Planning a week touring Iceland in the winter without a car is a challenge, but joining a small tour group was the perfect way to see it all and make new friends.
After my husband unexpectedly died I was overwhelmed and confused. I As the one year anniversary of my husband’s death drew closer I felt the need for flight. I needed to runaway, far away, so I planned a solo trip to Thailand and it was great.
I began to obsess less on regrets and focus more on the good life I had with my husband and begin to plan adventures for myself in this new life.
For my sister’s 50th birthday we flew together to Iceland and spent the first 2 days on our own in Reykjavik. A small walkable city, we took in the sights, went whale watching from the city docks and ate authentic Icelandic fod. Especially fun was the stop for a swim at the Blue Lagoon on our way from the airport to the city.
We met our G Adventures guide and the 13 people we would be traveling with during the next four days at our hotel on day 2. Twelve women and 1 husband ranging in age from 22-75 listened to our young Icelandic guide named Saga explain where we would be going and what we would be doing while she drove us, cooked for us and regaled us with Icelandic facts and fables throughout the trip. The highlight was the namesake of our tour: Iceland Northern Lights & Golden Circle. We were excited and ready for an early start the next day.
We boarded the Mercedes tour bus after breakfast and headed straight to the Lava fields. The wind nearly tore the door from the van as we carefully stepped out into the cold. Saga gave us each a set of crampons to wear on our feet to help us not slide on the ice as we walked toward the cave.
The desolate, frozen landscape is often referred to as looking like the moon. I was a bit surprised when she pointed to a hole in the earth with a rope and announced “here is the cave”. I wondered if it was too late to go back and sit in the bus.
But I didn’t. I climbed inside and listened as she gave us some facts, you know about current active volcanos and earthquakes in Iceland. All I could think of was those boys stuck in the cave in Thailand who had to be rescued through tunnels of water last year. Exploring caves was never on my bucket list.
Well, I bravely walked or crouched along. We tasted icicles, saw stalactites and tried not to step on the icicles on the ground. Saga said they were elves, and you know, elves, trolls and Viking lore is taken quite seriously here so be careful.
After the Lava Cave Hike, Saga took us to Thingvellir National Park. Several Game of Thrones episodes took place at this park. This is the location where 2 geographic regions or tectonic plates divide. North American and European plates drift apart about 1 inch a year tearing Iceland apart.
Our guide dropped us off at the top of the path by a visitor center. We snapped photos then walked through a trail where the first parliament of Iceland General Assembly took place from 900 AD – 1798. The pond where they drowned witches, or as our guide said “independent women”, was also pointed out.
The large natural lake welcomes scuba divers who can apparently see quite clearly underwater, even in winter! I’ll do outdoor hot springs, but diving in freezing lakes during the winter is too much for me!
Back to our van and continuing around the Golden Circle we noticed several tourists who had rented cars. We noticed them because they drove off the road while trying to get a better look at the Iceland horses and were now caught in the snow. Seeing this only confirmed how smart we were to sign up for the G Adventures tour.
Our next stop was the Geysers with several places to eat at the rest stop. The big Geyser goes off every 5 minutes but you need to be ready as it doesn’t last long. The heated smaller geysers with the snow covered mountains behind and low sun give such an eerie yet inspiring feeling. So happy to be alive and get to see this!
Gullfoss waterfall was the next stop and this one took my breath away. The magnitude of the falls, the force of the water and the ice covered river along with the high winds was incredible. I’m surprised no one blew off the cliff. We needed crampons to climb to the higher level but the view everywhere was amazing.
Our tour guide kept us on a tight schedule and knew just where to stop so we could feed the beautiful Iceland furry horses some treats and get a fabulous visit and photo op! Tame, wild and friendly – we loved these beautiful animals.
We arrived at Altroos, a home on a farm with its own horses. Ten rooms with private baths accommodated us in either double or single occupancy. While we showered and rested, Saga prepared a traditional fish dish for all of us. We sat around the large table together and shared stories as we took turns running outside to check for Northern Lights in the night sky.
Breakfast was prepared by the home owner then we went off for our hike. Two miles up hill, over treeless snow covered mountains to a hot spring where we could disrobe to our bathing suits and take a dip. It was a cold and misty walking up. When we reached the top 12 of us sat in the shallow stream and enjoyed the hot spring. Changing from a wet swimsuit to dry clothes and boots with crampons was a bit of a challenge behind a small wooden privacy wall, but if our 75 year old grandma on the trip could do it, so could I!
Walking back down proved challenging as it started to rain quite steadily. My coat, snow pants, gloves and even boots were not nearly as waterproof as I had presumed. I was soaked through by the time we got to the bus. Lucky for me back at the house I had a hot shower and a lamb dinner (that Saga also made) waiting for me. The rush of accomplishment after such physical exertion can really work up an appetite.
After another night of hoping for the Aurora Borealis, we woke early to set off along the southern coast. My clothes and boots did not dry overnight so lucky for me I had some plastic bags from one of my favorite stores to slip my foot into before my soggy boots. Good idea to bring 2 pairs of boots, lots of socks and waterproof clothing on this trip.
Some of our group paid the extra to get heavy duty crampons and axes and slowly climb up the Glacier. With receding glaciers it was enticing but I thought seeing the glacier was enough and really wanted to visit the black sand beach.
My sister and I opted to go on with our guide to the drive a little further to Reynisfjara beach in Vik. Most amazing site I have seen yet, and everything on this trip has been awesome and inspiring.
We picked up the rest of our group who though found some parts challenging absolutely loved hiking the glacier. Lunch was pasta, soup and bread at the restaurant next to Skógafoss waterfall. I pictured the scene with Floki looking up at those Falls in the History Channel series “Vikings”. I love that show.
Saga took us to one more waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. We hiked past the Falls to the left where a waterfall is hidden away behind a crevice. You can squeeze along the river against the wall to go inside but you will get wet. Since I had already been wet and we still had a two hour drive on the van to Reykjavik, I took pictures from outside. So pretty.
We arrived back at the Kea Storm Hotel centrally located in the capital city. Saga invited us to all a farewell dinner at the Kex Hostel, a short walk away. Hostels have changed since I backpacked around Europe in the 1980’s. It’s a lively scene with a bar and yummy food and lots of people just chillin out in the main area. They have rooms with bunk beds as well as private rooms. Definitely worth the consideration for my solo women traveler friends.
We shared how even though we didn’t see the Northern Lights, this trip exceeded our expectations and we agreed that Saga was a wonderful guide. Sharing photos of our amazing time on What’s App we celebrated life and Saga’s birthday with a toast to new friends.
The tour was a great way to visit some of the best highlights of this country. Traveling solo as a woman can be challenging but that’s no reason to not give it a try. Tour groups like this G Adventures tour is a great way to experience a new place and do things you would never do on your own.
The roads in Iceland are not too crowded and relatively flat. You could do this your self by renting a car, but I was nervous to drive in the winter in a foreign country. The weather is unpredictable with snow or rain and high winds and icy roads common. Our guide made all the difference by providing us a safe environment and sharing her love and knowledge of her own country.
I’m so glad we came to Iceland and once I reflect and put some of my 600 photos into an album, I’ll start to look into my next travel adventure!
Read more about visiting Reykjavik on our own here: 2 Days in Reykjavik