Thursday, 27 September 2018

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Day 5

Sadly, we've reached the last day of our five-day winter itinerary for Iceland. But you can't be too unhappy, because your final day in Iceland will feature some of the coolest activities yet. I know what you're thinking; how is it possible to top hiking on a glacier and visiting plane crashes on black sand beaches? Well, how about soaking in the miraculous waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon or visiting the beautiful natural attractions like Mt. Kirkjufell on the Snæfellsnes peninsula? We've seen and done a lot in the last four days along the Ring Road, and it's time to head back towards Reykjavik from Vik to enjoy everything that West and  Southwest Iceland have to offer.

Kirkjufell mountain covered in snow and with the Northern Lights dancing in the background

If you’d like to check out any previous posts, here are all of the sections of the 5-day winter itinerary for Iceland:

Part One: Reykjavik and the Golden Circle 
Part Two: The South Coast of Iceland 
Part Three: Vatnajökull National Park, Ice Caves and Glacier Hike 
Part Four: Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Blue Lagoon

Drive Back to Reykjavik 

You’ll start the morning by making the three-hour drive back to Reykjavik. Be sure to stop by Skógafoss waterfall or Seljalandsfoss waterfall if you missed either of them on the first leg of your journey. Once you start getting close to Reykjavik, you can either head south toward the Blue Lagoon spa or keep going towards the Snaefellsness peninsula, which lies a couple of hours north of Reykjavik. The option you choose will depend upon your priorities as well as the time of your return flight the following day.

It's possible to fit in both the Blue Lagoon and Snaefellsnes peninsula into the same day, but it will definitely be a long one. And remember, there is limited daylight in Iceland during the winter months. If you're looking to do things when there is light outside, your window of opportunity lasts from about 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. The hour of sunrise and sunset varies in December, January and February, so check the exact times of the month you're planning your visit here.

If you have a return flight late in the day, you can do what many tourists opt to do, which is stop at the Blue Lagoon on their way to Keflavik airport. This technically spills over into the sixth day of your itinerary, but if you have the time it's definitely the better option. Otherwise, you can choose to either focus on the Blue Lagoon or Snaefellsnes peninsula or take it to the extreme by trying to see both places and spending less time at each.

Iceland's Blue Lagoon spa makes a great stop on your 5-day winter itinerary

Soak in the Healing Waters of the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa 

This is one of the most famous sites in Iceland and is the country's most visited attraction. A few hours soaking in the healing, silica-infused waters of the Blue Lagoon will rejuvenate you. Relaxing amid the turquoise blue and volcanic black scenery of this man-made geothermal spa will be just what you need after nearly a week of traveling. Get a massage or another body treatment or simply chill out as you watch the steam rise from the warm water into the frosty winter air.

Don't worry; you can enter the lagoon from indoors. I don't know about you, but being outdoors in a swimsuit in the middle of winter on a Nordic island that borders the Arctic Circle isn't exactly my idea of a good time. But if you do choose to embrace your inner polar bear, feel free to go full Icelander and walk out to the pool. Don't say that I didn't warn you though; bathing etiquette requires that you shower before entering. You could turn into a shivering Icelandic popsicle before you reach the water.

Explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Kirkjufell Mountain

About two hours north of Reykjavik is Snaefellsnes peninsula. This is the one you've seen in that iconic photo of Iceland that has the mighty pointy-yet-rounded mountain in the background with cascades flowing into the waters below. In the colder months, these waters freeze, and you are left with a snow-covered landscape that evokes something out of a wintery dream.

Game of Thrones fans will no doubt recognize the majestic Kirkjufell mountain from seasons six and seven of the popular HBO series. If you recall, the Hound had a vision of the White Walkers making their ghostly march past a “mountain shaped like an arrowhead”. Jon Snow & Co spot this famous Icelandic mountain while traveling north of the Wall on their quest to find the army of the dead. Pretty spooky (and cool), right? Fear not, dear readers. We promise that you won’t run into the Night King in Iceland. Although according to urban legend, there are some rogue polar bears running around our little island.

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Day 5

You’ve seen and done a lot during these last 5 days (including dodging White Walkers, which as Samwell Tarly can tell you is no small feat). While you haven't seen everything that Iceland has to offer, you've certainly covered many of the highlights and have visited almost everything there is to see in the south. Maybe next time you visit, you can spend some time in the North and explore the Diamond Circle. There's also the possibility of visiting during the summer, when the Midnight Sun, warmer temperatures, and outdoor festivals completely transform the country. Planning a vacation to Iceland in June, July, or August is a completely different experience than visiting during the months of December, January, or February. Who knows, maybe we'll be seeing you again sooner than you thought.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Day 4

Now that you're familiar with Reykjavik, the Golden Circle, and the South Coast of Iceland, let's get into some really cool stuff: Vatnajökull National Park and the park’s massive glacier. As Europe's largest national park, this enormous area covers 14% of Iceland and is the ultimate destination for any adventure lovers who land on our shores. From the sapphire and cerulean-tinged Arctic ice of glacier hikes and ice caves to iceberg playground Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, prepare to be wowed during your day here. Pile on those layers, lace up those waterproof boots and get ready for an exciting day trip to Vatnajökull National Park.

