I landed at Keflavik Airport on July 10, 2016, to begin my first (but not last) visit to Iceland. I had my Camping Card, some cash, too many clothes, and a rough itinerary for the next 16-days. I had been studying the island’s geography, points of interest, and the history of the people since January; however, nothing prepared me thoroughly for any of the wonders!
I stayed in Reykjavik at the Gestinn Guesthouse for the first two days. Olga was an excellent hostess, and the accommodation was very comfortable. Not completely unlike the city I left in North County San Diego, California where there are many people, shops, and noise (and so much fun).
Afterward, I craved the open road and being in control of my travels as I enjoy traveling alone, especially in a new place for the first time. I was not interested in a long-term group travel package, buses, or hotels.
I figured that the best way for me to achieve this was to rent a Campervan for the rest of my trip, saving the last evening on the island to enjoy the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. Traveling alone, I needed reliability and affordability. After much research, I chose Rent.is.
A very friendly gentleman named Jan picked me up from the bed and breakfast to take me to the rental location in Reykjavik. During the ride, he shared that his #1 bucket list item is to go to Buenos Aires; buena onda, Jan!
Camper van Play Brand new model 2014-16
This cute little vehicle is a 5-speed diesel that has room for two people includes:
• Unlimited km/miles – I logged over 2,600 km (+1,600 mi)
• Sleeping room and seats for two people – Plenty of room for just one
• Double bed (140 x 190 cm) – Unbelievably comfortable
• Free chairs & camping table – Blogging comfort
• Automatic heating system for the sleeping area – No cold tent
• Sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets – Less for me to pack
• Refrigerator/Cooler/Kitchenware & Camping Gas – Save money on food by preparing your own food
• Free WiFi and Garman GPS – These were lifesavers
• Radio/CD/MP3/USB – Enjoyed the radio stations
• Backup Camera – Useful for seeing pedestrians, vehicles, and large rocks
• Cruise Control – Avoid speeding tickets and killing wildlife
• Heated Seats – This is a luxury
• Read more here!
My first camping stop for the next two nights was a cute campsite called Skjòl. I enjoyed delicious food, cold beer, great stories, and entertaining company by folks from all over the globe. I also ventured out to take in the sight of Gullfoss; just follow the buses. I understand why once I arrive because it was breathtaking.
The next day, I drove and walked for hours to find Brúarfoss. Even though I consulted Google Maps, the labyrinth of dirt roads would end on private property. I conceded defeat and headed back to camp l to get a bite and complain about my failure.
I am so glad I did not become discouraged from the day before and asked a local about this place.
Satisfied, I decided to enjoy the Secret Lagoon\Gamla Laugin. They give a 20% discount if you stay a night at Skjòl.
Driving in South Iceland
I stopped to enjoy Geysir on the way out of the area on my way to Skaftafell. The area was fascinating, and I understand why it was so crowded. I drove south for about an hour then stopped at Eldstó Art Cafe in Hvolsvöllur for refreshments. After lunch, I continued driving then had to stop to see Gljúfrafoss, Eyjafjallajökull, and some sod roofed houses. I had planned to paraglide and skydive at this point but the weather was not conducive to do either safely, so those activities were grounded.
I get a few hours’ sleep at Camp Kleifar. There are many lovely amenities here including a waterfall and warm water to soak in at this camp; however, I was unable to enjoy these as I had to head up to the meeting site for my glacier climb first thing the next morning!
I wake up and make haste getting started on the road but I begin to worry that I might not make it because the scenery has me stopping frequently and taking pictures, stopping to just breathe it all in, or just question my sanity for choosing to climb a glacier.
Once I arrive, I am fitted for gear and get on the bus at the Glacier Guides booking house to head to Skaftafell. It took seven hours to complete, and it was exhilarating, to say the least. It was also cold, so the Camper van was a sight for sore eyes.
I had a plan to get around the island to the points of my interest in the 13 days that I would be using the Camper van. As I looked at the location of the next designated campsite I had chosen, I saw that it was an additional five-hour drive. I don’t think so, after this seven-hour adventure! Höfn was much closer, and my body was tired.
