EAST ICELAND: THE EAST FJORDS
We are now driving along the east fjords of Iceland, along cliffs and curvy roads and the views are only getting better and better.
*Seriously: you can drive around Iceland, not have a single activity planned, and the road views themselves would be the experience of a lifetime.
The next stop along the way will be Fáskrúðsfjörður village and, yep, at this point we’ve given up on the correct pronunciation of town names! That itself was a hilarious component of our days.
Now that we have arrived in Fáskrúðsfjörður, we can settle into our hotel for the day, Fosshotel Eastfjords -located right on the fjord. This quaint and historic place was built in the early 1900’s for fishermen. One of the buildings used to be a French fisherman hospital and staying there gives you access to a small museum full of life-like (and very expressive) wax figures giving a representation of what life was like for them during war times. Don’t let the spine-chilling vibe keep you from staying here though- the serene surrounding balances it all out!
We used our morning to explore the surrounding areas, fuel up, and prepare for the next and perhaps most exciting part of our journey: reaching the largest glacier in Iceland: Vatnajökull!
About the next 3 hours will be spent driving south through more of the East Fjords:
We are now in the area of Höfn, Iceland and we are getting so close! For tonight’s accomodations I’ve chosen Fosshotel Vatnajökull
So it’s decided and booked: the next day we will go on a glacier hike on one of Vatnajökull’s glacier tongues: Svínafellsjökull.
On your way to Vatnajökull you will spot something your eyes definitely can’t miss. A stunning glacial lagoon on the border of the glacier: Jökulsárlón!
You will definitely want to leave enough time in your itinerary to park and admire the beauty of this incredible place.
*Be prepared for very high winds in this area, specially if you’re traveling in the off-season (winter months). *
Tip: If your itinerary allows time, schedule a boat tour of the lagoon, allowing you to get a closer look at the icebergs and possibly spot a couple of seals!
A 45-minute drive away is the Vatnajökull National Park’s visitor center. We arranged a glacier hike tour with Troll Expeditions and couldn’t be happier with our experience! Meet your guides at the visitor center and hop on a shuttle for a short drive to the glacier.
Tip: Wearing appropriate clothing and gear is very important for the safety and comfort of your experience. Wear hiking boots wide enough to fit the crampons and a warm hat thin enough to allow room for your helmet. Weather proof jacket and pants are a good idea too, after all, you are literally walking on ice in a country known to have unstable weather!
The South of Iceland has no disappointed! Even though every place I’ve seen so far on this trip has been beautiful, it’s safe to say that the best was saved for last! And now we are heading to Vik, somewhere I looked forward to since the very beginning of my planning. Just keep driving down the Ring Road to find out why…
A field full of stones placed by every traveler really is a sight. Placing a stone is meant to bring you good fortune on your journey, and legend has it, the tradition started with the Vikings setting into Iceland- using them as beacons to find their way. Iceland is full of history and this piece in particular left me in awe.
As we keep driving down our route, we find ourselves stopping A LOT. Thats because of views like these. Literally right on Road 1 (Ring Road). Seriously, all you have to do is safely park on the side of the road (most landmarks like these have a small designated parking area). I can tell you that many of the places you will be amazed by might not be a part of your itinerary in the first place. That’s the beauty of this country.
We now check into the Farmhouse Lodge in Skeidflotur, our lodging for the night, to get some much needed rest as we are now on our 7th day of driving around the country. Our warm and cozy 10-room hotel provided a good nights rest & a traditional Icelandic breakfast/coffee prepared us for a full day of sightseeing.
A 7-minute drive from our hotel is the famous black sand beach in Vik: Reynisfjara. This unique volcanic beach was rated as one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world, and its no wonder why! Black sand made from lava, tall hexagonal basalt columns, and an astounding basalt cave is what makes this place so different.
A 30 minute drive from Vik, we find ourselves in Skógar, where we will visit Skogafoss, a powerful waterfall in South Iceland. Be prepared to get wet here. Some choose to walk behind the waterfall, if you choose to do this make sure to wear a waterproof jacket & boots and remember to protect your camera/phone.
Climbing the 370 steps up Skogafoss will provide a good leg work-out and a rewarding view like this:
There are many other well-known waterfalls Iceland that we didn’t get the chance to explore because we took our time with every other location we stopped at. Gulfoss, Dettifoss, and Godafoss are all iconic in the list of waterfalls to see. Another sight we missed was the Great Geyser in the southwestern part of Iceland. It is part of the famous Golden Circle, and I will make sure to see it the next time we are in Iceland.
The 8 days we spent in Iceland were enough to allow us to complete the Ring Road, but looking back, a whole 2 weeks would’ve been excellent; allowing a couple of days in one area, before moving on to the next.
Whatever time you can allot, 2 weeks, or 1, the Ring Road Trip can be accomplished. It just takes some careful planning and organization.
We decided to spend our last night near Reykjavik, returning to the first hotel we had stayed at the first night. We wanted to increase our chances of seeing the aurora borealis one more time and, also, this would put us close to Keflavik Airport for our return home the next day. On our last night we walked around Reyjkavik downtown and got one last feel of the charismatic city.
Tip: Parking is free after 6 p.m. and on Sundays in the Downtown area, unless you choose a parking garage. Some areas have modern credit-card compatible meters, but the majority (specially in the downtown area) will be old-fashioned, so its a good idea to have some coins. Plus, coins make for a good souvenir if you don’t end up using them. 😉
Feeling completely fulfilled, we drove back to our hotel to get some rest and get our luggage ready for the flight home. We were so lucky because we DID get to see the Northern Lights (from afar) on the way to our hotel. It’s like the Aurora Borealis gave us a welcome on our first night and a goodbye (& please come again) on our last!
Returning our car the following day at Geyser and going through the Keflavik airport was a simple process. Our flight back home didn’t feel long at all, it seemed like everyone on that flight was high on the adventure they’ve just had.
Iceland was like a dream. From the moment we picked up our rental car, the excitement of turning the engine on, and realizing “This is it, our adventure begins now!”, to the first sighting of the Icelandic horses I had been excited to see. The little things- from how to pump gas in a different country, converting US to Icelandic Krona, to attempting to read all the warning street signs in Icelandic. To the bigger things- from learning to walk on crampons and hike on an ice glacier in freezing temperatures for the first time, to driving in the middle of a storm with 70 mph-winds behind us.
The Ring Road trip is for the adventurous. If you stick to the rules, exercise caution, and plan carefully, you will have a successful and unforgettable road trip. Volatile weather and narrow/curvy cliff-side roads can all make this road trip a challenge, but you will be rewarded with other-worldly nature and scenery. It is a place made of wonder and nothing would make me happier than to share that experience with you. This was all made for you. You must see this part of the planet for yourself. So I’ll be looking forward to our conversation on how marvelous it all was.
The Big Blue Marvel