Mike’s Guide to Iceland

My first impression of Iceland can very simply be described as EXPENSIVE. Iceland is crazy expensive! You will feel this in every aspect of your trip. It is for this reason, much of this post will focus on how to save money while in Iceland. That said, let’s first cover the gear and clothes I brought with me that I found useful, a few of the activities I covered, a few that I missed, some tips and tricks, and some planning.

Tips:

  1. Don’t forget anything! It’s simply too expensive to replace the vast majority of items or it is too inconvenient. For example, I forgot my drone battery and decided not to replace it because it was 3x more expensive in Iceland.
  2. Gas was about 221 ISK per liter. This factors out to about $10 per gallon, so plan your trip accordingly
  3. Do your grocery shopping at Bonus (or the market in Vik)
  4. Don’t drink soda pop while in Iceland (or enjoy the sometimes $5.50 per 20 oz price tag)
  5. Bring a credit card with a pin otherwise it will not work at a large number of Icelandic gas stations (and you’ll need them so as not to be stranded)
  6. Essential gear will largely be provided to you if you’re on a tour, including some outdoor clothing. However, it is nice to have your own stuff.
  7. Plan your trips so that you’re putting the least amount of mileage on your rental car. Gas is crazy expensive.

Outdoor Clothing List:

  1. Arcteryx Alpha FL
  2. Arcteryx Crocodile Pants
  3. Arcteryx Beta SL Pants
  4. Outdoor Research Versaliner with waterproof shell<-FAILED
  5. Patagonia Nano Air jacket
  6. Patagonia R1
  7. Patagonia Merino Air hoody
  8. Arcteryx Pelion tshirt
  9. Prana Zion Pants
  10. Xefficio mesh underwear (you’re welcome)
  11. Fits medium hiking socks
  12. Ice breaker medium hiking socks (preferred)
  13. Solomon 3D Comet GTX boots
  14. Fjallraven
  15. Flip flops
  16. Bathing suit

Gear List:
Most of the things to see in Iceland require guides for either safety purposes or because the properties require guided tours. As such, the majority of gear is provided to you. However, if you’re like me and own the gear (and would rather not use heaving used gear), then here are the piece of gear I could have used for the activities I did.

  1. Climbing helmet (Black Diamond dome)
  2. Sport climbing harness (Black Diamond standard)
  3. Headlamp (Black Diamond Cosmo)
  4. Mountaineering boots (La Sportiva GTX Cube)
  5. Crampons (Black Diamond something…)

Activities Covered:

  1. Golden Circle hiking and site seeing
  2. Lava Tunnel
  3. Lava Museum
  4. Ice Climbing
  5. Glacier hiking
  6. Diamond Beach site seeing
  7. Ice Lagoon site seeing
  8. Waterfall 1
  9. Waterfall 2
  10. Blue Lagoon (sort of)
  11. Plane wreckage hike

Activities Missed:

  1. Kalak glacier tunnel
  2. Kayaking
  3. Glacier lagoon boat ride
  4. Surfing
  5. Diving in silfra

Rental Car
I rented a Toyota Yaris from Hertz. In total, the car cost me 33800 ISK or roughly $338 for six days. Additionally, I declined the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and any additional protection as my credit card and my travel insurance covered the CDW. Please note, your auto-insurance likely does not cover you in Iceland, so you will need some level of insurance. In speaking with Hertz representatives, my understanding is that Liability Protection is provided by Hertz at no additional cost (as Icelandic law requires it).

The Yaris did well although it is certainly not an offroad vehicle. If the conditions were worst, I may have wanted something bigger but since things were so expensive I was more focused on fuel efficiency.

My Trip
Day 1: Reykjavik
Hotel: Hotel Curio a Hilton Property
I spent my first day in Reyjkavik. Due to the fact that I had an overnight flight, I figured I would want to sleep a little bit, relax and check out the city before hitting the road. This worked out well. I checked out the famous church there, shot the breeze with some locals, and checked out a few stores (spoiler alert, everything was crazy expensive).

I learned that if you are going to buy groceries of any type purchase it at a store called, “Bonus.” Do not shop in convenience stores unless absolutely necessary. For example, I purchased a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, a toothbrush, and a Snickers bar…this cost me $40.

Day 2: Checking out Waterfalls
Hotel: Hotel Skogafoss (This hotel was probably the most simple, but it was nice enough. Bare in mind that the water in the room will smell like sulfur since it is using naturally heated water)
This was a mistake. I should have gone to the Golden Circle on day 2. Specifically, I should have gone to Gulfoss, Geyser, Thingvellir, the Secret Lagoon, and potentially done the diving on Silfra tour. This could have all culminated with me staying at the Hotel Selfoss. However, I skipped all this and went straight to Skogafoss. On the way, I stopped at Seljalandsfoss. Both were great and definitely places that need to be visited while in Iceland. Seljalandfoss has several waterfalls, be sure to follow the path all the way down to the water fall you have to walk up a creek to get to as I found this to be the most fun one to visit. Skogafoss is also great and has an entrance to a hiking trail above the falls, definitely follow that up and explore around the area. Unfortunately, the trail was closed for the season about a quarter mile back, but I expect it will open soon.

