Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Best Road Trip - 15 nights in Iceland - Cost, Advice, and Itinerary

Godafoss Waterfall, Iceland
Hard to say something is the best, right?  I mean, I've been on some pretty awesome road trips - Newfoundland, California, Colorado, Michigan, Pacific Northwest, Southwest National Parks, Ireland....the list goes on and on.  But I can say - Iceland trumps them all.  The natural beauty is incomparable - it's AMAZING! Combined with the ease of foreign currency (all you need is a credit card), the delicious food, and the tourist-friendly attitude, makes this island THE BEST place to visit.  Yes, it's cold.  Yes, it's rural. No, there are no beaches to lay out in a bikini.  It's not that kind of vacation.  If you are looking for a natural wonderland and long roads where the only traffic is the sheep and horses on the side of road, then go here.  Below you'll get a review of our 15-night itinerary as well as some tips and tricks for your trip.  Happy Travels!

Dynjandi Waterfall, Iceland

THE BEST ROAD TRIP - 15 Nights in Iceland 

Outside of Reykjavik 
This trip wasn't cheap...but it was cheaper than I expected.  With a day job as a middle school science teacher, I don't have a huge slush fund for travel.  However, by saving $100 from each paycheck for three years (money that should have probably gone into some sort of Roth IRA retirement account), I saved $5,000 - my expected cost.  As it turned out, the trip cost - for everything - about $4,000 a person (3 person trip).  This included...

$760 - Round-trip Direct Flight from Boston
$1,936 - Payment to Iceland Unlimited (2 week budget car rental, 15 night budget accommodations, Ferry to Westfjords, Whale Watch Trip, Blue Lagoon Entrance, and Travel Agent Services [24-hour contact, map, meeting, cell phone, gps])
$421 - Expenses - 1/3rd of the gas, snacks, souvenirs, snacks
$569 - Food and Drink (Lunches and Dinners only. Breakfast was always included by guesthouses.  We often only went out for one large meal a day to save money)
$300 - Extra Excursions (Horseback Riding, Silfra Snorkel, Glacial Bay Boat Tour)
$160 - Third of cost for broken windshield (cracked along trip and had to replace)
TOTAL: $4,146

And it was worth EVERY PENNY!  I'm starting to save for a return trip (the Roth IRA can wait...)

5 Things I didn't know until I went to Iceland...

Hraunfossar waterfall
1.  There are waterfalls EVERYWHERE. - Yes.  I knew there were waterfalls there.  I had done my photography research on Godafoss, Gullfoss, and all the other "fosses".  What I didn't realize is that you can't throw a puffin in this country without hitting ten waterfalls.  Driving along fjords all day, we'd see literally hundreds of falls coming off the mountains and draining into the fjord.  It was amazing and beautiful.  Perhaps next time I go, I'll try to stop more often for the "little ones" (they aren't little by US standards) and spend less time at tourists favorites.

Lupines Everywhere!
2. In July, the country is covered in lupine flowers, sheep, and horses. - Oh my goodness! The beauty!  It's hard to describe, but we would drive for a full day through what looked like one massive field of purple lupines.  It's memorizing.  Icelanders also have large herds of sheep and horses that roam freely through the island.  Every glance is picture-perfect.

3.  Everyone speaks English. - Well, ok...I DID meet one woman who didn't at a rural gas station in North Iceland, but everyone else in the gas station did.  Since there are so many European tourists, English has become the "tourist language" and most menus, products, and signs were in English - even in rural areas.
Walking on ice - bring a jacket

4. The food is good. - I had expected food choice would be limited due to the remote and isolated location.  We found that restaurants served excellent and diverse menus.  Portion size was fair and so was cost.  Remember, you don't tip your servers in Iceland and tax is included in the cost of the food, so a $30 meal isn't that bad when you consider it includes tax and gratuity.  Oh...we also noticed there are a lot of pizza places.

5.  It's chilly. - I mean, I knew this I guess.  The summer prior, I had kept pretty close tabs on the daily weather in Reykjavik, but it was still surprising to be mid-July with a high of 55 F.  Bring lots of layered clothing and sunscreen.  The harsh northern sun will get you. Don't forget your swimsuit too - Hot tubs everywhere!

