Many people have asked me for advice on visiting Iceland so I thought it to be an ideal subject for a blog.
I've had the great pleasure of visiting the beautiful country of Iceland three times in as many years and I'm not even close to tiring of this mad, cold, hot, bonkers, beautiful, ugly island!
Getting there: Flights are plentiful. Icelandair from London Heathrow costs between £180 and £280 return and the newly established Easyjet service from Bristol presents the possibility of even lower prices if you book early.
Do I need a four wheel drive vehicle? Aside from the mid summer months it is certainly a wise choice even though 4x4 hire can be expensive. I have consistently found the best deals can be obtained via the Icelandair website. You will get a car from a major company (like Avis or Budget) but the cost will be considerably less than if you booked with them direct. I don't know why! It just is!
There are also numerous local car hire firms like bluecarrental.is and sadcars.com who offer prices similar to those you get when booking via Icelandair (or maybe a little cheaper) but you won't be getting the benefit of a large multinational company to look after you. Hidden costs may occur!
Always read the Car Hire terms and conditions carefully as Iceland has some significant differences to other countries. For example, you are not covered if a door blows open and causes damage. I was caught out in this way and it cost me £200. For peace of mind, I now always get a policy that covers all car hire excess charges before I leave home. You can find one online for under £20. Check out the Travel Supermarket for details.
Hotels can be booked through a number of convenient websites. I prefer www.booking.com as many of the hotels on their website offer free no penalty cancellation of the room up to around 48 hours before you arrive. This means you can book an itinerary and later change it if you wish. However, demand tends to exceed supply so book early. I have used booking.com many times and have never been let down. Their rating system can be trusted (as can that of Trip Advisor).
If you want the full-on Iceland wilderness experience, you could book a camper van. The ones you see most often come from happycampers.is but doubtless there are others. Note, we are not talking Motorhomes here. Have a look at their website and see what I mean.
'Ah but Iceland is very expensive'. I hear this everywhere yet I can honestly say I have not found this to be particularly true, although my perception of 'expensive' may differ to yours. Undoubtedly some things are expensive, clothing, knitwear etc. But you don't have to spend the earth when visiting unless you are intending to hit the shops!
Before Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis an Euro would get you 90 Icelandic Kroner. Then, it WAS expensive! Today the exchange rate is around 160 isk to the Euro. At the height of the crisis it was 340 isk per Euro.
In October 2013 Petrol & diesel were both around £1.35 per litre. Fill up regularly. Some areas have limited supply. Most pumps are 24 hour self service with pre-payment by card. Note, out in the wilds you won't always see the typical garage forecourts. Sometimes it will just be a single pump in front of a farm or a restaurant. Try your credit card in one early on. If it doesn't work, you can buy pre-paid petrol cards in most services.
Food prices vary considerably. You can spend £30-£50 for a meal in a quality restaurant yet £10-£20 buys you a meal in an inexpensive yet decent one. Fish of the day is often a very good value choice (see the photo below). Roadside services offer good quality food for very reasonable prices (see the photo on the left). Don't think of them in the same way as our Motorway services.
Domestic beer is around £4-£5 per half litre. Imported beer is about 50% more. A bottle of wine in a supermarket is around £10 minimum.
Hotel rooms aren't as expensive as you might imagine. I worked out an average room cost for all the nights I have spent in Iceland. It is £57 per night including breakfast.
Will I have to walk miles? Emphatically no! Although you can if you wish. Iceland may be photographically challenging but a lot of its best scenery is very easily accessible, perhaps even more so than locations in Wales or Scotland. For example, locations like the glacial lagoon at Jokulsarlon, many great waterfalls (like Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Gulfoss and Godafoss), plus great locations like Dyrholeay, Kirkjufell and Reynisdrangur are all just a few yards from a car park. Take a look through my photographs; I am no hiker and the furthest I have walked at any one time is probably less than a mile.
Obviously there are vast wilderness areas too and you shouldn't venture there without the help of a professional tour guide. Fortunately, they are plentiful. I took a trip out onto a glacier on a snowmobile and thoroughly recommend the experience. I hope to take a super jeep tour into the middle of nowhere sometime in the future.
What about the weather? You just have to be lucky. Conditions change fast. Take layers. Be prepared for sunshine, rain and snow. Good solid waterproof walking shoes or boots are essential. As are the warmest hat and gloves you can find. I thoroughly recommend Grippi lining gloves from the Mountain Warehouse. They are made out of thinsulate, cost about £15 and I can use every control on my camera without taking them off. You'll also need some over gloves to go with them.
Make sure you take sunglasses too! Or keep an eye out for the pair I left on the beach at Vik.
Will my camera suffer? Iceland is said to be a bit of a camera killer but I have made three visits with a single camera and not had any problems. Take your normal precautions when it is raining. Change lenses as little as possible and turn the camera off when you do so as you won't attract as much dust on to the sensor. Watch out for dust storms! As my friends over at Llanelli camera club will tell you, they can be lethal to an SLR. However, overall, unless you do something daft, you should be OK.
Can I do the whole of route one in a week? Well yes, I suppose you could but you will be spending an awful lot of time in the car. I reckon even a fortnight would be pushing it. It is my ambition to do the loop over about three months.
Iceland is larger than it looks. If you find Hofn and Akureyri on a map they don't look to be too far from the capital. Yet both took me around 7-8 hours from Reykjavik. If you stop to take photos in all the amazing locations you pass along the way, you could easily take twice as long! So don't bite off more than you can chew unless you are used to driving long distances...
Should I go? Yes, yes and thrice yes. Go for it! Iceland is more beautiful and more rewarding than you can ever imagine.
I am about to visit Iceland in the depths of winter for the very first time, all my previous visits having been in October. Also for the first time, I will not be travelling alone. Another photographer will accompany me. It should be fun.
I shall keep you informed!