Sunday, February 19, 2017

Quick Winter Trip to Iceland 2017


  • If you are arriving Reykjavik after 10pm during winter, keep an eye out when you are about to land, you may be lucky to witness northern lights.  I was not that lucky but a few fellow travelers in a different flight were able to see the norther light
  • The shuttle buses leave 30-45minutes after every flight landings in the early morning hours to the town.  
  • If you are arriving early in the morning and hungry, have something before entering into the baggage area.  You have better food choices after the immigration and also, you don't have to pay taxes in this area.
  • I am not a fan for arranged tours but in winter, it is the best choice if you want to be less stressful.  Initially I wanted to rent a car and drive, but looking the snowfall and the roads, I am glad that I didn’t rent.  Saw a few cars on the side of the road.  This is true for a solo traveler, but if you are going in a group and more time in hand, you can take risk driving on your own (but look at the weather forecast before you take on this adventure….and assuming that you have some winter driving experience).
  • There are a number of companies that do multi day tours and the south beach area is pretty awesome.  If you have more days, do the south beach to experience the power of the ocean and enjoy the ice caves.
  • Get used to the high prices - for example, not a great soup costs about $13 and burger & fries cost about $25.
  • If you are vegetarian, you have to learn to get the best out of what is available.  In the city of Vik, I found veggie burger and in most of the other places there’s not much choice.  I managed with the egg sandwich or bought vegetarian sandwiches in the grocery shops before heading out of Reykjavik.  You have a lot of places to enjoy vegetarian food in Reykjavik.
    At Secret Lagoon
  • Blue Lagoon is nothing but a hype and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the “Secret Lagoon” (the tour companies take you there…costs about half the price of BL) that had really hot spring water where as the BL had nice ambiance, spa but warm water.  Felt like I was in an outdoor heated pool.  If you really want to enjoy the hot springs with hot water, go to SL.
  • If you still want to go to Blue Lagoon, book it in advance and it will be hard to get a slot available at the last minute.  It can be easily done on your way to the airport assuming that your flight leaves after 1pm.
  • Liquor is lot cheaper in the duty free and even on your way back, you can get the mini wine bottles for cheap..hint for whoever flying with WowAir.
  • It is cheaper to eat in the airport before the customs area where you don’t pay tax.  You can save a dollar on a cup of latte.
  • Bring waterproof pants and rain jackets if you are planning to take the two day tour to the south beach because on the way you will be visiting the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss where you will surely get wet even if there is no rain.  Also, take the hot pockets to warm up your toe and hands, when you standing in the open space at the middle of the night with sub-zero temperature, it will be very helpful.  Even with very good winter gear, I was freezing.
  • You can look at the forecast for the northern lights before booking the tour:
  • Download this iPhone app to take pictures of the northern lights and it does a decent job: Northern Lights Photo Taker
    Picture Taken with the App
  • WowAir is simply amazing with more leg room and on-time service.  Pack enough water and food because there’s nothing free in the flight.  But the ticket prices are amazing.
  • Your smart phone shuts down even if there’s enough battery because of the cold weather so please be aware of it if you are planning to take pictures with your smart phone
  • I found the Viator tours are less expensive for the Golden Circle and don’t see any reason to pay premium for this tour because it is going to take you to the three main places.
  • In some of the hotels or hostels, if you pre-book the breakfast, you get a better deal. Check it out and plan accordingly

My Journey

Arrived around 4am and decided to hang around in the airport ’till 7am because of the free wifi as well as better seating.  The seats are better before the customs area than in the baggage area.  Since I had pre-booked my two day tour for the same day of arrival, I decided to take a latter shuttle to the BSI bus terminal where I would be picked up by 9am.  I didn’t see any reason to go to the hotel to take rest because I decided that I could sleep in the van which worked out pretty good.  I booked the two day south beach tour with Extreme Island that I am happy with and they picked me from the bus terminal around 915am.

South Beach

On the way to the South Beach after Seljalandsfoss
Once we left the Reykjavik, it started to snow heavily and it was still snowing heavily when we reached the Seljalandsfoss falls.  With the wind, snow and the cold, it was pretty bad walking behind the falls and I am glad that I had waterproof pants & rain jacket.  I saw some people walking around with jeans and suffering a lot because of the chillness.  I am glad that we done with the worst weather at the beginning of the trip and the weather started get better once we started to go south.  We stopped in the same place, Seljalandsfoss, on our way back during the twilight hours, there is flood lights set up there but it was nothing great ..been told that it looks better in the complete darkness.

