Eight Dayes in Iceland

My husband and I traveled to Iceland in September of 2016 and had the most thrilling and awe-inspiring time while there. We visited for 8 days, jam-packed a lot into our itinerary, and explored as much of the country as we possibly could. I have never posted our itinerary, but in the last few weeks, we have gotten a lot of requests for it. So, I just decided to post it for anyone wanting to go to Iceland! It is still our favorite trip!

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September 21st (Travel Daye): We woke up to fly from Nashville to Baltimore around 10 AM, had lunch and chill time at the Baltimore airport for a few hours, and flew from Baltimore to Keflavik, Iceland around 7 PM. The flight there was only about 5.5 hours and we arrived the next morning at 5 AM Iceland time.

September 22nd (Daye 1): We arrived in Keflavik at 5 AM. After going through the “customs line” (we literally just walked out of the airport), getting our bag, and picking up our rental car with SADcars, we headed to the Blue Lagoon for our reservation at 8 AM. The blue lagoon is a geothermal spa and pool where you can relax in the warm and mineral-rich waters for the day. We only spent about 4 hours wading in the pool, napping on swing-back chairs, eating, and showering (and they had free WiFi!). We were staying the night on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in an Airbnb in the town of Hellissandur. We geared up for our two and a half to three hour drive ahead of us with multiple stops and sightseeing opportunities along the way. After dropping by the grocery store for much needed food and checking out the sunset, we checked into our Airbnb and passed out early. 10 hours of sleep later…

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September 23rd (Daye 2): We woke up early to drive along the coast of Snaefellsnes toward the Vatnshellir Cave. We visited many jagged cliffs and coastal rock formations along the way. You can literally stop every couple of minutes to see sights. Driving through Iceland was one of the best places to see scenery! Finally, we made it to the cave after way too many stops to admire the land and views. The Vatnshellir Cave is one of the lava tube caves that is formed from the magma pressure during volcanic eruptions. The formations and the cave itself were pretty spectacular to see. After the cave, we headed to the town of Arnarstapi, which was my favorite town in Iceland! In Arnarstapi, they have trails all along the coastline that make for a beautiful hike. You can even hike all the way to the next town on them. This is where we saw massive rock formations, cliffs, and basalt columns rising up out of the ocean. These were the most dramatic coastal views we saw in Iceland. After the coasts, we drove to the northern side of the Peninsula to drool over Kirkjufell (an awesome mountain), visit a local bakery in Stykkisholmur, and climb to the top of Helgafell. We ended the day with dinner of lamb and Char (some type of Icelandic fish) at Hraun in Olafsvik.

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September 24th (Daye 3): Since this was our last day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, we made our way around the coastline to ensure we had seen everything (which is practically impossible in picturesque Iceland). On our way back to Reykjavik, we stopped to hike to the top of a volcanic crater (where we were almost blown off), then grab coffee in the windy town off Hellnar, hike around a lush and green canyon, and see sights like the old Budir church and the angry waves on the western-most tip of the mainland. We were not able to explore as much as we would have liked because it began raining. So always be prepared for drastic weather changes in Iceland! After seeing everything that was at the top of our list, we decided to push forward to make it to the city. When we arrived in Reykjavik, the sun came out, and we immediately headed out to walk around town. When the sun comes out in Iceland, you take advantage of it no matter where you are! We visited the Hallgrimskikja church and rode the elevator to the top to view the sunset over the city. After our walk, we went to dinner at the Perlan – a very fancy restaurant that spins in a slow circle while you eat to view all of Reykjavik. It takes a full two hours to spin completely around, and our meal surprisingly took that long! Oh European meals…