Skaftafell glacier at Vatnajökull National Park is a must on any 5-day winter itinerary in Iceland

If you'd like to check out any of the other sections of our 5-day winter itinerary for Iceland, here they are:

Part One: Reykjavik and the Golden Circle 

Part Two: The South Coast of Iceland 

Part Three: Vatnajökull National Park, Ice Caves and Glacier Hike 

Part Four: Snaefellsnes Peninsula 

Part Five: Farewell to Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Start off your morning by exploring this famed body of water that lies between Hof and Höhn on Route 1. This unusual lagoon is filled with icebergs and Icelandic seals and other wildlife. The appearance of the lagoon’s ice floes is so remarkable that it was chosen as the backdrop for that car chase scene on a frozen lake in the James Bond film Die Another Day. While we don't recommend revving your engine and propelling your vehicle along the water's surface among icebergs and glaciers like Pierce Brosnan, we definitely think you would enjoy taking a boat tour of this placid lake. And if you truly want to race your car, we can really stop you, can we?

Iceland’s Diamond Beach

After you've visited Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, make sure you pop across the street to see the Diamond Beach. “What?! A diamond beach in Iceland??? I'm going to be rich!! I love this country!! No wonder it's so popular with tourists!”. Hold your horses there, cowboy. There aren't actual diamonds littering the black sand beaches of this area. Sorry to disappoint. What you will actually find are pieces of broken off icebergs ranging in size from small rocks to ones the size of a large SUV. So while you won't become wealthy by visiting Iceland’s Diamond Beach, you will be rich with memories from seeing some pretty cool stuff and taking some interesting pictures here.

Iceland's Diamond Beach during a 5-day winter itinerary

Vatnajökull National Park and Vatnajökull Glacier

All right, here we go. It's time for the big dance! Let's get our glacier on, people! There are actually quite a few ways to explore Vatnajökull National Park and its star attraction, Vatnajökull glacier. The first option is visiting an ice cave. These frosty natural wonders are formed when water freezes to the interior of a cave and creates an icy natural passageway. The Into the Glacier ice cave tour is probably one of the more popular ways to experience an ice cave in Iceland.

Up next are glacier caves, which are slightly different than ice caves. These magnificent blue caverns are created when the ice of the glacier that has been packed in (which squeezes out the air bubbles) melts, leaving an otherworldly chamber where you can enter and trek. Lastly, you can hike on Vatnajökull glacier itself. Traverse the icy mass for incredible views and the chance to cross off an item from your Iceland bucket list.

Whichever option you choose, make sure you go with a trained, professional guide. Their knowledge and experience of these precarious environments could save your life. This is their job, let them make sure that you are safe so that you can have a great time in Iceland.

Explore a glacier cave or ice cave in during your 5-day winter itinerary in Iceland

Head Back to Vik to Spend the Night

You’ll want to spend a second night at your base in Vik and take advantage of any extra time you have to do things you may have missed here. The final day of our 5-day winter itinerary in Iceland will see us driving west back towards Reykjavik and then heading slightly north to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. You'll get to see the most photographed mountain in Iceland and more.

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Day 4 

Wow! What a fantastic day of experiencing some of Iceland's most incredible natural wonders. No wonder our small island has become such a popular tourist destination in the last few years. I hope you enjoyed your adventures today and look forward to finishing up tomorrow with your last day in Iceland.

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Monday, 24 September 2018

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Day 3

We've explored Reykjavik and environs along with the Golden Circle in the first part of our 5-day winter itinerary for Iceland. Let's continue by heading east along the country's Ring Road to explore some of the jewels of South Iceland. There's a lot to see in this part of the island and several spectacular attractions. From Iceland's most beautiful waterfall to the black sand beaches you'll see in glossy travel magazine layouts, this area has so much to offer. It's no surprise that this is one of the most popular zones in the country. The South is even more beautiful in winter when its mighty, flowing waters are suspended in a frozen state of animation and pristine white snow blankets the ground. Let's find out what there is to discover in this unique part of the globe.

You'll see the partially frozen waters of Skógafoss during your 5-day winter itinerary in Iceland

But first, here are all of the sections of our 5-day winter itinerary for Iceland:

Part One: Reykjavik and the Golden Circle 

Part Two: The South Coast of Iceland 

Part Three: Vatnajökull National Park and Glacier Walk 

Part Four: Snaefellsnes Peninsula 

Part Five: Farewell to Reykjavik and The Blue Lagoon 

Alright, let's start driving in Iceland along the South Coast for the third day on our itinerary!

Day Three: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall 

There are few things to note about this popular Iceland attraction. The first is that it's considered to be one of Iceland's most beautiful waterfalls, if not the most beautiful. The second is that while this particular waterfall does not freeze in the winter (unlike Gullfoss, which we saw in the Golden Circle), it is still quite the sight to behold in the winter. Water rushes from the top as icicles hang from its cliffs while packed snow and frozen ice bubbles line the bath below. If you've got a good pair of hiking boots and sure footing, you can make your way around the waterfall to the cave that sits behind the cascade for incredible and unique views. This natural wonder lies 79 miles (128 km) southeast of Reykjavik on the Ring Road. You will reach it in about two hours.

Aerial view of icy and snowy Seljalandsfoss waterfall during 5-day Iceland winter itinerary

Day Three: Skógafoss Waterfall 

Continuing along the Ring Road towards Vik, we find another iconic Icelandic waterfall: Skógafoss. This powerful and mighty cascade has such a tall drop, that when it pounds into the waters below, it frequently produces a spray with a double rainbow. Feel the excitement and awe as you approach and be wowed as the water crashes after making a nearly 200 foot (60 meter) descent.

