This is the second part of our 10 day trip in Iceland. To read about our route, adventures, and tips in Reykjavik and through the Golden Circle, clickhere.
We had planned on making a stop the Kerid Crater but we got such a late start due to shopping at 66 Degrees North, we decided to skip it. We left Gullfoss at 3pm and reached our next destination at 5 pm.
This waterfall makes is presence known from quite a distance. You can watch it growing in size from the road. It's also the one waterfall you can walk behind. Which I did and almost killed myself by slipping on the ice. My husband got completely soaked when the wind shifted and wave of water saturated him head to foot.
That didn't go over so well. Talk of hypothermia and the lack of any clothes to change into turned ugly real quick.
If you have time and unfortunately we didn't, make a stop at the Seljavallalaug Pool.
I had been dreaming of floating in this pool for months and was cursing Iceland Air for destroying my little dream.
The next stop not far from Seljalandsfoss is Skogafoss.
After pouting overseeing one more waterfall to my husband, he conceded and hoped that the wind would possibly dry him out. So we quickly jumped out to take a peek.
This is a magnificent powerful show of force that needs to also be appreciated from the top.
There is a very steep quite strenuous climb to the top where you can view the source of the falls. I lost track after 320 steps. The view was spectacular and worth the burning lungs it takes to get there. We didn't spend much time at the top because after just a few minutes my husband's shirt was literally frozen. Literally!
Time to call it a day.
Our perfectly situated self-catering cottage was Gardar Cottages on Reynisfjara Beach.
This is a place we wish we had more time at. Its a place far too beautiful for one night.
Our 3rd day we woke up to perfectly clear skies and gearing up to explore Reynisjfara Beach and neighboring Dyrholaey Beach. We were let down again to find out we were going to have to cancel a whole days worth of activities to drive 175 miles, 4 hours out of our way to an airport in Hofn to pick up our luggage.
Good news... we were finally getting out of the clothes we wore on the plane.
Bad news... missing things I planned and looked forward to for months.
I had also planned on backtracking a few miles west to find the US Navy DC plane that crashed on the beach in 1973 and is now a photographers dream.
Click HERE to find out how to get to it.
I shouldn't complain about missing anything because the view from the front seat was, well, there's just no words to describe how beautiful the south coast is.
A couple of roadie tips. Most time there is no radio reception out on the road. The Reykjavik radio station K100 was the only one that sometimes came through. They only played one song over and over and over. Seriously. Maroon 5's Sugar was played on a torturous loop. Bring your own setup. We brought speakers and had playlists ready.
Seat heaters are a must in the colder months. Make sure you get a car with these ladies!
I even brought my favorite blanket I bought in Africa with me.
If you have internet where you're staying make sure to check the road conditions before you get going. Especially in the colder months. Check www.vegagerdin.is for weather and road closures. We had to reroute several times on the Ring Road (route 1) due to roads that were impassable due to weather.
Also, ladies, bring some toilet paper along.
There are no rest stops along the way. So get ready to have the best open-air views while you pee.
We drove well past our evening's accommodations to get to Hofn's airport to get our bags. We had some time to spare before the 3:30 flight came in and had a memorable meal at Kaffi Hornid.
Hofn is a fishing village and apparently if you go to a restaurant and don't order the town's specialty, langoustine, you get arrested..... or something.
We were more than happy to get the house recommendations. A bowl of the soup of the day, wild mushroom soup and a lobster pizza put us in a happy mood.
Literally jumping for joy when we saw our baggage being taken off the airplane.
Now everything could get back on track and we would finally be warm.
So If you're doing the 120-mile drive from Vik to Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Here's my recommended itinerary of sites to stop at for the day. Most of which we didn't get to because of our detour.
Stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur which is 42 miles down the road from Vik. Its a spectacular canyon formed from glacial waters thousands of years ago where you can do a short hike up along the rim. We missed it so I have no pictures.
Another 48 miles further along you will come to another place we missed, The Black Waterfall (Svartifoss) at Skaftafell National Park. There are plenty of hiking trails and things to see here but if you're short on time at least check out the waterfall.
This drive along the south coast is remarkable. Even if you never got out of the car it will be one of the most memorable drives of your life. You'll have difficulty wrapping your mind around how the topography was formed thousands of years ago.
In another 35 miles, you will reach Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon. The highlight of the south coast. Truly. You will know you've reached it when to a one-lane suspension bridge.
