Must-Sees: Seljalandsfoss, Skogarfoss, Vik and Reynisfjara Beach, Laufskalavarda, Skaftafell and Vatnajokull Glaicer, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon and Beach, Hoffell Hot Tubs
If you read my last post (thank you to my loyal followers), you heard that I’m currently zipping along the Ring Road in Iceland for the next week. When I thought about writing down everything I saw in a single blog post, my brain melted. So, I will be doing this in four parts, one for each of Iceland’s coasts. Let’s begin with the popular kid: the Southern Coast.
It’s not hard to imagine why the Southern Coast is the most popular. It’s closest to the capital of Reykjavik and thus easy to visit in a short amount of time, plus it boasts a taste of every type of terrain you can think of. Really, this place seems to have it all.
Day 1: Reykjavik to Vik (120 miles)
Our first stop on the way to our guesthouse in Vik were two extremely popular waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogarfoss (FUN FACT: “Foss” means waterfall in Icelandic. The more you know). They are definitely worth a stop, with the knowledge that they are packed with tourists. We spent about 5 minutes snapping photos and went on our merry way. If you can stand the crowds and would like to spend more time at them, consider taking the short walk behind the Seljalandsfoss (wear your rain jacket) or hiking up a few hundred steps to stand at the precipice of Skogarfoss. These two views are incredible. Also, bonus, parking, bathrooms and food stands are available.
The next notable stop is a short hike to a retreating glacier. With global temperatures rising (Yeah, I said it. Global warming is REAL.), Iceland’s glaciers are melting more than ever before. Now is the time to enjoy them. While they can be seen along almost the entire Ring Road route, there is one that I am quite fond of which allows you to get up-close-and-personal without paying for one of those expensive (but incredible) glacier walks. While I have never quite figured out an address or even which glacier this area belongs to, I can tell you that to get there, look for a sign that says “Glacier Walks” in the stretch of road just after Skogarfoss but well before Vik. If you’re traveling the Ring Road in a counter-clockwise fashion like us, the sign will be on your left. You’ll travel down a sealed road for about 1-2km and then there will be a small cafe on a hill. You may park your car and the hike starts to your right. After about a kilometer, you will see the retreating glacier. Signs are clearly posted to not proceed past a certain area (SO PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK); however if you’re cautious you can walk right up to the glacier and touch it. Seriously, this is a rare moment considering how pricey those tours can get. Savor the moment. You just touched a piece of history.
Seeing as this was our first day and the measly two hours of sleep we got on our flight were wearing off, we headed straight to our guesthouse from here. Along the way, tiny lambs and purple lupine flowers were abundant. Everywhere you look in Iceland, one thing is more beautiful than the last. So, if you take nothing else from my posts, heed this advice: Stop and take ALL of the pictures, because no one will believe you if you don’t. (Also your grandchildren will want to see them, yada, yada.)
After a long, rainy day, we finally arrived at Guesthouse Solheimahjaleiga, an adorable place surrounded by more sheep. We checked in to our cozy room and then headed out for a quick bite to eat. Vik was the closest town with any food options, so we ate Thai curry at Sudurvik Restaurant there. It was delicious, but pricey. If you’re on a budget and prefer to avoid the exorbitant price of eating out in Iceland, there is one grocery store in town. Just be sure to arrive before closing time at 6pm.
That wraps up Day 1. On to Day 2!
Day 2: Vik to Hofn (175 miles)
On our second day, we were bound and determined to check out to the black sand and imposing basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach in Vik. However, in typical Icelandic fashion, the sleet and wind deterred us from visiting. If you have better luck, the entrance is just before you reach the town of Vik. A right turn at the sign for “Black Beach Restaurant” will lead you there in a few kilometers.
Despite the rain, we ventured on towards Hofn. Along the way one of the first stops we made was at Laufskalavarda, an unplanned roadside attraction. Hundreds of years ago a farm stood here, that was eventually destroyed by a volcano. In memory of this place, passers by began to lay stones at the site. These days, many stone stacks create an eerily moon-like landscape. For good luck, bring a rock and add it to the collection! You will find this to your left in a desolate stretch of highway outside of Vik.
After placing our own rock, we ventured on towards Skaftafell National Park and Vatnajokull Glacier. Basically this entire road is a panoramic view of the glacier. Each mile provides clearer and clearer views of the immense ice cap, so save plenty of time for snapping photos. If you are interested in doing a glacier walk, stopping near Skaftafell and doing so is an excellent idea. Because we were a bit short on time and also deathly afraid of walking on a huge sheet of ice, we passed and carried on past the National Park. Seeing the glacier from the road was enough for us.
Next we grabbed some snacks and a bomb cup of coffee from a gas station (if you read my post first post about Iceland, you know my love for Icelandic gas station coffee) and hurried towards Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon and Beach. Now when I say this place is photogenic, I’m doing it a severe injustice. The place is down right glowing. It’s creepy blue and marble-like icebergs float by as if they aren’t the coolest thing since sliced bread — EXCEPT NEWS FLASH: THEY ARE. Also this is a great spot to look for seals. Sometimes they even jump right up onto the icebergs. Plan to spend at least an hour walking along the edge of the lagoon taking it all in. Then when you’re finished with that, head across the street to the black sand beach where diamond-like icebergs of all sizes have washed up on shore and now await you. Seriously this place isn’t even real. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for me.
Once our minds were sufficiently blown at the beauty of Jokulsarlon, we headed for the Hoffell hot tubs to relax a bit. In the middle of nowhere, they are a place to relax in your own personal hot tub fed by Iceland’s famous hot springs. Yeah, Mother Nature has got your backs on this one. These can be a bit tricky to get to, since they’re not marked and they are not located on Route 1. To get there, look for sign on Route 1 that says “Glacier World-Hoffell Guesthouse”. Turn here and drive a mile or two. On the left side of the road, you’ll see them. Throw 500 ISK into a tube next to the hot tubs and jump in! There is a changing area as well as a shower next to them. It’s is typically in Iceland to shower before entering any public bathing area. Be respectful and take one before entering the hot tubs, please.
After a refreshing hour in our own tub, we headed into Hofn to try the langostine. Langostine pizza, langostine soup, fride langostine tails — if you’ve seen Forrest Gump, you can understand the variety of langostine you’ll find here. We chose to eat at Pakkus Restaurant, which has a cozy vibe and a killer Skyr Volcano. This dessert is a Skyr mousse (Skyr is Iceland’s version of Greek yougurt, except with less sugar, naturally fat-free and way creamier), with berries, brown sugar and pop rocks. It’s a fun and delicious way to enter the world of Skyr if you haven’t already.
Finally, we marched our happy selves back to Nypugardar Guesthouse, set on a sheep farm a few miles off of Route 1. This adorable little place has sweeping views and a fantastic Icelandic breakfast included. I highly suggest it for your stay in Hofn.
And that about sums up Southern Iceland for us. If you have more time, there are plenty of other stops to see in your guidebooks (Lonely Planet’s is great and a brand new edition just came out May 2017). I definitely suggest you check those out. If you’re short on time like us, that should about cover the biggies. As always, comment with questions.
Bye, Bye, Bye,