Iceland: South Coast Part II

(See my of my posts about Iceland here)

After an evening spent exploring waterfalls and a good nights’ sleep, we continued on the South Coast. When planning our trip, we absolutely wanted to go to the “iceberg lagoons” at the farther end of the South Coast, but had trouble finding a place to stay along the way. Therefore, we had a lot of distance to cover on this day since the only available lodging we were able to find was about an hour and a half past the Iceberg Lagoon. Despite the long drive, we visited several really cool places along the way!

Reynisfjara Beach:

Our first stop of the day was at Reynisfjara Beach, which is one of the more famous black sand beaches. We got there fairly early, so it wasn’t very crowded yet. The beach is quite large, but it is especially known for its basalt columns that cover the side of a small hill and the view of several large rock formations in the ocean. We walked along the beach and climbed over some rock piles. As we returned, the beach had gotten very crowded with people. We were glad we got there early and had some time there before it got so busy.

Fjadrargljufur Canyon:

From Reynisfjara, it was about an hour drive to our next destination. Fjadrargljufur Canyon is a less-visited spot but is easily accessible from the main road. It is a canyon largely covered in green grass and moss and the views were amazing! I thought there was an hour-long hike here, but we either missed the hiking trail or my information was flawed. Instead, we followed the path that led along the top of the canyon. It was a really pretty walk, though it was very windy! This was one of the few sunny days of our trip, so we really enjoyed the gorgeous weather despite the wind.

Fjallsarlon Lagoon:

After an hour or so at the canyon, we drove about two hours to Fjallsarlon Lagoon. This is a smaller version of the more famous Iceberg Lagoon. We walked along the water edge looking at the various icebergs that stick out of the water. It was still sunny and somewhat warm out, so we laid on the warm rocks on the beach for a while soaking up the sun. While definitely smaller than the Iceberg Lagoon (named Jokulsarlon), we really enjoyed our time there. The icebergs are so incredibly gorgeous, and it wasn’t crowded at all!

We drove on another hour and a half to our Airbnb at Stafafell, where we stayed in a tent at a campsite. It was a really windy night, so we didn’t get the best sleep, but the campsite was well equipped and even had a small camp kitchen where we met and talked to a few other campers for a bit.

Notes:

Where we stayed: Stafafell (Airbnb)

Costs: We made all of our meals at our Airbnbs or in the car. I don’t think there were any parking fees this day.

Tips:

  • Get to Reynisfjara Beach early if possible! When we arrived there, there were only a handful of people walking around, but within an hour it was very crowded.
  • If road conditions are decent, I definitely recommend spending some time at Fjadrargljufur Canyon. Note that there is a steep hill at the beginning of the walk, but it was otherwise fairly flat.
  • Don’t skip Fjallsarlon Lagoon! I’d recommend going to this before you go to Jokulsarlon, since it would probably seem underwhelming after going there. Based on other reviews online, Fjallsarlon can be a bit of a hit or miss in terms of how many icebergs are there. When we went, there were quite a few, but at other times there are fewer icebergs. Either way, there is a nice view of the glacier.

Iceland: South Coast Part I

After spending a couple of days exploring the sights along the Golden Circle, we headed out towards the South Coast. Before leaving the Golden Circle route, however, we made a stop at Reykjadalur, an increasingly popular spot.

Reykjadalur Hike and Hot Springs:

Photo Credit (all photos of Reykjadalur): Todd Ogden

At Reykjadalur, which was a bit greener than much of what we had seen so far and also quite hilly, there are several hiking trails that lead up and through the mountains. The most popular hike is the one that leads to a hot spring-fed river. Cold river water combines with steaming hot spring water to create several small pools that are the perfect warm or hot temperature to relax in. The hike is about an hour to hour and a half long, and is moderate. For experienced hikers, it’s not particularly challenging, but for non-hikers or even occasional hikers, I would say it’s a pretty decently difficult hike. It’s quite hilly and most of the hike is either steep uphill or steep downhill as you traverse the hills and valleys. Finally, you come to the swimming spot, which is well-labeled.

