Posted on January 15, 2023
Everyone who visits to Iceland says the same thing: that it’s like being on a different planet. How true that is! The minute we left the airport, it seemed we were whisked into a landscape for which we have no reference (at least for this mid-Atlantic lifer, but probably the Brazilian too). As far as the eye can see, there are rocks, endless rocks, lava fields overtaken by moss and lichens. In the distance, mountains, volcanoes… maybe? It was all so breathtaking, but we had 3-hour drive ahead of us, and there's only so much I could take in, being in the driver’s seat an all.
Our first stop was outside of the town of Vík, literally in the middle of nowhere. Our hotel was Umi Hotel, a concrete slab of building in a field between the Ring Road and the sea located three hours from Reykjavík. There are hardly any other structures nearby, and the of highway, non-existent.
There’s a hiking trail that meanders about a mile or so until it reaches a vast black sand beach. I’ve seen pictures, but it’s really something you have to experience. There was nobody around, just the sounds of the waves and fjords feeding into the sea.
Kayaking amongst the icebergs
Perhaps we could have planned our time a little better, but in the land of the midnight sun, what is time, really? Well, I guess it does matter if you have to take a guided kayak tour four and half hours away. We did make one pit stop on the way out, however, at Reynisfjara. You might recognize it from Game of Thrones.
There are two places kayak amongst the icebergs. The first one is the Glacier Lagoon. Where we went, which was about 45 minutes further east, was in a glacier lake. The glacier lake is fresh water, and the lagoon is a mix of salt and fresh water. The lagoon is definitely more famous, but the glacier has a distinct advantage. It has no outlet to the sea, and the fresh water makes the icebergs less likely fall on top of you, so you can get real close.
We did end up stopping by the Glacier Lagoon on the long way back to the hotel. It’s so impressive, but I’d be nervous kayaking around there. The currents were powerful as hell. This trip was the first I saw a glacier of any kind. The scale is so immense that you think it’s playing tricks with your mind.
We visited several natural hot springs during our trip. They can vary from incredibly rustic to something of a high-end spa. It’s worth visiting as many as can. They’re quite invigorating, especially when Iceland’s “summer” temps were in the 50’s at best.
Vestmannaeyjar can be reached by ferry, which takes about 30 minutes. It’s a small town with a few homes and restaurants, and the Eldfell volcano that formed in 1973 and buried a neighborhood. There are signs that mark where people used to live. It’s easy to hike up the volcano, and you can still feel the heat in certain areas.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s top tourist destinations. You can grab a tour bus and visit many of the sites, but it’s much better to rent a car and do it at your own pace. The Golden Circle is easy to reach from Reykjavík.
Reykjavík and Keflavik
We spent the last bit of our trip exploring Reykjavík, where most Icelanders call home. The city is charming, and I love the bright-colored sheet metal homes. There’s no shortage nordic design either. I particularly enjoyed the Nordic House Cultural Center and its large collection of beautiful furniture. I wouldn’t recommend making Reykjavík your home base for your entire stay. You can see all the sites in the city in about a day or two. Iceland’s real draw is its natural beauty.
On our way to the airport, we made a stop at the Blue Lagoon, which is much bigger than I thought it was. It’s the perfect way to cap off what was one of our more memorable vacations. We’ll be back someday. We have to go back.