Right after the bridge is the entrance to the parking area to the lagoon and on the other side is the entrance to the parking area to the beach.
We found, by accident, a viewpoint of the lagoon that I never found in the guidebooks. There are 3 different turnouts on the west side of the bridge that don't have signs. The first one you come to, probably 1 1/2 miles before the bridge, coming from the west, has a better view of the entire lagoon than the main entrance.
In the summertime, you can take boat tours through the lagoon. You can also get just as close to them by walking down along the shore. The little icebergs butt up against the shoreline until they make their way down Iceland's shortest river onto the black sand beach.
The closest hotel to the lagoon and our 3rd night's accommodations were at the Hali Guesthouse.
You know you're at the right place when you drive past the giant bookshelf of orange books.
This hotel is beautifully situated between the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. There is museum/restaurant that uses only locally sourced ingredients like lamb and arctic char.
We were told at dinner that we probably heard the lamb we ordered earlier that afternoon out on their working farm. This is very common in most guesthouses.
Not something you want to really think about but dinner was delicious at this simple restaurant.
We ordered both the arctic char and the lamb.
Day 4 is another long although beautiful day of driving. We drove 180 miles along the south east coast.
We would have driven further but some of our plans were canceled due to a heavy downpour and strong winds.
We had planned on hiking to see Hengifoss Waterfall but it just wasn't in the cards.
Instead, we decided just to drive to our evening's accommodations and just enjoy the evening walking around the town of Seydisfjordur.
When driving in the southeast, stop at the Brunnholl Guesthouse that opens in June through the summer months and pick up some of their homemade ice cream. Its made from the cows on their working farm and is made with just a few all-natural ingredients. It's well worth the stop to stand outside eating ice cream, no matter what the weather is and look out at the incredible surroundings.
We drove through rain and snow throughout the afternoon making quick pit stops at dramatic viewpoints along the way. It reminded us of California's coastline near Big Sur. A twisting, cliff-hugging gorgeous drive, even in bad weather.
If you've seen the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and remember the skateboarding scene, you should remember how beautiful the scene was. Walter racing down a never-ending number of switchbacks, passing a multitude of waterfalls and colossal mountains. The road into Seydisfjordur is this very road. I picked the Aldan Hotel for the very purpose of being able to drive down one of the most memorable drives in the world.
Hotel Aldan is actually in two different buildings. One is an old bank which is the one we stayed in.
A lovely building with beautiful antique furniture and the feel of staying in someone's home as opposed to a sterile hotel. The other building (the old post office) was under construction, including the restaurant for the hotel, while we were there. The restaurant is supposed to be the best and most beautiful in town.
Check it out for me and let me know.
None of the hotels we stayed in had ice machines. I assume this is a very "American" thing. We remedied this by going outside and scooping up some fresh snow and boom...... Cold cocktails!
Something to keep in mind if you come to Seydisfjordur.
Many of the restaurants and a few of the hotels may not be open until June.
We were fortunate that the Skaftfell Bistro was open. It's perfectly cozy bistro/bar that serves up local fare and has an art museum upstairs where you can take your beer and soak up some local culture.
A mere 120-mile drive on our 5th day.
Leaving the east to drive to Northern Iceland where its Christmas all year long weather wise.
Our destination is the Volcanic Lake Myvatn area.
If driving here during the summer, a must stop is to see Europe's most powerful waterfall Dettifoss.
Yet again, another site we were unable to see due to road closures. Send me pictures if you get to see it!
Stop at the Krafla Lava Fields and check out the Viti Crater. It's a short drive from the Ring Road and it will lead you past a power station. You get to drive under piping that's harnessing steam to generate power. Here you can walk through lava fields and up to Viti Crater where you can look down into the aquamarine waters. This is better viewed in the summer months when the snow isn't covering the lava fields and the water in the crater isn't frozen over.
We ended up hiking quite a ways to The Viti Crater because there was a ton of ice on the road. Even though we had a 4x4 vehicle, we were advised the road still wasn't safe.
The lake in the crater was frozen over and not it's famous blue but the views and the hike were well worth it.
Watch out for random, what I assume is art, while driving. Why not put a toilet and a shower where there is a natural hot spring. And yes, it is a hot shower.
Just down the road is Mt. Namafjall Mountain. It's a geothermal area know as Hverir.
