Sunday, July 1, 2018

ICELAND TRAVEL GUIDE: THE PERFECT WINTER ITINERARY


If there's a country that's currently trending on everyone's bucket list right now, it's Iceland. One of the most interesting countries I've even been to, Iceland is by far, the best country I have ever set foot on. This country is more than just the Northern Lights, and if your purpose is only that, then you're going to miss out on so much.


I can tell you this, you can rent your own car and drive yourself all across the Ring Road of Iceland. But I can also tell you this - that is not possible during the winter time. Winter time is Iceland means 4 hours of daylight and long hours of darkness. That was our initial plan for our trip, but given the unexpected weather changes and slippery snowy roads, we decided to book day tours ourselves (it was the safest and cheapest way to go around).

HOW TO GET THE CHEAPEST FLIGHT TO ICELAND FROM THE PHILIPPINES: 

We arrived in Iceland on the first day of the year and we flew from Amsterdam via Wow Air. Amsterdam was one of the cheapest countries where you could fly to from the Philippines and still get a relatively cheaper flight to Iceland (another country where you could do your layover is Paris). We spent less than $1000 each for all the roundtrip airfares from Manila to Amsterdam (via Turkish Airlines) and Amsterdam to Iceland (via WowAir). That's already a really good price for 2 roundtrip tickets. We had to book our flights 2 months before our trip so imagine if we booked it earlier than that, we could have snagged everything for a cheaper price. 


 WHAT TO EXPECT DURING THE WINTER TIME

It should be noted that November to February is the low season in Iceland so with all the places you are visiting, the number of tourists during this time is not a lot (that means solo shots with no one around), the only setback is that you only have a few hours of daylight so you have to plan everything because from one spot to another, it can take minutes or even hours to get to. One of the things I appreciated about Iceland during the winter season is everything you see is all white, the waterfalls are frozen and even the smallest of ponds are frozen to ice!

You might think that Iceland is the coldest country in the world (because I mean, it's "Iceland"), but it's actually not. The temperature can range from -7 degrees to 2 degrees, but according to our tour guide, through the years, the reason for the rise in temperature is due to global warming. We didn't even see falling snow until our 4th day in the country! I guess if we visited the place years ago, we could have experienced -30 degrees of cold.


DAY 1 (NORTHERN LIGHTS)

If you go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, then you'll have to be alert and monitor the aurora borealis forecast. The Northern Lights are unpredictable and even though the temperature and weather is good, it is not always guaranteed. So the first night we were there (we arrived late in the afternoon), we booked ourselves a northern lights tour right away! Luckily for us, the lights danced for 30 minutes right before our eyes. It wasn't as brightly lit like how you see it in the photos (due to light pollution - it was a full moon), and it wasn't even as visible to the naked eye as how it looks like in your camera. You kind of just see a stretch of pale-colored hues across the sky that would come out and disappear. After that 30 minutes, our tour guide decided to bring us around the place to find more sightings of the Northern Lights, but the forecast has drastically changed from a 4 to a 1. Since the lights are really unpredictable, take every night as an opportunity to see it. 















DAY 2 (PERLAN MUSEUM, REYKJAVIK)

On our second day, we explored around the town of Reykjavik. There's so much to see in this lovely city during the winter time so you should not just associate Iceland with the Golden Circle or the ice lagoons. We woke up to a cold but bearable weather so it was easy to walk around the town and explore the place. If you're trying to save money like us, include a small waterjug in your luggage since tap water is potable. If you want to make the most of your day in Iceland, you have to wake up early in the morning, before the sunrise, so you could visit all the places you want to visit during daylight. 

If you want to get a good view of the entire town of Reykjavik, get up to the Perlan Museum viewpoint. There's a shuttle that goes back and forth from different points in the city center or if you want to walk from the city center to Perlan, you know, it's just a 30 minute walk under the unbearable chilly winds and cold weather (I swear, don't follow what we did). If you want to experience an ice cave but won't be able to visit a real one during your stay, then you're in for a treat because Perlan Museum is the first indoor man-made ice cave! Last admission to Perlan Museum is 4pm in the afternoon during winter time. 





Learn everything you need to know about glaciers, ice caves, snow and the constantly changing climate with the interactive displays in the museum. You'll also get a good 360 degree view of the city of Reykjavik from the observation deck! Don't forget to leave a note by the end of your stay using the provided colorful disc-shaped boards.





