[7 MIN READ]
WHERE IS IT?
Popularly known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of ~350,000. Its size is about 103,000 sq km (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with over 60% of the population residing in the surrounding area. Their currency is Icelandic Króna (ISK).
HOW TO GET THERE?
There are many non-stop flights from London (UK), Dublin (Ireland), and other nearby countries. I flew from Copenhagen, Denmark with Iceland Air and it took a little over 3 hours. Iceland is slower by 2 hours from Denmark
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
Really varies on your spending behavior. We rented a cabin in the golden circle area for 5 people for USD 217 / night and I think that was quite reasonable. The cabin was comfortable and had its own hot tub. It was also close to Gullfoss Waterfall and the geyser.
Food cost around USD 35 – USD 45 per person at a non-fancy restaurant/ cafe.
On average each activity will cost around USD 150 per person.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?
Depends on what you’re looking for. I visited in June 2018, during the summer solstice month and I thought there was no better month to visit. The reason was because that will be as warm as it could ever get in the year. Even then, I was freezing to death, mostly my fault because before we went, the weather forecast said 8 – 12C (46 – 54F), but in reality, it felt like 0C (32F). We didn’t bring proper winter clothes, but if you plan your outfits ahead, you should be fine.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Depends where you’ll be flying from. If you are flying from somewhere in the UK, or any Scandinavian countries then I guess it’s worth it. It was like no other country in Europe I have visited so it was all new sights and experiences. If you’ll be visiting from a faraway country like somewhere in Asia, Australia, then NO, you can go to many other places for a cheaper cost, and for better or similar experience. New Zealand maybe?
CAN YOU GO BY YOURSELF WITHOUT A GUIDE?
Of course, Iceland’s roads are probably one of the best things there is. They are cemented and polished nicely, there’s barely any car, so traffic is not a problem and you can travel 1KM in 1 minute or under. It’s quite cool to me because in Jakarta, Indonesia, it could take 10 minutes or much longer to travel 1KM. Google Map works really well too so you’ll never get lost. Most of the landmarks, sightseeing sites can be reached by yourself in a car, with the exception of glaciers hike. That you would need a guide because you’d never know which blue ice you should step on. If you’d like to try riding a snowmobile, you’ll also need to be picked up by the tour guide with their special car that could drive up the glaciers.
I would not recommend going to Iceland without a car, I’ve heard there are public transportations, but I honestly didn’t spot any during my trip. Renting a car was easy and made the whole journey convenient. I got mine from Procar Car Rental and they picked me up from the airport and drove me to their nearby office in a shuttle.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED TO EXPLORE EVERYTHING?
With proper planning, 5 days are more than enough to see different parts of Iceland. Like many other countries, you’ll always need more than that to really see the whole thing, but for me, 5 days were very sufficient. More on that below!
WHAT I DID IN ICELAND FOR 5 DAYS:
Day 1 and 2: Reykjavík & The Golden Circle Area (Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Geyser, Kerið)
The first day of our trip was rainy, so we decided to stop by Reykjavík the capital city and visited Hallgrímskirkja, Iceland’s biggest church. The architecture was pretty amazing and it was rising almost 75 meters (246 feet) above street level. It was first opened to the public in 1986. The admission was free but if you’d like to go up the tower, you’d have to pay ~USD 9.
After lunch, we then made our way to Silfra that was located in Thingvellir National Park. According to dive.is, Silfra is a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The rift was formed in 1789 by the earthquakes. It is also the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly in a crack between two tectonic plates. Some may say it’s crazy to even think about snorkeling in Iceland, but when else would I get a chance of swimming between tectonic plates where its water was so clear and pure you could drink it? I decided to go for it. Like I mentioned before, activities in Iceland were not cheap. For this activity, we made our booking through Iceland Adventure Tours and it cost USD 120 for 4 hours. The snorkeling didn’t take 4 hours but there were briefings before we were allowed to go into the water. The actual snorkeling took about 30 minutes. Overall the experience was nice. Although it was for only half an hour, I did think it felt a little too long and I got bored halfway because we pretty much saw the same thing the entire 30 minutes. There was no fish in Silfra, just rocks. That and also because I couldn’t feel my hands, face, and ears (unprotected body parts from the ice cold water). We were in a dry bodysuit, meaning the clothes we wore underneath would not get wet except if there was a glitch in the suit which sometimes happens. Do not try to pee in the water because you’d only embarrass yourself when you take off your suit.
After we were done, we went to explore the rest of Thingvellir National Park and found some pretty cool spots to take pictures. There was also a lot of mini waterfalls in the park. The weather was quite bad on day 1, so we decided to go back after a quick stop at Kerið, a volcanic crater lake (still in the Golden Circle Area) and continue the rest of our itinerary the next day.
What surprised us at the end of the day though was, there was no end of the day. The sky didn’t get dark at all! This was what it looked like at 3AM.
The second day we started with Geyser because that was closest to our cabin. Contrary to its name, The Great Geyser, doesn’t erupt as much as Stokkur, a smaller geyser right next to it, which erupted every 8-10 minutes. I could tell it was about to erupt from the mini boiling bubbles. If you see those bubbles in the water, you know it’s happening. The Great Geyser hasn’t erupted anymore for many years and people believe it was caused by the accumulated objects thrown into it by tourists.