This is where you will get the most spectacular views of boiling mud pots and steam vents.
Stong smells of sulfur and warm steam surround you as you walk the short loop at the base of the mountain.
Half the cost, a quarter of the size and twice as lovely as The Blue Lagoon is the Myvatn Nature Baths
(Jardbodin Vid Myvatn). Hardly touristy and much more intimate, it's much easier to relax here. Sit a while in the sauna, grab a cup of wine from the cafe, choose either the hot or cool pool and settle in for a soak of a lifetime.
Our 5th night's accommodations were at the memorable Vogafjos Guesthouse, farm and restaurant.
We loved this place!!!!
These are log cabins with heated floors set amongst lava fields!
Within walking distance is the family run farm and restaurant. At 8 am and 6 pm you can waltz into the cow shed which is where the restaurant is and watch them milk their cows through the full length glass walls.
I had the best lamb shank of my life in this tiny restaurant!
Be sure to try their traditional Icelandic geysir rye bread too.
They make their own ice-cream, of course, so why wouldn't you try the gersir bread ice-cream? Tiny bits of bread mixed in a vanilla ice cream served with homemade chocolate sauce.
After they have milked the cows, they'll share with you the still warm sweet milk in a shot glass sized cup. This will also be waiting for you in the morning at breakfast for your coffee.
Geysir Bread Ice Cream.
This is what the typical Icelandic breakfast consists of.
Meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon,
Skyr and the best muesli you've ever had.
Our 6th day was spent exploring the Lake Myvatn area. You could actually spend a few days exploring this area. It's a unique area with short driving distances between very contrasting landscapes.
An absolute must see is Hverfjal Crater.
A 2500 year old tephra ring that's one of the largest in the world.
There is a road that leads literally to the base of the crater where you will find a fairly steep trail that will lead you up to the rim. The hike up will take you 15-20 minutes. The reward at the top is a fantastic view and the crater presents itself 10 times larger than what you assume from the bottom. If you plan on walking the perimeter of the rim, I would allow for an additional hour once up there. It's big!
The road to the base of the crater wasn't drivable when we were there so we ended up hiking about a mile to the crater. This is a common problem during the winter months but if your willing to put in a little extra time, It's well worth the effort.
Down the road, you can go hiking in a magical area where trolls and elves are thought to have lived and Game of Thrones has been filmed.
Dimmuborgir Lava Fields is an area of massive collapsed lava tubes. Vapor rising through the lava caused giant lava pillars to rise from the earth creating a landscape like nothing you've seen before.
We saw a few of these mini campers around Iceland. It looks like a fun economical way to explore Iceland especially during the summer months where you can camp almost anywhere!
A 5 minute drive from Dimmuborgir is Hofdi.
Here you'll find panoramic views of Lake Myvatn, giant lava pillars jutting out from the lake and one of a few places in Iceland where you will find trees.
The end of day 6 was spent driving to the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri.
It's only about an hours drive from Myvatn.
Watch out for Godafoss Waterfall. It's on the way and something you could literally drive into if you're not paying attention. It's right off the Ring Road and impossible to miss.
Iceland's conversion to Christianity was symbolically started on these cliffs above the falls.
We stopped for a very late lunch in Akureyri. We ate at Bautinn where they are known for their all you can eat soup and salad bar which was very good.
The cafe I wanted to eat at was Blaa Kannan. We walked in just as they finished serving lunch and I was way too hungry for a piece of quiche. I would have loved to sit in this gorgeous timber lined cafe with miss-matched chandeliers, drinking coffee and soaking in the atmosphere of this charming town. Once you feed the hungry diva in you, spend some time strolling through downtown and hopping into the traditional stores like Geysier. If you're like me, you probably won't be able to afford anything but it's interesting to see the garments that Iceland is so famous for. The Lopi sweater is seen on every Icelander and is made of Icelandic sheep. I just couldn't bring myself to splurge on one because I know it would never be worn in my San Diego weather.
On the way out of town, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up dinner for later. The Pylsur Hot Dog is one of the most popular things to eat in Iceland and I was so excited that they sold everything you needed to recreate the experience.
Our favorite accommodation of the entire trip was the spectacular, wonderfully beautiful Ytri Vik Cottages situated on a fjord 19 miles from downtown Akureyri.
