“Why do you want to go to Iceland? Isn’t it all made of ice?”
Those were the two questions my mother asked me when I told her I’d decided to take a week’s vacation to the small country between Europe and North America. I’m a 22-year-old Australian travelling on a working holiday visa through Canada, but to her, Iceland is outside the norm of the usual travel scope, as if I had decided to fly to Uganda or the North Pole.
It is commonly thought among people with less geographical knowledge that Iceland is this tiny country made entirely of ice with a population of roughly 700 people living in the one city, freezing to death in their igloos. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
So in order to educate those of you out there who know next to nothing about this gorgeous country, here are 5 things you may not know – because I certainly didn’t – about Iceland.
- The glaciers and ice caps cover only 11.1% of the land area. The reason that many people think Iceland is made of ice and Greenland is mostly green is because when the Vikings first settled in Greenland way back in A.D. 900, it was actually much warmer and greener than it is today. Those that first arrived in Iceland from Greenland saw that it was snowing and, being the unoriginal and basic Vikings they were, named it “snow land”. Upon further exploration of both countries, they discovered that they are made mostly of rock. However, climate change is rapidly affecting both Greenland, whose ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate and Iceland, whose temperatures are growing colder each year. In the near future, it could very well be that the naming of both countries will evidently make a lot more sense to the world. Currently, though, travelling around Iceland is like being on a different planet – one that is not all that hard to get to. From the jagged cliffs that surround the southern coast like something out of Jurassic Park to the vast wastelands of the north that make you feel like you’re literally alone on Mars, to the sloping farmlands and moss-covered boulder fields with gushing waterfalls in the distant mountains and endless black-sand beaches left behind by erupted volcanoes long ago … Iceland is so much more than just ‘ice’.
- It is very easy to see … if you have a car – more specifically, a van. My best friend / avid photographer and I decided we would rent a van for our 7-day adventure to cover cost of transportation and accommodation, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. We went with the ‘Play’ campervan from Campervan Iceland and the whole process was effortless right from the very cold and windy morning we picked it up. The van was crazy comfortable, with a spacious double bed AND heater system in the back so that as soon as we were ready to camp, we could pull over, power up the heat without worrying about leaving the engine on or flattening the battery and fall right asleep. Not only that, the van had excellent wi-fi so we could navigate our way around, upload pictures while driving, play music and keep in touch with civilization. The most amazing part about the van was the freedom of doing whatever we please and going at our own pace. We could be flexible with what we fit into our days and where we camped. One afternoon we stopped in the middle of nowhere and found this incredible waterfall that wasn’t even on the map. And there were NO tourists trying to get in our photos! In a place like Iceland you basically want to stop every three seconds to take pictures. Our van came equipped with a table and chairs, sleeping bags and pillows, utensils and a small gas stove for those times when we were really remote. It was affordable, a breeze to drive even on bumpy roads and our cozy little home for the week. We loved our van!
- Iceland is expensive … but you CAN do it on a budget. Iceland has its very own unique currency. 1,000 Iceland korona equals approximately USD$12. In most places you’d be paying USD$16-$20 for a meal at a gas station and USD$5 for drip coffee. So if you want to budget your trip, we suggest stocking up on groceries from a BONUS supermarket. We spent roughly USD$130 on groceries between the two of us and the only other food we paid for throughout the trip was 1-2 coffees a day to keep us going on the road and a meal to treat ourselves every now and then. We purchased some extra tours (definitely check out snorkeling in Silfra between the tectonic plates with Scuba Iceland and an ice-cave walk with Into the Glaciers) and we only had to fill up on gas twice (it was also very cheap for us because the van was diesel). The only other expense was for the odd campsite so we could shower and use power units to charge our appliances.
- All the national parks are FREE. From Þingvellir in the south to Vatnajökull in the south-east all the way around to Snæfellsjökull in the west, you can hit all the tourist spots and not pay a cent. Plus it’s very easy to navigate – just follow Highway 1 (more commonly known as the Ring Road) and the sights are either right there along the way or there’s a clear sign pointing you to the right path. And it’s definitely worth the 4km walk along the black-sand beach to the famous plane wreck on the south shore – just remember to wear waterproof clothing when you know it’s going to rain!
- Iceland is severely underrated. I’m not joking, I’ve travelled to at least 30 countries across the globe and I feel like in seven days I’ve seen icebergs and volcanoes and waterfalls and majestic mountains and coastal beauty and alien planets and more than double the sheep-to-human ratio. Iceland is getting more and more hype thanks to Justin Bieber and his most recent video clips, but it deserves so much more credit. It’s not a relaxing beach holiday, but there is something for everyone in this picturesque country and I encourage everyone across the globe to put the more touristy vacation spots on hold and take time to explore the land of fire and ice. One week in a campervan with a good friend, some good beats and a really good camera will just about do it.