1300KM OF VOLCANOES, GLACIERS AND WATERFALLS
Hey everybody, I'm Max Olivella, another passionate, curious and nature lover, a lover of dreamlike landscapes and all the adventures that nature provides us with. This time I come to present you my experience in one of the most amazing countries in the world. The country of contrasts, with landscapes that make you hallucinate at every turn. The country of fire and ice. The country that invites us to explore as the Vikings did centuries ago: Iceland.
Let's do a little geography: Iceland is an island country located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, south of the Arctic Circle and about 1,000 km away from the nearest European mainland (Norway). Unlike its neighbour, Greenland, it is part of Europe rather than North America.
The island is volcanic in origin and lies on the Atlantic ridge between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, which is why it offers impressive geological activity, with its characteristic volcanoes and geysers.
Without further ado, let's move on to the interesting part. A total of 15 days of travel, going all the way around the island on the well-known Ring Road (the highway around the island). Let's start with the MyMaps of our entire route and the summary of all the locations per day:
Day 1 - Typical lunch in the capital and excursion to take our first dip in the hot springs of Reykjadalur.
Day 2 - We are amazed to see one of the most famous geysers in the world, we see the first waterfall in Iceland and we end the day with technical problems after fording 3 rivers to get to an incredible spot.
Day 3 - We solve the problem early in the morning, drive 120 kilometres and arrive at Seljalandsfoss, an amazing waterfall.
Day 4 - Mission to the Highlands: many kilometres, lunar landscapes, craters turned into lakes, coloured mountains and a hot bath in the middle of nowhere.
Day 5 - Rain, rain and more rain.
Day 6 - Early morning and crazy day: Skógafoss, Sólheimajökull glacier, DC3 Plane and time to visit one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.
Day 7 - We visit the mythical canyon and spend the rest of the day marvelling at Iceland's largest glacier, Vatnajökull.
Day 8 - Another day of rain, wind and almost 300 kms of driving.
Day 9 - We cross rivers with the car and arrive at the largest crater in Iceland, almost 50 square kilometres.
Day 10 - We arrive at the most powerful waterfall in Europe and are amazed by the immensity of its river canyon.
Day 11 - We go whale watching, eat the best fish & chips of our lives and bathe in some amazing thermal baths overlooking the fjords.
Day 12 - Another day of rain, miles and Icelandic hot dogs, Iceland's unofficial national dish.
Day 13 - Drive through the snowy west fjords, including an abandoned village in the middle of nowhere.
Day 14 - A brutal day on the Snaefellsnes peninsula and we set course for our departure point: Reykjavík.
Day 15 - We are sad, we are leaving and we don't want to. This has been a blast and we want more.
Let's get going!
Day 0 - Preparation
As you can imagine, Iceland is a country to travel by car, otherwise it is impossible to have the freedom to explore the thousand and one roads that take you to all the best natural spectacles. We had known for some time that the best rental option was a 4x4 with a folding tent on the roof (rooftent). Such a car allowed us to drive on any type of road and to sleep wherever we wanted. Bear in mind that Iceland has F-Roads (only accessible by 4x4), which are gravel or dirt roads, and that you will often come across rivers that you will have to cross.
Another aspect to bear in mind is that Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in the world, so if you want to save a lot of money, do as we did and fill your suitcase with canned food, instant soups, bars and dried fruit and nuts. By the way, their currency is Icelandic kroner (ISK), but don't worry about having to convert your money, as you can pay by credit card in absolutely everywhere in Iceland.
We arrive at the airport, pick up our bags and go straight to pick up our car. We load up, check that the roof tent is in good condition (as it will be our bed for the next two weeks) and head off to visit some small geysers near the airport.
*The car and roof tent cost us about 1,100 € for 14 nights, including insurance, kitchen kit and sleeping bags for -10 °C.
Lunchtime arrives and we head for the capital to eat at a restaurant that had been recommended to us at a good price. Lamb soup served in a round loaf of bread and mashed potatoes with cod. The best thing: you can repeat as many times as you like and the dessert cakes are free and unlimited.
*The place is called Icelandic Street Food and we paid about 35€ for 2, not bad for Iceland.
In the afternoon we take the car and drive our first 50 kilometres along the Ring Road to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs, a free hot water river. We leave the car in the car park and walk up for 40 minutes until we reach the hottest point of the river. Spectacular bath in the middle of the valley, sunset and we go back to the car to have dinner and look for a place to spend the night.
*Nights in Iceland are cold and wet, so be sure to get a good sleeping bag.
