I met Jasmine in college and we instantly clicked and bonded over our shared military brat experience. Our eagerness to escape our comfort zones and willingness to engage in various cultures, as well as travel the world were the keys to our connection.
This past April I had the trip of a lifetime to the glorious and eternally beautiful Iceland. For the past 4 years my friend Garyn and I have traveled together during our spring break. Around December we were considering Belize or Panama for our next destination. I went home for Christmas break and met up with my college friend Josh. We had always talked about travelling together and after a few hours on Sky Scanner. We had determined the best bang for our buck would be Iceland. After some furious texting, consensus was reached, and we booked our tickets, $370 round trip with insurance.
- Sky Scanner is one of my favorite flight booking websites because it allows you to put in dates and find the cheapest flights anywhere in the world.
- If you are flying to Europe fly Iceland air because you can get a week long layover for FREE!
- Iceland is incredibly expensive. Buy any alcohol Duty Free in the airport or put them in water bottles to save money
After a relatively quick flight over (5 hours) we landed and rented a car. We drove into the city of Reykjavik and searched for a breakfast spot. We landed upon a cute cafe downtown where we tried traditional Icelandic cuisine such as mashed fish and rye ice cream. I was struck how delicious and fresh the food was.
We wandered around the town square saw a viking impersonator, walked to some coffee shops, and visited a bookstore or two. In an attempt to save money we walked to a grocery store, bought supplies for sandwiches and dinner for the next couple of days. We finally checked into our guesthouse and passed out for the next 6 hours. We woke up in time to make spaghetti with under cooked ravioli. Then made our way to the bus stop for the event of the evening. The Northern lights! They were freezing and glorious.
- If you rent a car you can travel to Þingvellir National Park independently and save $75 per person
- Download the northern light app so that you are prepared, you can also get an app that will let you know the forecast of the lights!
- Bring snacks with you and grocery shop as much as you can
- Stock up on groceries if you decide to travel further north or south east, grocery stores are rare. Our personal favorite was Bonus. Keep in mind while grocery stores are cheaper than eating out, we still spent a little under $100 on roughly 4 meals for 3 people.
Exhausted from the previous night, we slept in enjoyed our complimentary breakfast complete with coffee, Skyr (Iceland’s unique Yogurt), jam, boiled eggs, bread, and waffles! We took off for a tour of the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is comprised of three stops. We decided to be brave and attend a local church considering it was Easter Sunday. We found the experience incredibly rewarding. The giant pipe organ, angelic choir, and interesting architecture, made to mimic the natural formation of Icelandic cliffs, completed the experience.
The first stop was Þingvellir national park, which is famous for two reasons: one is because it was one of the many locations where Game of Thrones was filmed and arguably more importantly it is location of where the tectonic plates between North America and Europe meet. It is very common for people to go snorkeling or diving between the plates. The craggy cliffs, crystal clear abundant waterfalls due to the run off from the glaciers water was surreal.
Gullfoss waterfall was the next stop. I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed by the roaring water and bitter cold. We stayed for a few photos then ran back to the car. Yes, that’s ice.
Last but not least, we got to see the erupting geyser Strokkur (and the geyser Geysir, where the word originates from. However, Geysir no longer erupts). We timed perfectly and got a few picturesque shots before heading back into town to cook dinner and pass out from excited exhaustion.
We left Reykjavik to head out to the quiet town of Selfoss. Sometimes I hear people make jokes about how the weather in Texas is unpredictable. Iceland is the boss of unpredictable weather. We started off our day driving through a blizzard only to run into the sun a few hours later.
We stopped off at the Kerid Crater and fantasized about going for a summer swim in the quiet clear water.
Due to the recommendation of a few friends we decided to stop off at Fridheima a green house with a focus on tomatoes, in many different forms. The greenhouse is powered completely by clean energy and instead of pesticides they have a small fly from the Netherlands that keeps the bad bugs at bay. We enjoyed unlimited tomato soup and bread for a little under $20 our cheapest meal in Iceland!
