Part 1: 10 days in Iceland

Derek at the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck

Iceland series

This post is part of a larger series documenting a road trip around Iceland in the summer 0f 2016:

  1. Itinerary
  2. Southwest Iceland
  3. North Iceland
  4. Southeast Iceland
  5. The Golden Circle
  6. Reykjavik

Best gift ever

For our anniversary in 2015, Derek surprised me with a hand-drawn map and two DIY tickets marked for a future date. “We’re going to Iceland!” he exclaimed as tears of joy rushed down my face 😭. After months of planning and immersing myself in all things Iceland, we finally embarked on our journey to the land of fire and ice in July 2016.

We planned a 10-day trip that left us with 8 full days in Iceland. We chose to drive the Ring Road (Rte.1) since it conveniently connects visitors to Iceland’s various natural wonders.

Before you go

Consider your airline carefully

We flew WOW air, but in hindsight, I would have upgraded and flown with another airline. Known for their shockingly low prices, $199 one-way from selected cities, WOW air is a budget airline without the basic accommodations we all know and love from international travel: complimentary in-flight meals, drinks, and entertainment. We had to pay for everything a la carte and hidden fees quickly added up. Our return flight was delayed which is really common for WOW air. Budget airliners have their place, but it’s probably best to reserve them for domestic travel.

Rent a camper van

If you plan on going anywhere beyond Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (not to be confused with the Ring Road), renting a car is essential for getting around. Instead of staying at hostels and campsites, we decided to look at camper vans that doubled as transportation and lodging. We chose Kuku Campers because they offer automatic transmission camper vans with nice amenities. Siggy provided us great customer service and the camper met all of our needs.

Bring waterproof everything

The weather in Iceland is very unpredictable. If the rain doesn’t get you, the the waterfalls definitely will. We each packed a light rain coat, a waterproof down coat, and water shoes. Some of the hot springs had rocky gravel or slippery moss at the bottom so we were glad we brought our shoes. A waterproof iPhone was also handy for hot spring selfies.

Standing at the base of Skógafoss

Bring a student ID

Some of the hot springs we visited offered a 50% discount just for showing a student ID. Even if yours is old or expired, bring it anyway and it will likely work. Secret Lagoon didn’t advertise student pricing, but we asked and surely enough, they honored the discount pricing. What we didn’t pay in admission, we made up for in food and drinks.

Taking a dip at Secret Lagoon

When you get there

Buy a Flybus ticket

Flybus is the main mode of transportation from the airport to Reykjavik and nearby hotels. We bought our tickets on the plane and it was an easy ride to our camper van.

Buy a SIM card at the airport

The best travel advice I got was to buy a duty-free pre-paid SIM card at the airport. I got a 1GB Vodafone SIM card with unlimited talk and text for around $14. That was enough data to last us the whole trip (with airplane mode on when we weren’t navigating with Google maps). Although the Ring Road is basically a circle, hazardous road conditions such as heavy rain and fog made it hard to navigate at times and having Google maps was essential. Also, how else would we Snapchat our trip for all of our family and friends to envy?

Check the weather

I made a pretty rigid itinerary, scheduling where we needed to be by the hour, but Iceland had other plans for us. Rain greeted us on arrival and inclement weather doesn’t care what you have planned. A great tip is to look at the weather for the day and change your route based on which part of the country is sunny versus rainy. Iceland is much more pleasant when the sun is out so it’s worth skipping stops or staying somewhere longer to enjoy sunny weather.

Blue Lagoon in the rain on our first day

Shop at Bonus

Iceland is quite expensive so we cooked most of our meals on our portable burner that came with our camper. We bought most of our groceries from Bonus, a discount grocery store. Cooking our own food was an easy way to save money for high ticket items like a spa package at the Blue Lagoon.

Cooking dinner on the side of the road

Eat a hot dog with crispy onions

Hot dogs are a thing in Iceland. In the Iceland countryside, food is few and far in between and gas stations provide much needed sustenance after long drives. Whole towns can be found at N1 on a Friday night, chowing down on hot dogs with crispy onions. They are cheap and tasty. It’s something to try at least once.