Our second stop was Skogafoss and it was pretty nice.  Our guide, Johannes, advised us not to climb the side of the waterfall to see the view because the falls look better from down than that from the top.  And our next stop was the south beach and we were warned multiple times about the waves there.  Surely, it is so powerful and pretty high waves.  In addition to the black sand beach, Reynisfjara, the basalt rock formations and the formations of the caves on the beach are pretty interesting.  Looking at them, you may think that it is man made but surely it is not.  The Troll family rock formations in the ocean is pretty nice and the waves are hitting them hard, wondered how they managed stay without getting crumbled.

Then we started to going towards the farm house where we were staying that night and on our way we stopped to see the lava fields.  It felt like we were in a different planet with the moss growing on the lava rocks and they looked like miles and miles of large green color mushrooms.

I was able to take a couple of power naps during the drive and picked up some vegetarian sandwiches on the way to the farm house for dinner.  Instead of having dinner at a later time, I decided to have dinner early and go to bed (because the weather was bad, there is no chance of northern light that night).  The accommodation was very good and the breakfast was typical continental breakfast.

The next day morning, we left to explore the ice caves and this can be done only during the winter times.  The experience of inside the cave, seeing different glacier colors and the water holes in the cave is magical.  There’s a huge waterhole where everyone was shoving there head inside to take the “frozen” pictures.  Outside the caves, it was very cold and windy, and once you are inside the cave, it was very nice.  After the ice caves, we headed to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon to view the broken glaciers floating to the ocean and to see the iceberg graveyard.  Except one small piece of ice berg, there’s nothing floating towards the ocean but all frozen up.  Different shapes and colors of the icebergs was totally worth making the trip to the south beach.  The view of the ice bergs scattered over the black sand beach is crazy.

On our trip back to Reykjavik, we stopped a couple of places where some of the movies were filmed and watched sunset near the Reynisfjara beach.  The plan was to have the dinner at the Viking restaurant and hunt for northern lights around 9pm.  The vegetarian dinner at the Viking restaurant sucked pretty bad, the soup was nothing but a salt water and regret eating there.  The hunting for the northern lights was a bone chilling experience, it was on the side of the highway, it was very windy and sub-zero temperature.  We saw the northern lights but it is not a great one, it was light green because the particles were not interacting with the oxygen so it was a week color. Thought that i was the only one who was freezing but when I went back to the van, I saw most of the fellow travelers trying to warm themselves before heading out again to see the northern
lights.  We waited for some excited particles but nothing got excited that night :-)  I got dropped at the hostel around 1130pm.  

Golden Circle 

I booked the Golden circle and the secret lagoon tour wth the Arctic Adventures to leave at 9am, so I was trying to get some sleep before the next busy day.  The Arctic Adventures is not that great because the tour guide was not providing that much of information on the places that we visited.  We visited the Thingvellir National ParkGullfoss and then the geyser.  The Geyser is nothing great if you had been to Yellowstone but the other two places are very nice and not really sure why need to spend a whole day visiting them.  We left Reykjavik at 10am and we were done with all these three places by 3pm without rushing through.  The only thing was the
tour guide dropped us in one place and picked us up in a place where the walking tour ends so that we didn’t have spend time walking back.  After the Geyser, we went to the secret lagoon and spend about an hour there.  It was very well worth it.  We were back to the town by 730pm.  I was craving for some spicy food, luckily there was a Thai place closer to my hostel where I had my dinner which was really good.

I was trying to get to sleep early, but one of the guys in the hostel room was making so much noise packing and unpacking at 11pm.  Finally I managed to sleep around mid-night to wake up early morning to get ready to go the Blue Lagoon on my way to the airport.

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon has a nice ambiance to relax and get spa treatment but the water temperature is warm not hot.  If you are looking for a place to take nice pictures to impress your friends, it is the place.  They provide the lockers for the small hand luggages, all you need to bring to this place is swim wear and a towel.  If you don’t have the towel, you can rent it.  Since the water is not hot, you can stay in the water as long as you want.  There’s steam room and sauna room to relax too in the pool area.  The ride to the airport takes about maximum of 30 minutes.


Iceland is a very beautiful country.  It is not vegetarian friendly outside Reykjavik and it is expensive.  I will surely go there again in summer.
Plan your trip with couple of friends or family members so that it'd be calculated risk to rent and drive around during winter. 
Always check the WowAir fares, you get fantastic deals.  
The hostel (Hlemmur Square) that I stayed in is pretty nice and very close to a number of restaurants.  I didn't walk around the city but the city looked very nice to walk around.

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