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October 2017

Tips for Travelling in Iceland: 11 day Self-Drive Tour

Breathtaking landscapes, waterfalls behind every corner, imagery you have to see to believe, unbelievable food, surreal experience scuba diving, sun, fog, rain, the craziest wind, sheep, cows, horses and puffins. That pretty much sums up our 11 days in Iceland, but there is so much to see that you really need to experience it for yourself. I recently spent my honeymoon with my husband in Iceland Aug 25th to Sept 4th doing a self-drive tour around the entire country. We didn't have enough time to get to the West Fjords, but you always have to leave something for the next trip right? We spent hours reading guide books and other blogs to sort of have an idea of what we were getting ourselves into and what to be prepared for. It was the trip of a lifetime and of course we would go back but to different areas and spend more time in certain places. The trip was totally worth getting a feel for the country and figuring out where we go and what we do next time. We didn't make it to everything on our list, but we crossed a ton off of it. Here's a little peek into our 11 day self-drive tour. Seafood Heaven First taste of seafood in Vik on our 2nd night at Strondin Bistro and Bar. The Arctic Char was freshly caught and cooked to perfection & the Seafood Stew (which is super thick and less soupy like we were used to) was beyond words....just amazing. You'll see below in my tips, don't look at the price, just eat! The servers were so personable and funny. They don't work for tips in Iceland but we always managed to get amazing service. Friðheimar Restaurant/Greenhouse Friðheimar was nice pit stop for lunch after our visit to Gulfoss on our way to Vik. We ate inside the biggest tomato greenhouse I've ever seen! 4 varieties of tomatoes along with cucumbers are grown here with green energy and pure water (not hard to come by in Iceland). The setting is unique, there is fresh tomato soup, fresh bread and the tomato ice cream is delicious! It's vanilla ice cream with green tomato hunks in it (they taste like apples) topped with a strawberry/piccolo sauce and green tomato sauce. It's small but comes packed with flavour. Þakgil - A Hiker's Paradise 17km from Ring Road 1 is Þakgil. This is a place that is on the list to come back to and spend a couple days as the landscape as we were driving in was absolutely breathtaking. Lush green jagged and flat top mountains with tons of rivers and streams throughout the area create a landscape like we had never seen before. Þakgil campsite sits near the Mýrdalsjökull Glacier atop the Katla volcano and offers cabins and camping complete with bathrooms, showers, and even a natural cave to eat in. The are multiple day hikes here (3hrs and up) to complete so I recommend staying here a while to take it all in. Fjallsjökull Glacier Lagoon A stop at Fjallsjökull and Jökulsárlón was a must. These are glacial lagoons where pieces of the Skaftafell glacier break off and float around. The icebergs float out to the ocean from Jökulsárlón. We spent more time at Fjallsjökull just due to the time of day and I wanted to see as much as I could before it got dark. Even had a little peep show from a seal! Skaftafell National Park - Svartifoss A 4.4 km hike to Svartifoss is definitely doable for everyone (even saw an elderly women in wedge heals do it), but it's uphill pretty much all the way there. This seems to be the trend in Iceland to have to hike to the Waterfalls, but it's great as there aren't as many people around by the time you get there. Black basalt columns surround the 12m high Svartifoss.. The waterfall is magical in it's own way - we found this with all the waterfalls we came across. No matter how many you see, they all have their own story, their own special uniqueness and you find yourself amazed by them all. Hairiest House in Iceland Coined 'The Hairiest House in Iceland' this little dwelling is located in the Borgarfjordur Eystri - only 323 square feet and is still lived in during the summer months. The cellar is the oldest part of the home dating back to 1899. The current owners bought it in 1979 and are keeping up with the uniqueness even after the husband passed away in '87. You think they have to mow the roof? Dettifoss & Hafragilsfoss Dettifoss is known as the most powerful waterfall in Europe located in the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon. The road in was fun as we took 864 (the old dirt road instead of the nicely paved 862) and it's definitely a washboard/pothole filled road - sorry rental car! Even though Dettifoss is the most powerful we found ourselves wandering further down to Hafragilsfoss. The views from above are spectacular even in the cold, wind and fog. Yep this is me wearing a toque in August!!! It was about 4.5 degrees. Mývatn - Viti Crater When the sun comes out in Iceland - it's even more amazing and I am so happy that we had a full day of sun to experience