A couple of weeks ago Craig and I gathered round some Couchsurfers, rented a car and headed east towards Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. If you don’t remember who Craig is, he’s my American pal who’s has graciously helped me with some video projects in the past and is responsible for the off-beat and wonderful film festival Couchfest Films.
I’m often asked whether it’s worth it to drive all the way to Jökulsárlón and back in a day from Reykjavík and my answer up until this trip has always been It depends on how much you want to see Jökulsárlón! I always recommend people take their time exploring Iceland and ideally you should spend at least two days on this journey. With that said though, if you only have a day to spare – why not make the most of it? That is exactly what we did.
We rented Kia Ceed for a very good price through my friends at the Reykjavík City Hostel. It was brand spanking new and so technical that it even told me when I should shift gears up and down. So for those of you afraid of driving a stick shift, this feature was really handy. You don’t have to be a guest at the hostel to rent a car through them, you can send them an e-mail to inquire about prices through firstname.lastname@example.org.
View Road trip from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón in a larger map
Enough chit chat and on to the actual trip.
According to Já.is the drive from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón is 379 km and it takes about 4 hours 20 minutes to get there. Since I had arranged for us to take a boat trip on the lagoon once we were there, we decided to leave early in the morning and drive to the lagoon in one go and make all our stops on the way back. It was a gorgeous day and it turned out that this was a wise decision since we never felt pressed for time to see everything on our list.
We arrived at Jökulsárlón with enough time to eat some lunch and enjoy the sights before it was time to gear up and go out to the water. I’m going to tell you more about the boat ride in a separate post but it was really nice seeing the icebergs from a different angle and we even saw some seals lazily lying about on the icebergs.
Now I have to admit that I don’t drive often so far east, most of the time when I’m travelling I go more north of Reykjavík, and I forgot my map book and my road atlas at home so I wasn’t sure about the locations of any of the places we visited. The first stop on the way back to Reykjavík was supposed to be Svartifoss but since I wasn’t sure exactly where to get to it we first made a small and accidental stop by Svínafellsjökull glacier.
Next we headed to Skaftafell National park where Svartifoss is actually located. Because we had an injured German with us we cheated a little and drove half the way up to the waterfall. According to a sign we saw on the way it’s not permitted to use this road during the high season unless you are disabled so you’ll have to park by the service center and walk the whole way. From where we parked it was about 1 km hike to the waterfall and although it’s a bit uphill most people should be able to do it. Our injured German just walked a bit slower than the rest of us but he got there in the end. Svartifoss is beautiful and well worth the hike.
The drive between Skaftafell and Vík is not the most exciting drive in Iceland with sand and then more sand as far as the eye can see. We did make a stop in Eldhraun though where you can see amazing lava fields covered with moss. It was soft and cuddly so we sat there for a while before we continued with our journey.
We had dinner at Víkurskáli in Vík and then drove down to Reynisfjara which was my favorite part of the trip. We arrived there just after 8 and it was so warm and the sun was setting, making this beautiful black sand beach even more amazing than I’ve ever seen it. Luckily the puffins had already arrived so my foreign friends got up close and personal with those feathered little goofballs.
Next we attempted to find a plane wreck that is supposed to be somewhere in Sólheimasandur. We had some conflicting directions and a small car so we never actually found it, despite our best attempts. In our defense we met a Swede in a jeep who also couldn’t find it so it’s not just that we are useless.
When we finally gave up looking for the plane we took a short drive to Seljalandsfoss and took the mandatory walk behind it. Of course I managed to fall flat on my ass in the mud on the way back but not before I enjoyed the spectacular view of the sunset behind the waterfall. It really was something else – just gorgeous.
By then, since it was still just April, we had lost the light and decided to drive back to town. On the way we saw some Northern Lights but due to out safety obsessed driver (me) we pulled of the road to late too catch them on film. Oh well, at least we saw them!
We drove over 800 km that day and we were out on the road for about 18 hours. That’s a lot of driving. However, the trip was a blast and I couldn’t have asked for a better day. If you have two days to do this trip I would still recommend you spend the night somewhere along the way but if you only have a day, a highlights trip like we did is definitely worth while.
If you are travelling during the summer you don’t have to worry about the light but on the other hand you won’t see the amazing sunset like we did. If you are traveling outside of the high season I do recommend you leave town really early in the morning and drive all the way to the lagoon in one go like we did so you’ll have optimum amount of light on the way back. I also recommend you pack lunch so you don’t have to spend too much of your precious time waiting for a burger at some gas station.