Iceland. The land of diverse landscapes and few inhabitants. Mountains, rivers, volcanoes, fjords, icebergs, lava fields. You name it, Iceland has it. Even more, it’s all squeezed into a rather small surface area that’s similar to that of Indiana. But enough about that… My trip of Iceland and any thoughts I had as a response.
When you drive the ring road (Highway 1), you will most definitely see some amazing sights. A glacier lake, more waterfalls than you would think possible, and some breathtaking views. Once you get over daydream, you’ll come to the realization that even more than the amazing landscapes, you’ll be face to face with much more than the preferred share of tourists crowding each of these locations. For each waterfall, you’ll have 30 selfie sticks with prodding ignoramuses attempting to fit themselves into frame. It kind of cheapens the whole experience. They still take your breath away; just with a bit less oomph than otherwise. Something so beautiful, natural, and majestic shouldn’t be smothered by something so dirty and chaotic. Slightly less wonder and awe than nature initially intended? Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but it’s difficult to take in without a certain grimy distaste tarnishing the initial feelings of amazement. Take it with a grain of salt as I’m more partial towards nature than towards the human race as a whole anyways.
Once you dig deep and take the paved roads inland from the circle or northwest into the fjords, you’ll get an entirely different experience. Fewer tourists dare cross the highlands for fear of the rocky and unrefined terrain, the river crossings, and the mysteriousness of the world unknown. The fjords are surrounded by a similar but different aura of mystery. The roads are windy and treacherous once the clouds drop down and obscure the route. Not to mention they’re all built directly onto the cliff-sides, providing both hours of thrilling driving and moments of sheer terror when an opposing car drives towards you and you have nowhere to turn. Have I mentioned that the roads don’t technically exist in many areas? They’re just paths that have the largest rocks moved to the sides, leaving a space wide enough for a car to drive through but also leaving the gaping holes where the rocks originated from. What I’m getting at is that both of these areas are like going back in time. You have simple villages nestled into the valleys with seemingly little concern for the troubles of the outside world. So peaceful, undisturbed, and lovely. The food is high priced, but in many of the places that I stopped, well worth it. There are mountain climbs and waterfalls that you can gaze upon in solitude. No cameras, chatter, or roped off walking-paths. Just you and the magnificent nature that is only experienceable in Iceland. I highly recommend stepping outside of the normal tourist rut and experiencing this great country to the fullest.
Moving on. Prices and affordability. Iceland isn’t exactly known for its bargain prices. Beers are ~1,000 isk each, and fresh fruits/vegetables that would be cost effective elsewhere are a burden on the wallet due to little available ground for growing crops/inappropriate weather conditions. Going out to eat will cost you ~2-4,000 isk for a good meal and if you go outside of Reykjavik, prices drop there as well. It’s all about how often you stop and for what reasons, really. Fuel costs are pretty much standard wherever you go at 190-195 isk per liter for diesel, though they do jump slightly in the cities as well. The most expensive things that I saw where the Icelandic knit clothing. With its sheep’s wool from Iceland’s ever-present wild/domesticated sheep, it’s a staple product and the prices really show how much they value their work and product. As for housing, it’s more than some cities, but not as insane as you would think. A hostel can be booked for 4000 isk per night and camping is also readily available wherever you go. Couchsurfing is a scarcity as few people are hosts and few hosts are online. If you’re trying to meet other travelers, couchsurfing is fantastic when utilized as a group-gathering tool. Especially since there are so many great bars that are open till ~1 AM = plenty of choices. Airbnb’s are fairly common though they move rapidly, so book when you get the chance and DO NOT PUT IT OFF. They’re reasonably priced if traveling with others, but if not they’re similar to an expensive hotel. The hostels are fairly commonplace and have similar prices wherever.
**Travel Tip** - before buying or renting camping equipment or food for traveling, check out the hostel and camping areas for their “free bins” where campers on their way back home just leave belongings. It’s an extremely inexpensive way to get by and often you’ll even find something worth the effort.
Rental cars. You have a few choices: you can rent a camper/van which I saw all over both the outer ring and inland, so they seem fairly capable. The smaller vans won’t make it through the river crossings so please keep that in mind. Your second option is a 4x4. I realize that by grouping all 4-wheel drive vehicles together, I’m grossly misrepresenting the vast range of 4x4 levels. You have your little town putters which have 4-wheel drive, but are essentially useless off-road. You have your mid-level vehicles which are slightly larger, higher up, and have enough torque to push through when necessary. Regardless of what you have, many areas in the highlands will be a MAXIMUM possible speed of 50-60 km/h simply due to road conditions. Don’t think that you’ll be able to get in and fly right through because you can’t and you won’t. For those who are curious, the vehicle that we chose was a new Dacia Duster 4x4 diesel and it did an amazing job. Not super great for passing unless you were already up to speed, but otherwise great. Good fuel economy, fairly comfortable seat, fantastic ride quality despite being an suv and tons of cargo space. I was pleasantly surprised. It even managed to go through close to 30-40 river crossings of various depths. So to conclude this section: make sure that you pay attention and don’t end up like I did; standing in a parking lot with the rental car attendant wondering what happened to the front license plate. Super awkward moment.
All in all, Iceland is well worth it. You obviously get what you pay for, so if you’re going to pay a bit more, go see the REAL Iceland. The part that many avoid and as such, miss out because of. If you’d rather not take a rental car and rough the roads yourself, find others who are willing to drive or go with Iceland’s bus system. They seem to go everywhere though I believe at a higher cost; I’m not sure what that is as I didn’t go that route. So this could be simply hearsay. Moral of story, do your own homework and don’t trust me. Great way to end a review, eh?