Optional Stop: DC-3 Plane Crash Site at Sólheimasandur Beach

If you got some extra time on your itinerary and you want to check out something really cool, be sure to stop at the DC-3 plane crash site at Sólheimasandur beach in South Iceland. The wreckage of a US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 rests on the black sand beaches of this remote zone. The contrast of the white fuselage of the plane set against the midnight black hue of the sand makes for quite the haunting image. This popular tourist attraction in Iceland is a 45-60 minute walk from the main road where you are required to leave your car. If you think you’ll have enough daylight in the winter and don't mind walking for two hours in the cold, this stop will be a memorable experience on your trip to Iceland.

Day Three: Vik and Reynisfjara Peninsula

We've reached our last stop for the day and the place where we will spend the night: Vik. The small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal has only about 300 residents and is the southernmost town in Iceland. Despite its small size, this haven by the sea has become a destination for travelers looking to recharge their batteries and explore the nearby volcanic beaches and geometric basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach. This is considered to be the best black sand beach in Iceland and was also featured on Game of Thrones. Fans of the popular television series will recognize it as part of Eastwatch By The Sea, one of the bastions guarded by the men of the Night's Watch.

Frozen Reynisfjara beach on Iceland's south coast during 5-day winter itinerary

Keep in mind that sunlight hours are greatly reduced in Iceland during winter. The sun normally rises close to 11 am and sets by 4 pm. Make sure when planning your drive times and routes that you leave enough time at the end of the day to explore this area. If you don't get the chance to do so, make sure you visit the following morning before continuing on towards Vatnajökull National Park.

After you checked into your accommodation in Vik, it's time to have dinner and rest up for tomorrow's big day out. You're going to need your energy as you will be hiking on a glacier. Get lots of sleep along with a hearty meal to give you strength for the day ahead.

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Day 3

Well, it's been quite a day. You've seen some of Iceland's most iconic sites and popular attractions. Hopefully, you have gone to bed with a full, happy tummy to accompany the wonderful memories you've made today. See you tomorrow when we visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and hike the massive Vatnajökull glacier!

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Friday, 21 September 2018

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Days 1 and 2

Although Iceland is considered by many to be a summer destination, those who come during the winter months are in for a wonderful surprise. The country is magically transformed from a place of lush, green scenery with flowing waterfalls into a frozen, icy landscape that much resemble a wintery snow globe. The Midnight Sun is replaced by the dancing Aurora Borealis as frost and snow blanket the ground in December, January, and February. Following a 5-day winter itinerary in Iceland is the perfect way to experience a wide array of the island’s most popular attractions. Traveling in Iceland during wintertime also has the added benefits of lower prices on everything from car rental to accommodation, less traffic on the roads, and the absence of hordes of tourists all jostling for the perfect spot to take selfies.

Frozen Gullfoss waterfall at sunset is part of any 5-day itinerary in Iceland

Before we dive into our 5-day itinerary for Iceland, I do feel the need to briefly mention what to pack. Iceland winter is not as extreme as the frozen tundra many people believe it to be. A good comparison would be winter in New York. It is important, however, to dress warmly and dress well. Bring thermal clothing, plenty of warm layers, a good pair of hiking boots (waterproof if possible), and a well-insulated, waterproof jacket. The days are short, and the cold can be intense. You want to be prepared for the weather, which can change at a moment's notice.

Day One: Arrival in Reykjavik

You've flown into Keflavik International Airport (KEF) and picked up your car rental. Now it's time to make the 50-minute drive to Iceland's capital. Be wary of icy conditions on the roads and always drive with caution. Windiness and poor visibility can make the drive take up to an hour. If the weather forecast shows calm conditions, we suggest taking the slightly longer and more scenic Route 420. In taking this less congested way to get to Reykjavik, you'll drive along the sea through the Reykjanes peninsula's black lava fields and otherworldly terrains

Depending on what time of day you arrive you will either check into your hotel and go to sleep or spend the day exploring Reykjavik. If you have extra time in the city and need some ideas for what to do, check out some of the suggestions for activities from some of our blog's previous articles about Reykjavik:

View of Reykjavik in the wintertime. The perfect place to start your five days in Iceland

Don't stay out too late though! You've got a big day ahead and want to be refreshed and ready to go in the morning.

Day 2: The Best of Nature with Iceland’s Iconic Golden Circle Route

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik and rightfully so. During your day out exploring the 186 mi (300 km) circuit, you will get to see some of the most popular attractions in Iceland for tourists.

Thingvellir National Park 

The day starts at Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most notable feature here is probably the Silfra Fissure. The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates collide in this spot, and there is a gaping tear in the ground where the Earth is actually coming apart. More adventurous travelers can go scuba diving between the plates in the summer. The park also holds a special historical significance for Iceland as it is the home of both Iceland's first parliament and in fact, the world's first parliament. The Althingi (the Icelandic government) held its first tribal meetings of the country’s most powerful chieftains here in 930 AD.

Geysir and Strokkur Geysers in Haukadalur Geothermal Area 

The 37 mi (60 km) drive from Thingvellir to the Haukadalur geothermal area will take a little over an hour. The lunar landscape is covered with steamy hot springs and bubbling mud pools due to the volcanic activity boiling just below the surface. In this zone, you'll find the famous Strokkur and Geysir geysers. While the eruptions at Geysir are much more impressive (its spewing column of hot water shoots 230 feet or 70 meters) into the air), Strokkur’s aquatic bursts are much more reliable. They happen every 10 minutes or so and launches 66 feet (20 meters) out of the ground. Tourists visiting should know that Geysir is not really that active anymore, but you are always guaranteed a spectacular show at Strokkur.