Camping in Höfn
I enjoyed this area so much, but each stop made me want to settle in and stay for the rest of the time and had to push on. I had interesting discussions with the residents and learned so much about growing up and living in the area. Oh yeah, the food was nothing short of amazing!
My dirty clothes were starting to pile up, especially after the climbing. The Camp Höfn staff washed and dried my clothes for a very affordable price! The man in charge named Patrik recommended a fantastic restaurant called Pakkhús for more awesome fish stew and he charged my laptop for me while I had lunch and wandered around the town.
Confession: I am not using the camp stove for much more than to make hot tea!
Driving in East Iceland
As per usual, the drive to camp was something out of a fairy-tale and caused much rubber-necking. I arrive at camp in the evening at Seyðisfjörður which I read is referred to as “a pearl in a closed shell” in the east part of Iceland, with some of the surrounding mountains over 1,000 meters high. I parked next to another Camper van, and we gave each other knowing nods.
Next on the itinerary is to travel up to the Westfjords via the northern part of the island, beginning in Dalvik to explore and kayak.
Dal-vík, means “dale-bay”
This area is so geographically diverse; it goes from lush greenery and waterfalls to stark cinder lowlands. The tunnels and water crossings are very interesting and well-structured across the country. I noticed that Icelanders are fully aware of the beauty and danger of the island and put safety/viewing pull-outs nearly every 500 – 1,000 meters, thank goodness.
Count the sheep; where there are two, there is another waiting to run across the road to be with the others
I loved the east/northeast areas of the island. It reminded me of some of the Native American lands in the Southwestern United States where I grew up which also is home to lots of sheep, volcanic hills, cinder pits, along with sleeping giants in the distance.
Námaskarð geothermal area
Following other sightseers, I found myself at Hverir and instantly notice that all of the descriptions were correct about this place:
Take your time to stroll around the bubbling gray puddles and the ethereal steam loudly pouring from the conical fumaroles. If you’ve never smelled a rotten egg this is a good chance to fill this gap. Just approach the chimneys. Not that much, you don’t want to get burned. Now open your nostrils and inhale deeply. A bit disgusting, isn’t it? But they say it’s an excellent cure against a cold. A sort of natural nebulizer.
It was slow going up the road from here. Everything was eye-catching and distracting as every turn had been, thus far!
Goðafoss (Waterfall of the Gods)
As the story goes, in year 1,000 A.D., a law-speaker named Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði cast all pagan items into the fall as a gesture to embrace Christianity as the official religion in Iceland. As I continue to drive, I begin to notice more churches than I had seen previously.
Read more: Camping in Iceland
I stopped and spent some time in Akureyri before going into the town of Dalvik for the evening. As with all towns that I had seen up to that point, Akureyri also had its own unique flavor. As an American, it appeared to have the quintessential old European feel. I also enjoyed perusing books at Penninn Eymundsson Akureyri and walking around town and purchased The Little Book of Icelandic, which takes a rather sardonic look at the Icelandic language.
I needed a warm shower, so I stopped in at Dalvik Hostel Gimli where the owner, Bjarni greeted me. I enjoyed a hot shower and sorted my luggage contents. In the morning I sat in the coffee shop that he and his wife, Heiða owned and enjoyed tea and a sandwich before heading out again.
I pulled out of the coffee house around 11:00 a.m. and lazily drove the winding roads towards Drangsnes, hoping not to miss a single sight along the way. Although Google Maps predicted 3.5 hours, it really ended up being closer to 9.5 hours. I began to see fewer people on the road; sometimes it would be nearly two hours before I saw anyone.
Takin’ my time on my ride
I set camp in Drangsnes Campground in the evening. The man in charge was named Bjarni, and he advised me that there were three “hot pots” in town that are free to use!
Hot Pots – Open 24/7
After my morning dip, I continue up Þjóðvegur 61 which is a series of interesting turns, water crossings, and amazing views!
