5 locations to vist in 36 hours or less
What a wild ride I had trying to get to Iceland in early February of 2018! I had planned on leaving Saturday the 3rd with a return flight on Friday the 9th. It turned out I was about to learn a valuable lesson in international travel. Apparently, you need a minimum of three months left on your passport to enter Iceland. I was short by just a few days.
With prior knowledge of this law, my two friends and I showed up extremely early to the airport. We checked in at the counter, made our way through the hectic LAX airport security and relaxed at our departure gate for WOW airlines, grinning from ear to ear while talking about the cool places and things we were about to see.
This was my third trip to Iceland, but the first for one friend in our group. I knew exactly what to expect and where to take him, or so I thought. That moment finally came when all passengers were called to the gate. Both of my friends presented their tickets and their passports and were given the ok to board. When it was my turn,the employees stopped to look at my passport, talked amongst each other for a bit, then decided to take my passport to a WOW airlines manager. She told me rather bluntly that I would not be getting on the flight. Complete bummer. I was two days shy of the three months needed to enter Iceland.
Trust me, I was so upset and didn't know what to do next. The mood quickly changed for the group as I, the leader of the trip, could not get on the plane. Things were happening so fast because they needed to board other passengers and I was holding up the line. I told my friends to just get going I would figure out how to meet up with them.
As soon as I got home, I did my research and found out that a same day passport was a slight possibility. In order to get this, I scheduled a appointment with the Federal building in Los Angeles at 8am on Monday the 5th. Coming from South Orange County makes for a long trek in traffic so I was sure to wake up at 4:30am to beat the freeway hussle.
I made it there in time and stood in line. I got called in, did the work needed and the same day passport happened! I was so excited to have actually turned a misfortune into a minor miracle. I paid the $170 for the same day service and waited until 3pm to get my new passport. Upon receiving it, I quickly booked a one way ticket out the next morning leaving LAX on Tuesday and putting me in Iceland on Wednesday because of the due to the time difference.
I texted the guys, letting them know I was going to make it out. They were excited that at least I was going to be there for the last thirty six hours of the trip. this At the time, Iceland was getting hit by a severe Nordic Winter storm which locked my friends in for days at the closest hotel they could find. It wasn't until I landed on Wednesday that the weather clear up enough to continue the adventure.
I landed in Iceland that Wednesday at 4:30am but was not picked up by my travel buddies until 3pm that same afternoon due to road closers. I spent so much time on a plane and in an airport that I felt trapped a scene out of the movie "Lost in Translation."
Big hugs and smiles were shared all around when toy friends finally pulled up to the terminal. I was as motivated as ever to make these few hours count, encouraging my buddies to make this trip a successful one. I might be crazy for going through with this trip with so little time left, but I knew in my heart that with those few precious moments in Iceland, we could make would last in our hearts and mind for many years to come.
We did just that and made the best out of what we had. We visited places that we smiled and talked about at the terminal gate, and even got to witness a spectacular Northern light show that had me crying tears of joy and leaving my two friends breathless. This is why I do what I do even if the cards are stacked against me. If there is a will there is a way.
Here are the photos of the places we visited in a mere thirty six hours. If you're short on time like I was, I recommend these locations to visit and photograph while on the island of fire and ice in the Winter. Hope you enjoyed the read and photos. Please do share with a close friend that you plan on visiting Iceland with.
Jökulsárlón (literally meaning “glacial river lagoon”) is commonly referred to as Glacial Lagoon by Westerners. At 814 feet, it is the deepest lake in Iceland and a major tourist attraction with boat tours of the lake being extremely popular. The lagoon was created in the 1930s when rising temperatures began melting the massive glacier there, breaking it up into smaller glaciers and leaving melted water behind. Since the 1970s it has
quadrupled in size as the glaciers continue to melt more and more rapidly.
The main glacier Breiðamerkurjökull is over 1000 years old and is constantly shedding large chunks of ice as the weather warms. As massive as the iceberg appears, only about a tenth of the iceberg is visible, the rest hidden beneath the water’s surface.
