As a person who came back alive from Iceland, I can honestly say that there is a reason why Iceland is on very top of a lot of travelers places to visit list. It has so much to offer nature wise, that it is hard to believe that it is even true. But you cannot go to island unprepared. That is why I feel obligated to share my experience in Iceland – to help other travelers have a time of their lives.
I have to mention two things – first : as my Icelandic friend told us – most of the Icelanders travel with tents. So did we. And I understand why. Second : It was late spring / early summer. But let’s start from the beginning, and I’ll explain why it matters.
Although there are now some restrictions about camping anywhere there are option to camp without campsites, but you can find tons of campsites around Iceland with hot water and bathroom facilities so why not. Plus, since the land is mostly stone, you will not be able to build a tent in most of the places apart from campsites. On the other hand, one night we have found ourselves in the middle of the dessert and had to build our tent near Hekla, the most active Iceland’s volcano, and it wasn’t that bad, apart from the wind in the morning.
Third and probably the most important issue is that Iceland is super expensive. So if you decide to rent rooms our houses all over the island, you would have to pay hundreds of thousands of ISK (the currency of Iceland).
You can also rent a camper, that would cost you around 2000€, but you would not be able to drive anywhere, so you would probably miss quite a lot.
In fact, let’s talk about prices in Iceland.
When I say Iceland is expensive, I truly mean it. A cup of coffee (and they have terrible coffee) in the gas station costs around 5€. In some stores you would not find bread cheaper than 6€. If you want to eat something in a restaurant, a decent dish usually costs from 30€. And the prices go even higher during the summer. You want to buy their national sweater? Well, it’s 200€+. Blue Lagoon – from 60€, whale watching 100€+. Petrol – 2€/l. A decent place to sleep at night for 4 people will cost from 170€ if you are really lucky (as we were).
So back to camping. How do you prepare?
Campsites are everywhere, but most of them only open during the summer. So you have to check that if you are going on a different season. They are clean and nice in general, or as far as we happened to stay at. It has cost us around 70€/night (for 5 people, one tent). Be sure to check all the available campsites during the day, so you would not end up in the middle of the desert with no available campsites nearby.
One day we were quite tired of constantly building a tent, and some of us were getting flu, so we decided to rent a cabin on spot. We used booking.com and got a pretty sweet deal, we called and two hours later were in our awesome home for the night. We payed 180€ for a cabin for 6 people, with sauna and hot tub outside, shower, tv, wifi, kitchen and everything else. We finally got a good night sleep and headed to the road. But on the other hand, we were quite lucky to catch this last minute deal, since other options were much more expensive.
Most of the people I told I’ve been in Iceland, the first question they ask is “how was the weather?”. And it is a legit question to ask actually. We were kind of fortunate to experience only bits of hash Icelandic weather – extreme wind, rain and fog. But most of the days were either just cloudy or even sunny. There is an Icelandic saying – “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes”, and frankly it is pretty accurate. When we landed, we took a look at the forecast and it was mostly rainy, and the day that we landed was rainy too. I was prepared for the worst – being all cold and wet and getting sick on the second day, but it didn’t happen. I’ve also heard stories about people being caught in 24/7 rain, so you can never know.
Seasons in Iceland
No matter when you will go you will miss something. Either you go during the winter and see ice caves and northern lights, but not be able to drive most of the F-roads and be faced with Icelandic winter or during the summer, when there are many tourists, no darkness so no northern lights, but not as harsh weather. Every season has it’s beauty, so I believe I will be visiting Iceland a second time to see what I missed.
Even though our car wasn’t in as good shape as we got it, we were kind of scared to turn it in and be charged with thousands of Euros for the damage, since we’ve read some stories. But gladly, they only charged us for the flat tire – 225€. That was covered by the insurance from carrentals.com.
We also met some Australian people, who did not know how to change a tire and were standing in a parking for two hours trying to do so. So be sure to know how to do so, since a lot of people get flat tires driving gravel roads, and help out other people, since there are not many people passing by at any given time.
F roads are another story.
Main Icelandic roads are quite good. Even gravel roads are not that bad. But there are F roads that are numbered with the letter F in front. They are tricky, and many of them are closed during the colder seasons. We were faced with closed roads too, but there is a reason for it – if they are closed they are most likely impassable. Even the ones that are open might be tricky to drive trough for less experienced drivers. It is actually forbidden by law to drive anything but 4×4 cars on F roads, and some great destinations are only reachable by those roads.
Sheep and goats
I’m glad we bought SIM card with internet, since we used it to find campsites and gas stations. We got the one from company called NOVA, but it doesn’t have as high coverage as other companies, so we were constantly faced with low speed or no internet. It costs us around 50€ for 10GB of data, and we used it all, so we had to refill it. In general, internet is good in Iceland, so even free internet is quite fast.
Few times we had to change the direction, because we haven’t had enough gas to make it there and back, so my advice is better to make more stops to refill gas, rather than stand in the middle of nowhere with empty tank. If you are lucky, you can find self service gas stations in very remote locations, and they are not more expensive than the ones in the towns so use it. But gas stations are great not only for gas. They have food, coffee, hot water, free toilets, most of the time internet, and you can even use the microwave or sandwich maker to warm your sandwiches. Plus, if you buy a cup, you can refill as much coffee as you like. You can ask to refill your thermos with hot water for free.
Since eating out in Iceland is really expensive, all the tourists eat hotdogs. You can get them at most of the gas stations and they cost around 4-5€. Nothing fancy but keeps you alive. The cheapest store is called Bonus, but there are not much of them, and it closes really early. In fact, everything closes pretty early so be sure to have some food for the evening. Don’t bother bringing any cooking equipment if you are not renting a camper, since first of all weather might be too harsh, second of all – you can’t build any campfires in Iceland (plus, you would not find any wood for that too).
I learned one lesson – if you have the opportunity to use the bathroom – do it. Although you can use the facilities for free almost anywhere, especially in the gas stations, and sometimes you can find some remote public bathrooms (that are very clean and nice), you might go a long way without finding one too. And don’t rely on tourist attractions too – most of them are either closed, or you will need to pay.
Credit or debit?
We were making fun of this sentence for quite a while. But in fact, when you go to Iceland don’t bother with cash. Apart from emergency bathroom use (I only saw one payed bathroom), you can pay with your card anywhere. You find the most remote cafe in the middle of the mountain road – yes, they take cards.
Everyone in Iceland speaks English. Even kids do. There was no trouble at all with us not understanding Icelandic language. Plus, most of the texts are also translated to English, so don’t bother learning to say “Where is the bathroom” in Icelandic.
Daylight & northern lights
You can see northern lights at night, but the problem was that on this time of year there is no night. You can easily go sightseeing at night, but on the other hand, if you are lighter sleeper, be sure to bring eye mask, since sleep in this kind of trip is very important. Even though it’s light and you might not feel tired, don’t be tricked by it. Especially since you need your full attention driving extreme roads of Iceland.
Be sure to read my article about our journey to Iceland.