A Winter Week in ICELAND

Iceland - streettrotter

On March 2, 2016, I boarded an aircraft to Reykjavik with three friends. A week ago from then, we settled on the decision to spend our spring break in Iceland, as we thought of it as an island of idyllic beauty, mystery, and peace.

Before the trip, I heard that the winter months were not the best time to travel to Iceland because of the short daytime, the capricious weather, and the desolation. So we did not expect to get much out of our trip, the main thing that drove us there was to see the aurora (the Northern lights).

It was 4 a.m. local time when we arrived at the Keflavik International Airport. We picked up our rental car near the airport and drove to Reykjavik. Our first day was ruined by jetlag, cloudy skies, narrow streets and the uneven pavements. However, we felt little disappointment because of our few expectations.

Iceland - streettrotter
The street of Reykjavik, with a view of the glacier on the other side of the sea.

The trip begins: Next morning, we headed to one of the most prestigious hot springs of Iceland: The Blue Lagoon, which is a one-hour drive from Reykjavik. As it is a famous and popular sight among tourists, it’s better to book the tickets online in advance, as you could be facing an extremely long line and the likelihood of sold-out tickets.

Blue Lagoon provides a variety of packages to choose from, with the cheapest at 55 euro per person. The option comes with the free usage of a towel, the Silica Mud Mask treatment and a free drink. An upgrade is available at 75 euros, which adds in a free bathrobe and a table reservation at their Blue Lagoon restaurant. Finally, for people who want the best of everything, a 195 euro package includes the exclusive use of their Blue Lagoon lounge. For this particular trip, we were content with the 55 euro package, and we agreed that it was enough afterwards, as there is still a public lounge available for people and we did not choose to dine at the Blue Lagoon.

After a quick shower, we walked out into the chilly March air and into the inviting, steamy hot springs. It was a sight to behold; puffs of clouds rose from the water into the purple speckled sky. All around, the sound of water splashing and people chatting excitedly could be heard. A few adventurous tourists did not rush into the springs like most people, taking no heed of the cold and bravely posed for a few photos before embracing the warm relaxing water.

Iceland - streettrotter
The Blue Lagoon. Photo by Chenyao Xu.

After spending four hours in the water, we headed west to our next destination: Langjokull, the ice caves located in the world’s third largest glacier. Currently, there are around five travel agencies offering ice cave tours in Iceland. The price they offer are pretty close, averaging around $160 per visitor, which is not a good bargain! We chose the Glacier Adventure tour, and its review on Tripadvisor was highly recommended in comparison to all the others.

Iceland - streettrotter
The Icelandic landscape. By Chenyao xu.

Driving on the highway in Iceland generated a lonely but peaceful feeling. There were seldom cars on the road and the scenery beside the road was totally different from what we had been so accustomed to back in the city. There were some moments when I felt I was in another planet or a World of Warcraft map. Everywhere we looked, vast volcanic rocks were covered by white snow and glaciers loomed in the distance. The only main road on the island spread thinly across the snow, just like a gap separating the ground.

Iceland - streettrotter
The Crystal Ice Cave. Photo by Chenyao Xu.

For our third day, we arrived at the Crystal Ice Cave, the only cave accessible at the moment. It was not as fancy as its beautiful name might suggest. As a result of it being the only accessible cave at the time, more than 50 people were squeezed into the narrow cave, which is about 50 meters in length. The tour is designed for an hour, but takes just 10 minutes to walk from the entrance to the end, allowing for a significant amount of time to take photos, which was necessary due to the crowd.

In addition to the high volume of tourists, some may become frustrated by the muddy, dripping water from the melted ice. Visitors had to crouch or crawl through some tunnels that had exceptionally low ceilings.

Iceland - streettrotter
Muddy ice and muddy floor inside the ice cave. Photo by Chenyao Xu.