And now for the itinerary ... Click on the day and follow the link to the write up about that day.  

15 Nights in Iceland (in July)

Day 1 (July 8)Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik Introduction - Arrive in Iceland at 6:30 am. Take Flybus to Blue Lagoon for opening at 8:30 am.  From Blue Lagoon, take Flybus to Reykjavik.  Check into Guesthouse Aurora and explore local spots.

Day 2 (July 9)West Iceland - Lupines, Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Craters 
Get rental car from Enterprise and drive west.  Explore Hvakfjordur fjord and the Glymur waterfall. See other sights along the road. Stay at Hotel Borganes.
Day 3 - Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Day 3 (July 10) Snæfellsnes Peninsula - Beaches, Churches, and Mountains  Explore the Snaefellsnes peninsula and glacier.  Stay at Guesthouse Kast.

Day 4 (July 11) - The Wild Westfjords - Winding Roads, Mountains, Puffins, and a Ferry Take 9 am ferry  in Stykkisholmur alon Breidafjordur bay.  See Latrabjarg cliff and puffins!  Stay at Radagerdi hostel in Patreksfjordur.

Day 5 (July 12) Westfjords Waterfalls and Coastal Villages  - Explore more of the Westfjords including Patreksfjordur, Talknafjordur, and Bildudalur.  Visit the Dynjandi waterfall and Isafjordur.  Stay at Hotel Edda Isafjordur.

Day 6 (July 13) Westfjords Continued - Hot Tubs, Waterfalls, and Sorcery -  Explore the capital of sorcery and witchcraft while exploring more fjords and beauty.  Stay at Guesthouse Laugarholl.

Day 7 (July 14)Northwest Iceland - Black Beaches, Driftwood and Icelandic HorsesDrive by fertile farmland and barren mountains roads.  Take an afternoon tour on Icelandic horses.  Stay at Guesthouse Holar. 

Day 8 (July 15)Akureyri - Shopping, Food, and Drink - Drive to the capital of the north.  Explore the town and stay at Guesthouse Gula Villan.

Day 6 - Drangsnes Hot Tubs

Day 9 (July 16)North Iceland - Whales, Waterfalls, and Nature Baths - Head for Lake Myvatan.  On the way stop and see Godafoss waterfall.  Go on 3 hour whale watching tour in Husavik.  Stay at Guesthouse Stong.

Day 10 (July 17)Myvatn - Craters, Sulfur Pots, and Steam Vents - Drive to Eastern Iceland.  Stop to see Dettifoss - Europes most powerful waterfall.  Stay at Icelandair Hotel Herad.

Day 11 (July 18)East Iceland - Hot Tubs, Lobster, and (more) Waterfalls - Drive through East Fjords and fishing villages.  Stay at Guesthouse Arnanes. 

Day 12 (July 19)Southeast Iceland - Icebergs and Glaciers See glacial lagoon through a boat tour.  Explore Vatnajokull National Park, Svartifoss Waterfall, and Vik.  Stay at Hotel Edda in Skogar.

Day 13 (July 20)The South Coast - Waterfalls, Waterfalls, and Snorkeling - Drive the south coast and stop to see many waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. Snorkel Silfa in Thingvellir National Park. Spend the night at Guesthouse Lambastadir. 

Day 14 (July 21) The Golden Circle - þingvellir National Park, Geysers, and Gullfoss - Visit Thingvellir National Park.  See geysers and Gullfoss waterfall.  Return rental car and stay at Reykavik Hostel Village.

Day 15 (July 22) Reykjavik- Hot Dogs, Happy Hour, and Sunshine CityEnjoy the last day in Iceland by exploring Reykjavik on foot. 

Day 16 (July 23) Fly home - Morning flight back to Boston.

Day 12 - Glacial Lagoon
In conclusion, this trip might have been a "once in a lifetime adventure", but I can't accept that.  I HAVE to go back!  Who needs a retirement plan anyhow?

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Westfjords Selfie