I just returned from a week and a half winter adventure in the beautiful island country of Iceland. Right now the tickets to fly to Iceland from the East Coast of the United States are averaging around $300-400 RT, so it’s a no brainer for those looking for a spontaneous getaway. I chose to fly the discount airline WOW Air, which offers you the cheapest flight ticket but charges you for literally everything else. It’s a good idea until things go wrong, and then you have to deal with their lackluster customer service, which I had to do.
My friend Inna and I flew into Keflavik Airport, which is about a 45 minute drive from the capital of Reykjavik. We chose to rent a 4×4 vehicle instead of using one of the many bus tours that the country has to offer. There were upsides and downsides to this, but ultimately we were thankful to have the freedom that renting a car provides you. We had organized a road trip across the southern part of the island, following the primary highway that circles Iceland, Route 1.
For those that are unfamiliar, Iceland is full of volcanoes, glaciers, and lakes. There are dried lava fields randomly peppering the landscape, and the ridiculously majestic mountains pop up across giant fields of flat terrain. Most of the population lives on the fringes of the island, with 2/3rds living in the capital of Reykjavik. It’s sparse and extreme country. Inspirational and terrifying at the same time.
Driving in Iceland in the wintertime is challenging. There is no denying it. Your vehicle must be prepared for weather, and you have to be comfortable driving in rough situations. With that said, it’s completely worth it. You won’t see this kind of otherworldly terrain anywhere. The fast island weather just adds to the atmosphere. My senses were constantly overwhelmed, and I came home with a sense of enlightenment.
Here is Priscilla, our rental. She ain’t pretty, but she’s stalwart and sure footed.
The people who live in the countryside are very acclimated, and are undaunted by the vastness that surrounds them. They are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met while traveling, and are unhesitatingly helpful. There is a sense of ease that Icelanders carry, something that I am constantly seeking. Obviously the lack of traffic and noise has its perks!
After reading blogs and write-ups about what time of year is best when exploring Iceland, I felt that winter would offer me a degree of contrast and intensity that could shake some cobwebs from living comfortably in the modern world. My takeaway is that there are different comforts here. Aesthetic beauty moves to the forefront. Nothing is cluttered or crowded. Buildings compliment the landscape instead of dominating it.
My favorite thing about this trip was the glaciers. I’d never seen a glacier in person, and it was beyond what I expected. They are huge oceans of ice that carve through the landscape over thousands of years. And they’re distinguishable from regular snow and ice by their beautiful blueish hue.
I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded that there is volcanic activity all around me. From the geothermal hot springs and geysers, to the beautiful black sand beaches that sprinkle the coastline in pockets.
Other things of note:
- There are waterfalls everywhere
- The hot water may smell of the sulfur springs they come from, but the cold water out of the tap is cleaner than the bottled water being sold in stores. You can actually taste how pure it is!
- If you go there, don’t forget that wintertime means less daylight due to your proximity to the arctic circle. And of course, the complete opposite in the summertime.