We can't say enough good things about this cottage. The location is like nothing we have ever seen before and the pictures on the website do it little justice. Had I known how memorable this place was going to be, I would have extended the trip solely to stay here another day.
I would have soaked in the jacuzzi, grilled up pylsur hot dogs and sat down at the cliff's edge marveling about how fortunate we were to be here. My husband and I have spent many years traveling the world and we both agree that this was in our top 5 "Best views from a hotel" category.
Heres a tip if you stay here. Have a cell phone that works. We didn't bring one. When we got here, there was no one to check us in and a sign saying to call a certain phone number if that was the case. We happened to bother some other guests staying here to ask for help. They were friends of the owners and knew that our key was sticking out of one of the doors to one of the cottages. We went and checked all the cottages and sure enough, one of the doors had a key sticking out of it. I should have had better communication before we left.
It was very hard to leave these cottages but I knew we had another beautiful location to explore.
Day 7 was going to be our longest day in the car. We had a 250 mile, 5-hour drive ahead of us.
We were leaving the Akureyri area and heading to the western part of Iceland, The Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
The drive was beautiful and went fairly quickly with constantly changing views.
This is a day you want to make sure you've packed your "car picnic". Towns, gas stations, and restaurants are few and far between.
Our end goal was to get to one of the top-rated hotels in Iceland. It was by far our splurge of the trip, Hotel Budir.
I saw this hotel in Conde Nast Magazine years ago and it has been on my list of places to stay ever since. I scheduled 2 nights here because I knew it would be a trek to get here and I wanted to slow things down before heading back to Reykjavik.
The Loft Room #25 has the view of the famous Black Church and is the smallest and least expensive.
The first stop of day 8 on our counter-clockwise tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is Raudfeldsgja.
It's a massive imposing natural fissure cut into the side of a mountain.
Again, our access was a challenge because the path leading to the entrance was iced over and quite steep. We really should have rented crampons for this trip. I didn't come this far to let a little sheer cliff leading down into an icy stream where I would for sure break a hip and become hypothermic and die thwart me!
I spent the next 15 minutes kicking footholds into the ice to gain access to the opening. Once I made it inside, the snow was so deep that I sunk down to my thighs so I only got about 10 feet in.
It was worth it though. It makes your heart skip a beat with its huge claustrophobic walls closing in on you.
Drive into the town of Arnarstapi to walk a must-do, gorgeous costal hike, "Arnarstapi to Hellnar". It starts here at this rock troll, Bardur, the regions guardian spirit.
Start to the left of this troll and walk down towards the water's edge and be awed by the weather worn caves and sea arches. We had no idea how beautiful this hike was going to be. The guidebooks just don't describe its beauty sufficiently.
Head south or back to the right when facing the ocean, towards Hellnar, along the obvious path that will lead you along the basalt cliffs and through jagged lava fields.
In summer, hike to the cafe Fjoruhusid located at the trailhead (or end of the hike) in Hellnar.
This is supposedly "The Place" to get fish soup. I only wish they were open when we were here.
Back in the car and a quick stop a Saxholl Crater. This is a crater that erupted 3000 years ago and left a perfect bowl-shaped crater. Its an easy hike with metal grate steps up to the top where you will find panoramic views of the lava fields below.
Back on the road, turn towards the water when you see the sign for Ondverdarnes and drive down the gravel road in search of lighthouses and bird cliffs.
And the grand visual prize of the day was Kirkjufell Mountain!
Otherwise known as church mountain. Spend some time climbing up the path along the waterfall and walk over a little bridge for one of the most famous views in Iceland.
The morning of day 9 was spent leisurely packing our bags and saying goodbye to the west coast. Another easy beautiful drive back into Reykjavik. We walked to the National Museum of Iceland to get in our last bit of culture and history. The evening was spent back at Slippbarinn Bar where we reminisced about the week's adventures.
We by no means got to check off everything on my ridiculously long list of things to do and places to see. We didn't do a single "adventure activity" and there are many of them to do. Snorkeling in a glacial fissure, snowmobiling on a glacier caps, cave exploring and day-long hikes in the Highlands. There just wasn't enough time in the day.
This isn't a complaint just a reason for me to come back and visit again.
You can make your own itinerary to include the must see and must do things that are important to you.
Let me know what I should put on my next priority list in Iceland.
I started this blog so that I could document and share my adventures in travel, photography, food and the things that inspired me. It's a work in progress as are most things in life.