The powerful and explosive Strokkur geysir is part of your 5-day Iceland itinerary

Gullfoss Waterfall 

Once you've had your fill of geysers and national parks, it's time to head up the road for the last of the “Big Three” on Iceland's Golden Circle route. Gullfoss waterfall ( golden waterfall in Icelandic) has not one but two impressive drops to wow visitors. The waterfall’s second cascade falls 230 feet (70 meters) over icy cliffs into the chilly Hvítá canyon below.

Back to Reykjavik - Optional Stops

Head back to Reykjavik and have a night out on the town or stop beforehand in Stokkseyri, a cute little seaside town surrounded by the Þjórsárhraun lava field. They've got great lobster at their seafood restaurant Fjöruborðið, a favorite among locals. Be sure to try the "magical" langoustine soup; it's the restaurant's specialty and is legendary. Hveragerði Is also a popular bonus stop on the way back to Reykjavik. The town is known for its beautiful botanical gardens, lovely greenhouses, and geothermal activity.

Iceland in Winter: 5-day Itinerary - Days 1 and 2

You've had quite an eventful two days and have seen so much. But believe it or not, the best is yet to come. Tomorrow we will leave the Reykjavik region and head east on the Ring Road to explore Iceland's South Coast. Sleep well and see you soon.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2018

9 Famous People from Iceland You Might Not Know Are Icelandic

So, Iceland is a pretty small country. With a population of just under 340,000 people, our numbers are dwarfed by many cities around the world. Nevertheless, we have our fair share of talent, athletic excellence, and artistic minds. Maybe it's the cold weather, fresh Nordic air, and the fact that we have elves living among us, but there's something about Iceland that breeds creativity and imagination. So how many famous Icelanders can you name? Other than Björk, there are some famous people from Iceland that perhaps you did not know were Icelandic.

Iceland has many famous singers, actors, bands, musicians, and athletes

Famous People from Iceland #1: Actor Stefán Karl Stefánsson aka Robbie Rotten 

Stefán Karl Stefánsson was a stage and screen actor best known for his portrayal of Robbie Rotten on the Nick Jr. series LazyTown. Robbie was always getting up to no good by encouraging the other characters to eat junk food and not exercise. I personally don't see how this makes him a villain as I do much of the same. But I guess in the grand scheme of things, eating well and exercising are technically things that we should strive for. Sadly, he passed away due to cancer in August of 2018 at the young age of 43.

Famous People From Iceland #2: Musical Group Of Monsters and Men

Formed in 2010, this Reykjavik band is best known for the single Little Talks off of their 2011 album My Head is an Animal. The infectious, indie pop tune, with its brassy riff, is sure to bring back fond memories to all who hear it. The mostly black and white video is evocative of the Smashing Pumpkins ode Tonight, Tonight, which itself is inspired by the Georges Méliès classic A Trip to the Moon.

Famous People From Iceland #3: Musical Group Kaleo

This blues/rock quartet was founded in the town of Mosfellsbær (close to Reykjavik) in 2012 and has released two studio albums. Their 2016 hit Way Down We Go peaked at #1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart as well as the Top US Airplay chart. You might recognize the song from the movie Collateral Beauty and the trailers for the movie Logan or Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black.

Famous People from Iceland #4: Strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson aka The Mountain from Game of Thrones 

That's right, not only is Game of Thrones shot in Iceland but one of its bigger, scarier characters also hails from here. In addition to being an actor, the man who plays Gregor Clegane is also a professional strongman and currently holds the title of the World's Strongest Man. Who knew? He also had a brief career as a professional basketball player.

Famous People from Iceland #5 Singer Björk

You know we had to include Björk! Iceland's most famous singer-songwriter is usually top-of-mind when people talk about our small island. She got her start in an Icelandic band called the Sugarcubes, but it wasn't until she launched her solo career in 1993 with hits like Human Behavior that things really took off. And no one can forget the outlandishly iconic swan dress that the artist wore to the 2001 Academy Awards. Lady Gaga who?

Famous People from Iceland #6 Former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

Speaking of famous Icelandic ladies, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir is one you may not know but definitely should. She holds the distinction of being the first democratically elected female president in the world. She joined other female trailblazers such as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Eva Peron, Margaret Thatcher when she became head of state in 1980. After serving for 16 years, she paved the way for future female Icelandic politicians such as former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Famous People from Iceland #7 Footballer Aron Gunnarsson

Much of the world got swept up in the would-be Cinderella story that was Iceland's bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Captain Aron Gunnarsson became the public face of the underdog squad and though he’s back playing for Cardiff City in the English Premier League, many will remember cheering for his team in the summer of 2018. Other famous Icelandic footballers include Gylfi Sigurðsson who plays for Swansea City in the English Premier League and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, the striker for the French team Nantes.

Iceland has multiple famous football players, including World Cup team captain Aron Gunnarsson

Famous People from Iceland #8 Astronaut and Scientist Bjarni Tryggvason 

Did you know Iceland had an astronaut? Bjarni Tryggvason is an engineer who later became an astronaut based out of Canada. He flew on a 12-day mission in 1997 as a payload specialist on a Space Shuttle mission to study Earth’s atmosphere. He now teaches and trains astronauts at Houston’s NASA Space Center.

Famous People from Iceland #9 Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness 

Iceland’s only Nobel Prize Winner won for Literature back in 1955. Halldór Laxness wrote poetry, short stories, plays, novels, and newspaper articles.