Overall, we thought the journey to and from the cave was much more fascinating than the cave itself. A special truck with huge wheels designed to navigate in the soft, slanting snow and unsteady ice of the glacier was our means of transportation and we enjoyed the fun if not somewhat bumpy ride.

However, we all agreed that spending $150 to visit a crowded, muddy ice cave was not the best investment. We should have kicked out this part from our itinerary.

Iceland - streettrotter
Visitors entering the Crystal Ice Cave. Photo by Ming Zhou

After our unfavorable encounter at the ice cave, we decided to not drive around the island on our fourth day, as the weather in the west and north is tough during the season. Extreme storms frequently hit the upper half of the island, and roads are often in unfavorable conditions. Thus, we decided to head back to Vik, and we were glad we made the decision, as we experienced some of our most unforgettable moments on the way back.

It was heavily snowing during our morning departure, with the snow blowing hard against our windshield, making us barely able to make out five feet in front of us. Our small car battled bravely against the storm but we could feel the car shifting sideways along with the wind.

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The Icelandic landscape. Photo by Chenyao Xu.
BY MING
The Icelandic landscape. Photo by Ming Zhou.

After a tense one hour drive we arrived at Black Sand Beach, where the snowfall gradually died down and the weather turned sunny. It was the first time we saw the sun in Iceland. The upper part of the beach was still covered by snow, with bits of black sand sticking out here and there and an occasional rock jutting out from the surface facing the waves in solitude. All around, the wind howled and the wave crashed into one another while pulling back with force into the glittering sun kissed sea; it was the perfect time for photography.

iceland - streettrotter
The Icelandic landscape. Photo by Chenyao Xu.
iceland - streettrotter
The Icelandic landscape. Photo by Chenyao Xu.
iceland - streettrotter
The Icelandic landscape. Photo by Chenyao Xu.
Iceland - streettrotter
A seal is enjoying a quick dip in the icy lake. Photo by Chenyao Xu.
By MING!!!!!
Chenyao Xu in Iceland. Photo by Ming Zhou.
Iceland - streettrotter
Anqi Zhang in Iceland. Photo by Chenyao Xu.

The northern lights: After our pleasant time at the beach, we continued our journey to Vik and arrived at Hotel Selid, our aurora sighting destination. In the lobby, we met Vala Sigurdardottir, the owner of the hotel and were assured of a forecast of a clear night with no clouds. Our chances of seeing the aurora was moderate with it being the strongest at around 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. We were thrilled, as the time period was an ideal one, meaning we did not have to get up in the middle of the night to see the northern lights.

The Aurora on March 6, 2016 at the hotel 60km away from Reykjavik, the captial of Iceland. Photo by Chenyao Xu
The Aurora on March 6, 2016 at the hotel 60km away from Reykjavik, the captial of Iceland. Photo by Chenyao Xu
Iceland - streettrotter
The Northern lights. Photo by Chenyao Xu

The lights came on accordingly that night at around 9:30 p.m. and we huddled around in the soft snow with our breath coming out in quick puffs as we stared upwards into the night sky and pointed. It was an unforgettable experience and a great way to end our Iceland journey.

COST SHEET:

  • FLIGHT TICKET: $500/PERSON FROM BOSTON
  • ACOMMONDATION: $80-150/ROOM*NIGHT
  • CAR RENTAL (PLUS FULL INSURANCE AND GAS): $700/CAR 4-SEATS COMPACT CAR, 8 DAYS.
  • BLUE LAGOON: $60/PERSON
  • ICE CAVE TOUR: $150/PERSON (DON’T DO IT!!!)
  • DINNING: $30-$50/PERSON (NO TIPS necessary)

About the Authors: Anqi Zhang is a master candidate in journalism at BU. She is an animal-lover. Reading and traveling are the two ways she explores the world. Chenyao Xu is a master candidate in journalism at BU. He is an traveling enthusiast. He has been to more than 30 countries in the past two years. ‘Traveling makes me know the world better’.