Iceland, out of this world. And why you should visit now.
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
I feel like I've been to the Moon and Mars. I just came back from Iceland after five days of unforgettable experiences and immediately started drafting this blog on this amazing experience.
Like many other travelers, Iceland was on top of my list of places to visit, but at the same time this destination doesn’t seem to be an attraction for many people so my first challenge was finding who to go with, and honestly I was even considering going there on my own. Finally, two of my best friends were on board to go, it would be a boys trip.
People living in San Francisco and New York City get the chance to travel non-stop with a few low-budget airlines. WOW Airlines was our choice, with non-stop service from SFO to Reykjavik and affordable prices was a great solution to all needs. Splurge a little and upgrade to the comfort seats, you’ll feel more rested once landing and all food and drinks are included on the ticket.
It was the end of September and weather had started to change. Cold wind, rain, temperatures between the 30F’s and 50F’s and with some chances of snow showers. My suggestion is to travel light, but travel smart, bring things that you would need to stay warm, stay dry, be able hike, and be comfortable. Leave all fancy clothes and shoes at home as Iceland is not the place for them. People told me in advance that it is expensive there, and I thought it was somehow exaggerated, but no, it is indeed very expensive, everything, from food to shopping and all.
In all my past trips I had never received as much information from so many people on what to do and what to see like I did for Iceland. For the same reason I didn’t make a solid plan. I had a list of things to do, a wish list, and depending on weather and time we would do them.
That was the best approach. It worked for us because there is so much to do and see on the entire island. And once there we started getting even more suggestions from the locals. Everybody will tell you that their itinerary is the best and that they saw the best waterfall or hot springs on the island, it may be true, but honestly all that we saw was beautiful and anywhere you go you’ll get a great adventure.
I do recommend renting a car, Iceland is such a massive country/island and having a car will help you making your own plans and spending time wherever you feel like. Car rental wasn’t that expensive and you can pick up at the Keflavik International Airport (KEF) which is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik.
On Day 1
We explored Reykjavik, city center and walk on the main street to the Hallgromskirkja cathedral that is hard to miss as you can practically see from anywhere in old town. It is the tallest building in the area and you’ll be able to orient yourself with it. Walking down the street you can find some shops with Viking and Nordic memorabilia as well as souvenirs to take home, expensive. Don’t expect any retail brand names as no shops are located there, only the local stores and souvenirs. Plenty of bars and restaurants and honestly the food was quite good everywhere, try the puffin which is the national bird. At night the same area turns into the nightlife with many pubs, bars and clubs that attract all the Icelandic locals. Tip: They don’t go out to the bars until after midnight as getting there earlier is not the best, it will be dead. All bars will stay open until 5.00am so this is a late-night-party-town. Our favorite bar was B5, a little more sophisticated, great crowd, friendly people and very unique cool European dance-techno music. Drinks are expensive, $20 for a beer and $27 for a cocktail.
On Day 2
Jet-lagging in the morning so our day started later. Jumped in the car, found some food on the way and we decided to head to hot springs. This was a recommendation by our flight attendant and you could tell a lot of locals go there. To get there you need to drive about an hour East and once parked there you need to hike about 45-60 mins to get to the Reykjadalur river and hot springs in Hverageroi, but this was the best reward once getting there. We jumped in the hot thermal water for about an hour and chilled there with some other people while enjoying views of the magnificent mountain range and surroundings. The hike itself was an experience as you climb through rocky mountains to get there with views of mountains, rivers, geysers, nature, horses and not many people around you. You feel the desolation in a beautiful scenery. Go prepared with comfortable walking shoes and swimsuit so you can jump in the hot springs. It was an all day experience and part of the experience was walking and hiking for the most part.
Funny enough people suggested for us to go to Taco Bell as their meat is real, nothing like the American meat, and it was actually very good. Expensive, even Taco Bell is expensive, but after a long hike and thermal rivers it was just another reward at the end of the day.
On Day 3
We headed Southeast, to the Black Sand Beach. It’s about a two hour drive to the beach. Once you park you can see the Nordic sea crashing in the distance and just a vast black volcanic wide path that takes you to the rocky beach. This was a long hike. We thought it would be a short walk to the beach which actually turned out to be a one-hour hike. There is a plane wreckage right at the end and it was just wild to find that there, abandoned, and made me wonder about how that plane got there and if anyone died in it. That was a weird contrast with the tourists smiling and taking selfies there in front of the wreckage. Not sure how I felt about that. Anyway, we continued walking for another ten minutes and got to the shore. Big waves breaking in, it reminded me a little of the Pacific Ocean in Northern California as you can see the beach dropping where the waves break, definitely not a safe place to even touch the water, the sea would take you under and away in a matter of seconds. Wind was strong, waves were fearless and sunset was approaching. It was a one-in-a-lifetime experience. Then, of course another hike back to the car, so an hour later we made it back.
From the black beach Skofagos waterfall is not far from there, only ten minutes west. You can see it from the highway and looks so big from the distance. But once you get closer to it, it looks massive, so much water flowing from the glacier on top of the rocky mountains in the middle of the island. That water was so fresh, so cold and once hitting the ground it was just a humbling experience. At the same time I got so energized by the sound of the water crashing the rocks and splashing everywhere, everything was wet and cold. Such an experience to see that.
On Day 4
Our last day. We felt that we had seen so much and we did, but there was still so much more to see and we ran out of time. The last day was meant to go back to that main street in old town and do some shopping, not a lot because of the prices, but managed to buy a really cool reindeer fur, as they have so many reindeers in Iceland so that was the best souvenir to bring back home. That and wool, there’s so much wool there (and sheeps obviously) that you can get good quality wool products like sweaters and blankets for reasonable prices.
Overall it was a great experience that not only changed the way I see remote places on this planet but also intrigued me even more to explore other remote places like Patagonia, Tierra de Fuego, Alaska. I would definitely go back to Iceland to see more of those exotic waterfalls, landscapes that look like Mars or the moon, black sand beaches that get crashed by big waves from the Nordic Sea and of course the Northern Lights, because this time the weather conditions weren’t the best to see them so that stays still in the bucket list. Best time to see the Northern Lights is between September and April, but all dependent on weather conditions.
This trip just reminded me of our fragile ecosystems on earth and how much we need to pay attention to them and protect them. That’s our responsibility as humans, to preserve this diverse and magnificent planet. Thanks Iceland, stay rough and unique as you are.