Famous Singers, Musicians, Actors, and Athletes from Iceland

So now you know a little bit more about Iceland and some of its more famous sons and daughters. Can you believe that such a tiny country has produced so many notable people? Now, you'll finally be able to yell more than just “Björk!” at your next trivia night when somebody asks you to name a famous person from Iceland.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Iceland's Haunting DC-3 Plane Crash on Sólheimasandur Beach

In addition to cascading waterfalls and icy glaciers, one of the most iconic images of Iceland is the wreckage of a US Navy plane that crashed on its shores many decades ago. The abandoned fuselage on the black sand beaches of Sólheimasandur has been a popular destination for both photographers and tourists alike. While some may think that visiting the site of a plane crash is a bit morbid, don't worry. The entire crew of this military flight survived the impact of the forced landing. So how do you find Iceland’s famous DC-3 plane crash site? Can you still camp there? Let's look at how to arrive and some other frequently asked questions about the eerie Sólheimasandur plane crash site.

Haunting image of DC-3 plane crash fuselage on black sand beach of Sólheimasandur in Iceland

So what exactly happened at Sólheimasandur? 

In the fall of 1973, a US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane was flying near Vík in southern Iceland. The story goes that after experiencing severe icing and possibly having a fuel emergency, the plane was forced to crash-land on Sólheimasandur beach. In the 40-plus years since the incident, erosion from black sand and harsh Icelandic elements have left the plane with no wings or tail and filled with holes. The juxtaposition of the solitary white aircraft against the volcanic black sand beaches makes for quite the haunting image. It's no surprise that many photographers come here to capture the perfect photo of the desolate site. The alien-like scene must be especially striking in black and white.

How to find the Sólheimasandur crash site 

Arriving at the crash site is a bit more difficult than it used to be. in the past, you could simply drive up to the wreckage, park on the beach, and explore to your heart's content. As the site gained in popularity, the landowners slowly but surely grew inconvenienced and decided to ban all vehicle access. They did this not only for their own well being and peace of mind but also to protect local flora. Nowadays, you'll need to park your car in the small parking area next to Route 1 and hike about 4 km (2.4 mi) to the crash site.

Google Maps image of directions to walking path for DC-3 plane crash site on Sólheimasandur beach

Heading east on Iceland’s Ring Road between Skógafoss waterfall and the town of Vík, you'll find the path to the Sólheimasandur crash site on your right. The entrance is about 2 km (1.3 mi) after the yellow and black sign on the left which points to the Sólheimajökull glacier access road. This is a small dirt road, so pay attention. Blink and you might miss it. Once you’ve reached the area with several cars and campervans all gathered in one place, you’ve arrived at the right spot. Please look for the parking area and don't just park your car on the side of the road. Route 1 is Iceland's Ring Road and the last thing you want to do is make it difficult for other vehicles to pass.

When is the best time to visit? 

The area is quite remote and you need to walk a long way on a dirt trail, so it’s probably best to go during the day. While I do recommend going during daylight hours, if aurora activity is particularly high around the time of your visit you can probably get some stunning photos with the Northern Lights dancing in the background should you choose to go in the evening. If you find yourself in Iceland during the summer, take advantage of the light of the Midnight Sun. There will be fewer people at night and you get the benefit of having lots of sunlight.

The white fuselage against the black sand beach at Sólheimasandur is every photographer's dream

Can I still camp at the DC-3 crash site? 

While people have camped out close to the twisted wreckage up until a few years ago, now you won't see it. Relatively recent changes in Icelandic law require that anyone not using a campsite while camping in Iceland must obtain the permission of the landowner before spending the night on private property. Additionally, because you can no longer drive out to the crash site, it's going to be highly burdensome to lug all of your camping gear for an hour there and an hour back even if you did somehow manage to obtain permission to stay on site overnight. So while sleeping under the stars of an abandoned fuselage may sound really cool (which it does), the reality is that without a vehicle to transport and shelter you it’s going to be extremely difficult. This is especially true if the howling winds kick up at night and you get blown away!

Iceland's Famous DC-3 Plane Crash on Sólheimasandur Beach 

This is one of the more interesting and unusual stops along the south shore and Iceland’s Ring Road. If you’ve got the inclination (and stamina) to make your way out to the crash site, be sure to stop by this photographer’s paradise. Visiting the wreckage itself will take less than half an hour but you can also explore the black sand beach and try to find some miniature glaciers littering the shore.

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Friday, 7 September 2018

Things to Keep in Mind When You Rent a Car in Iceland

Renting a car and driving around the Ring Road is a great way to see Iceland. If you come here on vacation, your best bet is to rent a car and hit the road with nothing but your suitcase and your favorite playlist. During your Icelandic road trip, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. From car rental companies to things to watch out for to planning which gas stations you will stop at (yes, you need to do this in advance), here’s a quick primer to help you make the most out of your trip to Iceland. We hope our car rental tips and advice will help.

Three Icelandic Jeep rentals driving on a snowy road at sunset

Car Rental in Iceland - Best Car Rental Companies

First and foremost, you’ll want to get a rental from a reputable, local company. This may seem like obvious advice but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t really do their research when renting a car in Iceland. Check out Google Reviews or Trip Advisor to see the top companies and what people have to say about their experiences with these providers. It’s always a good idea to support locally owned and operated businesses, so we wholeheartedly recommend that. The level of customer service is a huge factor to consider when reading honest, customer-driven reviews of car rental companies. Nothing is worse than having to deal with a rude or incompetent customer service agent if your car breaks down or you have another problem with your rental. Cheap car rentals may be ideal for your pocketbook, but sometimes it’s better to spend a bit more and receive excellent customer service.

