Iceland is the country you go to when you need to lose yourself in an otherworldly landscape, surrounded by miles and miles of rugged, uncharted terrain. As you follow the highway, you move along a consistent path that loops back to the starting point: Reykjavik. Each day is different insofar as you are exposed to a variety of seasons and geological features. On this isolated island, you experience all four elements: fire, water, air, and ice.
Day 1: Reykjavik and Blue Lagoon
Transfer from Keflavik Airport to the Blue Lagoon. It is advisable to book the geothermal spa experience online and in advance. Although you can stay at the lagoon for as long as you like, prices for any given hour change throughout the day depending on availability. Located in a lava field, the area is undergoing major construction. Continue onwards to the northernmost capital, Reykjavik. This human sized city is surrounded by beautiful countrysides and inhabited by a laid back creative people.
Day 2: Reykjavik to Vik
Iceland’s dramatic landscape is a result of the geothermal activity on the island nation. The first stop, Haukadalur, is a geothermal valley located in southern Iceland. The two famous geysers Geysir (a derivative of an Old Norse word for “gush”) and Strokkur (which erupts every 10 to 15 minutes) are surrounded by smaller fumaroles, mineral deposits and mud pools.
The second highlight on Iceland’s Golden Circle, Gullfoss, is a spectacular waterfall whose thick mist forms a cascading rainbow of colour. After descending a long staircase from the parking lot, there is a concrete pathway that allows visitors to walk along the parameters in close proximity to the gushing waters below. Climb the stairs to reach a high point and snap a photo from up above. Explore the nearby hilly grounds or continue to Seljalandsfoss where you can walk behind this 65 meter waterfall.
Next, Skogafoss, one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, has a drop of 60 meters and a width of 25 meters. Hike to the falls above Skogafoss to escape the crowds. Climb the stairs to the right side of the waterfalls to the upper viewing platform. From there, ascend the makeshift ladder. It will lead you over the small sheep fence onto a 20km+ trail that includes canyons, waterfalls and stunning views. Finally, find accommodation in Vik, a remote seafront village.
DAY 3: Vik to Hofn
Start the day at the black sand beach of Reynisfjara on Iceland’s South Coast. The black sand and stones are remnants of the basalt lava that once covered the island nation. The juxtaposition between crashing waves and black sand make for some aesthetically pleasing photos, capturing the wild beauty of this rugged terrain. There is also an enormous natural cliff of perfectly shaped and symmetrical basalt columns to admire. Tip: use caution and avoid the particularly strong waves and currents that have been known to sweep unsuspecting people into the ocean.
Next, explore Dyrhólaey peninsula’s sweeping views and puffins. Admire the arch with a hole from the lighthouse and admire the untouched coastline. Although a detour off the Ring Road, proceed to Fjaðrárgljúfur, caused by flowing glacier water that eroded the rocks over many years. The trail starts at the parking lot and heads uphill side by side with the canyon. Follow the main path and try some small diverts to explore this mesmerizing natural wonder.
Continue onwards to Jokulsarlon Glacier. Look out the window at the mossy lava rocks, the humble abode of Iceland’s invisible elves. Admire the array of colours floating around the waters from shore. There is a vast dome of ice that makes up this glacier, flowing into the lagoon.
Finally, end the day at Skaftafell National Park. Hiking maps are available at the information office. If short on time, take the paved path from Skaftafell Visitor Centre towards Skaftafell glacier. The hike is 4 kilometres roundtrip.
DAY 4: Hofn to Myvatn
Although the morning will be spent covering terrain, the rest of the day should be spent exploring Northern Iceland. Starting at Dettifoss, it is the most majestic of waterfalls and also rated as Europe’s most powerful waterfall, based on magnitude alone. There are several hiking trails. It is a 1 kilometre trek (one way) from the parking lot to the viewing gallery. Consider taking the 2.5 kilometre loop to experience the contrasting landscape of the Jökulsárgljúfur trail’s Dettifoss and Selfoss waterfalls.
Arriving in Myvatn, explore the town’s volcanic lake before driving to Krafla Viti “Hell” Crater: a circular crater with a diameter of 300 meteres, it is filled with aqua blue water with colourful mountains as a feature of its surroundings. Next, Namafjall Hverir, a geothermal area that feels like a whole other planet as mud pots form in its high-temperature, gurgling and bubbling over with its putrid smell.
DAY 5: Myvatn to Reykjavik
The last day is driving intense. Stop off at various points of interest along the way on the Ring Road as you proceed back to the capital city. Located at the beginning of the Sprengisandur highland road, make a pit stop at Godafoss, waterfall of the Gods. About 9 km from Godafoss, pack a picnic and enjoy the turquoise waters of Ljosavatn Lake. Drive through the town of Akureyri. Depending on the time you depart, you may have the opportunity to join the express whale watching tour that lasts 2 hours and includes sights of the Eyjafjord. Proceed to Reykjavik.