Google Maps does not want to follow all of the twists and turns!
Camping in Ísafjörður
I arrived in Ísafjörður, made a mental note of the road leading to the camp’s location at Túngudalur, and proceeded to walk around and take in the vibes. I enjoyed some tea and a nice sandwich at the Kaffihus Bakarans while I wrote and watched the people. When I got to the campsite, I was surprised to be standing inside of a Utopia within a Utopia. I did not know how I was going to get the strength to leave this place. Without seeing the rest of the island as plotted on my itinerary, I decided that this was my favorite location.
Bunárfoss looms over the campground and feeds into a river. There is a beautiful golf course, clubhouse, and private sitting areas behind manicured hedges on the property. I was lucky enough to get a spot at the edge of the river and relax; I think I stayed up most of the night, soaking it all in while the rest of the camp slept. I love the Midnight Sun! There appeared to be a pump house building that had new water pumps, and I wish it had personnel in the office so I could pick their brains on the function. As there is no geothermal heat in the area, as I understand it, I surmised it might have been part of a hydroelectric system.
I had wanted to take a kayak tour to see the Puffin through Ögur Travel, but there were not enough people that signed up for the day I chose. Well, I was the only one that signed up! I had seen the location on my way to camp and decided to backtrack and visit. It was gray and overcast, so I enjoyed the hospitality and the most delicious soup! I decided to stay in the area an extra day and was invited on a tour the following morning. What a difference a day makes; clear skies and calm waters to the point I got a bit tanned.
Our guides, Halldór and Halldór Jr., take the group to where seals perch, then to a small island and a cove with very rich history about Basque whalers being killed by Icelanders after the whalers raided villages. After many incredible hours, it was time to head back and get more delicious soup before going to Akranes Campsite.
Long way to go before I sleep!
The white-tailed eagle lives mostly the west side of the country; however, I did not get to see any while in that area, so there is more reason to return! I saw a cute place after miles of open road, so I made the very smart decision to stop in for some more delicious Icelandic food at Hótel Ljósaland.
Read more: Packlist for Iceland
I arrived at the Akranes Campsite in time to check in, then to hurry into town get some delicious soup and beer for takeout before everything closed up. I set up camp and enjoyed sitting at the table by the Camper van breathing fresh air for a short while! I was exhausted and not awake enough to explore or make new friends. The next day, I head out and spend a couple of hours having tea and eating my way through the baked goods at Café Mörk near the campsite. I head down to Biking Viking in Reykjavik to secure a bike for use the next day. I continued to my next campsite in Þorlákshöfn.
On to camp in Þorlákshöfn!
I stopped by the bike shop to reserve my motorcycle on the way down and look at the new models on the sales floor. Once I finally got to camp, I meet this hardcore guy named Reiner from Germany. Apparently, he transports his bike to Iceland on occasion and spends two weeks riding all around the island. He was nearing the end of his trek, and much of his travels got met with cold rain. During our brief conversation, I shared with him that I was excited to ride the following day and am no stranger to biking or camping in the rain, I had never done both at the same time and certainly not for such an extended period. We then attempted to tighten his chain as the rain continued; however, he needed to replace the sprocket for that to occur. I wished him well and knew I would be gone before he came out of his dry tent the next morning. As I was putting away the table and chair, I saw many motorcycles out in the weather, and I was grateful to have the van.
I woke early and headed towards Reykjavik to get the bike. It was already raining, and it did not seem that it was going to let up anytime soon. I like riding in the rain, so I was still excited. Well, thank goodness for the heated grips, I was not 30 minutes outside of the city before I was soaked through and cold. I have been in this situation before a few times when I bike to Half Moon Bay in Northern California to visit my friends, Deb, Rick, Teresa, Jerry (who visited Iceland in 2007 and said I would love it), Violet, and Cameron; I sort of go into a mode where there is nothing but the rain and the road. I went back towards Skjòl campground to where my journey had started, to see the group of friends that I had made at the beginning.
