Iceland’s Ring Road

On May 11th, 2018 I flew to Iceland and spent two weeks solo traveling around the entire country. The trip covered over 1,600 miles (2,500 kilometers) and took me through cities, mountains, seaside cliffs, glaciers, fields of moss, ancient historical sites, and beautiful geothermal pools.

I hadn’t flown out of SFO since 2009, when my destination was London, however, riding to the airport I was struck by a strange sense of calm and a feeling of familiarity. I boarded my 8 ½ hour flight for Reykjavík, and remember flying over Greenland between intermittent periods of sleep. Even though in my mind I felt it was still the middle of the night, I got off the plane and embraced the bright Icelandic sun.

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Landing in Iceland left me speechless. The landscape fell somewhere in between the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and the rough scenery of Mars; I was in love. The rental car company picked me up from the airport and I acquired the keys to my small Toyota Yaris. I drove to Reykjavík by instinct alone as I looked out at breathtaking volcanoes and shear snowy mountains littering the moss-covered flatlands.

When I arrived to the city I drove around, explored the narrow cobblestone streets, and all of the small shops. I checked into my hostel and had a hot bowl of soup. Later I went out and walked all the way down Laugavegur street to the Harpa Concert hall with it’s beautiful glass windows, then to the Sun Voyager sculpture and Hallgrímskirkja Church. I bought some Icelandic dark chocolate, went back to the hostel, and had a hot cup of tea before bed.

The next day I woke up at 6 a.m. and left Reykjavík. First I got gas, which cost about $60 for just over half a tank in my tiny Toyota Yaris, then I drove to Þingvellir National Park. It was beautiful and sunny outside and I hiked in between tectonic plates to visit a luminous waterfall. I saw beautiful mountains, lakes, forests, and rivers, and there were very few people!

Strokkur Geysir was one of my favorite sites along the Golden Circle as the bright blue color of the water looked absolutely surreal.

After admiring all of the other nearby geysers I drove to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall, then I walked around Kerið Crater.

Later in the day I began my hike to the hot river in Reykjadalur Valley. The hike took about an hour each way and revealed breathtaking views of steamy mountains, hot pots, waterfalls, and bright blue pools. As gorgeous as the hike was, it unveiled a moment of isolation. Here I was in a new country, everything written in an unfamiliar language, I was just beginning to grasp the culture and I was an hour into a hike, away from anything familiar. I started to panic and forced myself to sit down, to relax, to accept myself in that moment, and to try not to be attached to any internal expectations of my journey. After collecting myself, and staring at a beautiful mountainside waterfall, I continued to the hot river, smelled the pungent sulfur, soaked my tired body, and celebrated. 

Tears of joy in my eyes I hiked back after an hour of relaxation. I felt connected to myself, and knew I would never forget soaking in that river, not to mention the emotional journey it took to get there. For dinner I had a delicious vegan lasagna with garlic bread and slept soundly. The next day after a hot shower that smelled of the earth’s sulfur, I drove to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, two incredible waterfalls.

I visited the Skógar Museum, walked around the turf houses, and explored both Dyrhólaey and Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach. Both beaches were striking. White waves, black sand, grey skies, and electric green moss. The rock formations were also incredibly unique.

In the evening I checked into my hostel in Vík, then went on a walk to look for puffins. After searching for an hour in the mist I finally spotted two, and they were so sweet! After I bid them adieu I soaked in the local hot pool and sauna, I watched the puffins on the cliffs in the distance and let myself relax into the water.

The following day I drove over rolling fields of green moss smooth as velvet, next I saw black sand desserts, snowy white mountains, and finally glaciers. There were so many beautiful glaciers, stretched out and kissing black jagged mountains. I saw Magnúsarfoss then Svínafellsjӧkull Glacier.

Finally, I arrived at Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Jӧkulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The glaciers were stunning; I walked beside giants, drank fresh spring water, and found myself in a sea of bright white, blue, black, and glass shapes. It was incredibly magical to be surrounded by something so unfamiliar.

I found my hostel nestled at the base of snowy cliffs. I was surrounded by baby lambs in fields of green grass and as I looked out of an all-glass dining room I could see the Atlantic Ocean.

