While Reykjavik is great itself, the real beauty of Iceland is the landscape, so I was really looking forward to this tour of the south coast. The south coast has some of the most popular spots in Iceland including the famous Black Sand Beach and the big waterfalls.
The south coast is the most popular area of Iceland to explore, and June is high season, so there were a lot of tourists there – almost more than I would expect for someplace that feels so remote. But, it is to be expected for going to such touristy areas.
We booked our tour through Wake Up Reykjavik, as I saw some of their YouTube videos explaining their tours. I like that kind of information, makes it much less of a mystery. Although confusingly, a few days before the tour, I started getting emails from some other tour company, so it became clear that this tour was contracted out. Which is fine, there was just no explanation or advanced notice that this would happen, so it left me a little confused as to who this new company was and why did they have my information. But since everything seemed to line up enough, I decided to just get on their bus. You can see it would probably be pretty easy to kidnap me.
Aside from that though, it was an enjoyable tour. We saw lots of neat things, and learned about the area. I think these kinds of tours are ideal for people going in with limited knowledge (which was us), and really just want a snapshot of what’s out there. The problem is always going to be not enough time or freedom to explore the areas, so it’s not ideal for someone who already knows what’s there and what they want to see.
But for us, inexperienced and new to Iceland, it worked. It gave us an overview of the area, and made me hungry for more.
The tour begin with the Sólheimajökull Glacier. Actually, technically it started with a long drive from Reykjavik, stopping at a gas station for snacks and a bathroom break. But then we stopped at the glacier!
This glacier is a popular hiking spot, and we saw several climbing groups, loaded with gear, headed up the trail. It’s not visible unless zoomed in on the photo, but there’s several groups actively climbing the glacier. Also neat, if you look at the very back of the glacier, there’s a waterfall! Learn to love waterfalls in Iceland, they are majestic and they are everywhere.
Not having seen a glacier in person before, I was surprised it was so dirty looking. I’d been hearing so much about the pure glacier water, so seeing this in person, and knowing some people straight up drank the glacier water seemed a bit gross. Now, of course there’s an explanation, and I don’t know if this makes it better or worse, but the black all over the glacier is volcanic ash, Over the years, many of the volcanos erupted, and that ash has to settle somewhere. So there you have it. Enjoy your volcanic ash water.
(in case it’s not clear, I’m very much joking, although I do not know the safety of drinking the water from the glacier, it seems like maybe be on the safe side and don’t drink it. But during my trip, I heard of people drinking it all the time, so maybe it’s fine? I am not a doctor nor an expert on glaciers or volcanic ash, in case that wasn’t obvious.)
Black Sands Beach
Our next stop was at one of the most famous spots in Iceland, which I already gave away in the heading, but it’s the Black Sands Beach. It is famous for the black sand which was created from volcanic rocks (everything in Iceland is created by volcanos, I’m convinced. Beach? Volcano. Mountains? Volcano. Tour bus? Definitely a volcano.)
It is also famous for it’s basaltic lava rock pillars. There’s an instagram famous spot right by the entrance to take pictures, and it is crowded. There were people climbing all over the rocks, and there was a line to get the edge of the cliff shot. I would advise skipping that spot and continuing down the beach. The further you go, the less people there are, and there are lots of rock formations and caves to take photos in.
Basically, there’s a lot of beach, and most people just hang out by the entrance. Explore a bit for better photo opportunities.
The beach is also famous for being very dangerous. If you get near the water, you run the risk of being hit with a sneaker wave. This video explains it best, but the condensed version is sometimes the smaller waves combine and come further up the beach, and can pull people out to sea. Then there’s a very strong current, and people can’t make it back to shore. This is not your average “take the kids to the beach for a playday” kind of beach. Respect nature, and don’t take any chances. The rule of thumb is avoid sand that looks wet, because that’s how far the water can come up. Never turn your back to the sea (very untrustworthy sea).
