When Iceland began to welcome vaccinated Americans in the late spring 2021, we quickly seized the opportunity to take our first international trip in 18 months. We had been to Iceland briefly in February a number of years ago and our daughter Katie had also visited briefly, but our daughter Nan and our son-in-law David had never been, so the five of us set off for five days to explore this incredible country in late June to take advantage of the never-ending daylight. We stayed in Reykjavik and took two day trips, one around the Golden Circle and the other along the South Coast. See also our Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle posts.
Our South Coast tour was advertised as a "small group" tour. As it turned out, we were the only people on the tour, so we had our guide and the van to ourselves which helped make an unforgettable day even more unforgettable.
This was roughly our route on the 10-hour journey where we experienced waterfalls, beaches, amazing rock formations and other breathtaking scenery. The distance from Reykjavik to Vik where we turned around is about 115 miles. Route 1, the road we took, is also called Iceland's Ring Road which encircles the country.
This majestic beauty was our first stop. Skógófoss is one of Iceland's largest waterfalls with a width of 25 ft. and a drop of almost 200 ft. The ground is flat and you can easily walk right up to it as long as you don't mind getting drenched!
You can get a sense of its power from this video.
The waterfall sits at the end of the Skógá River which is full of Atlantic char and salmon. The wind is ever-present!
It's located just south of the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano and its huge glacier, pictured below, which is the one that erupted in 2010 disrupting flights over the Atlantic for days with its gigantic cloud of volcanic ash.
This is Seljalandsfoss, just down the road from Skógófoss. Smaller, but so lovely.
Sólheimajökull (caution; trying to pronounce this may cause damage to your vocal cords) is a glacier on the south coast between the two volcanos Katla and Eyjafjallajökull. It's popular not only for its beauty but for ease of visiting it. We were able to walk along a well-maintained path to get close to it. Unfortunately this glacier is receding at an alarming rate.
This portion is covered in volcanic ash.
Notice the hikers in the center of the photo below. There were actually three groups of hikers on the glacier when we were there.
This bride chose a beautiful setting for her wedding photos!
Dyrhólaey is a 390 ft. promontory that offers stunning and expansive views of the ocean and surrounding area. It marks the southernmost point of Iceland. From the Ring Road, there is a short, steep switchback road that leads up to a parking area. From there you can walk out to the edge of the promontory to experience the breathtaking scenery.
The black arch below is formed by lava and is what gives Dyrhólaey its name (door hill island).
I've never experienced the force of the wind as we had on the promontory. We had to plant our feet when taking pictures so as not to be knocked down. You'll get a taste of it in the video below. Notice the birds soaring around the rocks.
The lighthouse which has occupied this spot for almost 100 years.
It was really cold up there!
Vik (pronounced "Veek") is a village of about 300 people on the south coast. Its main source of income are the tourists who come to experience the beautiful scenery surrounding it. Its almost 100 year-old church, Reyniskirkja, is charming and sits atop a hill overlooking the village.
The views from the church.
You might think that after visiting so many waterfalls, we'd get tired of them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each was unique and all of them were stunning. Seljalandsfoss drops almost 200 ft. and has its origins in the Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano. The rainbow added to its beauty and the icing on the cake was the ability to walk behind it.
And from behind...
In a day of "bests", this was the best of the best in my opinion. Reynisfjara is famous for its black beach and basalt rock formations. I had seen pictures of it while researching the trip and was so excited to see it in person; it was breathtaking.
The beach is formed from heavily eroded volcanic rock. The "sand" is actually small to tiny, ultra smooth rocks. The waves weren't terribly high when we were there, but they need to be respected and taken seriously.
These signs are prominent as you near the beach, but unfortunately, lives have been lost to these "sneaker" waves.
It's said that the force of the waves is because there is nothing but water between Reynisfjara and Antartica. That's a lot of distance to gain strength! The pebbles on the beach are as smooth as they look.
The basalt columns are formed from the superheated magma resulting from a volcanic eruption. The rapid cooling changes the chemical makeup of the rock and creates the unique columnar shapes.
The Hálsanefshellir sea cave at Reynisfjara was also fascinating.
Along the Ring Road
As if the sights we saw weren't breathtaking enough, our eyes were glued to both sides of the road the entire day. Click through the photos below to get a taste of the stunning scenery along the route.
Just outside Reykjavik (translated into English as "Steamy Bay"), we came upon these geothermal vents. The Icelandic name for this area is Reykjadalur. Although we only drove past, this area is full of hot springs, mud baths and beautiful hiking trails. Next visit...
Paul and I are fiercely independent travelers, but one of the advantages of taking a tour is the information you learn from a good guide. We stopped in front of this now-modern dairy farm. Our guide told us that in days past, the milk would be put out as shown to be taken away and pasteurized. The mail was delivered by the same person who took the milk, and he would also take you to church or to a doctor's appointment or to see a friend. That's real customer service!
The structure below was just next to the milk containers. Can you guess what it was? He told us it was a bus stop. It's somewhat hard to get the perspective from this photo, but it's not more than 2 ft. high, so it's obvious that it was a bus stop for trolls!
He told us a touching story about a mailman who, not too many years ago, delivered the mail atop his horse. Both the mailman and horse were well-known and loved. The mailman asked if the horse could be buried next to him at the local cemetery when the time came. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible, so they created a burial spot just for the horse.
Our 10-hour day flew by and we were left in awe of the scenic beauty of the country and with experiences we'll never forget. This is the comfortable Renault van and our wonderful guide, "Gummi".
The end of an incredible day.
➜ Top Tips
Be sure to visit the South Coast. If you don't join an organized tour, do your homework beforehand so you know what you're looking at.
Wear layers. Despite the beautifully sunny day we had in the summer, the wind made it very cold.
Take good (hiking) shoes. We didn't technically hike on this tour, but there was unsteady, rocky ground and the hiking shoes helped.
Wear or take waterproof clothing if you don't want to get wet from the waterfalls.
Wear a good hat that won't blow off in the wind.
Take a good camera with a telephoto lens if you have one!
Be prepared to be blown away!