The rain prevented us from exploring too much but we did figure out some fun things to do in Selfoss including visiting the beach, the Bobby Fisher museum, and enjoying a rich cup of hot chocolate along with a slice of traditional Icelandic Happy Marriage cake.
We headed out from the quiet Selfoss towards the coastal town of Vik.
This was probably my favorite day of adventures and chasing waterfalls. The first was Urridafoss, a picturesque waterfall with a wide river.
Next up, Seljandsfoss. We were able to climb up the side and walk behind the waterfall getting completely drenched in the process! I was appreciative I had over packed and brought more multiple waterproof boots and a raincoat. I wish I had brought multiple pairs of thick wool socks as well.
We continued the dream by going to the Dyrholaey arches where we had a breathtaking panoramic view of the glacier, black lava sea stacks and endless black coastline. Dyrholaey literally means the “the hill island the door hole”. Finally we concluded the day by going to the Reynisfjara black sand beach. We entered the beach to the theme song of Game of Thrones on repeat. The gray skies and harsh waves created a scene worthy of the adventures embarked upon by Davos Seaworth.
We left Vik ready for the most epic day of hiking yet. We headed to the waterfall of Skógafoss. Possibly one of my favorite parts was climbing to the top of the waterfall and following the Fimmvorduhals Hiking Trail along the River above Skógafoss Falls. We didn’t stick to the trail and often found ourselves completely alone with the rolling hills, flowing rivers, and rushing water. It felt like we were in a fairy tale.
We spent the second half of the day hiking the in the Snæfellsjökull National Park. Originally made famous by Jules Verne after he described it in the novel A Journey to the Center of the World – Chapter 4 “That is Snaefellsjokull a mountain about five thousand feet in height, one of the most remarkable in the whole island, and certainly doomed to be the most celebrated in the world, for through its crater we shall reach the centre of the earth.” While we did enter the earth we hiked to the base of a waterfall and stood at the foot of a glacier which lies above a volcano. Unfortunately due to global warming the glacier is estimated to melt within 50 years. This added a surreal element to the experience. We were witnessing a majestic beauty that may not exist by the time our grandchildren are old enough to visit.
The last day we visited the glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón bordering Vatnajökull National Park in southeastern Iceland. The baby blue water glittered with ice that had broken off from the surrounding Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, part of larger Vatnajökull Glacier. The lagoon runs through a short waterway into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving ice on the black sand beach. We were even to witness a seal popping up for air. We spent the remaining portion of the day driving back to Keflavik. Let me pause for a moment and mention two things about the Icelandic people. 1. Everyone speaks English. EVERYONE. 2. They are some the nicest people I have ever met. While looking for our guesthouse we accidentally walked into the home of complete stranger only to have her congenially point us in the right direction. Nobody stared and everyone was helpful and eager to share their community and culture with us. I was seriously impressed and in awe of their hospitality and kindness.
Our last day in Iceland was spent in a fantasy. It was the realization of every mermaid fantasy. We were able to go the mythical Blue Lagoon whose name is derived from the way the silica reflects in the sunlight . The geothermal water originates 2,000 meters below the surface, where freshwater and seawater combine at extreme temperatures. Year round the temperature varies between perfect and even more perfect (98-104°F), it felt like a warm bath that never got cold. The water featured three active ingredients – Silica, Algae & Minerals. We found a a perfect enclave where we made our own rock pillows and took a relaxing nap while digging our fingers into the soft gooey algae and silica. After a quick shower we headed for the airport not yet ready to say goodbye to the island that had claimed our heart.
According to the Atlantic “In one 1998 survey, 54.4 percent of Icelanders said they believed in the existence of elves.” There is something truly unique and magical about Iceland. Perhaps it’s the untouched beauty not yet diminished by tourists, fantastical landscapes, or perhaps its simply it’s allure to both the Kardashians and hipsters alike. The raisin at the end of the hotdog is an icelandic phrase (Það er rúsínan í pylsuendanum) it refers to something wonderful or unexpected that happens. Every moment on this mystical island was unexpected and wonderful. Iceland is an magical escape for anyone willing to jump into an adventure, just follow the waterfalls.