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September 25th (Daye 4): After a busy three days, we took the morning slow and enjoyed our time in this quaint, little city. We strolled around town to see the Sun Voyager sculpture, take in the street art everywhere, visit the Harpa Performing Arts Center, and of course to grab Icelandic coffee and pastries at the well-known bakery, Braud & Co. We then headed towards the south coast to see all the sights all along the way to Vik. On the way, we pet Icelandic ponies, devoured lamb hot dogs, and saw a million waterfalls. First waterfall stop was Seljandfoss and Gljufurafoss where we were able to hike behind and through waterfalls. Gljufurafoss was a little harder to get to because we had to hike through a little creek and canyon to get to it, but it was so worth every ounce of energy! After spending a fair amount of time here, we headed not far down the road to Skogafoss (my personal favorite of the waterfalls). Skogafoss is about 200 feet high and massive – especially when you are standing right next to it! We ended up taking the 430 steps to the top of the fall and hiking even further up the mountain to see some amazing views of more waterfalls, rushing creeks, and green grass surrounding us from a vantage point. Once we hiked all the way back down, we were starving and decided to eat dinner at the Skogafoss hotel located right in front of the falls. To my surprise, the food was AMAZING. I guess in Iceland, tourist traps aren’t really a thing. This was one of my favorite meals of grilled local arctic char, garlic potato puree, and olive oil. We then headed to our cute wooden cabins where we would be staying in for a couple of nights. Our cabins overlooked the ocean and Dyrholaey with the volcanos behind us.

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September 26th (Daye 5): This was our longest day, and we knew it would be. We woke up super early to get started. We were heading east to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon to make it in time for our scheduled boat ride. The scenery on this drive was to die for. It was scenery that made you feel so small compared to the world we live in with tall volcanoes cover in soil of various reds, greens, and yellows. We arrived at the lagoon, took our boat tour, and enjoyed the sights before starting to make our way back. We decided to hit the farthest point we were going first and then to visit everything else on the drive back to Vik. One of our favorite parts of our trip was stopping at Skaftafell National Park to hike the trail to Svartifoss (which ended up taking way longer than we thought it would). The scenery in this park was so different from the rest of Iceland. It looked as if we were hiking through the Alps. We were seeing snow capped mountains in front of us and green, yellow, and orange foliage around us. I said “WOW” so many times. Because we wanted to make it back to the black sand beach by sunset, we rushed back after our hike and didn’t make as many stops as we would have liked. We made it to Reynisfjara Beach about 30 minutes before sunset (perfect timing). We enjoyed the waves, basalt columns, rock formations, and the sun setting behind Dyrholaey. We headed to Vik for dinner where we saw a glimpse of the Northern Lights coming out. Little did we know that in just a few short hours, we would be watching them dance through the night sky above our cabins 🙂

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September 27th (Daye 6): We checked out of our adorable wooden cabins and headed down to Dyrholaey one more time to catch our last glimpses of the south coast. After that, we took our time heading back to Reykjavik by stopping at the grocery store for food, pulling over to walk to a glacier, hiking to the oldest Icelandic swimming pool, and of course, devouring more lamb hot dogs (SO GOOD)! When we arrived back in Reykjavik and found our Airbnb, we headed out to walk around town and look for dinner. We decided on a tapas place where we were able to try various Icelandic dishes. We had puffin, whale, lamb, and all sorts of fish. On our way back, the Northern Lights decided to come out and dance through the sky yet again. So, of course, we chased them for a few hours. It was a soothing end to a long day of driving.

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September 28th (Daye 7): This was our final full day of touring. We had decided to save the famous Golden Circle for our last day in Iceland. The Golden Circle is a geographical circular road with sights to see along the route. We ended up taking too much time at the three main stops and were not able to encompass the full circle, but we still saw a lot! We saw Icelandic horses grazing, Pingvellir National Park where the European and North American tectonic plates drift apart, the original geysir (Stokkur), and Gulfoss with its strong force of water pushing down the river. Once back in Reykjavik, we had dinner at Prir Frakkar, which had great ratings. It was amazing. It was a place where all the locals ate. We ordered whale, reindeer pate, smoked char, lamb, and hashfish. On our final night in Iceland, the Northern Lights (for the 3rd night in a row!) decided to come out and give us a proper Icelandic “bless” (Icelandic translation – bye).

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September 29th (Daye 8 – Travel Home): Our final (half) day in Iceland entailed eating breakfast, saying goodbye to the city of Reykjavik, returning our car, and heading to the airport. This is always the saddest and most reflective part of any of our trips. “If only we could stay a little longer” is always my thought. I absolutely loved Iceland. I have never had an experience like it. It is so hard to explain if you’ve never been there. So, I will just leave you with photos to inspire your own wanderlust that will hopefully encourage you to book an Icelandic trip of your own!

