Day 1, The arrival, Blue Lagoon and settling in.
We arrived on the red-eye flight from NYC to Keflavik, Iceland; we touched the ground just after 7am having slept a combined total of about an hour. Even so, we had an entire day ahead and had to push through the jet lag. Immigration and customs was an absolute breeze. We had previously looked into taking the public transportation and tour buses in order to get around during our time here, but we decided to rent a car through SadCars instead (by far cheapest rental company on the island). We caught a shuttle from the airport to the rental car location and after a quick exchange of information and payment we were on the road. (Of note: the car was nearly out of gas, with the tiny indicator light on…apparently that’s how it goes here, so it’s being returned just as empty).
We went straight to the Blue Lagoon after a quick stop for gas. We hoped to get a massage in the lagoon after our long flight, but unfortunately they were already booked for the day. (TIP: The Blue Lagoon requires timed entry tickets that must be purchased in advance. If you want a massage, we advise booking that as far in advance as possible as they were already sold out weeks before we got there). So instead, we simply swam/walked through the chest deep lagoon. Slowly our stiff muscles, cramped from the plane ride in, loosened completely. We even indulged in the complimentary silica mud masks. We definitely recommend putting this on the top of your Iceland to-do list, even with a price tag of 50euro. There is a catch though…Whitney’s hair is just short of becoming dreads from the damaging water. We were told to shower before and after the lagoon as well as leave conditioner in your hair before getting in the water, so I can’t imagine how bad it would be had she not done this. (It’s 4 days later and after multiple washes, as I’m writing this, she says it’s only very slowly improving…so we will see how long that takes).
After the hot springs it was time to get checked in to our Airbnb, have lunch, and buy our groceries for the next few days. We got a little lost on our way to our Airbnb. The road names are spelled very differently depending on where you read them. The Icelandic alphabet has its own letters and many letters are then spelled out when the English alphabet is used, therefore reading the maps we printed and the street signs we felt absolutely lost. Luckily there really are only a few main roads, so it didn’t take too long to find the place…plus I wasn’t afraid to ask 3 different gas station attendants if I was going in the right direction.
Eventually we pull into the driveway of our rental in Hafnarfjordur a smaller sort of suburb of Reykjavik. There I see the small RV parked in the driveway. It looks a little bigger in person than online, but not by much. Anyway, it has a normal bed in the back and may be comparable to some NYC apartments out there. We shared the common areas in the first floor of the house that included the kitchen, living room and bathroom with other travelers staying in the other rooms.
Ok, you’re probably asking why we would choose to stay in our “a van down by the river”? It’s simple, the goal is to keep a strict budget whenever possible to allow us to travel longer. We had narrowed our choices to this particular location and there was the $70 room that was large and with a view, the $60 room that was a little smaller, and then the $37 one that we chose…it just happens to be parked in the driveway.
After checking in we walked down through a small shopping area of Hafnarfjordur and settled for a Kebab place for a late lunch as it was the only one serving meals between 3 and 6pm. (keep an eye on the time when looking for restaurants, there seems to be a break in kitchen serving times for most places.) Next, we picked up some groceries at Bonus (recommended by our host, and the cheapest grocery chain on the island) to get us through the next 4 days. Sleep deprived we took a quick drive into Reykjavik to keep us awake a little longer. The time spent was a little hazy but we managed to squeeze out a few good pictures before heading home to our van to crash just a little after 7pm.
Day 2 the Golden Circle
The day started early, not because we had a schedule to keep, but because the days never seem to end. The sun starts to set just before midnight and begins to rise not long after 3am, but the sky remains lit throughout the entire night. I woke up to a bright morning and assumed it was 10am…turned out to be only 7am. Still, we made a few instant cappuccinos and set off on a self-guided tour on the Golden Circle. This drive alone would take 3+hours without stops, so we managed to stretch it into a full day.
Whitney navigated us as we pulled into our first stop: Þingvellir National Park. This park has numerous trails and paths to hike with a particular path that brought us along the line that separates the European and North American Tectonic plates. The official line is Silfra, which even offers snorkeling and diving into the crystal clear water. (Budget and good sense kept us out of the icy water on this trip).
Next stop was Geysir Geothermal Area. There were numerous steaming geysers bubbling around the area with one in particular named Strokkur that erupts high into the air every 4-5minutes. It was fascinating to see this naturally occurring water show. We hiked further up the nearby summit for some panoramic views.
Our 3rd stop was Gullfoss. This massive waterfall pours over a few ledges and appears to fall out of sight. The walkway along the side leads up to an overlook provided a number of ideal spots for viewing and photos. Aside from the misty air that gave an extra chill to the Icelandic air the walk to the overlook was quick and easy.
These first 3 stops are usually the only ones included in most daytrip tours from Reykjavik, but we continued on to make the entire loop. The next destination was a refurbished version of one of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools known as the Secret Lagoon, Gamla Laugin. We chose not to take a dip in the pool with the light rain coming down, but the Icelanders were enjoying the warm lagoon…really it was because we didn’t have our swim suits or I’d for sure be in the water.
Soon the rain picked up and we simply passed by the remainder of highlights on the golden circle drive. The list we gathered from other travelers included a couple farms, a greenhouse and a waterfall, but I think the jet lag was creeping back so we headed home to get some much needed rest.
Our next 2 days were spent exploring the south coast and the city of Reykjavik…to be continued in Part 2.