Check out our 2018 Car Rental Guide for an overview of the best car rental companies in Iceland.

Check out our official 2018 Car Rental Guide for Iceland

Practical Advice - Plan Your Stops at Gas Stations in Advance

Google Maps will be your best friend in Iceland for many reasons. In addition to providing driving times and distances for your trip, it can help you plan out your route by showing you where gas stations are located. Iceland’s roads, even the main ones, can get quite remote. Once you’ve left Reykjavik, you’ve can never be sure when your the next chance to fill up your tank will be. We recommend that when you are looking at a map to decide your stops and where you will stay overnight, you also look at which gas stations are along the way. Decide on where you will stop for gas so you never have to experience that dreaded feeling of seeing the reading on the fuel tank slink dangerously close to E without knowing where the nearest gas station is. Stay out of the scary red zone, plan your fuel stops in advance, and top up at reasonable intervals.

A quick tip: many gas stations have food and mini-supermarkets, If you haven’t stocked up at Bónus or some other discount supermarket chain, take advantage of these roadside oases to buy snacks, provisions or just some Icelandic hot dogs.

Watch Out For The Sheep! 

You may think I’m joking but this piece of advice is 100% serious. In many ways, Iceland is unlike anywhere on earth. If you’re a city slicker who is not used to country roads, you’re in for an unusual surprise when driving in Iceland. We let our beloved animals roam free and graze to their hearts’ content, so you’ll see sheep everywhere. Unless you’ve traveled somewhere like New Zealand, Scotland, or other countries with large rural areas, sheep blocking the road (or dashing out in front of your car) is probably not something that you’re used to. Well, be very careful and watch out for our wayward, adventurous friends. You’ll end up paying the cost of these little guys to their owner (and incur the wrath of an Icelandic sheepherder) should you hit a beloved member of the flock.

Sheep blocking the road and cars in Iceland

Care For Your Rental As If Your Life Depended On It 

Yes, this is another obvious point but hear me out. For some reason, people seem to think that they can take risks with rental cars that they would never take with a vehicle that they have actually purchased with their own hard-earned cashed. Photos and videos of sunken vehicles and flipped cars litter the internet. Car rental horror stories exist in many forms, and no one wants to be that person returning from a vacation to Iceland thousands of dollars in debt to the car rental company. Make sure there is no damage or anything to repair when you hand the keys back in Reykjavik or the counter in Keflavik.

On a related note, if your rental doesn’t already include it, be sure to get the minimum of Sand & Ash Protection for your car. This also goes for Gravel Protection if you plan on exploring the country’s F-roads (mountain roads) in a 4x4 vehicle such as a Jeep. While many people tend to pass on opting for the insurance on their car rentals (I know I normally do), Iceland is different. The weather here is more extreme than anything you’ve ever seen and you don’t want to be responsible for unexpected damage brought on by Mother Nature bringing on a sudden sandstorm or tons of roadside volcanic ash blowing onto your vehicle.

Beware Icelandic Weather Conditions and Road Closures 

As you can tell, Iceland is known for its extreme elements. People don’t call it The Land of Fire and Ice for no reason! There are a few websites that will serve you well during your trip. The homepage for the Iceland Meteorological Service will keep you up to date on weather conditions for the area where you plan on driving. Additionally, you’ll want to monitor the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA) website. This body is responsible for all of Iceland’s 8,077 miles (13,000 km) of roads. On their webpage, you’ll see regular updates, notices of road closures, and any other information that can affect travelers.

Road closure in Iceland; if you rent a car you need to be aware of which roads are open

Things to Keep in Mind When You Rent a Car in Iceland 

Driving in Iceland is a fun, relaxing, enjoyable way to experience all that our small and increasingly popular island has to offer. That being said, it would be foolish to assume that you don’t need to exercise some precautions in order to prevent your Icelandic vacation from going awry. I want you to have an unforgettable trip, and hopefully, these quick pointers will help you do just that. Happy (and safe) travels!

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Thursday, 6 September 2018

Iceland's Seljalandsfoss Waterfall aka The Beauty

Heading south from Reykjavik towards Vík on Iceland’s Ring Road, you’ll find the stunning Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This careening cascade has consistently been ranked as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland by travel bloggers and tourists alike. In fact, this waterfall’s nickname is “The Beauty”, in stark contrast to Dettifoss waterfall, affectionately known as “The Beast”. If you’ve seen that iconic photo of a beautiful waterfall in Iceland with the sky streaked in shades of orange, pink and purples chances are it was Seljalandsfoss. Let’s dive deep (pun 100% intended) into one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls and a star attraction in south Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss, pictured at sunset, is considered Iceland's most beautiful waterfall

Where is Seljalandsfoss located?

About two hours southeast of Reykjavik on Route 1 (the Ring Road) you’ll come across Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Assuming you’re on a day trip from Iceland’s capital, you’ll pass the towns of Selfoss and Hella and shortly thereafter you’ll turn left onto Road 249 which goes toward Thórsmörk. Once you’ve turned onto Road 249, it’s only a short distance to the entrance for parking at Seljalandsfoss. After finding a spot for your car, you’ll be able to see the falls in the distance. Get excited, you’re almost there!

What makes this beautiful waterfall so special?

