The Country –
For my very first International trip I chose Iceland. A land I had dreamt of visiting for many years. Iceland is one of the very few countries I would consider moving to permenantly. The people are beautiful and the country itself, is beyond gorgeous. Truly a land of fire and ice with a raw, powerful energy. The countryside is dotted with geothermal vents and hot spring pools as well as warm water rivers that you can swim in during the winter. Mountain ranges inundated with some of the largest glaciers in Europe are scattered across the island as well. In addition, the North American and Eurasion fault line runs through the Island and you can swim above it in some of the most crystal clear water in the world at Silfra in Icelands only National Park, Thingvellir. Portions of the Icelandic coastline have some of the most beautiful left and right hand surf spots, in the world. Hiking, waterfalls, art, history, beautiful parks, culture, and food; this country has everything, you could want and a whole lot more.
Flying to Iceland can be very cheap and there are two airlines that offer discounted prices capable of making your stay in Iceland as inexpensive as possible. You can fly out of New York or Boston easily on both Wow Air and IcelandAir. Be sure to weigh your luggage prior to heading to the airport as you are only allowed a specific amount on the flight for both carry on and checked baggage. The carry on weight is a maximum of 11kg for Wow Air. I had to reconfigure my bags twice to avoid additional fees because the first checked bag and carry on are free.
There are no prior Visas or e-visas required as you will receive a tourist stamp upon arrival at Keflavik. Most of the flights arrive on the island very early in the morning and you need to stay in the airport until around 7 am before you can book a shuttle into Reykjavik. There is Wi-Fi in the airport and on most of the major shuttles. As there is absolutely no sleeping allowed in the airport, be sure to catch some sleep on the flight.
The shuttle takes approximately an hour to reach the main bus terminal in Reykjavik where you can then transfer to a bus line headed down the Southern coast. The shuttle will also drop you directly at your hotel if you have one in Reykjavik. From there you could rent a car or hire a driver to tour the Southern coast or you could book a tour group that will take you to different sites along the Southern portion of the Golden Circle.
The buses in Iceland are not cheap and you do have multiple options for travel while you are on the island. Do not rent a car at the airport, they are very expensive and absolutely require a prior reservation. As stated, you could hire a car from your hotel, utilize the extremely efficient but expensive bus system, hitchhike (Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world to hitchhike and you will not be waiting long for a ride!), rent a motorcycle, or hire a personal guide with a 4×4 vehicle. Driving in Iceland requires you to have an International Drivers Permit which you can obtain before leaving the States from any AAA office for only $20. Also, be absolutely sure that you learn the road signs, know how to read the speed signs in kilometers and which side of the road to drive on. There are multiple apps available to help you discover all of these things.
The Southern Coast –
Stretching from Reykjavik along the Southern section of the island and making a complete circuit is the Golden Circle. The entire route can be completed in 4 days but you will miss a great deal of beautiful sites. In, order to maximize your time I would recommend traveling from Reykjavik around to either Vik or just north of there and spend some time hiking the many trails along the route. Along the route are multiple small towns, each with activities to do and sights to see. I recommend planning ahead of time what you would like to see and experience so that you can avoid back tracking. Some of the highlights from my trip where Selfoss, and Vestmanyjer island but you can easily make it all the way to Vik and see the Jökulsárlón icefields near Vatnajökull National Park.
The travel time between Selfoss and Vik is approximately an hour and half with your own vehicle and you can easily see both in a day. The coastline near Selfoss extending up to Vik has some of the most beautiful black sand beaches and basalt rock formations. In addition there are multiple waterfalls, nature preserves, rivers (the Olfus in Selfoss is very beautiful but extremely powerful as it is fed by glacier runoff), and historic buildings to experience. One of the highlights of my trip was a ferry ride from the mainland out to Vestmannaeyjar island which is a town rebuilt inside the remnants of a dormant volcano. The coastline and islands coming into the island are stunning and there are multiple hikes on the island.
There are multiple options for accommodations on the island ranging from 5 star hotels to camping. Each town has a range of hostels to choose from and you can find them through apps such as Hostelworld and Agoda. Iceland is one of the best countries in the world to camp in as over 90% of the country allows free camping. The only places you are not allowed to pitch for free are inside city limits, on privately owned land, and in the National Parks. Any where else you can stop for the night and camp. Just know the rules of open fires and do not litter. Leave the Earth as pristine as you found it and pack out everything.
My suggestion; map out some of the waterfalls and hot springs and spend a night relaxing at one of them along your route. You will not be disappointed. If you choose to stay in any of the hostels, join the International Hostel Association as you will receive a discount on your stay for being a member. You can purchase the membership at any hostel in Iceland or online prior to going.
Iceland has an amazing exchange rate for currency but they make up for that rate by charging more for everything you buy. The main currency is the Icelandic Kron and the current conversion rate according to Xe is $1 USD for $110 Krona (check this in Xe) cost is comparable to Hawai’i and traveling through Japan for food. Even the camping spots are slightly expensive. So if you are on a tight or limited budget, your options are packing your own food like I did in your checked baggage for the 4 days or purchasing food on arrival at one of the smaller towns or in Reykjavik. If you choose to eat out you will take a large hit on your budget as the restaurants are quite expensive, even more so if you decide to drink.
Iceland is the trip of a lifetime and although you can see a small portion of it in 4 days like I did, you will want to visit again, and again, in order to experience everything the Island has to offer. There is so much history and nature here you could easily spend 2 months exploring and not see everything. I travelled during late September at the end of the tourist season. This option provides you with cheaper rates and more choices. And, the Northern Lights are quite active at that time of year with few road closures due to snow in the later months. Enjoy your trip and if you want to go and have any questions I would be happy to answer them. Just find me on Facebook. Enjoy your Journey!