Iceland has been on my travel-to list ever since I watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” a couple years ago. I was very much seduced by the raw and rugged natural beauty of the country showcased in the movie. Remember the scene where Ben Stiller longboarded down a windy road through majestic Icelandic mountains? So adventurous, so free! I finally got a chance to live out my wildest dream when I booked my ticket to Iceland this year.
I was obsessed with creating the best possible experience. From a copious amount of reading reviews, I came across Hidden Iceland, an agency whose mission is to “take you where crowds aren’t, without missing the must see places along the way.” It sounded perfect! After some friendly email exchange with the company, I was all set to join the South Coast Iceland Tour.
This post follows our day visiting several key landmarks. For the official itinerary, visit Hidden’s Iceland page: South Coast: Fire and Ice Tour.
*Big thanks to Hidden Iceland for sponsoring this experience. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.
Hidden Iceland Pick Up
The day started with a pick up at 8 AM in Reykjavik. I stayed at Hlemmur Square, a very convenient hostel right beside Bus stop 10. All tours and airport pickups and dropoffs stop here, so the place was buzzing even before dawn. I watched as many people boarded big tour buses and I was glad that I opted for a small group trip experience. After a short wait, a chic white minivan, branded with the Hidden Iceland logo, pulled up to the curb. I was welcomed in and greeted warmly by the other travelers who I will be spending the day together with. Our guide, a smiley Icelander named Berglind, introduced herself and our itinerary for the day.
With that, we started our journey. The drive out of the city was about 2 hours. As I was still jetlagged from my flight, I passed out into the seat for the majority ride.
Sólheimajökull glacier hike
A quick nap later, we had arrived at our first stop: the Sólheimajökull glacier. The breath of fresh air instantly woke me up as we exited the van. Berglind explained that we will be hiking here and exploring some of the unique ice features. The excitement was real as everyone geared up with helmets and straps. I was lent a pair of boots as my own sad shoewear was not fit for hiking. It was a relief that Hidden Iceland got my foot size exactly right! Berglind was very patient with everyone as she taught us how to put on the equipment and crampons correctly. She also went over the safety tips on the ice and calmed our nerves for some of us who had never done anything like this before.
It was an epic hike. The ice crunched beneath our feet as we ascended. Along the way, Berglind pointed out cool crevasses and ice ridges on the surface. She also told us about the geology behind Iceland’s glaciers. It was fascinating to learn that Sólheimajökull is a part of the larger Mýrdalsjökull icecap, which sits atop one of the country’s most explosive volcanoes: Katla. This was when I understood why the tour was called “Fire & Ice”. 😛
The views were simply stunning. I mean, the photos speak for themselves…
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Our second stop on the South Coast Iceland tour was Reynisfjara, a world-famous black sand beach. I was very excited for this attraction as National Geographic once voted Reynisfjara as one of the Top 10 non-tropical beaches to visit on the planet. Being an ocean girl at heart, I have been to a fair number of beaches around the world. But a black sand one? This was a first. The dreamy landscape was a sight to behold. Several huge rock columns stand tall in the water near the coast. Apparently, folklore has it that these columns were once trolls who tried pulling some ships back to shore, but failed to finish before dawn and got turned to stone by the sunlight. (You learn quickly that Icelanders have a lot of stories about trolls. It’s very delightful.)
Another fun fact is that some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here. I was told that this is where “the Men of the Night’s Watch are stationed”. Since I’ve never watched the show, I don’t really know what that means. But I assume for all GOT fans, that is quite exciting. 😛
The waves were extremely powerful at Reynisfjara during our visit. Combined with the foggy weather we had, it made quite a dramatic scene.
Be careful of the waves that are known to “sneak up” on people. Never turn your back to the water and stay alert while taking photos.
Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
After lunch at the Black Sand Beach restaurant, we made our way back towards Reykjavik. However, we still had a couple of beautiful sights along the way. A stop was made at Skógafoss. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely seen this spectacular waterfall on Instagram. At 60 meters tall, it is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. On sunny days, it is common to see rainbows form from the mist. Unfortunately, the sky was quite cloudy when we visited. But the fall itself was impressive enough.
You will get drenched if you get close so make sure to have a waterproof jacket.
We also saw Seljalandsfoss, another popular waterfall. In the summertime, it is possible to go into the cavern behind the cascade. But for us, due to the short daylight hours in winter, we could not see that side of the falls. I guess there’s a reason to come back again in the summer!
The last stop on our trip was the interactive LAVA center. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the tour. The LAVA center is a high-tech educational exhibition that showcases the geographic formations of Iceland over millions of years. We saw the volcanic forces at work underneath the island, the eruptions that have occurred in the past, the glacial floods that have shaped Iceland to be the way it is, and so much more. It was cool to know more about the backstory of the places we visited earlier that day. The whole exhibit was very fun to play with and I walked away feeling like I learned a lot of new things.
Hidden Iceland South Coast Tour Summary
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the South Coast Iceland tour with Hidden Iceland. Our guide Berglind took care of us every step along the way. She was highly knowledgeable about everything Iceland and hiking. I loved her entertaining Icelandic folklores (mostly about trolls and Vikings), and stories about growing up on the east side of the island. The small group size of the tour made the experience feel more unique and personalized comparing to the other big bus tour companies. There were only 10 of us so everyone got to know each other fairly quickly. As a solo traveler, I always appreciate opportunities like this to meet new friends. The day’s itinerary was well planned out and we got to do a lot despite the short daylight hours. The only thing was that I wish we had more time to see Seljalandsfoss but I understood it was difficult due to the winter weather conditions we had.
I would recommend Hidden Iceland for anyone planning to explore the South Coast. These guys are really passionate about what they do. And judging from their 100% 5-star reviews on Tripadvisor, I am not the only one who feels this way.
For the full South Coast Iceland tour itinerary, visit Hidden Iceland’s webpage here.
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