Five Days in Iceland: Nature and Adventure Edition
If you have five days to spend in Iceland, I'd definitely recommend heading out on the Ring Road as early and as long as possible.
Since I traveled with a group, we spent a bit more time in Reykjavik than I would have preferred--I would have just spent the morning before my flight home there--but we were an adventurous bunch overall and explored a ton.
In case you're curious, we stayed two nights at Hlemmur Square hostel when we were in Reykjavik at the beginning of our trip and two nights at Frakkur Guesthouse toward the east in Kirkjubaejarklaustur. We finished up with one last night in Hlemmur Square.
If I could do it all again, I'd stay one night at Hlemmur Square, one night west of Vik, one night at Frakkur, and one night further east, then drive all the way back to Reykjavik for one last night at Hlemmur Square.
Book through Hostelworld (I get a small commission and it doesn't cost you any extra!).
Our flight arrived so so early the first morning. Our hostel graciously allowed us access to the lounge upstairs, but we wanted to keep moving so we didn't mess up our sleep schedules too much.
The first stop: the Iceland Phallological Museum. That's right, a penis museum.
It was top of the list for a couple of the other girls, and happened to be across the street from the hostel.
It isn't the most aesthetically pleasing place you'll ever be, but that's to be expected considering the subject matter. It's definitely worth a few laughs.
The Golden Circle
After that, we decided to head outside of the city and get a jumpstart on our natural wonders.
We headed to the Golden Circle to see Gullfoss and Geysir.
Gullfoss is a huge gorgeous waterfall, and I'd definitely recommend hiking all the way out to see it from all angles.
Geysir is the geyser--that is, it's the one all other geysers are named for. There are several geysers there, which erupt with different frequencies. We drove up just as a huge one gout erupted, and our whole car gasped at the same time.
We called it an early night since we were so exhausted.
The next day, we ventured back out of Reykjavik, stopping at Mosfellsbaer (see forthcoming blog post for some archaeological background) for a climb and some photos.
True to Icelandic weather form, it was chilly on the way up the hill, and started immediately hailing as soon as we hit the top.
The one thing we spent money on for this trip was a snorkel tour through Silfra, the continental rift in Þingvellir National Park (which we explored beforehand).
Swimming between the North American and European continental shelves was an amazing experience.
The water was so clear and blue and the view was so pretty I kept smiling so big (which meant I got water in my snorkel--so it's a good thing it's pure delicious glacier water and I could just drink it!).
I'm not the strongest swimmer, but I didn't struggle at all (I was terrified that I would paddle but go nowhere). Move your feet in the circular motion they show you and you'll be just fine.
Be prepared to spit on your goggles--I thought at first that my snorkel guide was messing with me, but it keeps your goggles from fogging up.
It was COLD and hailing so hard I was sure the pieces were leaving marks on my face, but the experience ended with some soul-warming hot chocolate, which is always a plus.
We booked through Extreme Iceland, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Apollo and Zsolti, the two guides, were both so helpful and friendly and had great bar recommendations as well.
After our snorkel tour, we went back to the hostel for a nap and then headed out to the Dubliner, recommended by our snorkel guides, for an evening on the town.
Directly related to our evening on the town, we got rather a late start the next day.
We skipped the Blue Lagoon since we were on a super tight budget and didn't want to spend nearly $100 on a crowded tourist trap. Instead, we headed to the Secret Lagoon--the Gamla Laugin in Flúðir. We spent about $35 each there including renting a towel.
Y'all, I consider myself to be pretty comfortable with myself and my body, so I was surprised at how awkward I felt in the group showers where you must bathe naked IN FRONT OF STRANGERS.
It's for hygienic reasons, but it did rather feel like there was no non-awkward place for my eyes to rest. I basically stared at the ceiling.
Pro-tip: take the top part of your suit off, then put it back on and take the bottoms off to feel less exposed.
