Iceland Part II: Into the Ice
If you’ve been following along over the last few weeks, then you know Dan and I went to Iceland to chase the Northern Lights. While most people choose to self-drive around the country, we opted for guided tours after reading horror stories about driving in the unpredictably fierce weather. After our first day driving the Golden Circle, we went on a two-day trek to the south coast, which solidified this trip as one of my all-time favorites.
The two days in the south were filled with some of the most fascinating landscapes and experiences. We were lucky enough to find an incredible small family-run tour company, Goecco, to take us. We saw waterfalls, the black sand beach, and enjoyed a traditional Icelandic meal in their cabin in the middle of nowhere. The second day was the highlight when we visited the spectacular Diamond Beach and glacial lagoon at sunrise, hiked on a glacier, and went into a crystal ice cave.
If you’re looking for an epic experience, look no further than visiting Iceland’s south coast on Goecco’s two-day tour. Follow along as I take you through our two days (going to let the pictures do most of the talking in this one) and of course share our TBP tips to make the most of your trip. By the end of the post, I sure hope I have you convinced to book your ticket.
The Drive with goecco
As I said in my post about planning a winter trip to Iceland, I researched extensively to find smaller tour companies that offered more unique experiences. Well let me tell you friends, I found a great one! Goecco only runs small group tours by top guides and after reading rave reviews on TripAdvisor, I knew we had to go with them. In addition to this two day tour, I even booked another day trip with them to the Snæfellsnes peninsula (more on that day forthcoming), because I was so excited about the company.
No matter your guide (we had both Gunnar and Heimir, who were excellent), you'll be blown away by the sheer depth of knowledge they'll impart about the country. These guys are the real deal. Plus, you get to stay overnight in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and if you're lucky search for the Northern Lights...from a hot tub.
Day 1: Waterfalls and the black sand beach
Stop 1: Seljalandsfoss
The first waterfall of the day was the famous Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall, like Gulfoss on the Golden Circle, is so loud and powerful. Want to feel like a total badass? Then walk behind the waterfall. Just be prepared to get drenched. Be very careful because it’s quite slippery. If it’s icy, don’t even try to attempt going behind. You can technically walk all the way around, but it was too wet, so we didn’t chance it. There’s also a staircase that you can climb up to the left of the waterfall (when facing), but that also gets very slippery so beware.
Stop 2: Skogafoss
In case you haven’t seen enough waterfalls (no really, I couldn’t get enough), Skogafoss, aka the forest waterfall, is the second stop of the day. Take some time to hike up to the top. Just a word of caution: this climb up is not for people who fear heights. When you get about 80% of the way up, if the path is open, cut off to the left and take some pics from the area with a rock formation that looks like a man’s face. Then climb all the way to the top!
Depending on the time of year, you'll have lunch at a restaurant at Skogafoss. Make sure to sit toward the back to enjoy a view of the waterfall.
Bonus Stop: Icelandic Horses
An Iceland road trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing these gorgeous creatures. They are privately owned of course, so please don’t feed them, but the owners are happy to allow you interact with them. These horses are quite majestic, especially against the Icelandic landscape. One interesting, but sad fact is that no other horses are allowed on the island, so if an Icelandic horse were to leave, let’s say for a competition, it can never return.
Stop 3: Dyrhólaey Arch
I believe this was actually an additional stop by Heimir because we had some extra time. Don't you just love a guide who can make great changes on the fly? From here, you can see the basalt columns that you visit on the next stop. Plus, it was so cool to see the water crashing and spraying as it hit the arch formation. Don't get too close!
Stop 4: Reynisdrangar (Black Sand Beach)
From here, you can see the prior stop in the distance. Check out these views! Absolutely incredible. Just don't go too close to the water as the tide is very strong and the huge waves come up quickly. Unfortunately, there was a death the day after we visited.
These columns look just like those at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland!
Stop 5: Vík
We stopped at a gas station in Vík before heading to the cabin for the night. You can walk around the back of the station for a gorgeous view looking back at the columns.
Overnight at the Cabin
I am so sad that I don't have great pictures from the dinner, or should I say, Icelandic feast. The amazing chef Egill prepares a mean meal. We started with some traditional Icelandic snacks as appetizers. Let's just say I let Dan do the tasting...we had fermented shark and some type of lamb sausage washed down with Brennivin, aka Black Death. We then had delicious smoked salmon and tried dried fish (very interesting, but hard on the teeth). The main course was an Icelandic meat stew and we finished with skyr with fruit. Don't worry if you're vegetarian, they're highly accommodating. I had a great veggie lentil sausage and vegetable soup.
The cozy cabin is the perfect place to warm up and relax after a long day. There's a hot tub and you can go out and search for the Northern Lights. Unfortunately, it was raining and stormy, so we stayed inside.
Each room has two twin beds and a bathroom with a toilet and sink. There's a communal shower and you're provided with robes and slippers. I would recommend bringing flip flops if you don't want to shower barefoot.
Overall, the family-style meal gives you an opportunity to learn more about your fellow travelers and guides. We have fond memories of our night at the cabin and love that we were able to experience a night with the locals...really special. How many people get to do that?
