Have you ever wanted to travel to the moon, but can't find yourself an available spaceship? Go to Iceland.
At the end of one summer July, I boarded a plane to the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. WARNING: this is the easiest Icelandic name to pronounce on this page. Repeat after me. RAKE-ya-vick.
I arrived at my "newly refurbished room downtown," courtesy of a very sweet Airbnb host, Daniel. I forgave Daniel for trying to get me to eat rotten shark on the first day once he let me borrow his tent for a few days while traveling the Ring Road. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to arriving at the Airbnb. The couple in the room before me was packing up to leave when we got to talking. SURPRISE! They were from the town next to where I lived at the time. Just your average small world story.
The Golden Circle
While it's popular to stay in Reykjavik and pay for tours to get around to the major tourist sites, I decided to rent a car and drive to my destinations instead. One of the most popular tours is The Golden Circle. This 190 mile route includes Gullfoss, one of the many enormous waterfalls in Iceland, Pingvellir National Park, and Strokkur, a geyser that shoots up over 50 feet about every 8 minutes.
I made our first mark in Pingvellir National Park. No really... I had to pee so bad that I decided to "mark my territory" if you know what I mean. At least the group of people that spotted me had a good laugh about it. Sorry for spoiling our reputation, fellow Americans. Thankfully you can always count on Iceland to have a beautiful waterfall near by to distract people in moments like these.
Continuing on to Gullfoss and then Strokkur, I was fascinated by the lack of patrol, restrictive ropes, and warning signs. It was just... nature and I... and it was incredible.
Raise your hand if you've heard of the Blue Lagoon. HINT: Everyone should be raising their hand if you just read the title of this section. Now put that hand on the keyboard in front of you and order your tickets to Iceland because you need to go to the Blue Lagoon.
This magical place, also known as a geothermal spa, contains bright blue water that is filled with silica, algae, and minerals and stays at about 100ºF, you know, that body temperature you would fake to get out of high school. About 70 American dollars and 1 required shower later, I enjoyed the pool for four hours. Included in my package was the use of a soft bathrobe, towel, a drink of my choice at the pool side bar, a skin care trial pack, an algae mask, slippers, and a reserved table at the restaurant on-site built into a lava cliff, called LAVA.
This was the only lava I was interested in seeing, as the next day I would be descending 400 feet into a volcano that erupted 4,000 years ago.
Inside the Volcano
Thrihnukagigur volcano is the only volcano in the world that you can go inside of. You better believe that “being inside of a volcano” became my fun fact at all work events for the next year.
The tour, called Inside the Volcano, begins with a 45 minute hike and a tour guide that stops the group along the way to divulge fun facts about Iceland. Like did you know parts of Batman Begins, James Bond: Die Another Day, and Game of Thrones were filmed in Iceland? Yeah, me either.
While I was gearing up to take the open elevator down the craters opening for a six minutes ride (think: what window cleaners use to clean the side of tall buildings), I was given soup and water. I received a tour bonus when a baby arctic fox decided to say hello. This was especially cool before I began my road trip around the Ring Road where the only animals I would see for miles were horse, sheep, or cow.
The Ring Road
After returning from my trip and sharing stories with my friends and family, the phrase “I went around Iceland” needed a little explanation. Most thought I meant “I went around Iceland, ya know, checked out different places here and there.” What I really meant was, “I literally drove 828 miles around the country of Iceland, traveling on the road named Route 1, popularly known as the Ring Road.”
There’s a few things you should know about driving on the Ring Road. One. Be prepared to stop every five minutes to gawk at the beautiful scenery. Nine times out of ten you will take out your phone to snap pictures, only to remember that you’re in the middle of Iceland and probably have no service. Two. Do you hate waiting at red lights? Worry no more. On the Ring Road there are traffic circles instead. Think: Ring Around the Rosy, vehicle style. Three. If you go in July like I did, the sun doesn’t set until close to midnight and rises again between the morning hours of three and four. You’ll never have to miss out on the spectacular views* of active volcanoes, icebergs, or waterfalls. Shotty driving the night shift!
*Full disclosure: The sunlight makes it near impossible to see the northern lights during that time of year.
Black Sand Beach
Rangárþing eystra is home to Skógafoss Waterfall. With a width of about 80 feet and a drop of about 200 feet, Skógafoss takes your breath away. I must have been deprived of oxygen for too long when I decided to climb up the side of it. Needless to say that was a bit dangerous, but I wouldn’t go back and change it for anything. While some people were going behind the waterfall, I was on top of it and I felt like I was on top of the world.
That night we set up camp in Skaftafell. This region of Iceland is a mix of vivid green mountains and jagged topped glacier mountains. After capturing the aesthetically pleasing landscape on my camera and in my mind, I packed up camp and hiked to Svartifoss Waterfall. Slow cooling black lava formed black pillars around this waterfall, leaving it with the name Black Fall. I blended right in since typically all of my clothes are black.
Continuing with the theme, Mýrdalshreppur is where I walked along a black sand beach. Fun fact: This black sand beach is the setting of Rogue One’s planet Eadu. Think: Star Wars.
Waterfall of the Gods
“ICEBERG, RIGHT AHEAD!” Probably the most overused movie quote in Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon where you can witness icebergs cracking as they crash into each other and break off into mini-bergs. While others took some of the many tours offered, I watched the Arctic Tern (in simple terms, seabirds) dive into the cold water for food. These birds and I had a lot in common because I was hungry too.
Next stop, I drove over to Höfn for some langoustine. Think: mini lobsters. I had to fuel my body before taking on waterfalls Dettifoss and Selfoss. Dettifoss is said to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. While there is nothing I appreciate more than untouched nature such as here, as the rocks vibrated underneath my feet just inches from the edge, I gained a new level of understanding for caution signs and barriers.
Guess where I went next? To another huge waterfall! One just as breathtaking as the last. This beauty was called Goðafoss, pronounced GO-thuh-foss and translated to Waterfall of the Gods.
After driving through Dalabyggð, I arrived in Stykkisholmur. In preparation for one of my favorite days, I bought a ferry ticket for the next day and reserved a bed in a hostel I found once I arrived. Tip: don’t book your nights along the Ring Road too far in advance. With the exception of my stay in Reykjavik, all of my hotel and hostel stays were booked on the road. I would often get “last minute” deals as I just needed the bed for a few hours and a place to shower.
The next morning, I took the ferry to Flatey Island to see puffins. Think: black and white bodied birds, like penguins, but with colorful beaks like toucans, only shorter. Beginning my walk along the island’s single road in search of the puffins led us to climb aboard a shipwreck, run away from dive-bombing birds, and fall in love with puffins. It was one emotional rollercoaster, but I was relishing my last moments in Iceland.
After this it was back to Reykjavik before home.
See you later, Iceland
Back in Reykjavik, I walked around town feeling accomplished knowing I successfully drove around the island of Iceland.
A few more tips before I shut up and give you time to book your own adventure to Iceland. Don’t exchange too much money because credit cards are widely accepted. Note: Discover isn’t taken everywhere. Tipping is not a widespread custom in Iceland. Although appreciated, it is not expected. English is spoken almost everywhere.
Be safe, have fun, and enjoy the wonders of Iceland!
Photography by Devin Groody Photography