With active volcanoes, epic waterfalls, sprawling landscapes, volatile geysers, mountainous glaciers, eclectic small town life, and vibrantly unique culture, the 103,000 square kilometers that encompass this beautiful country in the North Atlantic are truly a nature, adventure, and photo enthusiast’s paradise.
When You Should Go
Peak season for Iceland is most certainly in the summer months when the Arctic Sun entices tourists and locals alike out in droves in the direction of adventure. Winter is also popular as a stopover to see the Aurora Borealis, but we elected to travel there in the shoulder-season of October based on the idea that the roads would still be drivable, but there would be far less tourists about, particularly in the north (both of these proved true). The downfall of traveling at this time of year is that some of the campsites and hiking trails are inaccessible, and the temperatures can get quite low (especially camping at night). However, showing up to places like Detifoss and Jökulsárlón and being the only people there instantly made any weather-related hardships worthwhile.
What To Do
Rent a car. I cannot emphasize this enough, as so many people use Iceland as a stopover en route to Europe, spending a few days meandering around the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. Using this brief window as your complete overview of Iceland is doing this country a massive injustice. Over ten days we put about 2500km on our little rental car, and there was never a dull moment. The Ring Road (Highway 1) provides an excellent and easily navigable roadway around the country, but the best adventures are found in the secrets off the main highway. Don’t hesitate to explore, you’ll be amazed at what those little rental cars are capable of (don’t tell Avis).
Bring a Tent
‘Wild’ camping is allowed throughout the country, basically enabling you to camp anywhere you wish unless there is signage indicating otherwise. On top of the fact that accommodation can be quite expensive, camping in Iceland enables you to forge a bond with the nature you are surrounded by in a way that is difficult to articulate, but simply has to be experienced to be understood. Just make sure you are prepared with sufficiently warm camping gear if you plan to travel there in October as we did.
A few tips
Throughout my years of traveling the two things I have been most amazed by in terms of their advancement have been the use of credit cards as a primary form of payment and the availability of wifi. Although the Icelandic Krona is the local currency, I never had any need to take out money from an ATM, rather electing to use my VISA card everywhere (and I do mean everywhere). I was also astonished by the remote locations where wifi was readily available to use on my iPhone, and although I love ‘turning off’ so to speak while traveling, the inescapable reality is that it’s helpful to be able to check your phone every now and then.
Food in Iceland (both at the grocery store and at restaurants) is very expensive, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the climate allows for minimal farming and the geography of the country is situated in the North Atlantic. Unless you have an enormous budget, be prepared to eat a lot of pylsur’s (Icelandic hot dogs, commonly found at rest stops and gas stations) and other fast food along the way. We also brought a bunch of snacks, etc. for the car from Canada that helped us save some money along the way.
Don’t over-plan your routing. I’m confident that throughout the drive you will stumble across countless amazing places that you didn’t realize existed, and you want to be able to have time to explore them fully. The best thing to do is have a rough idea of where you want to be within a certain time frame, but make sure to take time to enjoy the open road and the many adventures you will find along the way.
This tip is for the burgeoning photographers out there. Make sure you have at least a fundamental understanding of your camera and its settings before heading out. It still amazes me how many people I see on the road with excellent camera gear blindly blasting their shutter away with no thought to lighting, composition, etc., but presuming that because they spent a lot of money on gear they will be rewarded with fantastic photos. With a bit of practice and planning, you can leave Iceland with some truly remarkable photos, just make sure you do some homework before boarding the plane. Enjoy!