Day 1 in Iceland: Dyrhólaey, Reynisfjara, Vík, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss

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One of the many puffins you can see in Dyrhólaey (South Iceland) One of the many puffins you can see in Dyrhólaey (South Iceland) (Phil P.)

There are trips you're waiting with a lot of impatience. Iceland was one of those. I've spent five wonderful days with my family visiting the Golden Circle and southern parts, during a stop-over before heading to Boston, last August. This country surprised me from the first to the last minute, crossing incredible landscapes and ever changing a few miles apart. Here's my story.

This article is the third in a series of stories devoted to my trip to Iceland. For a complete overview of all sightseeings, I invite you to read:

Travel preparation and arrival at Keflavik (International Airport) 

This trip to Iceland  was prepared well in advance so to enjoy lowest travel and lodging fares, as this country is quite an expensive destination. Our flights for August were booked already in January on IcelandAir for a return ticket from Brussels to Boston for the four of us and with a five nights stopover, for a total of just above 2700 Euro. It was also essential to book the places we'd stay in as early as possible as there's a high demand in summer season. After spending many hours searching, we managed to book two nights in Hella at the Viking Cave (a great place!), two other nights in Selfoss at the Grundartjörn Apartment (convenient, nice owner but in a town with minimal charm) and one final night in Garður (an unexpected place to experience) near the airport and for practical reasons. All these places ranged between 170 to 220 Euro / night for a fully equipped accommodation for us four. Since we wanted to be free to decide where we would spend our days, we decided to rent a car. The best offer for a compact car (yes, we managed to fit all our luggage into it) through Geysir for 427 Euro for our five-day stay. Don't forget this doesn't include the petrol which is very expensive in Iceland but the car rental option remains competitive when travelling in a group compared to ground public transportation. It also allows so much more freedom during your journey. As a final preparation, a good roadmap  is useful to have as well as a travel guide (mine is in French so no publicity here) alongside reading many blogs to find the best travel tips.

After a pleasant flight to Reykjavik Keflavik we are already on the road in less than an hour, heading towards Hella and the Viking Cave, after landing.  

First picture in Hella, Iceland. The landscapes are incredibly beautiful.First evening in Iceland and walk at sunset near Hella

First miles along Reykjànes Peninsula

It's already 5pm and take the shore road to get to Selfoss instead of taking the shorter itinerary through the circular road to enjoy a first and memorable drive. The Reykjànes Peninsula is close from the airport but is probably skipped by many tourists. It is a genuine region to see in Iceland. We considered, a few weeks upfront arriving, going to the Blue Lagoon. It is tempting to stop by after seeing so many blogs and beautiful pictures. However, consider the overprized entrance fee, the not so glamourous setting and artificial attraction to realize there's real millenial beauty a few miles away. The landscapes are beyond belief. Still willing to swim in hot water? Try out the Reykjaladur Valley hot water river in Hveragerdi or the Secret Lagoon in the Golden Circle, near Geysir and Gulfoss.

We continue our journey into lunar landscapes made of orange and brown tones. There's barely any vegetation except green moss. The place is surprising and we do not cross anyone on our way. We tell ourselves we'll come back to stop and take pictures.

We know that we will get late in Hella and that our accommodation is about fifteen miles outside the village, and so decide to stop in Selfoss to shop at Kronan, a "large" grocery store. For European and US standards don't expect much but it is rather large and the assortment is the best we could experience during our trip. You'll for sure have to get used to the Icelandic food. Besides fish and Skyr (a very soft cream cheese yogurt-style), there's not much exciting to eat. 

We arrive at the Viking Cave and are welcomed by the owners who live in this beautiful refurbished barn. They show us some decorative pieces of housing including whale bones and an 1200 years old piece of drifted wood found on a nearby beach in the 1950s. The sky is not completely clear but we are told that we can see up to five volcanoes in good weather conditions. We are already lucky to see the Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull. The views are great, watch the sheeps and horses in the fields and love the accomodation which even includes a pool table!  What a great first evening before going to rest.

