There are many different ways of experiencing Iceland. Accommodations range from hostels, guest houses, hotels, camping and campervan-ing. On our trip we did three – we stayed in a hostel in Reykjavik the first two nights, spent 3 nights in a camper van then the last two in an AirBnB back in Reykjavik.
A camper van give you the flexibility and freedom to explore at your own pace without being tied down to a hotel or guesthouse reservation. You can pick and choose where and when to stop. We got the Big Easy from Camp Easy. The staff is incredibly helpful and friendly. They gave us some tips and accommodated a last minute itinerary change.
The van was more than enough room for 3 fairly tall adults. It came with a sink and small gas stove, as well as all cutlery and plates – and most importantly a bottle opener. There are a few different options of vans that can fit your needs. Something to note, all F road (mostly in the highlands) require four wheel drive. We opted for more space in the van over four wheel drive and stuck to the main roads.
Our first stop after picking up the van was the grocery store. Food and drinks in Iceland are expensive. I live in New York City and even I was shocked at the prices. We spent a little less than $100 on food at the the grocery store that lasted us the 4 day road trip. We ate hotdogs, grilled cheese, oatmeal, cheese and crackers, and a lot of chips (my weakness). Once we were stocked with food, we headed out of the city and onto the Ring Road. We started going west with a rough idea of an itinerary for the next few days. The weather was pretty bad with strong winds and lots of rain. Once we made it over the mountains, things calmed down and the views were gorgeous. We drove through some smaller towns before getting to Seljalandsfoss.
Day 1 – Waterfalls
This was the first waterfall I saw while in Iceland and I could feel my heart pound in my chest as we walked up to it. It was overwhelmingly beautiful and awe inspiring. I took some pictures from the front of it then made my way to the back. The wind blowing the water got me pretty wet, but the view was worth it.
There is another waterfall further down the path called Gljúfrabúi. It is tucked behind a crevasse in the mountain. I braved the cold water to go behind the crevasse for a better look. Shortly after, the rain started falling and we made our way back to the van for a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches.
Continuing down the Ring Road for another 30 minutes, we stopped at Skógafoss. There is a campground, hostel restaurant and other amenities when you pull of the road here. We parked in the lot at the bottom and climbed the stairs to the top of the waterfall. There were trails that led off from the stairs to see the falls from other angles as well.
Day 2 – Glacier Lagoon and Svartifoss
Because we were there in November, by the time we were finished with Skógafoss the sun was close to setting. We scrapped my initial itinerary and headed for the Glacier Lagoon. We ended up camping there overnight and waited up hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We made a a batch of frozen risotto and played Gin Rummy all night. We woke up to a breathtaking view of the the glacier lagoon.
Alex had to get some work done in the morning so Jamie and I spent the time wandering around the lagoon and booked a last minute amphibious boat tour. The tour was only 50 ISK (about $45 USD) and was the best value tour I’d seen. The guide broke off a piece of ice from the water and let us taste it. The ice takes 1,000 years to travel from the top of the glacier to the lagoon.
Once Alex was finished with work, we contemplated going north and finishing the Ring Road or concentrating on the south. We decided we’d rather take our time and stop as often as we wanted so we’d stick to the south. The next stop was Skaftafell to visit Svartifoss. It was a short 45 minute drive, which gave us just enough sunlight for the hike and minor detour. The hike took about 1.5 hours round trip. Svartifoss isn’t as big as the other waterfalls we saw, but the rock formations made it a worthy and impressive sight.
You’re able to camp there during the winter, although it is not officially open. The showers are available and warm and the restrooms are open all night. We stayed the night there, again hoping for the Northern Lights with no luck.
Day 3 – Glacier and Fjaðrárgljúfur
There is another glacier tongue a very short drive from Skaftafell. We drove over first thing in the morning and viewed the massive display from a cliff to the side of it. The weather was dreary as we approached, but after 20 minutes the clouds started clearing and it began to snow. The ice glowed in the sunlight.
Our next stop was Fjaðrárgljúfur. It is an incredible canyon that has been formed over the last 9,000 years. It is a short drive off of the ring road and you do not need 4WD to get there.
That night, we made our way back to Skógafoss to take advantage of a campsite with bathrooms. As we slept, snow and hail fell all night and we woke up to the waterfall covered in a blanket of snow. I quickly snapped this picture running back from the bathroom in the morning when it was officially very cold.
Day 4 – Black Sand Beach
In the morning, we drove back east to Vik to visit the Black Sand Beach. The Reynisfjara shore was absolutely breathtaking. It was like being in an eery dream next to the basalt columns of the cliffs as the freezing water rushed the colorless sand. From the sand you can see Reynisdrangar. They are massive basalt formations that emerge from the sea just off the shore.
Our last stops on our road trip were another glacier tongue which was completely covered in snow and a tucked away geo-thermal pool built in 1923 in Seljavallalaug. We were hoping to be able to take a dip in the pool, but we were pressed for time to get the car back. Its a 10 minute hike down a gorgeous river valley after parking at a farm off of road 242 marked Raufarfell.
We made our way back to Reyjkavik with 15 minutes to spare returning the camper van. We made many stops along the road trip to take snaps of massive lava fields, the famous horses, flocks of sheep and anything else that interested us. It was an amazing and flexible way to explore the diverse and beautiful south coast of Iceland.