Iceland Winter Madness Part 1

Chase Your Passion, Not your Safety….

Bavra Mann Dekhne Chala Ek Sapna
Bavre Se Mann, Ki Dekho Bavri Hain Baatein
Bavri Se Dhadkane Hain, Bavri Hain Saansen

Crazy heart is about to see a dream
See the heart is like crazy, has crazy thoughts
Crazy are the heart beats, crazy are the breaths

So again it started with a dream, could be inspired by one of the random FB posts went through my timeline or one of my friend mentioned about this place. Whenever I saw an interesting photo, I try to find out where it is taken, during which time of the year,possibilities and expenses to reach there and the technical skills required. So some of the places automatically gets eliminated if it takes more week just to reach there (like Antarctica) or highly technical mountaineering skills (like 8000m+ peaks) and other places stay on your mind, gets refreshed as you see similar threads. Sometimes I feel like the places are choosing me rather than I chose them.
Iceland is one of the most expensive countries in terms of cost of living. As I know, their income is mostly from tourism and sea. Everything is super expensive as most of the commodities are imported compared to other countries. It takes a fortune to maintain the hotels with hot water and all in winter, so the hotels are also expensive. Not all hotels are open during the winter because of low season and running costs. Average rate for a guest house is 120$ (hotels 150$ range), each meal costs you from 15$ to 30$ with drink, rent a car per day is around 100$ plus fuel. Summer is high season for Iceland. All the roads including some mountain roads are open only in summer. I love snow, so I chose winter. Winter is good if you are planning a lazy vacation. The day time will be lesser, so more time to sleep!. Iceland offers thousands of waterfalls, Northern lights, glacier caves, volcanoes (inactive), whale watching, black sand beaches and many more with in a circle of 1332 kilometers. Route 1 or the Ring Road is a national road in Iceland that runs around the island. The total length of the road is 1332 kilometers. Most of the popular destinations lie in South and North Iceland. Eastern side doesn’t have much interesting spots and it’s better to avoid westfjords during winter. The weather in Westfjords region in winter is highly unpredictable, it’s very less populated area and the roads are not as good as ring road.
I got many tour packages from different tour agents online. Most of them are expensive and feasible with a group of four. In the end I stole an random online 14 day Iceland ring road self drive itinerary and made the package on my own. I booked hotel for 14 days via, all with free cancellation and tickets for visa application. After the visa is approved, my friend told the hotels for two weeks through travel agent will cost same as I did on So I decided to go with the dummy reservations for real which gives me flexibility of there’s delay due to bad weather or something. In two weeks time, everything was set (visa, tickets, hotels and rent a car).

Daily Itinerary

Day 1 (15 Feb)
Arrival in Iceland – Keflavík Airport
Stay at Eldey Airport Hotel, Keflavík
Day 2 (16 Feb)
Get Rent a Car, visit Thingvellir National Park – Geysers – Gullfoss Falls
Stay at Borg Apartments Hvolsvöllur
Day 3 (17 Feb)
Waterfalls and Black-Sand Beach
Stay at Klausturhof Guesthouse Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Day 4 (18 Feb)
Skaftafell Nature Reserve –
Stay at Guesthouse Dyngja , Höfn
Day 5 (19 Feb)
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Stay at Dynjandi Farm Holidays ,hofn
Day 5 (20 Feb)
Drive The East Coast
Saty at Guesthouse Olga ,Egilsstadir
Day 6 (21 Feb)
Visit Lake Mývatn
Stay at Centrum Guesthouse Mývatn Akureyri
Day 7 (22 Feb)
Visit The Troll Peninsula
Stay at Gladheimar Cottages, Blönduós
Day 8 (23 Feb)
Visit Westfjords
Stay at Finna Hótel Guesthouse Hólmavík
Day 9 (24 Feb)
Visit Westfjords
Stay at Isafjordur Hostel, Isafjordur
Day 11 (25 Feb)
Visit Dynjandi – Látrabjarg Puffins
Stay at Hotel West Patreksfjordur
Day 12 (26 Feb)
Ferry from Westfjords to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Stay at Bikers Paradise, Snæfellsnes
Day 13 (27 Feb)
Activities in Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Stay at Icelandair Hotel Hamar, Borgarnes
Day 14 (28 Feb)
Visit Hraunfossar and Barnafoss – Deildartunguhver
Stay at Nupan Deluxe, Keflavík.
Day 15 (1 Mar)
Return flight

Day 1 – Fly to Keflavík airport
I arrived at the airport in Keflavík in the afternoon. I had almost 10 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Keflavík via Frankfurt. Schengen visa verification and passport entry was done at Frankfurt airport. The flights were on time and there was no unusual delays. The luggage was automatically transferred between the flights even if the carrier was different (Ethihad and Icelandair). My rent a car booking was from next day, so I took a taxi to the hotel in Reykjavík which was 10km away from the airport. Taxi fare was around 25$ for 10km journey. The roads and even the hotel was covered with snow and the temperature was below zero though out my trip. There was no restaurant at the hotel (Eldey Airport Hotel ), so I have to go out in search of food. Receptionist gave me a map and suggested me a couple of restaurants and in order to get a SIM card, I have to go little far. I went out walking in search of food with the help of Google maps. I bought pizza as it was the only vegetarian option available. Pizza with drink cost me around 25$ (Pizza meal or burger meal costs around 25$ everywhere, if you want to save money, buy sandwich from supermarket).