The next morning I explored Flaájӧkull Glacier and lost a hubcap in the process. I headed to the Hoffell Hot pots and soaked in Emerald Green pools at the base of glaciers and tall snowy mountains with no one in sight.

When I checked into my hostel that evening, I met two friends: Anne-Marie from Quebec, Canada, and Gregor from Colorado, USA. That evening Gregor and I took a walk and were harassed by arctic terns.

In the morning the three of us drove along beautiful fjords until we reached Djúpavogskӧrin hot springs. It was stunning, secluded, and right on the ocean. We soaked for about an hour and got along so easily. We all shared languages with each other—French, Icelandic, German, and Spanish—and we eventually made our way to Flӧgufoss waterfall. We hiked to the base, avoiding the ancient moss but admiring the beautiful geology and natural geodes in the ground.

That evening we all stayed in a charming hostel located near the town of Egilsstaðir in Seyðisfjörður. The hostel was a refurbished old hospital with a beautiful wooden sauna. We enjoyed our evening together and I finally witnessed the sky go from dark blue to light blue as I stayed up passed midnight enjoying the sweetness of life.

The next day Anne-Marie and I dropped off Gregor at the airport and said goodbye. We then explored the Leirhnjúkur lava fields of Mývatn. We saw various craters, rainbow pools, and boiling lavender waters, and walked through snow and strong winds. Next we drove to Námafjall hverir viewpoint and giggled like children as we enjoyed the bubbling mud volcanoes and sulfur towers. We gazed upon turquoise waters as we drove, and explored the depths of the Grjótagjá hot springs cave near the Hverfjall crater. In the evening we checked into separate hostels and I was introduced to newborn lambs as I watched the Icelandic sun slowly dip towards the horizon.

Anne-Marie and I woke up and drove to Goðafoss where we walked around and took in the sheer power of the incredible waterfall. Next we went to the Laufás Turf House Museum where two Icelandic young men gave us an amazing one hour tour! They knew so much about the history of the land and the people, and they were more than happy to share their historical knowledge as well as their experience of modern day life. We pet Icelandic horses then drove to Akureyri where I got a huge veggie burger and fries!

In the morning I woke up to 40 mph winds! Anne-Marie decided to stay in Akureyri to explore further north, and I drove through snow to head west. I visited the Icelandic Seal Center, then arrived at my hostel on a beautiful fjord in Sæberg. I went outside to enjoy a soak in the hostel’s natural hot spring, but then realized snow had started to fall. I built a snowman with the receptionist and we laughed until 9 p.m. The sun still glistened on the white snow that evening and everything looked magical.

In the morning the snow had melted and I drove towards the West Fjords. I soaked in the Dragsnes Hot Pots on the the Atlantic Ocean which were stunning. Next I drove south and experienced breathtaking views of the snowy white mountains contrasting with the sapphire blue water and emerald green fields full of baby lambs.

The next morning I visited the ancient Guðrúnarlaug hot tub, a site as old as the Icelandic sagas. I was the only one there as the rain fell lightly, and I could feel the vibration of the land…a familiar yet deep energetic pull. After a long soak I saw Kirkjufell Mountain, Búðakirkja black church, and the town of Borgarnes.

The next day I drove around the beautiful Hvalfjörður fjord, and then finally back to Reykjavík. I walked around shops, purchased some arctic thyme and angelica salts then sent out a few postcards.

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For my last full day in Iceland I visited the Blue Lagoon! I soaked in the beautiful pools for three and a half hours and enjoyed a green smoothie. I made friends with one of the photographers and she gave me a complimentary seaweed mask so I enjoyed that along with the famous white silica mask.

After the Blue Lagoon I drove to a vegan restaurant called Kaffi Vínyl and met a friend named María. We had a great lunch and had so much in common! At the end of our meal we decided to get our ears pierced together! I watched her get her ear pierced first, speaking to the piercer only in Icelandic. When it was my turn I asked her to distract me in English. She held my hand and told me a story that made me and the piercer both laugh! The earring was in and so we paid and ran through the streets of Reykjavík in the rain. I dropped her off at her car and said goodbye.

In the evening I visited the very quirky Icelandic Phallological Museum. In the morning I awoke to a bright 3 a.m. sun. I dropped off my rental car, and boarded my plane for my next destination, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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