First, a few facts about Seljalandsfoss. The falls are part of the Seljalands river, which gets its water from Eyjafjallajökull. This seemingly unpronounceable Icelandic name may ring a bell. Eyjafjallajökull is the volcanic glacier that gained international fame in 2010 when the volcano resting beneath the ice cap exploded. European airspace was shut down for nearly a week and around 10 million travelers were displaced as the erupting volcano spewed smoke and ash into the air. Pretty exciting stuff, right? At any rate, the glacier still has melting ice and the runoff water eventually makes it’s way over the edge of the rocks at Seljalandsfoss.

Seljalandsfoss plunging 60 meters (200 feet) down to the blue pool below

One of the cooler things about this particular waterfall that distinguishes it from the rest is that you can actually climb behind it. There is a small cave that sits behind the gushing fall and you’ll find plenty of tourists trying to capture that postcard-perfect shot of their vacation in Iceland. The majority of pictures on the internet of this natural wonder were actually taken from behind. While it is stunning from the front, be sure go into the tiny cavern in the back to get the best views of Seljalandsfoss. Sunsets tend to be particularly striking and you’ll wonder why you didn’t visit Iceland sooner.

Another interesting fact: This area used to be part of the Icelandic coastline. Iceland is a country with lots of geological activity and there are frequent seismic shifts in the landscapes. The story is that a glacier that existed during the Ice Age actually pushed down the land to create the coastline with its massive weight. When the glacier melted, the land eventually rose and the former coastline now resided further inland. The falls drop 60m (200ft) over this former seaside cliff.

The small cave behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall, perfect for taking pictures

Iceland's Seljalandsfoss Waterfall aka The Beauty

If you have some extra time before you head back to Reykjavik or if you are continuing on toward Vík, we have an additional suggestion for your itinerary. Another beautiful waterfall that is very close is Skógafoss. In order to visit Skógafoss you’ll need to go back to Route 1 and head east for another half hour or so. Like Seljalandsfoss, it’s also part of the former coastline of Iceland. While Skógafoss may not be as well known for its beauty as Seljalandsfoss, both are definitely must-see sights on your trip to Iceland. Enjoy your waterfall tour of the south.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Iceland's Weather in September: What to Expect

Well, it’s official: summer is (basically) over. September is here, and autumn is rapidly approaching. I hesitate to say that we are wholly out of summer. However, given that fall officially begins in two weeks, the warm season is more or less kaput. Tourists are leaving, the colors of the foliage are starting to change rapidly. It’s going to get chilly sooner rather than later. Temperatures haven’t fully dropped, which makes this month one of the best times to go to Iceland. Let’s take a quick sneak peek at what Iceland weather in what September holds for us with regards to climate and average temperatures, rainfall, daylight hours, and even what you should pack and wear during your trip.

September weather in Iceland has cooler temperatures and fall colors

Sweater Weather Has Arrived In Iceland 

If I have said it once, I have said it a million times, I love autumn weather and the fall. Many of my fellow Icelanders will probably let out an audible groan when they read that statement, but it’s true. The brilliant change of hues in our scenery, coupled with the fact I am not sweating profusely means the cooler fall weather is perfect for me. And let's not forget about warming up with traditional Icelandic desserts and a hot drink. However, I am no fool; I know what winter brings. While Iceland’s famed Northern Lights will be on full display, I am not exactly looking forward to the short days and freezing nights. But, fall in Iceland isn’t all that bad. In fact, when you check the weather forecast September is quite lovely. And it’s warmer than Iceland’s weather in October.

Throughout September in Iceland, the average low temperature hovers around 5 or 6 °C (40 - 42 °F), and the average high is 11 °C (52 °F). However, Iceland is famous for weather that can dramatically shift at a moments notice. This means that while it sure is nice to have these averages, they really don’t mean anything. Maybe that’s too cynical. What I mean to say is that they give you a decent range, but it isn’t uncommon for the reading on the thermostat to exist outside of that given set. So, long story short, expect September to be much cooler than June or July.

Iceland's weather in September can be rainy and unpredictable

Iceland’s Rain Averages in September 

Approximating average rainfall in Iceland may seem like an exercise in futility to outsiders. Given the unpredictability of ocean-driven storms, it can be difficult to judge how wet or dry a region will be. However, you should always expect rain here in Iceland. A good rule of thumb is to always count on the showers to be heavier near the ocean because they tend to lose strength as they make landfall. Iceland often experiences the majority of its rainfall during the autumn and spring months, but in my experience, I would say the fall is definitely the wettest season. Whether looking at the weather in Reykjavik or further afield, rain should always be one of your considerations.

Amount of Light in Iceland During September 

The days of the Midnight Sun are officially in our rearview. Some of you may be sobbing at this fact, while people like me are relieved. I enjoy the Midnight Sun, but after a while, 16 hour days can be a little much. Expect the available daylight to dwindle down from 16 hours to around 13 hours. This three-hour difference is much more akin to what the world average regarding sunlight, so if you are visiting Iceland don’t fret too much about bringing a sleeping mask with you. Less daylight means you can also start to catch glimpses of the Aurora Borealis from the middle of September onward.

Beautiful Kirkjufell mountain on the Snafellsnes peninsula during Iceland in September

Clothing Recommendations for September Weather in Iceland 

Iceland during September is cool, wet, and windy. This isn’t to say that every day will be dreary and miserable, but you should be prepared. If you are visiting, I would highly recommend that you pack a sturdy rain jacket, water-resistant pants, a sweater, thermal layers, wool socks, and some water resistant walking shoes. A good rain jacket is paramount when visiting Iceland in September, so make sure you invest in one you can trust. Besides that, enjoy the incredible fall colors that burst from flora in our countryside, bring plenty of rain resistant gear, and keep up to date with the latest weather announcements from the IMO (Icelandic Meteorological Office). Follow these tips, and you are sure to have a great September in Iceland. Bless Bless.

