THIS YEAR'S TRAVEL DESTINATION OF CHOICE....
Many have asked... why Iceland? Allow me to explain :) haha!
First, I feel obliged to debunk some myths. I didn't realize some believe Iceland is freezing and icy, which can be true during the winter months, but it is actually Greenland that is freezing and icy. Iceland is actually quite pleasant in the summer months!
Second, Iceland only cost us $300 per ticket (one way) from SFO to Reykjavik, and we booked it right around January 23rd.
Third, Iceland is known for its insanely vast, green landscapes and jaw dropping scenery. So of course, we had to go!
Our overwhelming thoughts and conclusions:
Iceland's landscapes are 20/10... completely and utterly worth the trip, the rental car...everything. If you are to go to Iceland, that is what you are going for. Period.
There is one thing to mention.... the cost of food, cost of gas, rental car and insurance (all of the things they encourage you to add on to protect your vehicle, because.... insane things happen randomly in Iceland (not a joke we learned - haha!) are expensive! Some of these are things that we had heard about before we left on our trip and were prepared for. If I mention money/dollar amounts, I'm going to mention it in USD just because that is how we thought about everything while we were there. If anyone is curious about Icelandic Krona, the basic gist of it (according to a nice server in Reykjavik) is that you pay about 1 USD for every 100 Krona. That made it easier for us to understand the conversion rate.
Food & costs:
It's not that the food is overall not good. We just felt like the restaurant meals were best in the main city of Reykjavik. Anything in the small town restaurants was very expensive (25+ USD per plate) and we felt that we would rather save the money for something else. We opted for purchasing grocery store foods and snacks for the trip, since we were sleeping and road tripping in our vehicle (more on that later). We definitely had expected some of this to be true, since Iceland is in fact an Island and things are just generally more expensive on an island! Aside from that, Iceland's grocery stores are sort of like a Fred Meyer (Washington folks, ya know??) and they're super cool simply because there is not only a large selection of food, but gluten free and special diet selections were pretty extensive as well (for those who need info on that), and there is also a huge selection of adorable hand-woven baby clothes, wool blankets, and men and women's clothing at almost every place we shopped at!
Cost of gas:
Gas... oh dear gas. It was kind of painful to buy, but.. when in Iceland! You just do it. It was a striking $8/gallon.... simply because they charge by the liter.... and 1 liter of gas was around $1-2 USD.
First of all, we decided to opt for renting a 4x4 vehicle with drop down seats and leg room in the back so that we could sleep in it. After thorough research, we just came to the conclusion that this was the cheapest and most cost affective route. Plus, it was convenient since we did a lot of driving and traveling around. Everything was with us whenever we wanted or needed it. The only stressful thing about renting the vehicle is that there were a lot of warnings about crazy things happening to rental vehicles. The gal at the rent car place was super sweet and patient with us as we changed our minds about the insurance 4-5 times - haha! Adding on insurance just always feels like a gimmick.... like you're losing money somehow. Which, if nothing happens I guess you kind of do... however, we had some peace of mind knowing that if our *door blew off from insane gusts of wind* or some *lava rocks blow up and dent the car or chip the windshield*, it wouldn't cost us $500 (at the very least) out of pocket. Yes, this is apparently all true. Overall, the 5 day rental period cost us about $500 for the basic 4x4 car rental (a Dacia Duster). It was a pleasant ride and plenty of room for sleeping! I researched YouTube video reviews on the vehicle before we rented it.
(But wait.... how did you camp? Did you bring everything with you?)
Alas... the (not so hidden) secret: Camping Rentals!
We rented sleeping bags and fleece blankets at a very reasonable price from a place in the Reykjavik city center called "Iceland Camping Equipment Rental". We returned them on our last day in Iceland. The young people that worked there were incredibly friendly and helpful! We highly recommend them for your rental needs! They rent out anything you could possibly need in Iceland!
