Magical Iceland! Land of Fire and Ice
When I first thought about doing a short one week trip to an exotic international destination I quickly concluded that Iceland would be the one. Living in LA is so challenging as a traveler because there are only a few international destinations within a short flight reach. I wanted something exotic but yet peaceful. Since I am adventurous and a nature lover I couldn't think of a better destination than Iceland. After watching several documentaries and heard of testimonials from other fellow travelers, Iceland quickly hiked to the top of my list of countries to visit. Since 2010, tourism in Iceland has grown exponentially! So what makes Iceland such an exotic destination?
Below are 6 reasons why you should visit Iceland now!
1. Iceland is the newest large land formation on earth. It's estimated to have been formed about 16 million years ago. In fact, islands around Iceland continue to form. The newest one being Surtsey, formed in 1963. This land formation rose from the ocean within a matter of weeks after a volcano erupted within the ocean and molted lava formed this land mass.
2. Iceland is formed of 130+ volcanoes. Several of these volcanoes are active and constantly erupting. One of them, Eyjafjallajökul, erupted in 2010 and caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled in mainland Europe. The eruption of this volcano put Iceland on the map and has since sparked the interest of thousands of tourists. Visiting Iceland is still an exclusive experience but with such high tourist traffic, its charming atmosphere may disappear within the next few years.
3. Iceland sits between two continents. It is located in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, where the North American and Eurasian plates meet. They are drifting by about one inch (2.5 cm) per year, which means the country is expanding, yet its coastline is eroding. This alone makes this country interesting. Although Iceland is technically in Europe, it actually sits in two different continents. If you're adventurous like me, make sure to take a diving or snorkeling tour to Silfra (will discuss later on this post).
4. Iceland is the northernmost country in the world! Geographically the northernmost country (in its entirety) in the world and also home of the northern lights, which offer spectacular night shows between the months of October - April.
5. Iceland is the home of the "Vikings" It is said to have the purest Viking blood line. Despite the fact that Vikings originated in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden), they also inhabited Iceland. Foreign migration in Scandinavia prevented the Viking blood line from been preserved. Iceland instead is so isolated that managed to preserve the blood line. In fact, Icelandic is the closest language to the original Viking language and many locals can still understand original Viking texts and sagas.
6. Iceland is the land of fire and ice! It is such a magical place with endless landscapes and beautiful scenery. It is home to the largest glaciers in the world (excluding Greenland). Iceland is home to countless waterfalls and hot springs that will simply blow your mind away! It feels like another world. No wonder the Game of Thrones directors chose to film in Iceland.
Enjoy the photos and scroll all the way to the bottom to find out about the 6 things you must do while in Iceland and 6 tips on how to travel through Iceland on a budget.
6 must do things while in Iceland:
1. Visit the Blue lagoon and a natural hot spring. If this is your first time in Iceland I would not recommend you to skip the Blue Lagoon Price & Tickets | Blue Lagoon Iceland. Despite the fact that is is a man made lagoon and a tourist trap, it is just so beautiful! I recommend that if you are a traveler like me (restless and adventurous) you go directly to the lagoon right after landing at Keflavik airport. The lagoon is only a few kilometers from the airport and on your way to Reykjavik. They also offer lockers for small carry on luggage and backpacks (free) and for large luggage (for a fee). The best way to cure a jet lag is to dive directly into this lagoon and relax. The basic entrance fee is $50 USD and you may take the following shuttles: Gray Line Iceland - Award winning and best selling tours or Flybus to get there and then to take you to your hotel in Reykjavik afterwards.
Now ... any local would tell you to go to a natural hot spring and this is for a very good reason, this is so so much better! If you are adventurous and like hiking I recommend Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal. It is about a 1 hour drive out of Reykjavik and about 1.5 hours hike. It is absolutely stunning and has various natural pools to relax and enjoy the scenery. I enjoyed it so much I spent the whole night at the hot spring. The beauty about visiting Iceland during summer days is that the sun never really goes down so your have endless days. Please add this hot spring to your list while in Iceland.
2. Snorkel or dive in Silfra. So... What is Silfra? Silfra is the rift between the two continental plates (North America and Eurasia). Glacier water runs between the two plates forming a type of river where many divers and adventurers go explore these freezing waters. It is said to have the clearest and cleanest water in the world. Due to its temperature, animals do not live in these waters. This is quite possibly the only place in the world where you can touch two continents underwater at the same time so this is a very unique experience. I booked the tour through Golden Circle & Snorkeling Tour - Arctic Adventures and it was an incredible experience.
3. Climb a glacier or visit an ice cave. Ice cave tours are only available in winter months so please plan accordingly; however, based on testimonials I highly recommend this experience. I plan on doing this during a winter trip next time. As far as climbing a glacier, I booked the Blue Ice - Arctic Adventures and it was simply amazing! The day was pleasant for once and I absolutely loved the scenery. Hiking through the glacier was beautiful but climbing it was even better. You have an adventurous spirit? .... then you must add it to your list.
4. Road trip through the ring road and camp out. I did not get a chance to drive the ring road entirely, only half, and it was incredible. I met other travelers who did it and said it was a must do! The scenery in the south and the north differ so much but both are equally beautiful. Camping out will only add more adventure to your trip.
5. Climb a volcano - I hiked Eyjafjallajokull with these guys Volcano - Eyjafjallajokull Glacier - Tours in Iceland - Destinations. It was fascinating to be inside one of the most powerful volcanoes in the planet. There are a ton of volcanoes to climb so pick something that catches your attention and embrace that adventurous spirit!