I ended up meeting new friends that evening such as, Lilja, Ingi, Ken, Reedo, Linda, Gylfi, in addition to seeing my “old friends” Bertek, Maciej, and Jan. I decided to stay the night at Geysir Bed & Breakfast, so I could dry out, get some midnight hot tub time, and get a good night’s sleep before heading back to return the bike. The following morning at the B&B, I was treated to a feast of a breakfast made by the hosts, Anita and Hrofn! With my belly full and my leathers somewhat dried out, I headed back to Biking Viking to return the motorcycle and was more soaked than the day before. As I peeled off the once again wet leathers in exchange for dry clothing and feeling like a superhero, three men out of San Francisco, California rolled in on their rented bikes. They had been out for 10-days; all over the country and that was the first rain they had encountered, so I was able to keep some confidence, despite the shorter trip!
Camping in Sandgerði
Happy to be back inside of my Campervan, I head towards Sandgerði for my last night of camping. I was starving when I stopped in at Vitinn for a hot bowl of soup and a cheeseburger! What a beautiful restaurant that is the cornerstone of the community!
Crab and shellfish soup – A rich soup brewed over 15 hours with spider crab, rock crab, green crab; adorned with locally caught scallops, mussels, shrimps, and cod. Served with homemade bread garnished with olives and paprika and garlic butter.
Just what the doctor ordered! As I was leaving, the owner, Brýnhildur (“Binna”) Kristjànsdóttir, came out to ask to look inside the Campervan as she had never seen one! As I bragged about my adventures and the features of my home-on-wheels, we shared our histories with each other. Hearing that I worked in environmental enforcement, she was proud to say that they recycled and composted; what a charming woman!
Across the street from the restaurant, there is a Science and Learning Center which was just what this science geek needed. I spent nearly two hours reading the history of this fishing village, the indigenous sea life, enjoying seaweed art, and learning about the famed explorer, Jean-Baptiste Charcot. The excerpt below resonated with me:
Upon his first journey to Iceland, Charcot was enamored of this land of brightness. White glaciers, blue mountains, green pastures, brown craters, black sands, and clear hot springs, all of which are constantly in motion because of the interplay of opposing forces. The ambient light maintains the daily rhythm in this lavish and creative nature
I finally make my way to camp at istay Campground. I am exhausted and turn in early, holding on to all of the sights, sounds, and tastes that I had experienced during the day.
The next morning, I head to the airport to return the Campervan. It is a bitter-sweet time for me as I knew it would be since my trip is coming to an end; therefore, I thought ahead and booked a treat for myself at the Silica Hotel. While at the counter, I look next to me and see Noemi and Vincent, a couple from Catalonia that was on the kayak tour with me!
After completing the vehicle damage inspection, a helpful Sales Representative named Steinar gave me a ride to the Silica Hotel at the Blue Lagoon. I realized after a moment that it was out of the way, but the sales group at the Reykjavik office made an allowance for me. He said he had traveled a bit, but there was no place on Earth he would rather live than Iceland; I get that.
Time to refresh and reflect
This hotel and surrounding area, in general, are fantastic. I only was able to get a couple of names of the many outstanding staff; Carla and Sara. They made my tearful transition feel like a beginning, not an end. Of course, I was interested in the R&D side of it all.
The following day I take a few parting pictures of the hotel before getting on a shuttle to the airport, and everything seemed to happen quickly after that. When I returned home, I almost felt as if it were a dream. My seat mate, Carolayne was from San Luis Obispo, California flying WOW Airlines. She had come from Amsterdam and as the airline does, has a layover in Keflavik. She said she was a retired geologist, so we spoke nerd all the way home.
It took several days to realize that I was in my bed and not either in the Campervan or a B&B. I am so glad that I traveled the way I did. Not only did I see beautiful sites at my pace, but I was also able to connect with the nicest people from all over the World. I can’t wait to go back to experience the Northern Lights during wintertime!
Read more: Wanderlust in Iceland
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