Day 2 – Thingvellir National Park – Geysers – Gullfoss Falls
In the morning, I got the car. I really didn’t consolidate a “to go places” list. I downloaded couple of offline maps of Iceland in the mobile, saved a few online itineraries in case the connectivity is bad. While choosing the rent a car, I opted for RAV4, they gave me Mitsubishi Outlander. I didn’t argue with them since it was 2019 model, done just 30k kilometres, which makes it less vulnerable for two weeks. All the rental cars renting out this season is equipped with winter tyres. If you are planning to drive in winter, always opt for SUV or a cross over with decent clearance.
I started the road trip of a life time (so far). I was hungry and I feel it’s very difficult to go to places with out internet in my style. From the hotel I came to know it will be very difficult to get a SIM card once you get far from town. I stop by a mini mart, had pizza from Domino’s, mini mart dude told me SIM card will be available in nearby mall. With the offline map I went to the mall and took the connection with data package. It helped me a lot throughout the journey, check in to hotel, to navigate, to find alternate routes and so on. Some guest houses have keys kept in boxes with number lock, some with password unlock. In some places it was hard to find the keys, so I have to call the hotel contact number to find the keys.

My first destination was Þingvellir/Thingvellir National Park is located right between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates (theoretically, Wiki says so). This place is a part of famous Golden Circle and this is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oxararfoss Waterfall was really beautiful which can be reached after trekking a marked trail from the main parking. There is no entrance fee for the national park but we have to pay parking fee which is valid for the whole day.

It is possible to do snorkeling there in Silfra Gorge which I have to skip as I don’t swim. Next destination was selfoss, but the map was showing me alternative routes and shortcuts which were partially closed or impassible due to snow. I took a couple of wrong turns and came back to the normal road. I found a family stuck in a sedan car little far away from the road which Google was showing as the route. I couldn’t really help them to get out from there as I don’t have anything to pull their car from the snow. I waited for some time till they met someone who promised to arrange help for them.
Then I gave up that location and went to the crater lake of Kerið. This lava lake was all frozen, not as expected as seen in pictures. I paid the entrance fee, didn’t spend much time as I was getting late. The colorful lava rocks were buried under snow and ice. People were easily walking over the lake.

Next destination was Strokkur geyser which erupts every ten minutes or so, to heights of over 20m. It was getting dark and I was too lazy to take picture of eruption with a tripod. I was surprised to see water boiling under ice and releasing the steam every now and then. It’s hard to stay the for long because of the bad smell of the gas coming out.

The final stop was Gullfoss waterfall. The weather was getting bad when I reached there. The was deep snow in the parking and it was getting worse. I turned back because of heavy wind and snow storm and still I was more than 100km away from the hotel. The road was covered with snow and very slippery until I reach main road. It was my first ever drive in snow and I learned many dos and don’t dos in hard way on day one itself. I booked an apartment for that day and from the previous day experience I was sure there won’t be anything to eat. So I bought a pizza on the way. The hotel at Hvolsvöllur charged my credit card before I reached as I was late. There was no reception over there, so I had to call the hotel number to find the room and the key.

Day 3 – Waterfalls and Black-Sand Beach
The beautiful waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss life on the south coast. Seljalandsfoss waterfalls was not in my saved list, but I reached there following the sign board than map while going to another destination. Then I head to Skógafoss. Both were amazing and very much crowded. I was lucky to witness rainbow in front of Skógafoss waterfall.

The coastline is covered with black volcanic and along the coast near Vík. The next stop was Dyrhólaey peninsula and then Reynisdrangar rock formations. The beach near Reynisdrangar rock has monster waves and powerful and unpredictable currents. There was a warning board and you can see the huge waves of you wait for a while. There was so many birds over there, try to find Puffins, then realised they come up there during summer.

The other destinations were not accessible in winter or we have to go there in special vehicles for winter, like a super jeep with monster tyres and all. While searching for places, I saw some super jeeps coming there. I searched what they do and booked an ice cave tour for next day. I found multiple cave tours, some of them are available on winter only and very few of them during all season. Meanwhile I realised I missed the Wrecked DC-3 Plane site. It was getting late and I have to drive back around 70km to make it and the hotel is more than 70km in opposite direction. Because of the strong wind I decided to go to the hotel.