6. Watch the northern lights - Unfortunately, this is something you can only see in the winter months (October - April) but it is a must see when visiting Iceland. I plan on going back to Iceland in the winter once again to get a glimpse of this spectacle.
BONUS! ... do you want to know what was my favorite experience while in Iceland? I would say I really loved Jökulsárlón lagoon. I took a boat trip inside the lagoon with AMPHIBIAN GLACIER LAGOON BOAT TOURS | icelagoon.is and it was unreal. Such an amazing place to see. Diamond beach is next to the lagoon and is also impressive. I suggest this to anyone visiting Iceland for the first or tenth time. It is just such a beautiful thing to see.
Iceland is quite possibly the most expensive country I've visited so far. Even more expensive than Switzerland, Singapore, the UK, or Japan. So before I begin telling your about my Icelandic experience I'd like to share some of my secret travel tips.
6 Tips on how to travel through Iceland on a budget:
1. Fly from the US west coast or east coast for less than $300 roundtrip. Yes, you heard me right! There are several airlines that offer low cost flights to Iceland but nothing beats WOW airlines, WOW air | Cheap flights to Iceland and Europe from USA and Canada. If you book in advance, you can find tickets for as low as $260 roundtrip like I did. WOW is a low-cost company and they change extra fees for everything. However, if you play the game right you will be just fine. Below are some things that airlines don't want you to know:
Airlines make money on luggage fees. Even a carry-on costs $60 USD (each way). However, you may pack light like I did and avoid paying these extra fees. Look at their website specifications and make sure your hand luggage that is within the guidelines. I managed to fit everything I needed for the week into one Jeansport school backpack that I've owned for 15 years. I fit my DSLR, 3 lenses, my GoPro and equipment in there as well. Girls... trust me, you are not walking a runway out there so just keep it basic. I took my curling iron and never used it (rained every day).
Also, check in online vs. at the counter so you avoid a check-in fee. Bring your own food onboard. I bought a sandwich and a drink at the airport before takeoff and saved me a ton of money because WOW charges for food and even water. Bring your own entertainment (iPad, iPod, laptop) because it costs about $20 onboard. Using this method of traveling saved about $300 in fees. So it pays off!
2. Use Airbnb or search for local guest houses or hostels. Hotels are so expensive in Reykjavik. I suggest staying at a much more low key place. Also, keep in mind that you will most likely always be on the move and come back to your hotel exhausted from your day activities so it is not worth paying top to dollar for a hotel room unless your'e in your honeymoon or you are filthy rich. I stayed at ODDSSON hostel Reykjavik, Iceland. An odd ho(s)tel indeed... and had a good experience.
3. Save money on meals. This is personal preference of course but I am sharing tips for traveling on a budget. An average meal in Iceland is about $30 USD so it can quickly add up. I suggest that you supplement at least one meal a day by buying snacks at a local grocery shop. For the first few days I was shopping for my lunch snacks and breakfast at a local shop called 10/11; however, locals told me NOT to go there. It's open 24 hours but it is a tourist trap... no wonder I paid $6 for a banana! Please shop at Bonus Supermarket like the locals do and save yourself tons of cash. 10/11 and other shops uncharge their items about 200% due to high tourism. Enjoy one meal a day at a local restaurant and try something new.
4. Drink booze as locals do... Tax free! If you are the type of person that must have a drink while on vacation I suggest that you following the following advice. Alcohol in Iceland costs an arm and a leg as it is heavily taxed. An average beer is about $12-$15 USD. So do as locals do... buy your alcohol at the duty free store before leaving the airport. I saw several locals carrying out carts of alcohol from the airport and wondered why. Now I know why... they save close to 60% in cost by doing so. One beer at the blue lagoon will cost you $20 USD
5. Save money on tours. Research and select the best tours at the lowest cost. There are also some free tours in Reykjavik that you can take advantage of. I opted to take tours every day but I made sure I got those that offered some sort of discount or had the most attractions included in the tours. One of my favorite tours in Iceland was the South Coast Jökulsárlón Lagoon tour with Discover Iceland Tours | Super Jeeps 4x4 Private Tours | Minibus Tours. It was a long day but full of adventure and a very knowledgeable tour guide. This tour combines two day tours into one and the price is just right. I would highly recommend this to everyone. You get the most out of your money in this 14 hour tour and it's quite an experience. Despite the fact that Arctic Adventures has amazing trips and itineraries, such as the Blue Ice tour (which I loved or the Silfra Diving and golden circle tour) they have much higher prices. Also, they have just bought out Extreme Iceland - Sightseeing and Activity Tour Expert and monopolized the market.
6. Rent a car. Renting a car can be very expensive in Iceland but sometimes the most convenient and cheapest alternative. An average tour will set you back about $250 USD whereas a car will cost about $150/day, check out Iceland Car Rental Made Easy - Best Price Online: Guaranteed. If you go on a group this makes more sense (financially) than driving solo of course which is why I opted out of this option. Driving the Icelandic ring road is no rocket science, unless of course you are driving in the middle of a snow storm. In that case, I really do not recommend you to risk it unless you have a modified vehicle and you are familiar with driving it. If you are an adventurer you may also find various camp sites along the way where you can camp on a tent for the night (saving money on accommodation) while enjoying the scenery. Just make sure you bring tons of blankets because even during summer it is really really cold.
I hope that these tips will help you to plan your trip and make it a reality. I had an incredible time in Iceland and hope you do as well. Embrace it, make this dream a reality, and enjoy!