*In principle free camping is not allowed in Iceland, but if you respect the environment you can look for any back road where you won't disturb anyone and where if you get up early the next morning, no one will tell you anything. To find these places to spend the night, the park4night app helped us a lot. Recommended
First night of Icelandic cold is over. We have breakfast and head for the first stop on the Golden Circle. The GC is one of the best known routes, in the south west of the island.
As I said, the first stop was Thingvellir National Park, where we walked inside a 7 km long rift that is part of the fault line separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The scenery up to there did not disappoint either.
After about 3 hours we arrived at the car park and drove to Geysir, one of the most famous geysers in the world. The water that it shoots out with its eruptions has reached heights of 60m, an incredible height. After seeing about 10/15 eruptions (it erupts every 3-4 minutes), we go to our last official stop of the Golden Circle: the Gullfoss waterfall. The first of many, because if there is one thing Iceland has apart from volcanoes and glaciers, it is waterfalls. Gullfoss is amazing, huge and with a considerable flow. Even so, you will you will see that there are much heavier and much more beautiful waterfalls along the trip.
To finish the day we take the car and go to a remote spot to take some pictures with the drone, which I found on Google Maps while planning the trip from Barcelona. To get there we take an F road, cross a couple of rivers and drive a few kilometres without meeting anyone. We arrive, the landscape is already amazing. We take the drone up and it's madness. We see our first glacial delta with amazing colours. We fold up, get in the car, follow the same route backwards and look for a place to sleep. When we checked the photos from the drone at night we realized the worst thing: the photos of the delta had not been saved on the SD card. We didn't know how or why. Tomorrow we'll be back for sure.
Day three. We got up, had breakfast with our hot coffee and set off again for the glacial delta. This time we made it, we got some of the best photos of the trip.
Today it was about 120 km to Seljalandsfoss, one of the most beautiful waterfalls and one that you can walk behind the waterfall. After taking some great shots with the drone (here you have the best one), we had a hot chocolate in the car park and headed to a campsite in Hella. The best thing about the campsites in Iceland is that due to the intense cold, rain and wind, they always have a closed place where you can cook and eat warmly. So we have dinner while we recharge our batteries and go to sleep because tomorrow is an intense day.
*In many campsites in Iceland they don't have a reception and they come and collect when they feel like it, in this case they passed by the dining room while we were having dinner (don't think that nobody is going to pass by because if necessary they will wake you up).
7 o'clock and we are already had breakfast, in the car and on our way to the Highlands. The Highlands are a plateau that make up practically the entire interior of Iceland, formed by glaciers or volcanic deserts. Specifically we headed to Landmannalaugar, the mythical coloured mountains of the island where we spent the whole day trekking until we reached a brutal panoramic view from where you can see all the colours of the mountains.
But to tell you the truth, the most amazing part of this day was the whole road trip to Landannalaugar. It was about 120 km of desert of sand and volcanic rocks, full of craters and mountains from another planet. As a picture is worth a thousand words, here are three pictures to give you an idea of what it was like:
To end the day we took a long bath in some natural hot springs 5 minutes from the car park of Landmannalaugar (Brennisteinsalda hot springs) and we returned to Hella to continue our route along the ring road. We decided to sleep in the same campsite as the previous night without knowing what was coming to us.
3:00AM and we wake up to an inhuman wind that is swaying the car from side to side and rain that is starting to pour in and wet the bed. Ten minutes later we are sleeping as best we can in the front seats of the car.
In the morning it's still the same and the weather says it's going to be like this all day. Now Iceland has welcomed us.
We spend the day in a cafe drinking any hot drink and selecting photos. Finally we decided to spend the night in a flat in order to dry the mattress of the rooftent (it was soaked and we couldn't go on like that). We found some very well priced self-catering flats with spectacular views. It cost us 89€ a night, which for Iceland is not bad. In the middle of the afternoon, we got enlightened and called the car insurance to see if they could change our mattress (that wet mattress wouldn't dry out even in a whole day of blow-drying). Bingo! They tell us that tomorrow morning they will leave a dry mattress at our doorstep so that we can continue our trip. We succeeded.
*The flats where we slept were the Welcome Holiday Homes (not a very touristy name), close to our next destination: Skogafoss.
One of the most intense days is coming. Today we are going to do everything we couldn't do yesterday, plus everything we had planned for today. We got up early and at 7 am we were at Skógafoss, one of the waterfalls we liked the most on the trip. The shots and photos with drone in this spot are amazing. Here you have the proof:
We take the car and drive to our first glacier in Iceland: Sólheimajökull. We leave the car in the car park and walk to the foot of the glacier tongue. The landscape and the colours are amazing and the photos are more of the same.