Day 2: Ice Cave, Glacier, and a Lava Field
Stop 1: Skeiðará Bridge Monument
We got an early start to the day and first stopped for a peaceful moment listening to a babbling brook down the road from the cabin (not pictured). This statement may sound corny, but the moment was quite powerful in the cold darkness as I breathed in the fresh Iceland air and appreciated the natural surroundings.
A few hours later, just as the sun was rising, we knew we were finally going to have our first sunny day in Iceland. We stopped at the Skeiðará Bridge Monument, the last two girders are the only remaining parts of the original bridge that connected the Ring Road before the volcano erupted in 1996. The bridge was built to withstand substantial flooding, but was no match to the icebergs that came down the river when the volcano erupted. The monument symbolizes the immense power of Iceland nature.
Stop 2: Diamond Beach
One of the coolest places I've ever been by far! The Diamond Beach is on the ocean just south of the glacial lagoon. As the icebergs break off the glacier, they're carried out to sea. As they break apart, the waves ultimately bring them back to shore. We watched the sunrise paint the sky pink and purple over the blue icebergs. There's nothing like it.
Stop 3: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
We spent so much time on the Diamond Beach that we had to rush taking pictures at the Glacier Lagoon. Here is where the icebergs break off from the glacier. Unfortunately due to increasing temperatures, there is more and more ice breaking off from the glacier each year. Our guide noted, that even in the last 10 years or so, how much further you have to drive from the Ring Road to reach the beginning of the glacier to get to the caves (more below). There's more melting in the warmer months and less freezing in the colder months.
Stop 4: Into the Ice Cave
Finally what we've all been waiting for...the ice cave. From November-March, you can go into ice caves that form in the Vatnajökull glacier, meaning you can literally walk in and under the ice. Members of the Goecco team are certified glacier guides who take you in. From the parking lot at the Glacier Lagoon, you transfer to a Super Jeep vehicle that can handle the off-road terrain. Driving to the ice cave was half the fun (ok, not quite), but we did drive down almost 90 degree verticals and over some serious boulders.
At the base of the glacier, you'll put on a helmet and attach crampons (spikes) to your boots, so you can walk on the ice. Let me tell you, I felt so cool and it was such a thrill walking on the glacier with the spikes. I only wish we had more time hiking on the glacier.
How cool is this ice cave? Sometimes there can be a few groups in the cave at once, but we got lucky and had it to ourselves for most of the time. We were in the cave for about 45 minutes.
Here I am at the back of the cave. Unfortunately if it rains, the caves flood and you can't go in. The few days prior to our visit it had rained a lot and the caves were closed to visitors. You can see the water that pooled behind me.
In the cave, we saw an ice tunnel running into the glacier. Dan and I climbed up. It was awesome!!
Stop 5: Eldhraun
The moss-covered lava field at Eldhraun was our final stop of the tour. The lava field was created by one of the most violent volcanic eruptions. When visiting, make sure to stick to the guided paths as to not disturb the beautiful moss.
TBP Insider Tips
> For some of the waterfalls, like Slejlansfoss, leave your good camera in the car. Instead, buy a waterproof case for your phone and bring that instead. Plus, you can use the case at the Blue Lagoon as well! Dan laughed when I suggested we purchase these cases for the trip and later commented it was one of the best ideas I had!
> You’ll want warm and waterproof gear for both days of this tour. Gloves are crucial. It’s all about layering! Stay tuned for a more detailed packing guide. For now, check out my cold weather guide in the Northern Lights post.
> I highly recommend wearing sturdy hiking/snow boots. You’re going to want the ankle support climbing around the waterfalls as well as on the glacier. See the tips section of my planning post if you want to rent boots or other winter gear.
> Goecco also offers this tour as a 3-day version where you cover the Golden Circle as well. I had friends go on it and came back with rave reviews. They also offer a 1-day tour to the south coast if you’re pressed for time, but honestly, I don’t recommend it. The cave and glacier are far from Reykjavík and it’s going to feel rushed. If I only had 2 days in Iceland, I would skip the Golden Circle and go on their two-day tour to see the glacier lagoon and go into the cave.
> If you choose to self-drive, you can still go into the ice cave with Goecco. You can meet them in the Glacier Lagoon parking lot.
> You do not stop at the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck that was made famous by Justin Bieber. It’s a 4km walk to the wreck from the road. Our friend Lavi talks about her adventure to it HERE.
> You also don't stop at the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, which looks quite impressive.
> The days are long, so you'll want to be prepared with snacks. If you don't pick them up before the tour, you can fill up at one of the restroom stops the first day. There's a supermarket across the street from the gas station. They have healthier and more options that are less expensive.
> Plan your time responsibly at the Diamond Beach. Dan and I got carried away and didn't give ourselves enough time at the Glacier Lagoon. I'd say you want to leave yourself at least 5 minutes to walk up from the beach and another 15-20 minutes for pictures at the lagoon.
> Make sure to read my tips for planning a winter trip to Iceland!
Map of the South Coast
You won't want to rush your south coast tour with so many amazing stops to explore. Our Goecco tour stopped at the blue markers. There's always the chance that your tour could vary a bit. I've also added a few more stops designated in purple in case you decide to drive yourself.