This was the first time I’ve travelled with friends and paid for the entire trip myself. In hindsight, I learned a few things: don’t travel with such a big group, make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations for the trip, make sure you can communicate well with everyone on the trip, have cellphone connections and print out important information (including copies of ID and credit cards).
The trip went relatively smoothly; the worst of it was one smashed phone screen, one person being thrown off from a horse and one car having to be towed out from a ditch.
The highlights were easily hiking some of the most incredible mountains I’ve seen— they were visually stunning— clambering on an abandoned plane wreck on a black sand beach and waking up to watch the sunrise in a natural hot spring with the Atlantic ocean behind us and in front of us, a field of 50 Icelandic horses in front of 1000-ft snow-covered dramatic mountains.
Iceland has one major highway, Highway 1, also known as the ring road as it goes around in a literal ring around the whole island. The road is mostly one lane with no overhead lighting or guard rails for most of the road, even when there are dramatic cliff edges and snow covered roads. It’s recommended to do the ring road in about ten days—we did it in six. Needless to say, there was a lot of driving, but those were some of the greatest moments. Everywhere you look, Iceland continues to outdo itself. The landscape is fairly similar throughout the country, high mountains alternating with vast stretches of fields. The major differences lie in the climate.
In the southwest of the country it is a milder, more temperate climate with alternating blue skies and fog clouds that appear out of nowhere. The more east and north you get, the snowier and mountainous the views become. This is where you can see some of the most incredible ice covered beaches (Diamond Beach), glaciers and waterfalls. Iceland has no end to waterfalls. They can be destination points like Skohafoss (the filming location for movies like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, or music videos like Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You”) or views from the ring road.
The weather in Iceland can be hard to predict as it can change literally every 30 seconds. We alternated between driving 40 km an hour with high beams and barely being able to see in front of us to the visibility being so perfect we were back to our usual speed of just a tad of the 90 km speed limit. I’ll leave you to guess how much “just a tad” is. Reminder that we did a ten day drive in six. We drove through three tunnels, two at least six km long, which is an experience in itself. The most interesting part of one of those segments, however, was the fact that when we entered the tunnel the world was green and the visibility was great. By the time we were on the other side, we were exiting at 40 km with high beams.
If you’re going to Iceland for the Instas, don’t be disappointed when you can’t get the result you were looking for. Iceland’s natural beauty is hard to capture in a photo. It’s the sheer size of the mountains, the ferocity and overwhelmingness of nature in a world of technology and development that sets Iceland apart from most everywhere else I have been. Iceland has an unspoiled beauty and different pace of life, which is refreshing. If you have the option to go, do it, and do it soon. In effort to boost the economy after an economic downturn (so bad it forced the closure of all three of the island’s McDonald’s) Iceland has seen an increase of tourists from 200,000 in 2007 to an estimated 2.3 million for 2017 (keeping in mind the country has 300,000 citizens).
When it all gets too much and you start dreaming of your next vacation, throw Iceland up for consideration. Its unspoiled beauty may not last for long and being away from electronics to be fully present and immersed in such unequivocally amazing natural landscapes is worth the fairly expensive costs.