Just a few minutes ride from the geyser is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, Gullfoss Waterfall. Like a mini version of Niagara Falls, Gullfoss was nice. I wasn’t lucky enough to spot a rainbow and it was also raining at the time, but regardless it was cool.
We then decided to go back to Thingvellir National Park and explore more of it. The second day was sunnier and the view was also better!
Day 3: Landmannalaugar
I’d read many reviews that Landmannalaugar, also known as the People’s Pools, is one of the most beautiful places in Iceland and is a very popular summer destination for hiking and hot spring bathing. The route we took to drive there was pretty scenic, with an occasional bump into cool sites.
However, one mistake that I made was the lack of research on the route to get there. Google Map worked pretty well overall in Iceland, however, the route suggested by Google was closed and we couldn’t find any other route. Along the way, you’ll also see signs that the roads are for 4WD cars only, and we had AWD. They’re not the same. I then decided to call our rental company, and they said there is no way our car will make it there. We would need a big car that could cross the river because there will be a river to cross. Something like this:
This is one of the few mistakes we made during the trip and had we done more research, we’d probably have some cool stories to tell about the place. To our disappointment, we went back and just made stops when we saw nice hills.
Day 4: Hraunfossar Waterfall and Nearby Places
You’ll probably laugh because our day 4 was another bummer. We spent almost 2 hours going to Akureyri and Lake Mývatn area before decided it was too far for a day trip and decided to go somewhere else in that area (one thing I learned is you’d probably have a more relaxing experience if you switch hotels and stay in a few different areas so you wouldn’t have to drive back and forth). But we came across this Hraunfossar Waterfall that kinda made up for it.
We spent the rest of our day going to a geothermal pool and more hills, I can’t remember their names, a few other waterfalls before decided to go back to our cabin for a good night rest.
Day 5: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, Reynisfjara, Vík, and The Blue Lagoon
If someone told you to save the best thing for last, no don’t do that. That is what I did in Iceland and I regretted it. Day 5 was the best and the highlight of our trip, and I should have really done it on day 2 or 3. We started the day really early because we knew we had a long journey ahead of us. Jokursarlon is the furthest out of all the attractions but we decided to do that first and do the rest on the way back. The view and experience of the glaciers lagoon really did live up to expectations. It was quite magical to see nature’s wonder so up close I could even touch it. We wanted to book a Zodiac Boat Tour to cruise around the lagoon but it was pretty full and the next one was pretty late so we didn’t end up doing it. I don’t think I missed out that much though since you can see plenty from the shore. If you want to do it, do plan to book ahead, if not you may have to wait for a few hours until the next one is available.
Diamond Beach nearby, about 5 minutes walk from the lagoon, was another highlight. Locals name it Diamond Beach because when icebergs melt and make their way down to the ocean, they often come to a stop at this black beach. When the icebergs glint under the sun, they shine pretty much like diamonds. It was just a whole different experience where you experience both the beach (something associated with warm weather and the sun) and ice at the same time. Something I have never done elsewhere.
Afterward, we then made our way to Vík and saw the famous Vík í Mýrdal Church. We didn’t get to go in, but I thought the church was just okay. It somehow looked more exotic in pictures and postcards. Since the church was located on higher grounds, you can pretty much see the whole Vík from the top so that was nice.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach was another unique experience. Located just a few minutes drive from the Vík í Mýrdal Church, it was created by lava flowing into the ocean which immediately cooled down and turned into rocks and pebbles. At the beach, you’ll also see huge basalt columns where tourist will climb up and pose for pictures (me included). Legend has it, these columns were once trolls trying to pull ships from the ocean to the shore. Unfortunately, these trolls went out too late in the night and when the sun rose, they turned into giant stones.
When you enter the beach, you’ll see a sign that warns you to not stay too close to the water. It may look calm and non-dangerous but the unseemingly deadly waves have had victims. So just try to be safe by avoiding the water and admiring it from afar. Also be careful when climbing up the columns, as they could be slippery.
The ice-cold trip was then ended by a sweet warm bath at the Blue Lagoon. It was a bit too touristy but the experience was quite remarkable and the lagoon was indeed beautiful and exotic.
I truly enjoyed my time in the Southern part of Iceland and it was a pity I didn’t get a chance to see both Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss Waterfall and the famous abandoned DC-3 plane in Vík due to lack of time. But looking back, I did feel Iceland was a bit overrated. For a destination that far and for something that has been on my bucket list for the longest time, I prepared myself to be blown away as soon as I drove out the airport and I wasn’t. In fact, the whole trip would be subpar if it wasn’t for the fifth day trip to the southern part. Its land is huge, but it’s mostly just land. I’m from Indonesia so I’m used to seeing green lands and beautiful nature, and to be honest, Iceland did not blow my mind away. I was quite blown away when I visited Komodo Islands in Indonesia. So for me to have flown that far and spent that much, I wanted to see and get more. Would I have a different opinion if I were to spot the Northern Light? Maybe, because that’s what people mostly go to Iceland for.
I think if you’re visiting from Asia, perhaps New Zealand would be a better option since it’ll be closer and it also has glaciers. One thing I really liked about Iceland that I can’t guarantee in some European countries though, was its safety. Iceland along with Norway and Singapore, are rated the safest countries in the world to visit, and the feeling of being safe is indeed priceless.