Seeing Iceland by car requires a bit of planning, a sense of adventure, and, of course, a driver’s license. This last technicality didn’t stop IgoUgo Project Manager Cia B. from riding into the glaciers—in the passenger seat.
When I first pitched the idea of driving through Iceland to my boyfriend, he immediately said yes. He’s never driven outside the United States before, and as an east coast transplant from Los Angeles, he cherishes the opportunity to be behind the wheel. (And, being a New Yorker for the last 13 years, I cherish being driven around by those who actually love to drive.) His reaction changed when I told him that we, I mean he, should drive the entire country in seven days. I went back to the planning table and narrowed our trip to just the south of the country. The boyfriend was then more agreeable.
With the help of the Hostel International staff in Iceland, I mapped out the drive from Keflavik Airport to the tip of the southeast and back to Reykjavik in seven days. We purchased a package that included our hostel stays and a small Honda Jazz rental. Because it was the beginning of the summer season, a lot of the hostels were still closed. It took several emails until we finalized our itinerary and reserved our private double rooms.
We arrived in Keflavik Airport before seven in the morning and started driving toward our first stop: Laugarvartn. It’s a small “spa” town the local city-dwellers visit when they need to get away from the bustle of Reykjavik. We spent two days in the area, exploring two of Iceland’s most popular sights: Geysir and Gulfoss.
It was only during our third day that we finally felt like we were in Iceland. We headed for Fljotsdalur, where our hostel’s roof was covered in grass and stood in the middle of nowhere. It was the perfect Icelandic postcard setting: grazing sheep next to a raging river, with a glacier in the background. We spent our entire afternoon walking to a gorge a few miles from the hostel and trying to get close to the glacier for better photo opportunities.
The next day, we continued on in our small car and headed towards Vik, stopping by Skogafoss and Foss, two of the most photogenic waterfalls in the country, and continuing on to the tip of Vatnajokull, the largest glacier in Iceland. On the way, we went inside an 18th-century church in the frozen-in-time village of Nupsstadur, near the Lomagnupur cliffs, and stood amongst the basalt columns of Dverghamrar, also known as the Cliffs of the Dwarfs. Alas, we drove back to Vik after only getting a glimpse of the glacier from Skaftafell. The rest of Iceland will just have to wait for our return.
Before returning to Reykjavik, we saw the towering black rocks of Reynis jutting from the sea. From Hallsanef Hellir, we caught a glimpse of the inaccessible arc of Dyrholaey. And if we didn’t make a U-turn after driving by a sign that said “glacier walk,” we would have missed the magical experience of walking inside Solheimajokull.
Two hours and a speeding ticket from the Icelandic police later, we were in Reykjanes Peninsula for a much-needed detour to the Blue Lagoon.
Minus a few tubs of skyr, a jar of delicious elk pate, and some fresh ingredients for dinner, we refrained from spending our kronurs in the grocery stores. But for five days, we ate well and saved some money by cooking in the hostel kitchens (the four bottles of red wine in our “survival kit” served their purpose). For one of our dinners, the boyfriend made chicken stew on a bed of bubble and squeak while other tourists ate their pasta. But it was only a matter of time until our Benjamins were spent in Reykjavik, where our story continues.