We hiked this on a windy, cold, and overcast day with some light rain. When we got to the swimming part of the river, we were excited to dip into the warm water, but the first spot we tried was only lukewarm. Given the cold temperatures and less than ideal weather, my mom and I weren’t quite satisfied and got cold quickly in the water. We decided to try a spot a bit farther upstream, right before the water becomes too dangerous, and were pleased to find nice hot water. There are a few “changing” structures, but they’re open, so it was a bit of a challenge to change out of wet bathing suits after we had finished, but with the help of some towels being held up, we figured it out. We then hiked back out, which seemed to go much quicker than hiking in.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall:

Photo Credit (last photo): Todd Ogden

Following our hike at Reykjadalur we headed to the South Coast and our first destination. After checking in to our Airbnb, which was nearby, and making dinner (it was early evening by that point) we headed to the first waterfall of the day, Seljalandsfoss. This is perhaps the most famous waterfall along the South Coast, primarily because it’s the only waterfall you can walk behind. I had read online that there was another waterfall just a short walk along the path, so when we arrived, we actually walked to that one first (see next section). Once we had checked out the other waterfall, we came back and walked around Seljalandsfoss in a clockwise direction. Most people do it the opposite direction, but since we were on that side it made more sense. Seljalandsfoss isn’t a particularly massive waterfall, but it was really interesting to go behind the waterfall and see it from every angle. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of mist and you get pretty wet, so dress appropriately!

Gljufrabui Waterfall:

Photo Credit (2nd and 3rd photos): Todd Ogden

As I mentioned, there is another waterfall just a 3-minute walk down the path from Seljalandsfoss. If you do Seljalandsfoss first (going around it counter-clockwise) you can just continue on the path that branches to the right. If you want to do Gljufrabui first, then walk along the path to the left of Seljalandsfoss (as you are looking at the waterfall from the front). Either way, I highly recommend you go and check out Gljufrabui. It was actually one of our favorite parts of the trip! This waterfall is really unique because it is behind a rock “wall”. There is a small gap in the rock where you can see the waterfall peeking out. You can actually go through that gap and up the small stream and get really close to the waterfall. There are small step stones along the stream so depending on how high the water is, you can actually go through the gap without getting your feet soaking wet. My mom and I chose that option (both of us were wearing fairly waterproof hiking boots), but my dad and brother walked in the stream barefoot (brrr!!!). Once you get through the gap there is a small chasm through which the waterfall plunges down directly in front of you. It is so, so cool! We actually got less wet here than we did walking around Seljalandsfoss. I originally abstained from entering the gap, but then a British family walked out and the mom exclaimed loudly, “That was SO AWESOME!!”, so I decided I had to do it, and had absolutely no regrets!

Skogafoss:

From Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui we drove a few minutes to Skogafoss, one of the other well-known waterfalls. This waterfall is really pretty and you can walk up a set of steep stairs to the top to get a view from there as well. Though tired and a bit sore from our hike earlier in the day, my dad convinced me to walk up to the top which affords for gorgeous vies of both the waterfall and the valley below. We spent less time here as we were pretty cold and wet at this point, but it was definitely worth the visit. We tucked into bed as soon as we returned to our Airbnb after a long and fun day.

Notes:

Where we stayed: Eyvindarmuli near Seljalandsfoss (Airbnb, no longer available- this was our least favorite place throughout the trip as there were a lot of people staying there and just one dated and somewhat dirty bathroom shared by all)

Costs: We prepared food bought previously at a grocery store for all of our meals. There is a fee of 700 ISK (about $7 USD) to park at Seljalandsfoss. As with Thingvellir, this is payable only by credit or debit card.