the area of Mývatn and it's surroundings. Formed in 1724 from the Krafla volcanic eruption that lasted for 5 years, Viti (Icelandic for 'Hell') is a 300m crate lake filled with aqua coloured water just north of Mývatn. The steam vents behind it sound like jet engines but make for an awesome photo op. Icelandic Horses Icelandic Horses are a small-ish horse unique to Iceland with two extra gaits which make for a smoother ride (although the tölt seemed a little bumpy but that might be because I hadn't been on a horse in over a year - I'm sure you get used to it). The horses are beautiful creatures and we were fortunate enough to get up close and personal with a few foals and caught a momma mid-yawn (I guess I wasn't interesting enough) Street Art Street Art in Reykjavik features amazing artists, some of which are commissioned to paint buildings in what is some of the most amazing artwork I've seen. It's odd but unique and you find yourself looking up every alley to try and spot some more. Scuba Diving Silfra in Þingvellir Scuba Diving Silfra, in Þingvellir - with DiveIceland guide: Hedinn After spending hours reviewing dive companies in Iceland, I landed upon Hedinn's DiveIceland website and TripAdvisor reviews and I have to say that now I understand all the comments left on TripAdvisor. Hedinn is so great, loves his job and makes you feel comfortable while making sure all the safety matters are covered while throwing a little pun in there. We dove the Silfra fissure - the crack between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The visibility is beyond 100 meters and the water temperature is a balmy 2-3 degrees celsius. 'Troll hair' (algae) is abundant in some areas but the fish don't usually venture up the fissure. This was an unforgettable dive experience and a must do for any diver heading to Iceland. Tips for Traveling to Iceland Sun Voyager (sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason) in Reykjavík. An 'Ode to the Sun' These will not pertain to everyone, but this is what we realized while we were there and figured it might provide some insight for the next self-drivers. #1 Waterproof Jacket AND Pants Most people will say you need to bring both and like us, most people just bring a waterproof jacket. But..... you really should bring waterproof pants as well because when it's super windy and raining hard that means it's actually raining sideways and you get soaked! Guess what's in the Wishlist now? PS: Leave the umbrella's at home - they are useless in Iceland! #2 Don't use the 'Fill Tank' option at the gas pump This one isn't really a big deal if you're ok with waiting for 'extra' charges to drop, but it resulted in a call from our credit card company about suspicious activity. 'Fill tank' automatically charges your card 250,000 ISK (approx $200-250 CND) as well as whatever amount you actually pump and then depending on the merchant it may take a few days for the 250,000 ISK charge to be reversed. It all was reversed, but we stopped using that option and just guessed at how much fuel we needed. #2b Not everyone's credit card will work at the pay-at-the-pump Between the 3 credit cards we had on us, only the one Mastercard would work at the pay-at-the-pump stations. I'm not sure why but thankful that we could do this as otherwise you have to get prepaid cards loaded in the gas station and then hope that you use it all up at the end of your trip? #3 Bring extra batteries and large/multiple SD cards (you're going to be taking a ton of photos) Here I was last minute running to grab another SD card as I was afraid I would run out of room (thankfully I didn't) but I suggest you bring more than you think you'll need. I went through more battery life than anything though, so be sure to have a spare or two with you. #4 Don't look at the prices on the menu - it's expensive but oh so delicious. If you hadn't heard, everything in Iceland is expensive. I talked to the locals about this and it hasn't increased since the big tourism boom started a few years ago, it's just expensive....period. Of course the locals know where to go to get the cheaper beers for happy hour and have their own local pubs they frequent, but for the majority eating out is pricey. We went knowing that we were on our honeymoon and we splurged and indulged in the fresh seafood we don't get at home - totally worth it! #5 Don't hit the sheep on the roads, you owe the farmer if you do Thankfully we didn't see too many on the road, but you're careful when driving to allow them time to dart out in front of you at the last minute. There are cattle guards in the middle of the roads and no fences on either side. I asked a local about this and the farmers unfortunately have slacked off on the 'rebuilding fences' department (high winds don't help the upkeep), so just don't hit their sheep and you'll be good. Save your pennies....errr....nickels (if you're from Canada) and put Iceland on your bucket list. It's like no other place in the world. Until next time Iceland! <3