Some of the more distinct rock formations have been named. It’s common for the fairy tales here to be about elves and trolls, and they are apparently very active with the rocks. Trolls live in the mountains and can only survive at night, and if they were caught in the sun, they turned into stone. Here, legend has it, two trolls tried to drag a ship from the ocean to the beach during the night, but they weren’t able to get it done before the sun came out, so they were cursed to turn into stone.
We saw a seal sitting on one of the trolls, so that was kind of cool. It was pretty far away though, in the mist, so I guess it’s also possible it was just a large, moving rock. Or the troll’s foot. But I’m pretty sure it was a seal.
Before you leave the area, get lunch in the cafe. Their turnip soup is so amazing, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it at home. Seriously, so good!
Vik was our next stop, so close we probably could have just walked there. Driving there took longer.
This stop definitely highlighted why taking a tour kind of stinks. We had about 10 minutes to take photos. That’s literally all we could do. There was no exploring the town, no time for the lava show or to grab a coffee at the school bus café. We stopped at the frequently photographed church and had just enough time to get some photos there and in the flower field next to it. Then it was back in the bus for the next location.
I know it’s not the tour’s fault, they can only allow so much time in each area but it just makes me want to take my own vehicle and go at my own pace. I would have liked to spend much more time here.
The next few stops were the waterfalls. Understandably, they were crowded. It was a warm day for Iceland in high tourist season, of course they were crowded.
The first waterfall was Skógafoss, which means forest waterfall. As you can see, there are no trees. In fact, there aren’t a whole lot of trees in Iceland. Most of them were cut down for building or firewood years ago (like during the age of the Vikings), and apparently it’s not so easy for them to grow back.
The next stop actually had two waterfalls. The more famous is Seljalandsfoss, which people are able to walk behind. But not to be missed, and only a short walk away, is the “secret” waterfall, hidden behind some rocks. If you are brave and wearing waterproof shoes, you can walk up the stream and get pretty close to it.
I was wearing sneakers, so I balanced on some rocks. That also seems like a good option, but either way, you’ll get wet. I was protecting my camera (my other one got fried by water in an unrelated incident) so I was reluctant to walk further. But as you can see, you definitely can go further.
Now the more popular one. This one is right out in the open, and you can walk behind it. Unsurprisingly, very crowded. But there’s a good reason, because we had a great time there. It’s a little rock scramble up the path, but once you’re over that, it’s a bit easier to walk.
To complete the loop, we had to go through the a misty waterfall. You can see it on the left side of the left photo and the right side of the right photo. The water danced around a bit with no predictable pattern, so the only option was basically just hurry through. I didn’t get a full spray of it, just a long of mist and bounce, but my legs got pretty wet. Luckily the rest of me had a raincoat on.
It’s a good thing it was the last stop of the day because my legs were very cold after that. It was a bit of an uncomfortable ride back to Reykjavik, but it was completely worth it. Loved running through waterfalls, would do it again, A+++.
It was an easy tour, I got to see lots of cool places, and I’m pretty happy. Again, it just makes me want to see so much more. There were a few other tours that were offered that look really fun (like one that goes to a hot spring!), so I hope I get the chance to go back. It’s an easy way for someone who’s not super confident in traveling (me) to get some experience.
Also, there were tons of loose sheep along the road. Like, what is going on, why are there so many? They seem to escape really easily, and then they just hang out, waiting for someone to put them back in their pasture. It wasn’t like it was just one or two, I think we saw about 50 loose sheep over the course of this trip.
In a related note, we saw some escaped horses. Despite having huge fields to romp in, somehow they broke free, and then they just ran down some trails along the road. Did they know where they were going? Are these trails they’ve been on before? I have no answer, but those horses were just delighting in their freedom.
It’s nice to see them enjoying Iceland as much as we are. Safe journey, I hope you all find what you are looking for. And your owner eventually finds you, too.
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