Make sure to walk the paths after your dip in the lagoon--the geothermal pools along the paths are boiling hot (so, uh, don't touch them) and beautiful.
After the Secret Lagoon, we headed in search of some waterfalls. We stopped at Seljalandsfoss, which is a huge gorgeous cascade that you can walk behind--and should! The hike is not too strenuous and quite beautiful.
When you've finished with Seljalandsfoss, though, don't go back to the car--keep walking! You'll pass another waterfall, but keep going even further until you reach Gljúfrabúi.
You'll need to walk in the river a bit to get through the cave opening, but there are stones you can stand on if you're averse to wet boots.
This hidden gem is really something special--a waterfall in a cave-like enclosure--and almost nobody from crowded Seljalandsfoss made their way this far, even though it was only half a kilometer from the bigger falls.
At this point, we had to hurry to check into our guesthouse by 9PM (it's owned by a woman and we didn't want to disturb her with a late-night checkin).
It was gut-wrenching to pass all the signs for Reynisfjara and Solheimasandur, etc., but we knew we'd be back the next morning.
This was a mega day. A glorious day. As the driver who did without naps, I can confidently say: a looonnnnggg day.
In the morning we retraced our steps a bit, backtracking to see what we'd passed the day before.
The first stop? The moss-covered lava rocks that went on for acres and acres. It was easy to believe the myths about elves and trolls in a place that looked like that.
Our most important (though ultimately unsuccessful) mission: puffins. We knew there were colonies that settled at Vík and Dyrhólaey, but we were a bit too early for them.
We stopped for perfectly misty photos of the church at Vík before heading on to Reynisfjara.
Reynisfjara is an absolute marvel.
There were many people there, but the sheer raw power of the ocean was majestic to behold. The black sand was stunning. The basalt columns were grim and terrible.
Note: those 'sneaker waves' the signs warn about are no joke. I was just going to set my camera down for a sec when a huge one rushed up so much further than I would have imagined--luckily I was able to snatch my camera back up and no harm done. These waves, if you're not careful, can pull you right into the ocean.
From Reynisfjara, we had a beautiful view of Dyrhólaey, the rock formation.
Dyrhólaey up close was even more amazing (though sadly puffinless). There are so many beautiful vistas at Dyrhólaey, and it's worth climbing every trail to see them all.
In between, we pulled off the Ring Road every time something looked interesting (which I highly recommend). One of the girls wanted to climb a hill into a cave, so we stopped near Mýrdalshreppur so she could.
We stopped at the Solheimasandur Plane Crash, but the parking lot was so packed that we knew we'd be disappointed if we hiked out to it (it's about 4 miles).
At this point, we headed back east, determined to make it to Vatnajökull by dark.
We did not.
But we did see Jökullsárlón and the Diamond Beach and endless lava sand fields that made it feel like we were on the moon.
I can't describe the feeling of standing in front of such a massive, still place.
It was peaceful.
It was therapeutic.
It was meditative.
Okay, apparently I can describe it, but it doesn't capture it.
We made it around 9:00PM, and though the sun wasn't down, it was dark enough that my photos turned out grainier than I could wish.
But that doesn't matter. It was incredible.
We made it back to the guesthouse around 11:30 that night, fell into bed, and determined to head out first thing to the plane crash to see if we could beat the crowds.
Too bad we slept until 9:30AM--but man, I needed it.
We woke up, headed back to the mossy-lava-rock fields to explore some more, and headed all the way back to Reykjavik, stopping anywhere that looked interesting along the way.
Back in Reykjavik, we explored the neighborhoods, looked in vain for restaurant food we could afford (I never want to see another hot dog), did some souvenir shopping, and drank and had late night heart-to-hearts at the hostel.
Our flight left the next morning, so we took back the rental car, crossed our fingers there was no damage (all was well!), and headed to the airport.
I wish I could have spent a whole month in Iceland--but for five days, I think we had an incredible trip.