If you’re driving

Driving etiquette

The Ring Road is comprised of a single carriageway with two traffic lanes, one lane in each direction. If someone is riding your tail and you’re wondering why they don’t just overtake the lane, it’s because they are waiting for a signal from you. It’s a convention in Iceland to slow down and turn on your right signal to notify cars behind you that it is safe to pass. Headlights should be switched on at all times, day or night. Also, there are speed cameras so drive the speed limit.

The Ring Road at Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Do NOT stop in the middle of the road

All around the Ring Road, we saw cars stalled in the middle of the road to take photos. This is extremely dangerous for all parties involved, especially if there is a pull out meters away. It’s terrifying how many people do this.

Smaller bridges are often single lane

The Ring Road often turns into single-lane bridges. There are no lights to help you determine if other cars are on the bridge. You just have to be careful and watch for oncoming traffic.

Take some detours

Some of our favorite destinations were away from the Ring Road, like the hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi, swimming at Seljavallalaug, and standing at the edge of Europe’s most powerful waterfall at Dettifoss. There is so much to see and it’s okay to see where the dirt road takes you.

Seljavallalaug, one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland

Kamikaze sheep

Siggy from Kuku Campers personally recommended this to us. The sheep in Iceland have no reservation about running right in front of your car. One second they are grazing on grass on the side of the road, the next second they are running past your car, trying to run up your insurance. Speaking of which, it’s also a good idea to get gravel insurance. We drove in some tough road conditions and had peace-of-mind knowing that we had insurance.

Two sheep on the side of the road

Buy pre-paid gas cards

I only had a chip & signature credit card and Icelandic gas stations require chip & PIN credit cards. I could have gotten a PIN from my bank but it wouldn’t have come in time for the trip. So what we had to do was buy pre-paid gas cards inside of N1. We spent around 25,000 ISK in gas over the course of the trip.

All of the stop on our 10-day itinerary

10-day itinerary

We had a trip of a lifetime and 10 days was the perfect amount of time to drive all the way around Iceland, with plenty of time to soak in hot springs and enjoy short hikes. We didn’t explore Westfjord or the Highlands, but our itinerary did allow us to experience Iceland’s diverse landscape from glaciers and volcanos to waterfalls.

I have to preface that this agenda was really ambitious. We never could have seen so many attractions if it wasn’t for the 20 hours of day light in July and the ability to sleep in our van and drive whenever we wanted. I’ve 💘 my favorite destinations below.

Day 1

  • Fly from San Francisco (SFO) to Keflavík (KEF)

Day 2

  • Arrive in Keflavík
  • Pick up our Kuku Camper in Reykjavik
  • Blue Lagoon 💘

Day 3

  • Hellnar and Arnarstapi 💘
  • Snaefellsnes National Park
  • Kirkjufell
  • Erpsstaðir Creamery 💘
  • Hvitserkur 💘

Day 4

  • Goðafoss 💘
  • Hverfjall
  • Grjótagjá
  • Lake Myvatn Nature Baths
  • Hverir 💘
  • Víti in Krafla

Day 5

  • Dettifoss 💘
  • Selfoss 💘

Day 6

  • Jökulsárlón 💘
  • Skaftafell National Park
  • Svartifoss
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur 💘
  • Dyrhólaey
  • Reynisfjara
  • Vik

Day 7

  • Solheimasandur Plane Wreck 💘
  • Skógafoss 💘
  • Seljavallalaug 💘
  • Seljalandsfoss 💘
  • Kerið
  • Gamla Laugin (Secret Lagoon) 💘

Day 8

  • Strokkur 💘
  • Gullfoss 💘
  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Öxarárfoss
  • Reykjavik

Day 9

  • Reykjavik

Day 10

  • Fly from Keflavík (KEF) to San Francisco (SFO)
Horses near Gullfoss

Continue along

There’s still a lot more to share so I’ll break up the different regions of Iceland into their own posts: Southwest Iceland, North Iceland, Southeast Iceland, the Golden Circle, and Reykjavik. Until next time, Iceland!

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Huong Le’s story.