After the Golden Circle, we headed south on the Ring Road (Highway 1) towards the coastal town of Vik. Along the way, you pass by a large glacier called Myrdalsjokull that you can see between the cliffs. The water run off from this glacier creates several impressive waterfalls along Route 1, including two very well known ones called Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. We skipped the first one but stopped by Skogafoss, which is gorgeous. It’s bigger and more powerful that Seljalandsfoss and you can walk right up to the fall itself.
We continued south and finally drove over a large hill and down into the town of Vik, which is very small. It pretty much has one main road through the center of town, has a few small hotels and few restaurants. There’s a scenic church on the hill behind Vik but most impressive are the large green cliffs surrounding the town, which are filled with nesting terns and puffins. We stayed at the Icelandair Hotel, which was very modern, clean and had very comfortable beds and also had a great on-site restaurant.
Vik is also home to two popular black sand beaches. One of them has large basalt columns on it (we didn’t visit that one) and the other one which is right in town and has great views of some ocean spires. Legend has it that the spires are trolls that were turned to stone as they were running away. I loved the dramatic scenery around Vik and really wished we had more time to explore the cliffs and look for the adorable puffins. Also, in summertime, the area is covered with these lovely purple flowers called Alaskan Lupine, which were brought to Iceland several years ago and planted to help combat soil erosion and bad sand/dust storms.
Our first activity in Vik was a one hour ride on Icelandic Horses at Vik Horse Adventure. The stables were located right across the street from our hotel on the black sand beach. Icelandic horses are seen all over the country – in fact, I am pretty sure there are more horses than people in Iceland. The horses are their own special breed that are native to Iceland and were brought over by the Vikings. They are horses, not ponies, despite their small stature and Iceland has very strict laws protecting the genetic purity and health of these horses. No horses of any kind are allowed to be imported into Iceland and if a native Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, it is never allowed to come back. They grow a thick winter coat and have large dense manes and forelocks for warmth. They are also very calm and docile in nature so are a good option for non-experienced riders, like me. My sister is an expert rider as she owns and has shown and bred horses for most of her life, so this was an activity she was really looking forward to on the trip. We got helmets at the stables and then were assigned our horses. It was a small group of about 5 guests and 2 guides. The ride left from the stables and headed down a path to the black sand beach where we were offered the chance to try a trot or gallop on the gaited ponies, which my sister tried while I hung back for a slower walk.
Now, I have to say that this wasn’t my favorite activity. I actually like horses and these little guys were so sweet. Unfortunately, I am very allergic to horses and I took some allergy meds and tried to be a good sport because I knew how much my sister wanted to do this. By the end of the ride, I had very itchy, red welts developing on my neck and face and was starting to get sneezy and even a little wheezy. Also, it was very windy on the beach so I kept getting sand blown in my face and eyes. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have loved the horse ride like my sister did. At the very least, we got some great pictures out of it and she had a wonderful time.
A little note about driving in Iceland – it’s extremely easy!!! They drive on the right just like we do in America. There is very little traffic and there are good signs with information posted everywhere. You really can’t get lost here. Renting a car is pricey. I would say it’s close to $100USD per day depending on the vehicle you get and gas/petrol is also very pricey. However, we loved having our own car and driving ourselves around as it gave us so much more flexibility. Also, one word of caution about the speed limit. Apparently they have speed cameras in many areas of Iceland and I fully admit to speeding quite a bit. I have my fingers crossed that I don’t get a message about a ticket in a few week (oops if I do – it would definitely be my fault). On the backroads, the speed limit is usually 90 kms and I was probably doing around 100 to 110 kms most of the time as the roads are empty, the weather was good and most of the roads are pretty straight.
The best part about the driving in Iceland is the constantly changing and stunning scenery. Sometimes you are driving through huge fields of moss covered lava rock, other times you’re seeing snow covered mountains and glaciers or you’re looking at kelly green sheer cliffs with waterfalls pouring over the side. Driving around you will also frequently see steam coming out between rocks giving you a reminder of the volcanic activity going on right under your feet. I did most of the driving so my sister snapped a few photos from our VW Golf as we went along.
I highly recommend renting a car and driving yourself in Iceland. I’m a nervous nelly about driving in foreign countries (I would never drive in Italy for example) but this was seriously a piece of cake!