Raw Beauty of Iceland during off-peak Season – and what it was like for a 5 year old!
This is a guest post by Sanadina and Christian, who were featured in our Off the Radar Travel Interviews on their travels to Cape Verde, Africa. They have travelled all over the world, Sanadina to more than 40 countries and have continued to travel extensively with their daughter Samsara since she was six weeks old. She is now an experienced nearly five-year-old world traveller and a very lucky girl indeed 🙂 Few months ago they wrote about their unbelievably amazing journey to see the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis. Today they talk to us about their travels in Iceland during the off-peak season in early April and why it was such a great time to travel here!
What made you choose Iceland as your travel destination in April?
April is a great time to visit Iceland to be able to explore it more privately before the tourist season kicks in. Hardly any tours run at this off-peak time, which means prices are 25% lower than in summer. Iceland is not an inexpensive destination, so such a notable saving is welcome! And if you are lucky you can also see the Northern Lights until mid-April. There were two displays while we were there.
April is off-peak for a reason though – The weather! It is beautiful and dramatic. Hurricane like winds, rain, snow, hail and sun all in one day. That is unpleasant weather by most people’s standard. In my opinion, if you want to experience the raw beauty of Iceland, this is the best time to do it. The weather is an impressive theater for an already dramatic display of nature. The same scenery with different weather evokes a completely different mood.
While most F-Roads, unpaved tracks, are impassable some tracks were explorable, to some extent, with an offroad capable vehicle. But you have to be reasonable, assess your ability realistically and do not off-road, which could destroy the fragile ecosystem. Alternatively, you can always hike.
Where did you stay? Did you travel all over the place or focused on one place?
We flew Iceland Air from London to Reykjavík. It is less than a three-hour direct flight. There are flights from Heathrow and Gatwick. Iceland Air includes check-in luggage but not refreshments. However, children get a snack pack and drawing activities, which we appreciated.
We used Reykjavík as a base to explore. We rented a lovely self-catered accommodation near the Reykjavík Harbour. We also rented a medium sized SUV for the whole period.
To explore South Iceland and the Glaciers we stayed at Skyrhúsid Guest House in Hali for four days, which is a popular option as opposed to B&B when travelling out of Reykjavík. Guesthouses are basic but offer you the chance to be closer to nature.
What are some of the activities you did?
We spent the 11 days hiking, eating and exploring some of the unpaved tracks, which due to the weather often was more like offroading. One very important thing to note is most tracks are closed during the off-peak season and for good reason too!
We also visited the Blue Lagoon an outdoor geothermal spa. It is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. The spa is located in a lava field in Grindavík on the southwest. It is less than an hour drive from Reykjavík. The 38–40C warm water was a hit with our daughter. The water is rich in minerals like silica and sulphur. It was a very relaxing and surreal experience considering we had high winds and temperature below zero while we were bathing in the Blue Lagoon. They are open all year, everyday regardless of weather.
Reykjavík’s famous shopping street in Laugarvegur has some very fashionable wear made with Icelandic wool and fur (ouch 🙁 ). Laugarvegur also has some interesting art galleries and the usual tourist shops.
From Reykjavík, we drove to the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a popular route covering about 300 km looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. The three main stops we did are the national park Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes, and Geysir is dormant currently. I found hiking between the North American and Europe continental shelf particularly exciting at the Þingvellir. We clearly saw the drift in the cracks and faults traversing the area.
We also drove along Hvalfjörður (South West Iceland) stopping at many waterfalls, black sand beaches and admiring the volcanic rock formations. Iceland has a common sense approach to hiking, i.e. the waterfalls are numerous, and most are not cordoned off. We were able to climb some with our daughter. A great experience in exploring nature and a lesson to be aware off and respect your surroundings.
From Skyrhúsid Guest House in Hali, it was a 10-minute drive to Jökulsárlón Lagoon and 15 minutes drive to Vatnajökull national park (Glaciers).
Iceland has a high concentration of active volcanoes and volcanoes dominates its landscape. One of the things on my bucket list is to see a volcano eruption. Unfortunately and fortunately, we did not see one this time. However, watching volcanoes with clouds touching their peak was breathtaking already!
What was the cuisine like?
The Icelandic cuisine mainly consists of lamb, dairy, and fish. The most popular fish, Arctic Char, is delicious and related to Salmon and Trout. Lamb is tender and plentiful. We also had rotten shark (Hákarl) which was awful. The shark is not used fresh because the meat of the shark in this area is poisonous due to a high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide. Allowing the shark to rot fully removes the uric acid from the flesh, making it edible. It has a particular ammonia smell, similar to many cleaning products.
In the South, Höfn is the lobster capital of Iceland and, needless to say, the langoustine, a small lobster, was cooked to perfection.
The meat soup (Kjotsupa) made with lamb was my favourite food in Iceland. Other delicious local food we ate were reindeer burger, hot dog, fish and chips, Danish style sandwiches with sweet rye bread and pickled herring, seafood soup, smoked whale, pancake with cream and jam, lots of tasty bread, and many more local specialities. You should try Kaffivagninn in Reykjavík for a selection of excellent local food including a deadly range of desserts.
What were some of your favourite parts? What was difficult?
My most favourite part was the black sand beach in Jökulsárlón. It is outside the glacial lagoon, which in itself is amazing. The beach, however, took my breath away and is now my favourite beach in the world. The beach formed from volcanic rock and is littered with broken ice and crystal clear small icebergs. They originate from the glacial lagoon, which is fed by a glacier. The lagoon is filled with ice and has a positive resemblance of the Arctic including seals lying on ice shelves. Additionally, the Jökulsárlón area is also a good Northern Lights viewing location. Northern Lights in Iceland can be seen from September to mid-April.
The other amazing sights were the Glaciers at Vatnajökull National Park. In April, we were able to access only one of the many Glaciers. We attempted many times to get close to by car and tracks but could not reach the edge, either due to road conditions, snow storms or we had to cross a frozen river. However, we went as far as we could, and you can see from our pictures that there were no photography tricks, it is us and nature all around. No one else. Without a small child and some extended hiking or by using a commercial tour you can reach many of the glaciers. Be warned that it takes appropriate equipment and experience to explore them safely.
We are also a big fan of seeing animals in their natural habitat. April is the bird nesting season and Iceland lies at a major junction of migratory routes. We saw many birds including Puffins, harlequin ducks on several Icelandic rivers and Gyrfalcon, Iceland’s national bird. We saw lots of seals swimming at the Jökulsárlón Lagoon and beach.
Would you recommend Iceland to other travellers? Families? Backpackers?
Iceland is a family friendly country. It caters for all types of travellers, but I would think it would be most interesting for those who are into nature. The food is amazing too. The prices are comparable to London. Restaurants will always accommodate children and overall people are pretty relaxed.
Samsara probably had the best time. She collected rocks from all the beaches, built snow castles, painted on ice on in a snow storm on a beach, climbed a waterfall and stood in it with her boots. She also found out that when you draw with the right kind of stones on lava rocks, the colour becomes golden. Very exciting 🙂
Where are you guys off to next?
Our next trip will be a summer holiday to Sri Lanka in August during the Monsoon season to relax at a remote beach 🙂