The lake is home to many varieties of fish, providing a food source for seals and several bird species like puffins, gannets, and the overly aggressive skua. Tides carry schools of fish in from the ocean. During the summer months when warmer weather has broken up the ice, large ice burgs float out to sea from the lagoon. No fish existed naturally in the lagoon and all have found their way into Jökulsárlón from the North Atlantic Ocean. The lagoon is a mix of fresh and salt water as melted glacial ice mixes with the sea.
Diamond Beach is one of the few places in the world where visitors can witness large chunks of ice on beaches of black sand. Jökulsárlón’s premier beach gets its name from the plentiful ice chunks that wash up on its shores. When the sunlight strikes them, they sparkle like diamonds and are a dazzling sight.
The ice can vary in color from white to blue to black. Color is determined by how much air is trapped in the glacier and the interplay between ice and light. Due to shifting tides and higher summer temperatures, the ice strewn along the beach will never look the same twice. A new array of beached icebergs will be visible every visit, making each trip to the beach unique.
Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach have provided the backdrop for Hollywood films such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the James Bond films A View to Kill and Die Another Day. It was the release of A View to Kill that sparked the industry of boat tours on the lake. Decades later, the lake sees up to 70,000 visitors annually.
At nearly 50 feet wide and 200 feet tall, Skógafoss is the largest waterfall in Iceland. It produces so much mist that single or double rainbows are constantly visible in the sunshine. Be warned that standing anywhere near the waterfall will leave you drenched! It is only one of nearly twenty waterfalls on the Skógá river. During the major eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, so much ash found its way into the river that the waterfall appeared gray for weeks. Skógafoss has been featured in major Hollywood films like Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
This waterfall is very popular with tourists simply because it’s so close so the main road. The hike to the base of the waterfall can take as little as fifteen minutes.
In the Summer, fantastic photos can be taken from a cavern behind the waterfall during sunset and sunrise hours. During the Winter, reaching the cavern is very difficult and the position of the sun during that part of the year does not illuminate the landscape quite the same way.
Iceland has a stunning selection of mountains, and while I have not visited them all, my favorite mountain location to date is Vestrahorn at the South Eastern tip of the island. Located seven miles outside the town of Hofn, it is often called the “Batman” mountain by locals due to its shape.
To access the mountain roads, a ticket first must be purchased by the nearby Viking Café. For 800 krona (about 8 US dollars) per person, you get access not only to the mountain road, but to the set of the popular show Vikings which airs on the History Channel. Since this is one of the few places that requires paid admission, it is recommended that visitors check the weather prior to buying tickets. Fog and rain are common and can spoil an otherwise breathtaking view.
Another fantastic reason to visit the area is the dozens of wild Icelandic ponies that roam the area. These beautiful creatures come in a range of colors and while small in size compared to other horse breeds, have big personalities. Because tourism in the area is so pervasive, many of the horses are very comfortable with people and will be happy to come close in exchange for an apple or carrot. I have gotten many a shot where I swear these horses were posing for me. While the horses live wild all over the island, they are common here and extremely accessible, not to mention the backdrop of Vestrahorn
makes for unparallel photos!
Last but least for all you foodies out there, my favorite restaurant on the island is in the city of Höfn and I always try to grab a meal there after a day of shooting at Vestrahorn. It was built back in 1932 to originally serve as a warehouse. It was built from scrap wood left over from other houses and was later converted into the Pakkhús restaurant. They specialize in locally sourced seafood, especially shrimp and lobster, and their menu is reasonably priced (for Iceland.) If you’re in the area, don’t miss the chance to eat some truly excellent seafood!
If you enjoyed this article and are interested in purchasing the gear used to create these memories please use the links provided under photos. You can also visit my gear page here. It won't cost you a penny more and you will be helping me continue to bring you stories of exploration and inspiration. Thanks again guys! If you need any advice on Iceland, don't hesitate to drop me a comment or contact me here.