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Monday, 3 September 2018

Overcoming Your Travel Fears

Many of us still have fears associated with taking the leap and traveling to a new culture and land. How can we overcome those travel fears so that we can explore the world and gain a new perspective on other cultures, and ourselves? Luckily for us, traveling around the world has never been easier. For the majority of recorded history, travel was inhibited by technological barriers along with social ones. You couldn’t simply decide to uproot yourself and travel to some far-flung pocket of the world. In most instances, you would have to save up vast sums of money just to travel relatively short distances. Even if money wasn’t an issue, time certainly was. Now with modern advances in technology, travel has become ubiquitous, and tourism is thriving. So let’s overcome our travel fears and explore the big world that awaits us.

Blue suitcase on blue background for overcome travel fears concept

The Benefits Of Traveling 

If you are on the fence, or nervous, about traveling, pause and reflect on the enormous benefits that come with travel and exploration. Most of those with hesitations surround travel almost always report that they don’t travel more because they don’t like going alone. I would argue the point that traveling alone is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about yourself and build up inner-confidence. When you are alone, you have no one tangible with you to lean on. You have to struggle through things. And while this is scary, it can lead to some revelations about who you actually are. Everyday life is inevitably monotonous and safe. We all have routines. When we stick to those regular routines, we never challenge ourselves. It is only when you are alone do you realize how much you can actually achieve.

I found this to be no more accurate than when I went to Spain for the first time. Visiting from Iceland, I did not know Spanish and I had never experienced Spanish culture. I will admit, almost instantly when I arrived in Spain, I suffered culture shock. I couldn’t speak to anyone, I frequently became lost, and I didn’t know what to do. I eventually grounded myself and realized the only way I was going to find my experience pleasurable was to learn a bit of Spanish. I purchased a pocket dictionary and phrasebook and proceeded to butcher the language at every possible opportunity. I found by the end of my trip I could form broken phrases and ask simple questions. This changed my perception of the journey. I had never imagined being able to pick up the basics of Spanish so quickly, However, by the end of my trip, I felt accomplished.

The quickest way to progress in life is to free yourself from your comfort zone. Travel, especially to a country with a widely different culture and foreign language, is the quickest way to do this. Don’t underestimate yourself. You need only to buy a plane ticket and believe in yourself. You will be amazed at the things you can accomplish.

Search engine for booking flights. Face your travel fears and go

Common Travel Fear #1: I Don’t Have Enough Money To Travel 

I used to think that traveling to the far off locations I daydreamed about as a child were impossible to reach. I always assumed I never had enough money to go and explore the world. This isn’t true. We all have bills, we all have expenses. However, when you get stuck in a routine, you become blind to things you purchase that you really don’t need. If you have any fears associated with travel that stem from monetary concerns, consider minimizing your life or downsizing. Decide what the absolute essentials are to live day to day, and cut everything else out. By adopting a more minimalist lifestyle, you will quickly find that the money you always thought you never had was actually in front of you the entire time. If it is indeed your desire to travel (especially internationally), then you need to be vigilant with your spending and budget. Budget. Budget. Budget. I promise, with a little hard work and effort, you will enough saved up in no time for your dream trip, wherever that may be.

Common Travel Fear #2: I Won’t Make Friends or I’ll Be Alone 

Everyone is different. We all have different backgrounds, preferences, and personalities. Some of us are introverts, extroverts, and others lie somewhere in the middle. Being an introvert, like myself, can raise serious anxieties about traveling alone in a foreign country. The idea of never making friends on your travels can infest your mind like a cyclical plague. For me, that was my own biggest personal hurdle. I imagined myself being alone on my travels and never having anyone to share it with. This is a fallacy. I am a firm believer that if you put out positive energy, you will get back positive energy. When traveling alone, always remember to be friendly and smile. Find bars or restaurants that are specifically for expats of your home country, or throw yourself into uncomfortable situations and go to where the locals are. I have found that most locals are generally interested in where you come from and your culture. They will be warm and accepting of you as long as you are of them. You will make friends, I promise.

Solo traveler looking at a map and overcoming fear of travel

Make Your Travel Dreams Come True: Strike While The Iron Is Hot 

If you have the travel bug itching away at you now, don’t ignore it. One day you could wake up, and those plans you had to visit Morocco, or Iceland, or Thailand in the near future will have passed you by. No time is better to start planning than now. Pick a place you have always wanted to go to. Start researching the culture now. Make a rough itinerary and refine it day by day. Begin setting aside money immediately. If you make your travel plans a part of your daily life, they become part of your daily routine. And, the next thing you will know is that you have the plan, you know the culture, and you have the money to visit.

Overcoming Your Travel Fears 

It is ironic that I am writing a blog post about this very topic. I always thought my dreams of visiting other countries and cultures were just that, dreams. I was too nervous to set anything in motion because I didn’t think I had enough money, or that I wouldn’t be able to make friends along the way. Then, at the behest of a dear friend, I threw caution to the wind. I picked a place I had always wanted to visit and made it my singular goal for the immediate future. I saved, I planned, I researched, I learned a bit about the language and culture before going, and the next thing I knew I was boarding a plane to a country across the world. I took a leap of faith in myself and in the universe. That trip ended up being a formative experience in my life. I became an entirely different person. And, all of that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t take the leap. Take the leap. Trust yourself. Go on an adventure, and who knows, it could change your life.

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