Bed & Breakfast for the first night:
Hotel Hilda is where we stayed during our first night in Reykjavik (image below). We were so tired that we wanted to rest up before we headed further down south. You can find info on it here. We rented it for around $130 through Hotels.com
Travel Route, Sight Seeing & Campsites:
On our second night in Iceland, we traveled over to a campground in Selfoss called Gesthus Selfoss. One thing we realized about Iceland is that the campgrounds are incredibly nice. They came out to be around $15/per person, per night ($30 per night for 1 spot, 2 people). They usually have showers available as well as washing machines. After paying for our spot in Selfoss, we took a beautiful back road to the Blue Lagoon for our 9pm reservation (because... it's light out all night in Iceland in the summer!). We stopped along the road at a few different places, including some black sand beaches. I highly advise making reservations for the lagoon ahead of time, because they fill up fast! The Blue Lagoon was incredible. Even though it is considered "touristy", it's a must see! We booked "standard" tickets and it was more than enough for everything we needed. It came with a silica mask at the mask bar in the lagoon. We rented towels for $7 I believe.
After waking up in Selfoss on the third day, we traveled along the main highway (the Ring Road) and stopped multiple times to see things that were practically right off the road (in this order); the Seljalandsfoss waterfall (which was *beautiful!* and has a bunch of smaller waterfalls, hiking spots, and a river with wildflowers running through the land), the Seljavallalaug pool (the pool set into the mountainside) the Skogafoss waterfall (in Skogar), and the viking houses with grass covered roofs (at the Skogafoss museum, and also off the road almost everywhere!). There are plenty of adorable sheep and Icelandic horses to stop and see along the way as well!
On our fourth day there, we traveled to Vik. Vik is a little sailor town with lots of rain, but stunning 360 scenic views. We spent the night there at a place called "Vik Camping". The campsite was a little run down and the ceiling was dripping from the rain when we used any of the facilities. I have to give them a little credit though; they were in the process of construction. The restaurant we ate at that evening was cozy and quaint and sat below a hotel. You have to go to Vik just to see the ginormous cliffs, Vik Myrdal Church (climb the hill there above it for a great 360 view, one of the oldest cemeteries, and wildflowers!), and the black sand beach is nearby which is also incredible. The campsite doesn't have wonderful reviews For certain reasons, but we honestly were just looking for a place to park (because its illegal to pull over and sleep in Iceland)! On that last day, we visited my absolute favorite place out of the entire Iceland trip... Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon! It is a short hike to about 4-5 scenic viewpoints, and the view gets better and better the further up the mountain. It took a short 15 minutes to walk to the very top. Bring a fully charged iPhone or camera. You won't want to miss getting a shot from here. Incredible doesn't do it justice.
On the fifth day, we headed back to Reykjavik, stopped at a few more places off the road for pictures along the way. We saw a couple natural bubbling hot water springs that were smoking so much that the sulfur gas was pouring across the freeway. We had to pull over and go see what was happening of course - haha! That night, we went over to another campsite in Reykjavik called "Reykjavik Campsite". It was here that I "FaceTimed" my parents and we had quite a rough sleep that night. The campsite was very nice and simple. It had many amenities. You could say that it was more like a hostel with a common dining area, communal kitchen with tons of supplies, showers, and washing machines. The reason why it was "rough" was that we didn't realize there would be a hard rock/rap music festival going on less than 1 mile away, and that it was be so loud that it would transmit vibrations to the door handles of our vehicle, thereby causing us to use earplugs which didn't quite block the sound (that's how loud it was!). We both believe that someone complained part of the way through the night and we woke up at midnight to find that the sound level had gone down a bit. Twas an interesting experience. We were both laughing and just flabbergasted at how loud it was and the sound... how it was like if Eminem and Linkin Park had a baby and the result of it was this music. The part about us being tired and just wanting to sleep... not as funny.