We continue 10 kms more with the car and arrive at the car park of the DC3 aeroplane. For some time now it has not been possible to get to the plane by car and we have to walk about 3 km to get there and another 3 km to get back. I recommend you to go early in the morning because otherwise you will find a lot of people, as we did. Even so, it was well worth the walk.
Then we approached the lighthouse of Dyrhólaey, from where there are spectacular views of the black sand beaches and after 20kms more we arrived at one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. Reynisfjara beach. A beach of black pebbles, with walls of basaltic columns and five metre waves. A real treat.
And with all these spots visited in just one day, we put 80kms more in the car and arrive at the Fjadrárglijúfur canyon (say it if you can). As soon as we get there it gets dark and we decide to visit it the next morning. So we look for a place to spend the night, have a warm dinner and go to sleep, we are dead after today's day.
Seventh day and we continue through the south of the island in an easterly direction. We get up, pack up, take the rooftent down and head for the canyon we didn't have time to see yesterday. Fjadrárglijúfur is one of the most visited canyons in Iceland, so I recommend you to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
We continue a few more kilometres along the Ring Road and arrive at the foot of Iceland's largest glacier, the Vatnajökull. We start at the Svínafellsjökull glacier tail, where, if we walk 10 minutes from the car park, we have a spectacular panoramic view.
The next spot is the glacial lake of Jökulsárlón, where we made an approach by zodiac to the glacial tongue and where we passed between different blocks detached from the glacier (mini icebergs). *The zodiac cost us about 50€ per person, which is not bad for Iceland.
When we finish, we cook something quick in the car and go to take photos at another glacial lake nearby until sunset, which we will see from Diamond Beach, a beach where all the ice chunks that Lake Jökulsárlón is expelling into the sea accumulate. To end the day we drive 100 kilometres to Höfn and spend the night in the only campsite in town. Just before going to bed the first and only aurora we could see in the whole trip appeared, but it was so fast that we couldn't even take pictures of it (one of the reasons to come back).
Today was one of the best spots of the trip: Stokksnes, the best wild beach in Iceland, with black dunes and located at the foot of Vestrahorn, a mountain of black rock and brutally sharp peaks. But the weather betrayed us and the rain and low clouds did not allow us to see or photograph anything (another reason to return).
We headed north and spent the day on the road. It rained like there was no tomorrow and the wind blew the car off course every now and then. Still, the scenery was worth it. In the afternoon it let up a little and we were able to get close to the waterfalls of Litlanesfoss and Hengifoss, waterfalls surrounded by basaltic columns, but due to the low clouds, we could not appreciate them a lot.
At the end of the day, after 300km and a couple of cafés, we arrived at the Egilsstadir campsite, the point from which we would leave the following day for one of the most remote spots on the island.
We get up early and head for Askja, one of the most remote volcanic areas of the Highlands of Iceland, where access is only allowed in summer and where all the roads to get there are type F roads. At the campsite we are warned to fill up the tank, as we will have 300 kms without petrol stations. They also tell us to be careful with the weather, as the route passes through three rivers, which are impossible to ford with the car during rainy periods. The last few days it had rained, but today it doesn't seem to be raining, so we decide to take a chance and try our luck.
After 5 hours of driving, thirty thousand photo stops, three successfully crossed rivers and a last endless stretch of road where we literally drove over lava debris, we arrived at Askja (with hardly anyone in sight the whole way). At Askja we found the largest crater in Iceland, 8kms in diameter and with its crater turned into a huge lake of some 50 square kilometres. The scenery up to there is amazing, in the last stretch it seems like you are literally on the moon (and I have never been there, but it seems like it). We were much more amazed with the whole landscape up to Askja, than with Askja itself.
Mid-afternoon we take the car and say goodbye to Askja. We have 130km of slow roads ahead of us to our next destination in a northerly direction. Halfway we decide to stop in the middle of the Highlands, have dinner and go to bed until the morning.
We wake up to incredible sunshine and continue our route to Detifoss. Along the way we are accompanied by the views of Hurdubreid mountain, another spectacular volcano with more than 1,000m of vertical drop and a very peculiar shape.
After two hours we arrive at Detifoss, the most powerful waterfall with the highest flow in Europe. Just the noise it makes is frightening, it is a wild experience. The canyon where the waterfall is located is also brutal and immense.
