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A trip to Iceland is a fascinating exploration of massive waterfalls, tiny churches, active geothermal areas, and pristine, volcanic scenery. Combine that with warm, welcoming people, incredibly clean and well-maintained B&Bs, safe communities with low crime, and better weather than most visitors expect and you get an ideal vacation spot.A few tips may help introduce you to some of the local traditions and idiosyncrasies of Iceland.
Iceland is easy to explore without the assistance of a tour group. The Ring Road (Rte. 1) encircles the island, but don’t hesitate to roam off the beaten path. Many roads are paved (and the number of paved miles increases almost every day) but even the dirt roads (with the exclusion of the “F” roads) are hard-packed and provide a firm, albeit dusty, driving surface, even for a compact car. Unless you are really planning to go into the central highlands you do not really need a 4WD car. If you are planning on taking those "F" roads, then you probably need something significantly stronger and bigger than a standard road 4WD. For road condtions ask locals or visit www.road.is especially in winter since not all roads are cleared ond some F-roads don´t open till july. Read the roadsigns, icelanders are not joking when they warn you about a road. In winter trust the signs, not the gps or you might wind upp stuck on a mountain road with no traffic till next summer.
Have in mind, rent a new car that is not as likely to break down. It is very costly, especially if you are not able to enjoy all the places you are going to see and visit in a short stay. New car is environmentally friendly and blows much less co2. Also new engines today are much fuel efficient than older engines. At todays fuel price level you will in few days save the difference of the cost of renting a new car or an old car. Also keep in mind the safety, especially conditions of tires.
Some of the gas stations are automats. That means that you pay at the pump by credit card. At least, you can do this if you have the “right” kind of credit card (Visa or Mastercard). The “right” kind may be one from the European Union (of which Iceland is not a member); it doesn't seem to be credit cards from the USA. The pump requires the credit card, a pin number, and then the pump number. (All of this is explained on the pump - often in Icelandic.) Fortunately the N1 gas station sells pre-paid gas cards. Buy the card, put it in the machine at the pump and voilà - it works! The same card can be used at various N1 gas stations with no trouble. Sometimes there will be a sign at the pump indicating that you can pay cash if you notify the cashier - but not always and not in Myvatn!
There usually are no hairdryers in the guesthouses and B&Bs, so if that’s something you can’t live without, remember to bring your own with a current converter. The electricity is 220v - 2 round plugs.
The water from the tap is safe to drink everywhere in the country. Sometimes the hot water smells like sulphur but that doesn’t affect the taste.
Although the weather in July is generally good, always bring rain gear - waterproof pants (if you’re doing any hiking) and a waterproof jacket or poncho. Even in July it gets cool or cold on the bluffs near the ocean, so gloves can come in handy. Good footwear s essential since you will often be walking on unpaved surfaces, most tourist accidents in iceland is people slipping and falling. In winter consider buying slip on spikes/crampons.
Clean public restrooms are available at most of the larger points of interest, national parks, some information stations (if they’re in buildings!) and gas stations that aren’t just automats without an associated building. The gas stations also usually have a selection of “inexpensive” (by Icelandic standards) fast food. You can’t go wrong with one of the ubiquitous and delicious pylsa - hotdogs - for which Iceland is famous!
ATMs are common throughout the country.
English is spoken everywhere and generally spoken very well, often without an accent.
Many of the guesthouses have shared kitchens with pots, pans, plates, etc. so you can save yourself some money by cooking food that you buy from a grocery store. The Bonus supermarkets have some of the lowest prices.
If you are interested in activities such as glacier walks, whale watching etc, remember that these are going to take at least half a day. Book in advance, and, if possible, leave some flexibility in your planning so that you can postpone to the following day if the weather is bad - even in summer.
If you’re heading to Vestmannaeyjar (AKA Heimaey Island) in the Westman Islands, the ferry ride takes about 35 minutes. The “Pompeii of the North” in the town of Heimaey reveals parts of some of the buildings that were covered by lava in the 1973 volcanic eruption. Don’t expect to see much; they’ll be excavating for years to come and there’s not much visible at this time.
Some atlases show the road to Gardur is unpaved and the same with the road south of Sangerdi, both in the southwest of the country. Not so. Both roads are now paved.
A few tips on attractions NOT to see:
o The Eden hothouses in Hveragerdi are no longer there. They burned down in July!
o At the intersection of Rtes. 427 and 42 is supposed to be the Krysuvik church, built in 1857. Nope. It burned down in 2010.
o If you have any ideas about seeing the fossils at Ytritunga north of Husavik, think again about driving there. The road is suicidal! It’s one lane, dirt, very steep, and winding so you can’t see if another vehicle is coming. One side of the road is made up of the side of a cliff, the other side drops at least 100 feet into the ocean and part of it, in the narrowest spot, had washed away in a recent storm. God help you if you should meet another vehicle coming from the other direction. If you want to look for fossils, pull onto the access road and pass through the sheep gate and then PARK! Walk the rest of the way down. It's some kind of nightmare in a car.
Well, those are some salient points for Iceland. Have a WONDERFUL time!