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Trip Report: Iceland

SmarterTravel

Who: Travel Deals Editor Caroline Morse, 28, and three friends

Where I Went: Iceland

When: Early November 2011

High Points: We took a two-hour ATV tour with ATV Adventures Iceland through the Krisuvik Peninsula. We rode on a black sand beach and between solidified lava, as well as to a shipwreck. Most of us had no experience with ATVs, but the equipment that the company used was top-notch, and the instructor was great—helping those of us who had trouble driving, as well as pointing out places of interest along the way. Being the only people as far as the eye can see, while driving along a beach full of lava rocks, was an amazing feeling.

My favorite sight was the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, where we saw floating icebergs, crystal clear water, and got to touch pieces of icebergs that had broken off and washed up on the shore. The Blue Lagoon was another high point—we went on a weekday evening, when the weather was miserable outside (we were told this is when the locals prefer to go as well). Comfortably swimming in an outdoor lagoon while it was snowing outside, only being able to see the water and the rising mist in the dark, was incredible. Plus, the Lagoon was basically deserted: There were around 20 people there the entire time we were swimming. Make sure you take advantage of the natural mud face masks while you’re there; it really made our skin soft! Grab them in the Lagoon where it’s free, as they sell an ounce of the same stuff in the airport gift shop for over $30.

Low Points: Not seeing the northern lights! Despite being there during the right time of year, and staying in the countryside away from lights, we didn’t get to see them, because it was too cloudy. Second low point: tasting Brennivin, the national spirit of Iceland, nicknamed “Black Death.” The Icelandic Viking beer tastes much better!

Savings Strategy: The US dollar doesn’t go very far against the Krona, and for tourists as mathematically challenged as myself, trying to figure out what something costs is not easy. Food is pricey in Iceland! For the most part, we stayed at hotels that offered free breakfasts, and loaded up on food in the morning, and then didn’t eat again until dinner. We also saved money by renting a car and doing self-guided tours vs. paying for tour buses and guides. All of the outdoor tourist sights we saw were free (including parking).

Where I Stayed:

  • Fosshotel Skaftafell (East Iceland). This hotel is one of the closest to the Jokulsarlon glacier, and only cost around $91 for a room with two single beds and breakfast.
  • Hotel Ork (East Iceland): My favorite hotel, and also the most expensive, this hotel was a great base for exploring the Golden Circle. It featured a big outdoor geothermic pool with two waterslides and two geothermic hot tubs. There was also a very intense Icelandic poker tournament going on here while we stayed, which was fun to watch. Expect to pay around $200 for two people, per night.
  • Einholt Apartments (Reykjavik): This is a great place to stay if you’re staying a few nights in Reykjavik, or if you need a lot of room. There’s a fully equipped kitchen if you want to cook and save money on eating out, and they rent one-three bedroom apartments if you have a big group. The downside to the self-catering apartment is that the reception is not manned 24/7—they will leave you a code and keys if you are checking in after business hours. Or in our case, they will forget about your reservation, but at least they will answer their phone and tell you where they keep the keys so you can get in to your apartment. Plus, we got upgraded to a three-bedroom apartment because of their mistake!

If You Go: Early November was a great time of year to go—the weather was not that cold, we rarely saw any other tourists or encountered any crowds, there was about eight hours of daylight, and hotels were much cheaper than in the summer. Definitely rent a car if you’re interested in maximizing your time and getting out of Reykjavik: We covered 1,200 km in four days, and were able to stop at anything we wanted, as well as operate on our own schedule! Keep an eye on Icelandair for sales. We paid around $500 for a round-trip flight from Boston, but they also have great stopover specials, where you can spend a few days in Iceland en-route to mainland Europe.

Have a question for Caroline about her trip to Iceland? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own Iceland experience? Leave a comment below!

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