As we pulled over onto the side of the road for, what seemed to feel like the 100th time, and the four of us stepped out of the car for a hike up the mountainside to check out another waterfall. At this moment, I couldn’t have been happier with how our lack of planning had allowed us to explore the incredibly unique landscape of Iceland. Since I returned home, I constantly find myself describing, to my friends and family, how diverse the countryside of Iceland was as it varied so much from mile to mile. If we had planned our entire trip out before hand, down to the hour, there is no way we would have never had any of the experiences we did, which became the best part of the trip in itself.
Throughout the week, we constantly saw tour bus after tour bus, big and small, along with signs that say guided-this and guided-that. Iceland has become quite the tourist destination over the past decade, which I realize also brought me there, but the goal of our trip was to have an adventure into parts unknown. My stomach would literally turn with the thought of being stuck in a tour bus as these beautiful mountains would pass by my windows, only to be unclimbed and untouched. Or seeing waterfalls flowing off a cliff’s edge, only to not feel the water on my face as I stood under it, because the tour bus was still a couple hours away from some tourist trap in which everything would be roped off and you are forced to experience what some company wanted you to experience. As you can tell, I am very against touristy travel and tour groups, not because they do a ton of good for millions of people’s travel experience and local towns; but because they are too slow for me and too constricting. But I digress.
Iceland is a beautiful place, and yes, like most places you can spend an entire month in one region without even touching the surface of what is able to be seen or done. But I am in love with the mountains, and as much as I want to be in them, I also enjoy seeing all the different variations of them and how it affects the regions and the people that live in them. Fortunately for my friends and I, Iceland has a ton of mountains that are all incredibly easy to access. Most mountain bases are a stone’s throw from the main highway, route 1. Not only are the mountains located close to the roadways, but also hundreds, if not a thousand, different waterfalls too. Ranging from a tiny stream that dribbles down a rockface, to a powerful, behemoth that forcefully flows off a cliff for hundreds of feet. All of which, deserved our attention for at least a few moments, if not a good portion of our day.
We planned to hit four regions of Iceland during our week in country: the western peninsula, the city of Reykjavik & the golden circle, the southern coast, and lastly the southeast corner. This forced us to make a 3hr drive every single day to explore as much of the island as possible. A three hour drive on a highway in the states might cross one or two landmarks worth stopping for; however, in Iceland, a 3 hour drive results in stops every single 20-30 minutes for a hike, picture, water, or even to make friends with some horses, like Steve.
Icelandic horses dominate the countryside of Iceland, no matter where you drive. We saw them every single day we were there, and I kept saying to the guys that I wanted to go pet a few if we saw a group close to the fences along the road. So after we went snorkeling at Silfra, we were driving along the highway to check out a massive waterfall a hostel friend recommended from our first night in Rif, called Gullfoss, when we saw dozes of horses standing next to the fence. Boom! Car was immediately pulled over and we jogged over to the barbed wire fences. We stood there for, I don’t eve know how long, just petting the friendly horses, taking pictures with them, giving them names and personalities, and just watched them play. No one told us to do this, or did they tell us if we were even allowed to, but we just wanted to and that was all the reasoning we needed.
I would just recommend trying to plan out as little as possible (besides logistics), before getting to your country of travel. There is no review online, or Instagram picture, that can replace some travel advice from someone you meet in a hostel who’s been traveling for weeks. Nor can it beat the suggestions from a local Icelander who knows a secret spot with the best views from a hillside that overlooks the town and the ocean. This goes without fail for places to eat too. Because one thing I’ve learned is very few of the best meals I’ve ever eaten do the restaurants come up in a google search result. Don’t look at a guide book, don’t follow someone else’s itinerary day by day, make your own experiences and those memories will be ten-fold better.
Enjoy your adventure!