Iceland 2021

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Introduction and Travel Tips

Planning help: I did a lot of research and kept coming back mostly to: Iceland With A View (website, YouTube videos, purchased an e-guidebook); The Awkward Tourist (video series showing what the entire ring road and attractions look like); Reddit has a lot of up to the minute, detailed information; ZigZagonearth; Earthtrekkers

Lessons Learned (What I would do differently): Not much, I think this was a good introduction to Iceland and just makes us want to go back again. We only saw about 1/3 of the ring road and none of the Interior Highlands or Westfjords so there's still plenty to see. Unfortunately, we had a skip a few things due to time but that's a good reason to go back. One thing I'd do differently - plan more time in Reykjavik. And maybe add one more day to catch the things we missed. And add one more day to go to the East Fjords. Also, I'd plan ahead better to get a reservation at Dill (we were on the wait list but never got called). I think we were a bit rushed and spent too little time at too many places, but there's just too much to see.

My initial thoughts were that Iceland was going to be so different from any other place so I started looking into booking a planned self-driving itinerary from Guidetoiceland.Is. Instead, I ended up using their itinerary but booking our own car, hotels, and excursions. This allowed me to pick hotels very close to sights that I wanted to photograph at sunset or at night. We also saved $1,000 by not booking through them. In the end, going to Iceland really isn't any different than going to the U.K. so using a travel service is unnecessary. I also think that doing the research yourself is half the fun and very edumacational.

What were your favorite things?: Everything. The fact that everything was so unique and breathtaking. If I had to choose: 1. Jökulsárlón 2. Fagradallsfjall volcano (biggest regret - not hiking up higher to see the lava cone/getting to take the helicopter tour) 3. the Arnarstapi to Djúpalónssandur coastline (should have given this more time). The second biggest regret was not hiking up the Reykjadalur Valley to sit in the hot spring river, but it was too late, cold, and rainy.

Was anything not worth seeing or overhyped?: Nope.

What was the weather really like?: I think we actually got pretty lucky. There was a wide range from moderate rain to dense fog to full sun. Unfortunately, even on sunny days, it got cloudy at sunset so I didn't photograph any stunning sunsets or night images. I wore rain pants three times (when we walked behind Seljalandsfoss and into Gljufrabui, walking next to Gullfoss, and on our glacier hike) but having a good rain jacket is critical. Temperatures were warmer than I had expected: low 50's to low 60's. I really didn't need the long underwear. Even on the glacier (and with the walking we were doing) it was warm enough for hiking pants, fleece, and shell jacket.

What was the "midnight sun" like?: This was the most bizarre part of going to Iceland - 20 hours a day of sunlight: 3:30 sunrise and 11:30 sunset. 10pm felt like 6pm in Boston so it was easy to extend the day to see more things but this comes at the cost of being exhausted every night. All hotels had good black out curtains so sleep was never a problem.

How much did it cost?:  This was a much less budget conscious trip than we'd usually take. Since we missed an entire year of traveling due to Covid, we thought we'd splurge. A budget trip could probably be done for 60% of what we spent (assume no car insurance, fewer restaurant meals, $150/night hotels, and limiting extras to things like the Jokulsarlon boat and going to the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir.

Airfare: $530 x2 (IcelandAir), Boston-Reykjavik 

Transportation: $1,050 (7 day Rental Car, VW Polo (Hertz) - $525, plus CDW and windshield insurance - $275 (probably didn't need it, but insurance is so confusing in a foreign country, it was worth not having to worry about it), plus Gas $250 = 30 mpg @ $7.69/gallon average

Food, Groceries, Snacks: $600 (typical lunch or dinner for 2 at a casual or hotel restaurant- approximately $50 average, plus lots of stops at Bonus grocery store)

Hotel: $1,475 ($240/night average, ranging from $162 for a guesthouse to $327 for a boutique hotel; there are cheaper accommodations, but we wanted mostly moderate places and paid a premium for specific photography-friendly locations.

"Excursions": Sky Lagoon: $57 x2 for Pure Lite Pass, $4 parking at Thingvellir, $5.50 parking at Seljalandsfoss, $150 x2 Katla Ice Cave Tour (expensive for what you get, probably better to do in winter when the cave isn't melting), $85 x2 Zodiac Boat at Jokulsarlon (totally worth it), $77 x2 Glacier Hike (worth it), $445 x2 Helicopter Tour over Fagradalsfjall Volcano (cancelled due to weather, but as a once in a lifetime thing, I imagine it would have been worth it). We've typically never done guided tours on vacation, but these were generally worth it.

How much driving did you do?: 990 miles. All of our driving on this trip was on paved roads except for a few dirt ones. Our 2wd car was fine for them. Only the road to Fjaðrárgljúfur seemed like you might need 4wd in one or two spots, but we took it slow. Websites advised not to speed (the speed limit was 90 km/h on the ring road) so I took it really easy the first few days but soon was driving like a local at 110 (which although only 68 mph, felt like we were pushing it in the VW Polo on the narrow highway.

How much walking did you do?: 110,000 steps / 41 miles. We're not intense hikers so this is mostly just wandering.

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Day 1 - Thursday, July 8: Reykjanes Peninsula

Our trip begins by following the coast of the peninsula, visiting lighthouses, lava fields spilling into the ocean, a geothermal vent, and an active volcano.

Day 2 -Friday, July 9: Snæfellsnes Peninsula

We head northwest from Reykjavik to an area that has a little of everything found in Iceland: glaciers, lava fields, volcanic cones, dramatic ocean cliffs, and small fishing villages.

Day 3 - Saturday, July 10: The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle may be a Visitors Bureau invention encompassing highlights of the country that are easily accessible from Reykjavik, but they are spectacular, must-see sights.

Day 4 - Sunday, July 11: The South Coast

Several of the most well know waterfalls are in this area; so many that we couldn't fit all of them into our day along with an ice cave tour and visit to the black sand of Reynisfjara.

Day 5 - Monday, July 12: Vatnajökull

Taking a zodiac boat to weave among icebergs, seals and a huge glacier is an otherworldly experience.

Day 6- Tuesday, July 13: Skaftafell

We strap on crampons and head up a glacier. Unfortunately, we also have to haul ourselves 3 1/2 hours west to be ready to leave tomorrow.

Day 7 - Wednesday, July 14: Reykjavik

Our highly anticipated helicopter tour over the volcano has been cancelled due to weather so wander around Reykjavik, and visit the Perlan Museum.

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