A little adventure? Alone? With the family? In an other-worldly location? Yes. In a country that’s modern, Western, and completely safe? Yes, and that also offers you the chance to greet glaciers, volcanoes, geysers and waterfalls in a wild and solitary land of a thousand forms and colors.
When I chose the trips to include in this book, I decided that they should be for everybody and within anybody’s reach, with no preparation or special skills necessary. But even so, the possibilities are vast. I was hoping for a trip with a touch of adventure, but that the whole family could also enjoy. That’s when Iceland and its Ring Road came to mind. It’s a Western country that’s a perfect combination of natural wonders and that is not yet overcrowded; it’s a place where there is a maximum feeling of freedom. So why not drive around the Ring Road, the main and almost only highway that circles the island’s coastline?
Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world and its nature also occupies a singular place; it’s an enormous natural park that runs deep through to its heart. Solitary, immensely solitary, and beautiful, immensely beautiful, it is a place where you feel the earth alive beneath your feet as you straddle two tectonic plates that transform its surface into a hotbed of volcanic phenomena that shape the very island at will. An unpredictable climate exposes you to all four seasons in a matter of hours: the sun, wind, rain and snow will all visit you at the volcanic caldera of Askja. It’s a place abandoned by the world in the island’s desolate and completely uninhabited interior. It is like a planet out of a comic book. As the Icelandic saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes.” You can also experience the power and thunderous sound of millions of cubic feet of water plummeting before your eyes as you peer out from a little step that marks the boundary between your life and this force of nature. You find yourself asking why you are there, alone before the wonder of nature that is the Dettifoss waterfall.
There is no other place on Earth which, over such a small surface area, enables us to experience its glaciers, deserts, icebergs, fjords, volcanoes and waterfalls, which are manifested in its geysers, volcanic lakes, fumaroles and boiling springs. Combined, you’ll be thankful for the solitude that makes you feel special whenever you contemplate these natural wonders.
As you drive along the Ring Road, you’ll write your trip’s story, but it is good to know that this island will change your itinerary. In fact, it will shred it to pieces, offering up hidden gems that will turn every hour into two.
My solo trip begins in mid-August, a date normally reserved for groups of friends, families and couples. I rent a vehicle in Reykjavik and begin the route. Not booking any accommodation, going with the flow from day to day, letting myself be captivated by the magical light and the dazzling landscapes. I also know that I have a tent and a sleeping bag as a backup plan. When the asphalt road gives way to dirt; when I drive for dozens of kilometers, having lost all phone reception; when I cannot remember the last time that I crossed someone on my path, my spirit is filled with satisfaction by this dose of adventure that I am living. But for many, this comes with the peace of mind of knowing that you are in one of the world’s most advanced countries.
The days pass by, and I go to sleep as late as possible, and wake up as early as I can. In the least populated areas, gas stations also act as small supermarkets, providing me with all kinds of materials. The arrival of the short night invites me to look for accommodation. A good guidebook is essential.
The mild summer climate invites me to discover every corner of the island, where surprises can be hidden in every nook and cranny. Like the seal that, barely 10 meters from the seashore, invites me to swim with it. Or when a herd of horses, full of bravado, surround my vehicle in an image more suited to a cowboys-and-Indians film, only to then start “tasting” the steering wheel, and the indicators and maps within their reach. Iceland is different.
Given its geography, your trip to Iceland can easily take on a more adventurous character. The center of the island is the perfect setting for this possibility. It is completely uninhabited. Nobody lives there, absolutely nobody; it is an unspoiled landscape.
There are routes that pass through the desolate highlands of the Icelandic interior. Nowhere else can you find scenery as fascinating as on the roadway that runs between Grimsstadir and the majestic Askja caldera. You must have a 4×4, experience driving it, and the company of other vehicles that can rescue you in the event of a breakdown, a mishap when fording a river, or getting stuck in a bog or slag pit. And this is between June and August. In winter it becomes an odyssey.
Travelers looking for the biggest dose of adventure possible will have natural settings in abundance. These include the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, which climbs towards the Snæfellsjökull volcano, a beautiful volcanic cone that inspired the writer Jules Verne’s book Journey to the Center of the Earth. There is also the Bardarbunga volcano, which at the time of writing is active beneath the Vatnajökull glacier’s ice sheet. Or, why not be abandoned on one of the Látrabjarg peninsula’s islets, where you can enjoy the fjords and teeming bird cliffs, considered to be among the world’s top ten cliff sites?
When it comes to its policy for dealing with travelers, Iceland conveys its adventurous spirit. Hardly any restrictions like “Stay Away From the Precipice” exist. Instead, it is assumed that intelligence trumps carelessness.
So if you have decided to explore Iceland on your own by driving along the circular Route 1, also known as the Ring Road (where for the most part no more than 100 vehicles circulate each day), accompanied by your family, friends or by yourself – congratulations.
Keywords: adventure escapes. Ring Road. Travel guide