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On the way to Skaftafell National Park
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Svartifoss in Skaftafell
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Wind so strong the waterfalls were defying gravity
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Road to Fjaðrárgljúfur gorge
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Fjaðrárgljúfur gorge
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Black sand at Reynisfjara Beach near Vik
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Skógafoss in the pouring rain
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Steinahellir Cave covered in moss
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Seljalandsfoss in the rain
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Rain parted on our way to Geysir
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Stokkur geyser moments before erupting

 

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Stokkur geyser erupting
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Stokkur geyser – my first GIF
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Gullfoss
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Reykjavik
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Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik
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Geese in Reykjavik

There were thousands of photos taken on this trip between my parents, Riki and me.  For more, check our Riki’s photo site at Riki’s Photo Website

 

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Iceland in Two Weeks – Itinerary and Tips

Our two week Iceland road trip planning began months before our September flight.  Iceland was expected to have 2 million visitors in 2017.  Even though we decided to go after the high season, I read that accommodation can still be difficult to find as there just isn’t enough for all the people coming to Iceland.  Thus, by June I had already booked our accommodation, flights and car.  That was no easy feat, as we weren’t willing to spend an arm and a leg, nor were we willing to rent a camper van and rough it for two weeks.  In the end, the accommodation dictated our itinerary.  I tried to space our lodgings out by about 4 hours drive according to Google Maps.  I thought this would be a reasonable amount to drive each day, with plenty of stops in between.  I quickly discovered that 4 hours on the map can be up to double that depending on the road conditions, the quality of the scenery and opportunities for photos.

I decided to travel clockwise from Reykjavik (Point 12) so that we could be in the West Fjords (Points 2 & 3) earlier and hopefully get better weather, as it can get colder there before the south.  We stuck pretty much to the original itinerary, until the last few days, when the weather took a turn for the worse and we had to skip the Westman Islands (Bed icon between Points 10 and 11) due to gale force winds and the ferry potentially being cancelled.

TIPS:

  1. Iceland is easy to navigate.  There are not many roads, and some are in less than desirable conditions, but they are well-signed and with the help of a good offline map (we love maps.me– I don’t get any compensation from them) you should have no problem getting around.
  2. We never needed to use cash, but did get a little out at the ATM at the airport just for fun. You can use credit cards everywhere.
  3. We made sure to get gas when we were in big towns, and stocked up on groceries as well, at Bonus and Netto.  We brought a small cooler and ice packs with us as well.  This allowed us to bring perishables in the car, as we never stayed more than one night anywhere, except Reykjavik.
  4. Buy any alcohol you want at the Reykjavik airport duty free shop – it is far cheaper than the little liquor shops, which also have short hours.
  5. Having more than one driver was also key to our trip, as a few of the days were quite long.
  6. I booked all our accommodation on Booking.com (for their refund policy) and AirBNB (for the smaller towns).  This gave me flexibility when some better accommodation did become available closer to our departure.  Book in advance and shop around for car rentals.  I ended up getting a great deal on a 2015 Citroen Berlingo from Northbound/Thrifty for about 82,000 ISK (before insurance and extra driver cost) for two weeks in September 2017. Similar cars from other companies were often twice that.
  7. Every one speaks English. Icelandic words are long and look unpronounceable, but once you know a few of the basics, you can start to decipher the word, though probably never pronounce correctly. Here are a few key phrases that should help:
  • fjörður = fjord
  • vik = inlet
  • foss = waterfall
  • jökull = glacier
  • lón = lagoon
  • á (at the end) = stream
  • vatn = water (often lake)

Even more photos can be found on Riki’s website: Favorite Photos

Iceland Map - Original

 

Our basic itinerary follows:

Day 1: Arrive Reykjavik airport (Pt A, southwest) 8 am.  Pick up rental car and drive to Costco outside Reykjavik.  Drive 191 miles (307 km) to Grundarfjordur (Pt. 1) via Snaefells Peninsula.

Day 2: Drive from Grundarfjordur to Bjarkarholt (Pt. 1 to 2, 194 miles/312 km) with lunch stop in Stykkisholmur. Alternately there is an expensive 3 hour ferry across Breidarfjordur.

Day 3: Bjarkarholt to Isafjordur (Pt. 2 to 3, 129 miles/208 km) with stop at Dynjandi waterfall.

Day 4: Isafjordur to Laugarbakki (Pt.3 to 4, 222 miles/357 km).

Day 5: Laugarbakki to Akureyri (Pt. 4 to 5, north side, 167 miles/269 km) via Vatnsnes peninsula for seal watching.

Day 6: Akureyri to Husavik (Pt. 5 to 6, 92 miles/148 km) via Godafoss and Myvatn.

Day 7: Husavik to Seydisfjordur (Pt. 6 to 7, 170 miles/274 km) via Asbyrgi and Dettifoss.

Day 8: Seydisfjordur to Eskifjordur (Pt. 7 to 8, 46 miles/74 km) with day trip to highlands and Laugarfell for (dead) reindeer spotting.

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Reindeer are very precise about where they cross the road

Day 9: Eskifjörður to Höfn (Pt.  8 to 9, 151 miles/243 km) with stop at Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach.

Day 10: Höfn to Vik (Pt. 9 to 10, 169 miles/272 km) with stops at Jökulsárlón and Skaftafell National Park.  This was a long day due to lack of accommodation in the area.

Day 11: Vik to Birkikinn on the Golden Circle (Pt. 10 to 11, 89 miles/143 km) with stops at Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Hellisheidi power plant, Geysir and Gullfoss.  Our original itinerary included the Westman islands, but due to gale force winds we were forced to skip that.

Day 12: Birkikinn to Reykjavik (Pt. 11 to 12, 74 miles/118 km) with stop at Thingvellir National Park.

Reykjavik
Reykjavik

Day 13 and 14: Reykjavik and surrounding.