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A Day Trip on Iceland’s South Coast: Route 1 to Vík

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Iceland is expensive. And one of the most expensive things to do is a tour. You know, one of those deals where you get on a giant coach with 35 other people and are shuttled from one tourist attraction to the next, rushed in and out of gift shops and hustled up and down stairs to viewpoints… You know…tours. We don’t like tours. Not most of the time, anyway (there are always exceptions). But Iceland is no exception. If you want to see some of this country’s vast beauty, we recommend skipping the tour bus and renting a car instead. If there are more than one of you (as there are more than one of us), it’s cheaper, even with fuel added in, and you have the freedom to go and do as you please at your own pace. We recommend the Golden Circle one day and then taking Route 1 south to Vík another. Because there’s no such thing as too many waterfalls. So if you’re worried you might miss something as you venture out on your own, here are the top 5 highlights and attractions on Route 1, Iceland’s southern road.

1. Seljalandsfoss

Waterfalls are great, hey? I don’t care how many you’ve seen, they’re great. And Iceland’s are impressive. Seljalandsfoss is the first stop after leaving Reykjavík, and you get two waterfalls for the price of one here because Gljúfrabúi is just a short walk around the bend (but be sure not to miss it because it’s the most fun and there aren’t as many tourists hovering). Seljalandsfoss is big and powerful and you can take a stroll behind it (though you will get wet). But our fave was Gljúfrabúi, a tall, slender giant of which you could wade through a pool to reach the base or climb (and I do mean climb, scurry, scramble) to a lookout near it’s middle where you get a killer view. Those climbing shoes I bought for hiking really showed their mettle on this one. Parking is 700 krn ($7), but there is a free gravel lot right next to the road that is only a 5 minute stroll away.

2. Skógafoss

This is the second and last waterfall stop of the drive. Less impressive from below, choose to take the (seemingly endless) stairs to the top for a view of not only water plummeting downward, but the winding rapids leading up to the plummeting water. There’s a trail, too, if you want to walk alongside the river for a bit. Parking is free, but if you have to pee it’ll cost you 200 kr or so.

3. DC 3 Plane

Just down the road a couple minutes away from Skógafoss is a large unmarked lot where you can park the car and take a walk to the skeleton of an American DC 3 airplane that crashed in the 70’s. It’s a long walk. A really long walk. A long walk made longer by the fact that there is nothing to look at on the whole way there. It’s just a flat, black gravel track with no changing scenery that goes for 2.5 miles. It took us 45 minutes and all I can say is that unless you’re really into old plane wreckage, maybe just skip this one. It wasn’t that exciting. Also we couldn’t get a single decent photo of it because one tourist decided they should climb on top and then all the other tourists, like a flock of lemmings, decided they did, too. Face-palm!

4. Vík

The small village of Vík wasn’t our last stop, but it’s clustered within a couple miles of the last two and we wanted coffee and a snack, so we stopped there next. The town itself is unimpressive. We stopped at the visitor’s center and the employee told us there were three places to get coffee: the gas station, the supermarket, and the cafe next door. We tried the latter. But alas, no milk alternatives. Didn’t even bother checking with the gas station and super market. Other than that there’s pretty much just the little church at the top of the hill that, while picturesque, looks pretty much the same as every other little church in the country, so… There is also a hike that supposedly leads to some pretty nice views, but as I said, we were tired and hungry and maybe still a little sore from the previous day’s hike at Reykjudalur, (and this hike is about 1.5 hours) so we passed.

5. Reynisdrangar Beach and Reynisfjara

I believe Reynisdrangar is the beach and Reynisfjara are the basalt sea stacks viewable from the beach, but they’re both right there, so we’ll call them one and the same. In any case, it is unique because it is a black sand beach with huge, crazy, geometric basalt rock formations jutting out of the earth. They are insane. So go, take lots of pictures, walk into the big caverns, make a throne of them, just stay away from the water. Like, far away from the water. Several of the 12 tourists who got themselves killed in Iceland just so far this year died here because they underestimated the power and size of the waves and the current. And they weren’t even swimming! So resist the urge to dip your toes in or wade down the beach, K?

6. Puffins!

Puffins would have to be last because what else would matter after you saw puffins? I’m going to warn you, though: you’re going to need a serious telephoto lens and/or some top notch binoculars cause they aren’t going to just fly up and say hello and pose for a photo. And if they do for you, I don’t want to hear about it because there will be no limit to my jealousy. First you’ll probably want to go up the winding dirt road on the right to see Dyrhólaey, which is lovely. But when you realize there are no puffins there, you’re gonna wanna drive right back down to the paved road to the parking lot and head out to look out over the cliffs. We saw then furiously flapping their wings, zipping out over the ocean from about 8:00 pm, but finally saw two or three resting on the cliffs jutting up from the beach at about 8:30-9:00, and all without paying those hefty puffin-spotting tour prices. We were lucky to see any as nesting season was pretty much over when we were there at the very end of August. Summer is prime puffin-spotting season.

That enough to fill your day with wonder? Of course, there is plenty of wild and impressive landscape along the way, including the famous Eyjafjallajökull (Ay-ya-fiat-la-yoh-cool), so there won’t be a dull moment. It’s certainly a country for road trips! And if you go, share your fave stops below!