This is the Viking Cave, a great bnb in Hella. The accommodation is in the annex on the left of the photo. Magnificent views of the volcanoes.The Viking Cave in Hella - a great place to stay in the  middle of nowhere

Sunset over the plains in Hella, IcelandHey, it's even better when I'm not on the picture! What a great sky.

Iceland is the country of Horses (and sheep). You may encounter more than one.Wherever you look you can see horses in Iceland

Hello you! Sheep are everywhere in Iceland. And you can always bring back a good wool sweater!Sheeps and goats ... they outnumber the horses.
Be careful when driving as they like to cross roads !

First full day on the road : the South Coast

We are making a 240 km roundtrip from Hella for our first complete day in Iceland, heading South. Here's our itinerary:

  1. Dyrhólaey to see puffins (we were spoiled !) and enjoy the views on the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. 
  2. Vík, the most southern city of Iceland and also the wettest (guess what, we got some rain). We go for the beach.
  3. Reynisfjara for the amazing basalt columns.
  4. Skógafoss for the waterfall and hoping to be the first ones to discover the treasure behind the fall.
  5. Seljalandfoss, another waterfall, for walking behind it.


Dyrhólaey, puffin world

It's half-past eight and take the road in direction of Dyrhólaey. We see on our way the waterfalls of Seljalandfoss and Skógafoss we will visit on our way back. Let's try to beat the crowds by going as far as possible. The scenery as we make progress is sublime. The black mountains and snowy tops, waterfalls and dripping cliffs are succeeding one another. Here and there we notice isolated houses but nature surrounds us on all sides. Further on, we cross the car park that gives access to the military plane wreck you may have heard about. We read a lot of articles but in our opinion stopping is may be a waste of time. We leave the circular road to take route 218 to reach the Dyrhólaey peninsula around ten o'clock. The last two kilometers are magical. This place is of indescribable beauty. At the top of the cliff there is a lighthouse with supposetly an incredible view but our little car may not support the steep climb as we only see 4x4 taking the gravel road up. There's a large car park at the end of the road from where you can also climb up (check before if trails are open). No regrets, the views of Reynisfjara, the volcanic rocks piles and surrounding mountains are grandiose. A heal swims in the ocean and many birds are flying around. Here, a puffin, then two! This is so awesome. We notice a short trail that goes up left from the car park and take it. This is the place didn't want to miss to see puffins by the hundreds. It's a fantastic moment. We wanted to see puffins, we are well served!

View on the Dyorhaley lighthouse in the distanceDyorhaley Lighthouse is on top of the cliff. The beach is not accessible.

Reynisfjara beach and and volcanic piles - A must see place in Iceland.Looking out the other side, Reynisfjara's beach.
Far right, three volcanic piles emerge from the ocean.

We are lucky to see a seal swimming in the waters of Dyorhaley.Lovely encounter

Three puffins on a rock waiting to fly to fish in Icelandic watersPuffins, puffins and more puffins!

Vík í Mýrdal, walk on the black sand beach

We heard that Vík was a charming village but have not been convinced. Still you should make a stop and have a walk on the black sand beach of Vikurfjara to get a chance to see the rock stacks on the other side of Reynisfjara. During our visit there were few people and we really liked the contrast between the black sand, the green cliffs and purple lupines in the dunes. On the heights of Vík there is a very typical Icelandic chruch with its red steeple. We haven't been there but there are apparently some good trails starting from here.

Access to Vikurfjara beach in Vik y Myrdal at the southern tip of IcelandTrail to get to Vikurfjara, the black sand beach in Vík

Vikurfjara beach is quieter and just as beautiful as Reynisfjara beachThe much quieter beach of Vikurfjara compared to Reynisfjara

Stacks of volcanic rocks seen from the beach of Vik y Myrdal in southern IcelandThe volcanic rock stacks near Vikurfjara.

