My husband and I were cooking at a campsite kitchen on one of our last few days discovering Iceland in our camper van from Rent.is and a fellow traveler asked us “Why are there so many Americans here?”. My first thought was “Instagram?”. Then, thinking back on all the incredible sights we had taken in over the past week, I started to wonder why there aren’t more Americans here. The beauty, expansiveness, and sense of adventure that Iceland offers is what so many people are craving to seek.
We rented our camper van from the airport location. The company picked us up at arrivals and shuttled us to the rental agency, so that made it super easy. After signing some papers, we were off to see as much as we possibly could. We were greeted by 60 mph wind gusts and a nasty sleet and snow mix. That wasn’t going to stop us though. We were originally going to start right into driving the Ring Road, but my husbands white knuckles indicated we might need to reassess that plan. That’s the ease of travelling in your bed! We decided to spend the first day discovering the Golden Circle instead. We had no problem finding campsites each night and with our free WiFi in the van we were able to find places to park as we drove along the way.
We continued our journey with a goal of making it to Höfn before we needed to turn around. That first day we loaded up at Bónus with food for the week and stowed is all in our van cooler. Cooking at the campsites was a great way to meet and connect with fellow travelers. We also quickly got hooked on Icelandic hot dogs! We stopped several times along our journey. We even picked up some of that magic brown sauce to take home with us, look for it in a white bottle and red top. Speaking of food, the best thing to wash down a hot dog is some local brews. We made sure to look up local breweries as we drove along, another bonus of the the free WiFi!
After exploring the Golden Circle, we spent our first night hunkered down through a storm at Þingvellir National Park. The weather was so bad that they closed the actual campgrounds, but they had everyone park in the parking lot instead. It made for an interesting start to our trip. Thankfully, the weather cleared up more each day, we even enjoyed a few days of sun! You should keep some things in mind when camping. Most of the campgrounds charged extra for showers, each one we stayed at was different. Not all of the campgrounds had WiFi, in fact most of them we stayed at didn’t. The WiFi in the van was portable, so we could take it into the camping dining rooms and enjoy a little end of the day screen time.
As you drive east along the Ring Road you will pass countless waterfalls. The larger falls will have parking areas (some you have to pay to park) and maybe a gift shop or food trolley. Bring some waterproof gear and you’ll have more fun! My waterproof boots made it easy to walk in super close without having to dry out socks and layers every night. Bring some rain pants and a Goretex jacket too, you’ll need it! My favorite waterfall was in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The sun was out and it’s not a major attraction, so there were only 4 other people there. That’s part of the beauty of Iceland, it’s not hard to get away from the crowds and find some solitude and soak up the nature surrounding you.
Another stop we found extra special was in Vik. We took a hike from our camp site up a cliff-side. The hike started out slightly strenuous up a gravel road. Once we made it up the switchbacks we were on a sheep trail with green grass, ocean views, and not another soul in sight. The only people we passed on the trail were a few Icelanders out for a morning hike. We got to watch the Arctic Wren’s swoop into their nests on the cliffs, the birds would hang in the wind in a playful way that was truly mesmerizing. Their nests overlook Reynisfjara Beach. We stopped at this black sand beach on our way back to see it all from a different perspective. The cliff we were walking on was composed of basalt columns and a sea cave.
We were happy to have made it past Skaftafell National Park, which had great hiking trails to explore additionally. Just past the park is an incredible glacial lagoon, Jökulsárlón. Here you’ll find Diamond Beach where icebergs crash into the ocean and scatter into small “diamond” ice chunks onto a black lava beach. From this beach that has free parking you can walk along the canal to the lagoon. The lagoon is constantly changing. When we were there the icebergs were large and marbleized in their color. It was truly a unique sight to see. From there we drove to Höfn for camp. We were able to stock up a the grocery for our trip back to Reykjavík.
Since Iceland is known as the land of Fire & Ice, we decided to end our journey in some natural hot springs to balance all the ice we’ve experienced so far. The weather treated us to blue skies and we were able to take advantage of the midnight sun, hence missing the crowds. We hiked to Reykjadalur hot springs. The hike climbs up a decent hill, but the set up in the river is quite nice. There are walled off changing areas and a boardwalk to use to get in and out of the river easily. It was a perfect way to end the trip! And, lucky us, there’s a brewery just before the turn off to the trail.
It was hard to climb out of the van one last time, it wasn’t just reliable transportation, it was home for a week. Iceland was a welcoming country with an unrivaled landscape. Every turn and stop took us to a new marvel. Our experiences and memories will stay with us long after our brown sauce runs empty. Until then, we’ll cheers with a hot dog and dream of returning!
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