Discovering Iceland

We recently spent five nights in Iceland and it was a vacation unlike any other. The terrain is beautiful, but hard to navigate because of the snow and ice conditions. And, so much of what you’ll want to see and experience if outside of Reykjavic, which is the best place to stay on your trip, but makes it harder to do sightseeing. So, we decided on having the best of both worlds: we stayed the entire time in Reykjavic so that we would be in close proximity to great shopping, restaurants, bars and hotels. And we did a massive amount of research on the best tour operating group to bring us outside of the city for all of our sightseeing an excursions. As I mentioned, we spent weeks researching the best tour guides because the excursions are often full-day affairs and can be expensive. We decided to book every one of our tours with Discover Iceland and were so pleased with our experience.

Discover Iceland has a range of options for your tours, and they offer plenty of itineraries. If you’re on a budget, they offer bus tours to many of their itineraries. Or, you can do what we did and have a private tour in a Super Jeep. We decided on the more expensive Super Jeep option for a number of reasons. First off, there were four of us and we liked the idea of keeping it to just us and a guide who would also drive us. We also liked that a Super Jeep could access parts of Iceland and roads that a large bus can’t navigate, so we got to see a bit more and off road a bit, which was super fun. We also were able to customize the tour a bit, deciding to stay a bit longer here or a little shorter there depending on our interests. It was totally the right call for all of these reasons, plus some you’ll see below. Many people are conflicted about whether to rent an SUV and try to do the sights on their own. I can confidently say after being in Iceland during the winter that you should absolutely not try to attempt the tours on your own. The conditions can be absolutely brutal and totally dangerous and it’s safest and easiest, to leave it to the professionals at Discover Iceland who seamlessly navigate the terrain and conditions day in and day out.

The first tour we did was of Iceland’s famous “Golden Circle.” If you only have time for one tour, let this one be it. It gives you a look at some of Iceland’s most iconic sights, one more beautiful than the next. Our driver, Ivar, picked up up promptly at our hotel at 8:30 a.m. in a ginormous Super Jeep with giant tires equipped to navigate the snow and we set off outside of Reykjavik. We loved that our guide was extremely familiar with Iceland’s geography, traditions and history, and he helpfully pointed things out along the way and even told us local lore and tradition as we headed to our first stop, Thingvellir National Park. Driving to the park in a Super Jeep was a ton of fun because there had been snowfall the night before, so it proved to be an adventure. The park itself, which is a Unesco World Site, is beautiful and we saw where people dive between tectonic plates and were able to roam and take some beautiful pictures.
Next, we visited one of the sights I associate most with Iceland and was most excited to see: Gulfoss Falls. This massive waterfall is just astoundingly beautiful, and all the pictures I had seen of people posting it on Facebook and Instagram don’t do it justice. When we arrived, it was snowing extremely hard and the snow obstructed the views a bit. Ivar gave us as much time as we wanted to take in the waterfall and he even kindly took a bunch of group photos for us, which was really appreciated. He became our unofficial photographer throughout the trip, which was another benefit of booking a private tour through Discover Iceland. He let us stay until the snow cleared and we got unobstructed views of the falls. One of the things you learn about Iceland within a day of being there is that the weather is unpredictable and can change drastically minute to minute.
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After the waterfall, we did one of the coolest things we did during the entire trip. We got snowmobiles and drove them on a giant glacier for an hour. We paired up in groups of two and set off onto a beautiful glacier with the help of a guide and halfway through we switched drivers with whoever was on the back of the snowmobile. This was such a unique and exhilarating experience, especially given that we did this in the middle of a really big snow storm. It was unlike anything any of us has ever done, and it gave us some major bragging rights when we came back to the U.S.

After snowmobiling we checked out Iceland’s famous Geyser Strokkur, which are natural wonders. Luckily for us, the main geyser exploded within just five minutes of us getting there, so we were able to see the show relatively quickly. Ivar showed us another waterfall on the way back to Reykjavik, which was also just stunning and we got beautiful group pictures under it. My friend even snuck behind the back of the fall. We were back at our hotel by 6:30 p.m., just in time to shower and get ready for dinner and a night out on the town.
On our second day, we were scheduled to do a private Super Jeep tour of Iceland’s Grand South Coast tour with Discover Iceland. We woke up early in the morning and looked out the window of our hotel to learn that in the few hours we were asleep, Iceland was hit with a blizzard! More than a foot of snow had come down overnight, which was the most snow Iceland had had in decades. We went down to the lobby of our hotel and found that guests who had booked tours for the day with other tour companies were upset because almost every tour that day was canceled because of the conditions. Ours, however, was not. We were ecstatic because this was the only day of the trip we could do the Southern Coast tour and Discover Iceland made every effort to make sure we’d still get to go out and do the tour and do so in the safest manner possible. Because many roads were closed, Ivar got to us a little late, but he gave us notice that he would be around an hour late, which was totally fine. He extended the tour an hour on the back end to make up for it.

Then we started the most memorable part of the trip — driving to the Southern Coast in the aftermath of a blizzard. The entire country was in white out conditions and covered in a blanket of glistening snow. For much of the day, we were the only vehicle on the road and had full access to the terrain.
Our jeep bounced up and down as we drove over glaciers and through feet of snow. It was so memorable and fun, and the entire time we felt safe because we were going at a reasonable speed and Ivar kept checking the tire pressure, etc. We drove to a beautiful glacier where there was an ice cave that we could peek inside, which was really cool. Then, we went to a black sand beach, which is something my friends and I were really looking forward to doing since we booked our flights to Iceland. It was beautiful and the waters were wild because of the storm with giant swells crashing on the black sand. We then stopped by a volcano that was responsible for the disruption of most trans-Atlantic flights a few years back. It was a wonderful, and truly adventurous day.

We also were able to stop every time we saw Icelandic ponies on the side of the road and take photos with them because we had the Super Jeep. (All the photos in this blog post are photos we took ourselves while on the tours.)
The last tour we did with Discover Iceland is the Northern Lights tour on a minibus. The Northern Lights are famously unpredictable, and they don’t come out every night. In order to see them, you have to drive a few hours outside of Reykjavik into complete darkness, which we do not recommend attempting on your own. I liked that Discover Iceland allows you two tries at seeing the Northern Lights. So, if you go out with them on a night that the lights don’t show up, they allow you to go out with them again one more time free of cost, so you get two attempts for the price of one. I also liked that their office gave us updates throughout the day about the odds of us seeing the lights given the clarity and weather patterns.

The bus picked us up at 8:30 and we were off. We liked that it was a small bus and the driver was really entertaining. Next, we drove a few hours into complete darkness and pulled up next to a lighthouse near the coast. Shortly after arriving, we were treated to a show from the Aurora Borealis. We were extremely lucky to see them on or first attempt within minutes of arriving. Shadows of green magically appeared in the sky and slowly created patterns in the sky. It was frigidly cold the night we went, so it was nice to be able to pop in and out of the minibus to warm up. Our driver even made us hot chocolate to keep us cozy. Having seen the Northern Lights, we were pretty much able to cross off every item on our Iceland bucket list using Discover Iceland as our guides for each step of the way. i would gladly recommend them to my friends and readers. Their customer service department is super responsive and helpful and they will also help guide you to the tours that will best achieve the itinerary you want to see. If you have the ability and budget, I would say to definitely do the Super Jeep tour as it was the highlight of our trip.

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