5 tips for traveling to Iceland for your first time




Long time followers of my blog will know that Iceland is one of my favorite travel destinations. I had the opportunity to visit again, this time bringing my wife along for the first time. This was my fifth time to the land of fire and ice, and in all my time traveling, I have accumulated some helpful travel tips that I would like to share with you.

 

1. Unlimited Internet…Anywhere!

A big downfall when traveling abroad is not having access to your standard phone network. That means you have to wait for wifi access back at the hotel to share all your amazing travel experiences with family, friends and social media. The good news is Iceland offers a service where you can rent a small device that is a portable wifi hotspot, giving you access to Facebook, Instagram, and in my wife’s case, Pokemon Go, anywhere. Up to 10 devices can connect simultaneously and the rental comes with a USB charger. 

 You can reserve one of these little gizmos at the following website: 

 https://iceland.trawire.com/

 Be sure to prepay on the website. We chose the option for $10 a day.

 We picked ours up at the Dunkin’ Donuts inside Keflavik airport as soon as we got off the plane.  Once powered on, you connect your phone to the wifi signal like any other device and enter in the password provided on the packaging. Make sure you follow the directions on the packaging and register your Trawire device on their website before leaving the airport. I recommend having a USB adaptor for your vehicle’s cigarette lighter. That allowed us to charge the Trawire while driving so it never died on us. Be advised, the device you are getting is not new. Ours was pretty scratched and beat up but that did not affect its functionality at all. 

 To return it at the end of your trip, simply insert it into the prepaid envelope and mail it in one of the red drop boxes marked “Posturinn”. There is one located near the check-in area for Icelandic Air near the airport’s entrance. 

 

2. Combating Unpredictable Weather

 Iceland’s weather is known for being unpredictable and can change rapidly and drastically. This can make planning your excursions difficult, especially if you’re trying to glimpse the Northern lights in Iceland’s notoriously overcast skies. Give yourself a fighting chance by using the following websites and apps for the most up to date forecasts on weather patterns and the auroras. Also DO NOT forget to visit the tourist information sign before exiting the airport as it gives you basically all the information you need to a safe and happy adventure in the land of fire and ice.

 The website https://www.vedur.is/ also provides weather updates that are constantly updated throughout the day. This is especially helpful since the weather can go from sunny to stormy in a matter of minutes. 

 If you’re looking to chase the auroras, I recommend downloading the phone app appropriately names Aurora. I find it’s the most accurate app that forecasts the aurora’s location and intensity and can really help make your hunting expedition a successful one. Aurora is free on the Apple app store and Google Play.

 

3. Quicker Car Rentals

 Every time I go to Iceland, I try to save money by finding the cheapest car rental available. They are all inevitably off site, meaning a shuttle is required to get to the rental branch from the airport. The problem is that the wait for a shuttle can sometimes be an hour or more, and lines at the branch can mean waiting another hour just to sit with a representative and process the necessary paperwork. When you’re tired and jetlagged from a long flight, the last thing you want to do is wait around for a shuttle. I recommend renting from an in-house rental company for faster service.

 Hertz, Europcar, Avis and Budget all have rental counters in the arrivals section of the airport. Lines tend to not be as long and you can get your rental immediately without waiting for a shuttle.

5-TRAVEL-TIPS-TO-ICELAND-STAN-MONIZ-BLOG-PHOTO-9.jpg

 If you are looking to rent a camper van, renting off site is unfortunately your only option. I have used both Kuku Campers and Go Campers which provide modified campers that have a built in kitchen and sleeping area make them an alternative to staying in a hotel. While this is a great alternative for travelers that want to see many of Iceland’s attractions that are separated by large distances, know that the initial wait to get your rental may be a long one.

 

Check out these sites below for more details on renting campers in Iceland!

 http://www.gocampers.is/

 https://www.kukucampers.is/

 

4. Use Gas Cards, Avoid The Fees!

I have made the mistake in the past of using my credit card to pay directly at the pump. Depending on your credit or debit card, using it at the pump can result in hefty transaction fees. The pump also requires a pin, even for a credit card, and some American credit cards don’t have pins. A solution for this is to buy a prepaid gas card inside the gas station. We bought gas at N1 where their cards come in 3000, 5000 and 10,000 isk increments. This is especially handy  if you’re travelling with a group of friends who are all pitching in for gas. Everyone can buy their own gas card and use it accordingly. It really helps to keep track of how much everyone contributed to the tank.

 Once purchased, simply insert the card face up with the N1 logo facing left into the appropriate slot in the kiosk outside Input your pump number and pump your gas as normal. 

 

5. Planning Your Trip To Blue Lagoon

5-TRAVEL-TIPS-TO-ICELAND-STAN-MONIZ-BLOG-PHOTO-23.jpg

This trip marks my first trip to Iceland’s world famous Blue Lagoon. While booking ahead of time is not required, it is highly recommended since it will guarantee access to the Lagoon at a specific time. The starting rate is about $60 which will get you access to the Lagoon and includes a drink at the bar. Yes, there is a bar in the lagoon. You also get to try on their standard silica face mask for free. My wife and I booked the premium package which starts at about $80 and provides the additional perks of a robe and flip flops, an extra drink, and the option to try a different facial mask in the lagoon.