Day 3: Ice Climbing (Do this!)
Hotel: Hotel Selfoss (solid, the spa is overrated but not horrible for ~$15. The breakfast is the best that I had in Iceland)
This was probably my favorite day in Iceland. I signed up with MountainGuides.is and they were great. The guide was no BS and did not put us through any unnecessary training to get us going. He was very knowledgable about the glacier as well as issues affecting the glacier. Additionally, climbing was smooth and fun. We were able to get 4 climbs in during the trip. The guide recommended I continued east, which I decided I would do after grabbing coffee back at the hotel. This is where I made my next mistake. Instead of heading east, I decided to head to Selfoss instead as the Golden Circle looked like a good day to spend day 4. In retrospect, I should have done that on Day 2 or on my second to last day.

Day 4: Golden Circle, Gulfoss, Geyser, Secret Lagoon, thingvellir Hiking
Hotel: Hotel Selfoss (I didn’t plan to stay here two nights but by the time I got back to Selfoss, I was so exhausted I decided to stop)
This was a lot of fun, although I think I could have done this much quicker. Honestly Gulfoss and Geyser were things I felt I needed to see, but you could probably knock out both in the span of an hour or so. Thingvellir was awesome however and I spent a lot more time there. I did a trail called Sandholastigur which started near the visitor information center and lead to the center of Thingvellir. It was a 4 km hike that went by pretty quickly. There wasn’t much to see other than the alien terrain you have to cross, that is, until you get to the center where the trail ends. There is a very simple remains of a column but there is something that felt really awesome and really viking about it. All the trails in the area terminate in this center where there is a small hill and the aforementioned column. It may sound a little bit boring but I thought it was awesome and definitely worth the hike. Regret this day…I regret not diving Silfra. You should do that, it looked beautiful.

Day 5: Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
Hotel: Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon (Best hotel I stayed in within Iceland)
By this point my trip was kind of in recovery mode. I really should have gotten to this point by day 3 or 4, but definitely not on day 5. All that said, this was my favorite stop on the trip. First, I LOVED the hotel. It was cool in every way. Also, the dinner I had in the hotel restaurant was delicious (I had the spicy pork and cream of celery). The hotel is a short 20 minute drive away from the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond beach, which are quite literally on opposite sides of the road from one another. Both are beautiful and great photo opportunities. You can do a duck boat ride out to the glaciers, but I skipped that part.

Day 6: Glacier Day/Plane Wreckage Hike/Lava Museum
Hotel: Reykjavik Hilton
Ok, the drive for this day was way too long. Like I said though, my trip was in recovery mode. My first stop was at the Vatnajokull glacier. This is where Batman and Interstellar were filmed, Christopher Nolan apparently loves it. I went up to the glacier and checked it out but decided not to venture in alone. Glaciers are really hostile environments and can be extremely dangerous. You really shouldn’t venture into these areas unless you really know what you’re doing (have beta etc). Thus, I decided to try and find a local who could show me around. I headed down to the closest gas station where I found some folks from localguides.is, I got a little bit of a cheaper rate (I think it was like $75) and they took me into the glacier for the day. They had equipment if you need it. This was a short, sweet, and simple hike around the glacier with someone who really knows the lay of the land and the history. It was great, enough said. After I got out of the glacier I decided I would venture to the plane wreckage. I personally was under the impression that it was a fairly hidden trail (I was entirely wrong). The pictures at the plane are magnificent but I will say that the hike is long and pretty boring. Once at the plane, I found the tourists to be more than a little annoying, they were crazy rude. My final stop before heading to Reyjkavik was at the lava museum, which is a little pricey but is awesome. Do it. I made it back to Reykjavik and caught a beer with my friend Henrik around 8 PM. Staying int he Reykjavik Hilton is overrated. It’s pretty far out there. I learned that any hotel that has more than 50 rooms are pushed to the outskirts of the city. You’re better off at a boutique.

Day 7: Lava Tunnel and Blue Lagoon
Ok, this was my last day and I only had a limited amount of time. The lava tunnel is nothing to write home about but is cool in it’s own right. I went on a free day and it was worth every penny. The Blue Lagoon is entirely overrated, it’s kind of gross really but more it’s a mandatory stop in a lot of ways. I’d recommend doing this on your first or last day since it’s near the airport. Ok, that’s all, it wasn’t my best planned trip but it was fun none the less…

Montejam

View posts by Montejam
Michael is an Information Security Executive with more than 14 years of security services, security strategy development, risk management, security research, vulnerability management, threat management, incident response, integration, and network and data security experience. Michael specializes in Executive-level security advisory. Michael has experience within the financial, technology, retail, power and energy, healthcare and public sectors. He has previously functioned as a technical and practice leader of Managed and Professionals Security Services within IBM as the North America Director of Security Intelligence, as a Senior Threat Researcher on the IBM X-Force, as an industry analyst, and as public sector vulnerability management coordinator and incident responder.
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