To end the day we started to move westwards with the intention of getting closer to Husavik for tomorrow's plan. Halfway we passed the volcano Hverfjall, which with its autumn colours and the perfect shape of its crater was a real show.
In the end we decided to spend the night at the Reykjahild campsite, very close to the volcano and with incredible views of the Myvatn lake.
One of the most eagerly awaited days has arrived. We got up and at 9 o'clock we were in Husavik, on the boat to watch the multitude of whales that come to eat off the north coast of Iceland at that time of year. Let's explain it quickly: after 3 hours we didn't see half a fin. Very unlucky and quite disappointed after paying almost 60€ each. But what can we do, nature is like that and you never know when it will surprise you.
When we arrived at the port we discovered the best restaurant we could find. The best Fish & Chips I have ever tasted in my life. Fresh cod, large quantities and at a very good price for Iceland. After 11 days of eating tins, sachet soups and mashed fish in cartons, this Fish & Chips tasted great.
*The place was literally called Fish & Chips and the plate cost 1800ISK (about 12 euros). The 0,5L beer cost 1000ISK.
That afternoon was spent in a thermal bath with spectacular views of the fjords. The place was called GeoSea and we were the only tourists there all afternoon. It cost us 2900ISK (19€) at student prices, otherwise it was about 28€. Nothing to do with the typical Blue Lagoon baths where everyone goes and the entrance fee is 8500ISK (60€).
After the bath we head west along the Ring Road and when it gets dark we look for a place to spend the night, settle in, have dinner and go to bed.
We woke up near Akureyri. It's raining and forecast to start raining heavily until late in the day. We take the opportunity to cover 200 kilometres and get a little closer to our next destination. Seeing that the rain has no intention of letting up, we stop at a rest area and spend the afternoon looking at photos and eating hot dogs, Iceland's unofficial star dish. Made from Icelandic lamb, beef and pork and served with weird sauces I've never tasted before (and more importantly, very cheap). They were delicious and tasted different from the ones here.
In the late afternoon it stopped raining, but snow was expected in the evening. So we looked for a place to spend the night under some dense trees, where we would have less humidity and less snow.
Second to last day in Iceland. We woke up with a spectacular cold and with very little desire to get out of the sack. We go downstairs, pick up everything and have our morning hot coffee.
When we have everything ready, we set off towards the west fjords towards Djupavik, an abandoned fishing village in the middle of the fjords. The views along the way are spectacular, with the contrast and colours of the fjords, the snow and the sea.
We missed several more fjords, but rain and a crazy wind made us move south in the mid-afternoon. After 250 kilometres we reached Stykkishólmsbaer, a small fishing village. Seeing that the rain and the cold were getting worse and worse, we decided to look for a flat where we could spend the night warm (and what a treat!).
Last official day in Iceland. Tomorrow we leave. We wake up to a totally sunny day and head towards the Snaefellsnes peninsula. At 40 kms we have our first spot of the day: the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, with the mythical Kirkjufell mountain in the background.
During the day we drive around the peninsula on the main road and in the mid-afternoon we head towards Reykjavík to say goodbye to our trip. We spend the night in a camping area close to the car rental office, as we have to get up early tomorrow morning to catch our early flight.
Now yes, we get up and leave our beloved Suzuki Jimmny with which we have experienced one of our best trips.
We had very high expectations and Iceland has exceeded them. This has been amazing and we want more. We are sure we will be back.
Quick tips to survive in Iceland
- As I mentioned at the beginning, the best option for low-cost travel in Iceland is a 4x4 with a rooftent. It allows you to drive on the F-roads and gives you the freedom to sleep wherever you want. The Park4Night App is perfect for finding the best places to spend the night.
- Check the weather before setting off on any route with fords. If the rivers come down with a lot of water it is impossible to cross them.
- Take car chargers for all your gadgets: cameras, mobiles, drones, etc.
- Food is expensive. Bring as much as you can in your suitcase. Drinks are also very expensive - to give you an idea, a beer costs €8-9 in a bar and €5-6 in the supermarket (in 0.5L cans). A word of advice: when you arrive, go to the duty free shop before you leave the airport and stock up for the whole trip.
- The supermarkets with the best prices (and by far) are the Bonus (the ones with the little pig)..
Greetings and ¡keep exploring!
Max Olivella Max is a young man from Barcelona, a lover of nature and the adventures it brings us. He enjoys freeskiing and photographing landscapes around the world. Always eager to discover remote landscapes, new countries and exotic cultures. He is one of the content creators of Blue Banana with whom we share this desire to take over the world and explore every corner of our planet.