DAY 3 (GOLDEN CIRCLE)

One of the most popular tourist places in Iceland is the Golden Circle. A usual Golden Circle tour is a whole day itinerary that consists of Friedheimar Tomato Greenhouse - Geysir - Gullfoss Waterfalls and Pingvellir National Park (where Game of Thrones was shot!). We were Iceland first-timers so of course, we didn't want to miss the Golden Circle! We started the tour with an early call time of 7:30 AM. The drive to the first destination was around 2 hours and the skies started to light up for the sunrise when we arrived in our first stop.



FRIEDHEIMAR TOMATO GREENHOUSE




GEYSIR

Iceland is known to be volcanically active so it's no secret that there are so many geothermals and geysirs scattered all over the country. You should not miss out on the Strokkur, so get your cameras up and ready since it erupts every 10 minutes. If you get hungry, there's a small foodcourt right outside the geysir viewpoint and you can grab a lunch of chicken wings and chowder soup.



GULLFOSS WATERFALLS

The most popular waterfalls (and the biggest waterfalls) in Iceland is the Gullfoss Waterfalls. This was the coldest place I've been to throughout the whole trip especially when you try to go down to the lowest deck of the viewing point. Winter time means the falls is partially frozen so expect to see it in its all-white glory. Make sure to be cautious when walking around the area since it's very slippery. There are railings that prohibit you from going near the edge so it's best to keep yourself away from harm. 



PINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK

If you are a big Game of Thrones fan, this is the place to be. The Path to the Eyrie scene was filmed here. It was around 3 in the afternoon when we arrived in Pingvellir so we were greeted with pink skies as it was nearing sunset. You can walk the same path where the characters walked and the bus usually meets you on the other side. It's a 1.5 km walk, but it's very much worth it. Again, it's winter time, so it can be really slippery. 








DAY 4 (Hallgrimskirkja, Tjornin Pond, Vikings)

Not every tourist in Iceland will put Tjornin Pond or even try a Hakarl during their stay in Iceland. These experiences are a must when you're in Reykjavik. If you're on the bus to your hotel or wherever, you might notice children feeding the swans when you pass by a big pond. It's a usual sight when you're in a foreign country so it might just come off as something common and you wouldn't even consider paying it a visit. But I knew there was something special to this pond, so when we got there, the entire body of water was frozen! What's nice about this frozen pond, is that you get to have a good view of a row of colorful houses!



Luckily for us, we had a family friend who were Icelanders, so we were introduced to authentic Icelandic food! The Hakarl was the worst thing I've ever tasted in my life, but it's worth a try! You're in Iceland anyway. 






We finished off our day in a nearby geothermal pool. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take photos, but I did take some video footages and you can check out the entire video of that here



DAY 5 (SELJALANDSFOSS, SKOGAFOSS, REYNISFJARA BLACK BEACH, EYJAFJALLAJOKULL, ELDHRAUN LAVA FIELDS)

This day was all about the South Coast of Iceland! These places are a must-see when you're in Iceland! A different blog post will be dedicated to the entire south coast of Iceland.




DAY 6 (DIAMOND BEACH, JOKURSARLON LAGOON, VATNAJOKULL GLACIER)

This is the second day of the two-day southcoast of Iceland part of the trip and again, these places are what makes Iceland, Iceland. Everything that you will experience here, you will experience only in Iceland! The best part is, these places are best visited during the winter time, so the best time to see these places are during the winter time.





DAY 7 (BLUE LAGOON)


Blue Lagoon is probably the most overrated place in Iceland, but still, when you're in Iceland, you should visit the Blue Lagoon. It was raining really hard when we were there but with the temperature of the water, who would want to stand up and go around? We spent hours frolicking in the geothermal waters. I believe I should tell you that the package prices for swimming in the Blue Lagoon are quite expensive so don't forget to bring a towel and a bathrobe so you don't have to spend extra. Even if you enter the lagoon at a specific timeframe, you can spend your entire day there, so enjoy all the free stuff from the algae mask to the silica mud mask.




Overall, our Iceland itinerary for winter time covered the nearby places around Reykjavik and a lot of the south coast of Iceland. It's more difficult to navigate yourself around the country and do the entire ring road route for a week during the winter time so it's best to limit yourself to certain locations where you can enjoy and not worry about how to get home. There are so many road closures during the winter time and you have only 4 hours of daylight (you wouldn't want to drive long distances in pitch black with only your headlights on, right?), so I suggest you plan your winter itinerary prior to your trip.  The itinerary we had was so much fun and I believe it's one of the best itineraries for a 1-week stay during the winter time. I got to experience Iceland for how it should be - glaciers, ice caves, frozen waterfalls, ice lagoons and so much more! So what are you waiting for? Experience Iceland the way I did too!


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