 They are very strict about not entering the lagoon until your appointed time, so although we arrived an hour early, we were not admitted until 15 minutes prior. A microchipped bracelet is issued that acts as a key to your locker in the changing room. It is also scanned at the bar and any drinks consumed over your assigned limit will be recorded on the bracelet and billed to you prior to leaving the resort.

 Our time slot was for 4pm, which turned out to be a good time because it allowed us to see a beautiful sunset in the lagoon and made for some fantastic photos. Waterproof plastic phone protectors are available for purchase that will allow you to still use your phone while in the water and will save it if it accidentally goes for a swim. I shot all photo and video on the Sony RX0, which is a very small, high end waterproof camera perfect for situations like these.

 The lagoon is definitely a change of pace from the epic landscapes I prefer to photograph, by my experience there was definitely an amazing one and absolutely worth the money. I recommend everyone make it a part of their Iceland visit, but it does require some planning ahead.

 

 Bonus tip! Be A Responsible Tourist

 In the arrivals section of the Keflavik airport is a small kiosk that invites you to take the responsible traveler’s pledge. It lists some do’s and don’ts of being a good traveler and I recommend everybody read it and take the pledge! Iceland is a beautiful place and should be treated with respect. Please don’t be “that guy” that gives visiting tourists a bad reputation!

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in purchasing the gear used to create these memories and helpful tips please use the links provided. 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!

Till next time. EXPLORE - CREATE - INSPIRE

Photographing Iceland in the Winter

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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7S   / TOKINA   FIRIN 20MM F2.0    / HOYA   INTENSIFIER   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7S / TOKINA FIRIN 20MM F2.0  / HOYA INTENSIFIER / SLIK AL-420M

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. 

 CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   HD3

 CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA HD3

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. 

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   HD3

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA HD3

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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   HD3

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA HD3

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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   HD3

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA HD3

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. 

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   HD3

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA HD3

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.

 

 


Glacier Lagoon


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.

CAPTURED IN TWO EXPOSURES THEN BLENDED IN ADOBE   PHOTOSHOP  . FOREGROUND - WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / TOKINA   FIRIN 20MM F2.0    / SLIK   AL-420M   | SKY - WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / TOKINA   FIRN 20MM F2.0    / COKIN   NUANCES ND256   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED IN TWO EXPOSURES THEN BLENDED IN ADOBE PHOTOSHOP. FOREGROUND - WITH THE SONY A7RIII / TOKINA FIRIN 20MM F2.0  / SLIK AL-420M | SKY - WITH THE SONY A7RIII / TOKINA FIRN 20MM F2.0  / COKIN NUANCES ND256 / SLIK AL-420M


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   HD3

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA HD3


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   INTENSIFIER   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA INTENSIFIER / SLIK AL-420M


Diamond beach


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / TOKINA   FIRIN 20MM F2.0    / HOYA   SOLAS 4 STOP ND   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / TOKINA FIRIN 20MM F2.0  / HOYA SOLAS 4 STOP ND / SLIK AL-420M


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / TOKINA   FIRIN 20MM F2.0    / HOYA   SOLAS 4 STOP ND   /SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / TOKINA FIRIN 20MM F2.0  / HOYA SOLAS 4 STOP ND /SLIK AL-420M


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / HOYA   INTENSIFIER   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / HOYA INTENSIFIER / SLIK AL-420M


Skógafoss


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8     / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8   / SLIK AL-420M


Selandjafoss


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / TOKINA   FIRIN 20MM F2.0    / COKIN   NUANCES GND16S   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / TOKINA FIRIN 20MM F2.0  / COKIN NUANCES GND16S / SLIK AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY  RX0

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY RX0


Hofn Mountain


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE DJI   MAVIC AIR   AND POLAR PRO   VIVID CINEMA FILTERS COLLECTION   IN THREE PHOTOS STITCHED TOGETHER IN ADOBE   LIGHTROOM CC  .

CAPTURED WITH THE DJI MAVIC AIR AND POLAR PRO VIVID CINEMA FILTERS COLLECTION IN THREE PHOTOS STITCHED TOGETHER IN ADOBE LIGHTROOM CC.


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.

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / TOKINA   FIRIN 20MM F2.0    / HOYA   INTENSIFIER    / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / TOKINA FIRIN 20MM F2.0  / HOYA INTENSIFIER  / SLIK AL-420M


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!

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / ZEISS   BATIS 18MM F2.8    / COKIN   NUANCES GND16S   &   NUANCES ND256   / SLIK   AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / ZEISS BATIS 18MM F2.8  / COKIN NUANCES GND16S & NUANCES ND256 / SLIK AL-420M

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY   A7RIII   / SONY   85MM F1.8    / HOYA   HD3

CAPTURED WITH THE SONY A7RIII / SONY 85MM F1.8  / HOYA HD3


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

Till next time. EXPLORE - CREATE - INSPIRE