And, our last full day in Reykjavik snuck up on us. We were back in Reykjavik on this last day, simply because we wanted to be close to the airport, since we flew out at just midnight the morning after. Since we didn't really have a place booked, on the last day we did a random conglomeration of things... we discovered there was IKEA in Iceland (imagine that! lol - we just didn't think of it I guess), so we went there for a bite to eat and to get out of the rain because it was just downright dumping the entire last day or so we were there. Perfect timing actually. We were very thankful that the rest of the trip we had wonderful weather! We also found a cheap, handy dandy 3-USB Europe charger wall plug (for Italy!) which we were happy about. We did some walking around on the water in Reykjavik, traveled to the mall and sports stores just to see how Icelanders shop (the mall was super nice!), and then drove to drop off the rental car early that evening. The rental car company had an airport shuttle that both picked us up and dropped us off at the same airport. We sat in the airport a little bit early (2 hrs prior to checkin) and charged our devices in this chic coffee shop/juice bar with tasty paninis. Then shortly after were on our way to Italy!
Our time in Iceland flew by, but we both felt like 5 days was a perfect amount of time for us.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll do my best to reply ASAP! :)
Soaking in the Blue Lagoon.
Then alas... we found our favorite thing to eat for breakfast in Iceland, and its a humble little ham and cheese croissant - haha!! What made us even more happy is that the grocery store that handmade them, opened up around 6 am which made us jet lagged people sooooo happy!
Gastropub we ate at on our first night. We shared a tasty burger and a dessert, the total cost was around 40 USD I believe. Food in the city is very decent, just expensive.
I'm diggin the grass roof thang
Hotel Hilda - our Bed & Breakfast on our first night; our bedroom window there on the lower right.
All the colorful townhomes and businesses
I LOVE the architecture here.
The streets of Reykjavik at 4am. We couldn't sleep...
The seating in here was so modern and cozy.
I love how they hung these books for cafe visitors.
The lookout above Fjadrarljufur canyon.
On Black Sand Beach in Vik. Lava pillars in the water behind us. Potential "sneaker waves" to the right. We stayed for just enough time then called it good. Plus, it was pouring rain.
All the neat rock formations from the cooled lava ("columnar jointing")
I found a cool coffee shop inside of a hostel. The hostels in Iceland are super nice.... so nice that they cost as much as hotels (for your own room!).... hence another reason why we went with sleeping in the car! :-)
Secret Solstice (Iceland's equivalent of Coachella here in USA)... we saw this sign the first day we were in Iceland, but had no idea that we would be sleeping next door to it at the Reykjavik Campsite! Haha!
The steamy lagoon.
The "purple giant" - aside from the water costing us money, the flight attendants had the coolest outfits and had wonderful customer service! Very clean flight.
Hanging out at the boarding gate.
Leaving for SFO from the Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa BART station!
We were joking with the name of the airline and how it coincided too well with how we felt about the flying experience. Just kidding... well, let's be real. We paid $300, so we didn't expect much, but our water wasn't even included on this flight. Haha
A tag on an adorable skirt in the mall. 6.499 ISK is equal to about 65 USD.
These large, beastly cars with huge tires can be found everywhere in Iceland. We got a kick out of seeing them. Some of them even appeared to be like normal American small-midsize SUVs with Tonka Truck tires.
Say that 10 times fast. I found out that this one word is actually a sentence.
Road signage on the way to the canyon, Fjardrargljufur. "Rental vehicles without 4WD are not advised to go on this road." We kept driving.
More signage. These signs saved us a little grief. The main road posted below (hwy 1) is the road that takes you completely around Iceland.
Their signage is heart-wrenching and honest. This is one of many signs with "real" things or people involved. Another sign (Miguel took a picture of) is a photo of a woman being swept off her feet by a "sneaker wave" at Black Sand Beach in Vik, Iceland. Vik is beautiful, but the "sneaker waves" are known to take people down and into the ocean fast and without notice.