Tips:

  • If you do the Reykjadalur hike, dress appropriately! When we went, it was a cold and windy day with little to no sunshine. We were very glad to have hats/earwarmers while hiking as a result. Make sure to bring your bathing suit (we hiked in wearing them) and a towel to dry off and change behind. We found that the water was cooler farther downstream and warmer upstream, so try a few spots until you find one that’s the right temperature.
  • Don’t forget to visit Gljufrabui if you go to Seljalandsfoss! It is such a cool waterfall, and if weather/conditions allow, go up the little stream and through the gap to see the waterfall up close.
  • Book places to stay along the South Coast well in advance. We didn’t and as a result ended up with somewhat questionable places to stay.
  • Make sure you have a full tank of gas and pick up any groceries before the South Coast- the gas stations and grocery stores are few and far between.

Iceland: Golden Circle Part II

As I mentioned in the previous post, the Golden Circle can be done in a just a day, but we chose to spend two full days exploring the sights since we stayed three nights along the route. Our first day we covered Fridheimar Greenhouse, Geysir, Gullfoss, Efsti-dalur, and the Secret Lagoon. On our second day, which was pretty cold and rainy, we headed to the place many people start their tour of the Golden Circle at: Thingvellir National Park.

Thingvellir National Park:

Oxararfoss
Oxararfoss

Thingvellir is a really large park not too far from Reykjavik. There are a number of cool things to see and do there. Many people choose to do special excursions or experiences there, such as snorkeling between the continental divide, but we just walked around. Thingvellir is an important site not only because of it’s natural beauty, but also for its history. It is here that the first Icelandic parliament met for centuries, beginning around 930 AD until the 1700s. Not only is it where the first Icelandic parliament met, but it is also considered the first and longest-lasting parliament in the world.

Logberg (Law Rock)
In Thingvellir Park

We started off at the parking location near Oxararfoss Waterfall. From there, we walked up to the waterfall. Though much smaller than Gullfoss, it was in an interesting location and quite beautiful. The walking trails from this parking lot wind between two ridges that are the divide between the tectonic plates of North America and Europe, called the Almannagja Fault.

Thingvellir Church
Thingvellir Church

From there we walked on to the Hakid viewpoint and Logberg (Law Rock), where the first laws of Iceland were discussed and announced. We also walked down to and around Thingvellir Church, which was built in the mid-1800s on the site of the church that was built shortly after Christianity was adopted in Iceland in 1000 AD.  The church is surrounded by water and is very small but cute.

We enjoyed our visit to Thingvellir National Park, despite the light rain that fell all day.

Notes:

Where we stayed: Duo Bungalow in Selfoss (Airbnb)

Costs: Parking at Thingvellir was 750 ISK (about $7.50 USD). We ate/made all of our meals at home on this day, saving a lot of money.

Tips:

  • Thingvellir Park is gorgeous! We really enjoyed just walking along the paths and taking in the views. There are special excursions we decided not to do, as well as additional sights to those we checked out.
  • We had to pay for the parking using a website and credit card on my brother’s phone. I’m not sure if there is a way to bypass having a phone/data in order to pay for parking.

Iceland: Golden Circle Part I

The Golden Circle is a short looped drive that includes many of the top tourist attractions in Iceland. It’s close to both the capital city of Reykjavik and the airport, so even those that are only in Iceland for 24 hours often do this route. You can hit all of the main sights in a matter of hours, but we decided to split our time there into two days and stayed along the route. Here’s what we did on our first day of the Golden Circle.

Fridheimar Greenhouse:

We were a bit tired on our first day, so we allowed ourselves to rest some that morning, then headed to Fridheimar Greenhouse, which is a greenhouse that grows primarily tomatoes. Several years ago, the owners decided to add a restaurant directly inside one of their greenhouses, complete with a tomato-based menu. They’re quite famous for the incredible food, and we tried both the classic tomato soup with homemade bread, the mozzarella and tomato tortilla “pizza”, and the ravioli. Everything was delicious and it was cool to eat surrounded by the tomato plants!