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An Earth Quaking Experience

Expecting a day of rain on our third day in Chile, we were pleasantly surprised when the skies cleared and the sun broke through. Our destination for the day was Chiloe Island, Chile where we were set to ride a chartered boat out to see the Magellanic and Humboldt penguin colonies and their breeding grounds. This is a fascinating geographic location as it is the only place in the world where 2 species of penguins coexist together in harmony.

Our first step was to take the 45-minute ferry ride over to the island from the Puerto Varas area. On our ride, we saw sea lions, dolphins, and even some penguins poking their heads out of the water! The anticipation to arrive at the penguin colony in only a few short hours was growing. The ride over was a scenic beginning to the already fair-weathered day.

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Once we arrived on the island, we jumped back into the van and headed toward the coast. About 10 minutes into our ride, our guide stopped at the top of a hill for a picturesque photo opportunity. Alec, our family-deemed professional photographer, hopped out to snag a shot of the landscape overlooking the hills and channels of the island. After Alec exited the van, I realized he had left his phone in the vehicle. I jumped out to deliver it to him. Leah and my dad decided to join the photography brigade, and the three of us crossed the road at the same time. As I pulled out my own phone to take a picture, my dad commented, “Why is this bridge moving?” It was then that I looked around to witness the asphalt moving and bending around us. I yelled, “We’re not on a bridge!” Everything suddenly began to feel as if I had walked onto a swinging suspension bridge with no handholds. Like a sudden jerk back to reality, my dad yelled, “EARTHQUAKE”. We spun around to see the van shaking violently off the ground from side to side, while the wheels were jumping back and forth like a buckin’ bronco at a Texas rodeo. My mom, brother, and sister-in-law were still trapped in the van. Concerned that the van could roll down the hill at any minute, we all rushed toward it. By the time we arrived, the earthquake was losing momentum. It lasted about 6 seconds but seemed like forever. Our guide immediately dialed out to check on the status of the quake. He informed us that it was a 7.6 on the Richter Scale with the epicenter less than 80 miles from us. This occurred around the city of Quellon on the exact same island where we were located. After checking that everyone was safe and only a little “shaken up”, we jumped back into the van to continue our route. The vehicle was abuzz with conversation about each of our experiences in the moments during and after the quake. We were also in shock at the realization of our proximity to the earthquake and our chances of having been in the wake of the quake at just the time we stopped for a photo opp!

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This was the picture I took seconds before the earthquake hit

As we continued along, our guide received an unsettling alert on his phone. Since TSUNAMI is the same in Spanish and English, we all knew what was going on by this point. There was a tsunami alert for the entire coast line. All of a sudden, every car driving toward the ocean pulled over to the shoulder and turned around to head in the opposite direction. It was like watching an end times movie where people look like rats scurrying away to safety, and I had an eerie feeling about it. Of course we turned around too and headed to a Chilean family farm we had planned to visit later. The farm was located on the top of a hill around the town of Ancud.  On our commute to higher ground, we saw people walking up the sides of the street with rolling suitcases and everyone evacuating their houses carrying as many items as possible. Until this moment, I had never understood the fear and urgency that accompanies such terrible natural disasters.

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Evacuation

We made it to the farm where we ate a lunch of clams, pork, mussels, potatoes, sausages, and chicken all cooked underneath the ground like a Hawaiian luau.

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We spoke in broken Spanish with the farmer’s daughter, Carol, about the agrarian life they led. Throughout the meal, we constantly heard the tsunami alerts going off on phones like a symphony of terror every time. After many walks around the farm and house, we had worn out our welcome and were feeling restless. 

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Carol!

It was about this time when everyone got word that the tsunami they had warned of never made it to land. There was a sigh of relief and you could feel the tension loosen in the air. We headed toward the ferry port to ride back to the mainland. Even though we were told the tsunami alert was over, we continued to look over our shoulder toward the ocean as we sat on the top deck of the ferry. Thankful for safety, we arrived at the mainland, but I know none of us will soon forget the earthquake and tsunami of Christmas 2016. So travel tip #53, when someone asks you why is the bridge moving…. Always check first to make sure you’re on a bridge.  Happy unpredictable, earth-shaking traveling!

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The Edwards-Vinsant family is safe and sound