Day 4 – Skaftafell Nature Reserve – Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
I planned 2 days for South coast, as there are many places to visit. I have to drive back around100km to get to cave tour meeting point from where I had dinner on previous day. The drive was beautiful with full moon accompanying me behind the snowy mountains, playing hide and seek. I skipped the breakfast from the hotel as it was too early. I had breakfast from the meeting point for the ice cave tour. The glacier cave was 30 minutes away from the ring road, the driver was having national geographic expeditions name tag in the jeep. The drive was bit scary and the terrain was amazing. It was a volcanic cave. The color of the cave was grey because of the volcanic ash and the cave was on the top of a volcano. The guide explained different kinds of glacier caves, blue color caves are made of fresh water.

After coming back from the cave I catch up Wrecked DC-3 Plane. It was far and I have to walk 4km to reach the plane was the worst part. There was a shuttle bus running which was like 50$. So I decided to walk. It’s around 40 minutes of walk in one direction depending on your speed. The weather was good but the place was crowned with people climbing over the plane for the photograph even the was a no climbing board over there. I didn’t spend much time there since my hotel was far around 200km. The we weather was little bad in the beginning, then get better. I saw sign boards for some of the the places to visit because I was running one day behind.

I stopped by diamond beach before hitting hotel. There was a lot of ice in all shapes and sizes decorate the shoreline like a string of beautiful jewels. There are many photographers with tripod waiting for the perfect moment. The full moon was still up there, followed me till the hotel behind the sea, sometimes between sea, mountain and ice.

I went to the hotel and they were surprised to see me, realised I went to the guest house booked for day after. I drove back to the real one which was only 10km apart in Höfn just behind the port where small ships were docked. There were couple of nice restaurants over there. I had dinner from one of them.

Day 5 Vatnajökull National Park
I started early from the guest house and went to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon just opposite to the diamond beach. There were many icebergs break from a glacier tongue and float serenely towards the ocean, which is diamond beach. I saw a seal also over there gave a whistle and it disappeared under the glacier. Vatnajökull ice cave tour starts from there.

I left from there towards Skaftafell Nature Reserve, stopped by seeing a boat ride board with a restaurant. The restaurant was surrounded with snow. I get down and go behind that to find the boats. The would area was frozen and there was no trace of a boat or a human being. As I was walking behind the restaurant, few people started coming in. Finally I went into those glacier area. First I was scared to walk over there, but later realised the glacier is strong enough to hold me. Few more people started coming after me to that beautiful glacier landscape.

Next was Skaftafell Nature Reserve in Vatnajökull National Park. Entry is free but there is parking fee monitored with cameras. There are so many hiking trails. I choose the one towards Svartifoss waterfall which was covering almost all the areas inside the reserve. Svartifoss waterfall area cascades down unique, hexagonal basalt columns.

It started to rain after I pass diamond beach on the way back to Dynjandi Farm Holidays at Höfn. They said they will assist me to visit farm house and horses next day which didn’t happen because of bad weather. Northern lights will be visible from there, but the forecast was bad and rain didn’t stop till next day.

Day 6 – The East Coast
There are not much destinations on East coast but the route is amazing with rural Icelandic villages, fjords and fields. I couldn’t spot any wildlife other than reindeer as it was winter. The water was very bad almost till the end. The rain was upgraded to snow on the way which makes it very difficult to drive. I came across the tunnel for the first time today which was 4km long. The speed limit is very low and the lights in the tunnel makes it looking scary. I skipped Lagarflöt lake, which legends say hides a monster beneath its placid surface due to bad weather. Spend the night in Egilsstaðir.

Day 7 – Lake Mývatn Mysteries

The road to gorgeous and wild Dettifoss waterfall was closed or not accessible. There was another route showing in Google, which turned out impassible after few kilometers. I went to Krafla mud fields. Over there we have to park the car and walk more than one kilometer to the lava field top. Somehow I was lazy and it was bit windy, so I took a u turn and head to next unknown destination. The landscape was really nice so I was not really concerned about a destination, I just kept on driving, stopped by wherever it’s beautiful and safe to stop. I couldn’t stop and feel some places because it’s always narrow road to stop by safely and comfortably.

On the way to Mývatn lake, I stopped by in many places where I can see smoke coming out from far. There was was drizzling on the way. I went to a place which is tagged as Mývatn lake, realised it’s not the lake everyone is looking. There was a note written lake Mývatn is an area not a destination. While I was driving, I found a sign towards to Hverir and went there. It wasn’t really crowned. It’s a geothermal spot with bubbling pools of mud & steaming fumaroles emitting some kind of gas with bad smell. There is a small hill behind it which is easy to go up. Because of the mud, I didn’t go up, I gave up the uphill half way.

The final stop was Goðafoss waterfalls means “waterfall of the gods”. The water of the river Skjálfandafljót falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters making it wild and beautiful. I reached the town of Akureyri in the afternoon. The left turn from the signal was bit confusing and it’s paid parking till afternoon. It was the only other town with reasonable size in Iceland after Reykjavík. I walked around the place for a while, found a church, garden and an Indian restaurant over there and had Indian meal with rice after a week.

Its not over yet, there is one more week journey to be written which will take long as not one is expecting to read it. So i will ask my usual question “What Next!!!” at the end of next part.