Hundreds of lupins color the Icelandic coast and contrast with the light green cliffs and the black sandIn August you can enjoy lupines growing in the wild, it's super beautiful.

Close-up of Vik's churchClose up on the church of Vík

The basalt columns in Reynisfjara

For sure, this site is unique and unavoidable. Where it hurts is the large number of tourists, some uncivilized, who gather on a small stretch of beach. I advise you to try to arrive as soon as possible or to get there late when the buses leave. Apart from this concern, the basalt columns are really impressive. One wonders how nature could create that! If the sea is not disassembled, walk to the "cave" which is right behind. The vault is incredible. Finish by walking in the direction of Dyrhólaey to contemplate the vast black sand beach through hundred volcanic bombs that rest on the ground.

The basalt columns in Reynisfjara, South IcelandThe famous basalt columns

The vault of Reynisfjara cave in South Iceland. The columns pierce the ceiling giving this spectacular rendering.The columns seen from under

View from Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach on Dyorhaley in South IcelandThe beach of Reynisfjara with Dyrhólaey in the background. You can guess the lighthouse.

Volcanic rock on Reynisfjara beachLove those volcanic stones

The hidden treasure of Skógafoss

This is the first waterfall among many others we visited. If you are not yet used to Icelandic names, "Foss" means waterfall just as "Fjara" means beach. It's handy to know when looking at a map. Skógafoss is a powerful waterfall 60 m high and 25 m wide. We love being able to get close to the waterfall even though we got very wet. Behind the curtain hides surely a treasure according to a legend. No need to try to cross it, it's impossible. The site is well laid out and you can also climb the 350 steps to access a belvedere at the top of the waterfall. It's nice but we prefer the view from below. If you have the time, there is a way to extend your visit by following the trail along the river.

The powerful Skogafoss waterfall along the circular road. Powerful, it is 60 meters high and 25 meters wide. To have !Don't forget your raincoat

The Skogafoss waterfall without the tourists. Oh no, they are hiding behind the hill!Where are the tourists? They are hidding ...

A last stop in Seljalandfoss before heading back

About twenty minutes from Skógafoss is another impressive waterfall : Seljalandsfoss. It is less powerful but has the particularity that you can walk behind the fall curtain. It's a bit slippery here and there and don't forget your raincoat. We do not regret our choices for our first full day in Iceland.

We head back to Hella and shop at the only small supermarket. We have trouble deciding what to get for food as nothing is really inspiring. Hopefully we can do better tomorrow!

Seljalandfoss seen from the path that passes behind the waterfallIt's nice to go around the waterfall in Seljalandfoss

The Seljalandfoss Waterfall in South IcelandGreat view but little less impressive compared to Skogafoss

The Hekla volcano in Iceland in the early morningBack to Hella: The Hekla at sunrise before taking the road for our second day in Iceland

My #stopover in #Iceland during the summer in 2017. How to best prepare your visit and first day in the southern parts: #Dyrhólaey, #Reynisfjara, #Vík, #Skógafoss and #Seljalandsfoss.    My #stopover in #Iceland during the summer in 2017. How to best prepare your visit and first day in the southern parts: #Dyrhólaey, #Reynisfjara, #Vík, #Skógafoss and #Seljalandsfoss.    My #stopover in #Iceland during the summer in 2017. How to best prepare your visit and first day in the southern parts: #Dyrhólaey, #Reynisfjara, #Vík, #Skógafoss and #Seljalandsfoss.    My #stopover in #Iceland during the summer in 2017. How to best prepare your visit and first day in the southern parts: #Dyrhólaey, #Reynisfjara, #Vík, #Skógafoss and #Seljalandsfoss.   

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The English version of Vos Vacances ("Your Holidays") is live since October 2017 and is a small spin-off of the french version. Hope you like the site and feel free to leave a comment on any of the posts if you enjoyed reading them. 

Ξ Phil