Geysir:

After we had filled our stomachs with fantastic food, we headed towards Geysir. As the name indicates, this is a geothermal area with several geysers. The prominent geyser, which gives this attraction its name, no longer goes off, but there is a smaller geyser (Strokkur) that goes off about every 5-10 minutes. Behind the geysers there were several lupine-covered hills. My parents, who have been to Yellowstone National Park in the US, weren’t all that impressed with Strokkur, but the area was undeniably pretty either way.

Gullfoss:

From Geysir, we headed to Gullfoss Waterfall. This waterfall is the most impressive of the waterfalls we saw in Iceland in my opinion. It is a powerful waterfall, with two separate steps over which the water flows. The photos really don’t compare to seeing it in person. It is simply stunning. We walked along both the upper and lower paths, which affords you two different views of the falls.

Efsti-Dalur:

After Gullfoss, we still had a couple of hours before we needed to be at the Secret Lagoon, so we decided to drive in the opposite direction to Efsti-dalur, a farm that also has a restaurant and homemade ice-cream! I had read that the ice-cream was fantastic there, and it didn’t disappoint! The ice-cream is made right there on the farm, and there are windows from the ice-cream parlor directly into the barn where the cows are.

Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin):

We ended our day at Secret Lagoon, a natural hot pool along the Golden Circle. We had decided to skip the Blue Lagoon, one of the top attractions in Iceland, because we dislike crowds and went here instead. My luggage hadn’t arrived with me, so I ended up having to rent a swimsuit, which is something I usually wouldn’t do, but it was fine. We really enjoyed our time here, just relaxing in the hot water. It was the perfect end to a busy (and fairly cold) day!

Notes:

Where we stayed: Duo Bungalow in Selfoss (Airbnb)

Costs: Our meals at Fridheimar were around $20 USD/person; Ice-cream at Efsti-dalur was about $8 USD for two big scoops of ice-cream; the Secret Lagoon was about $26 USD/person.

Tips:

  • We really enjoyed each of the stops on this day! Our favorites were Fridheimar, Gullfoss, and Secret Lagoon.
  • At Gullfoss, make sure you do both paths. Also wear rain gear, as there’s a fair amount of mist.
  • You should reserve a table in advance for Fridheimar, and you also need to book in advance for the Secret Lagoon.

Iceland: The Details

My family and I recently traveled in Iceland! It is traditional for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to do a COS, or Close of Service, trip after they have completed their service. For some volunteers, this might be a several months trip, for others it might be a couple of days, and of course there are volunteers who choose to go straight home or to their next location. My parents were interested in meeting me somewhere and traveling together and after debating several options, we finally settled on Iceland. My brother also joined us, and we had a great time!

We had about 6 full days in Iceland, and started our trip driving and staying along the Golden Circle. We then drove along the South Coast before heading back and spending an evening in Reykjavik. I’ll be doing more detailed posts for the locations we visited (click on each day below to see those posts), but here is our itinerary:

Day 1: Travel to Iceland, drive to Selfoss.

Day 2: Fridheimar Greenhouse, Geysir, Gullfoss, Efsti-dalur, Secret Lagoon.

Day 3: Thingvellir National Park (Oxararfoss, Logberg Law Rock, Almannagja Fault, Hakid viewpoint, Thingvellir Church).

Day 4: Reykjadalur, Seljalandsfoss, Gljufrabui, Skogafoss.

Day 5: Reynisfjara Beach, Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Fjallsarlon.

Day 6: Jokulsarlon & Diamond Beach, Vik, Dyrholaey, Westman Islands.

Day 7: Westman Islands, Reykjavik.

Day 8: Fly home. 

We stayed in Airbnbs throughout the entire trip and rented a car. The weather was around 40 to 50 degrees each day, and many days were overcast and rainy. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any particularly heavy rainstorms. We were also lucky to have nearly 2 fully sunny days. This kind of weather seems to be typical for Iceland, even in the summer, but if you dress properly it’s not that bad.

We really enjoyed our vacation!