By S.S. YOGA
WHAT comes to mind when you think of Iceland? How about magnificent and thunderous waterfalls seemingly everywhere, about 40 majestic, still-active volcanoes (remember the famous near-unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull which erupted in 2010?), volcanic ash fields, geysers and geothermal pools, stunning glaciers, baby icebergs, arresting-looking rift valleys, breathtaking cliffs and coastlines, and mirror-lakes?
Catching your breath yet? Is that all there is to Iceland? There is also the interesting and delicious cuisine, fascinating folklore creatures (elves and trolls being among them), comparatively difficult language (learn a few words and make the locals happy) and the friendliest, welcoming people I’ve ever met.
You can find out more about the country on the Internet, but here are some firsthand tips for your own trip there.
Before the trip
Firstly, when is the best time to visit? Each season has its pros and cons. The summer period from May to the end of August is when the weather is generally at its best. Iceland’s weather is very unpredictable and can change very fast within the day itself.
Summer is also the high season, which means everything is more expensive – especially accommodation – and it will be more crowded everywhere.
Traveling during September is an option as you get to experience Iceland’s very short autumn, with still-manageable temperatures, although it can rain a lot and be very windy.
There are also magical rainbows and the otherworldly Northern Lights. I was there last month, hoping to be able to witness the phenomenon myself, but the unforgiving weather and the full moon did not help. Luck rules, even during the peak winter period from November to March.
If Iceland’s famous Atlantic puffins (known in Icelandic as lundi) are on your must-see list, do take note that they would have already migrated to Africa for the winter.
There are some winter season sights you will not want to miss, like spectacular ice caves and even more stunning glaciers. But be prepared for the much colder and harsher weather, and note that a lot of places will not be accessible because the roads will be closed. Self-drive tours will be difficult.
Pack clothes suitable for the season (and for the rain). For winter, it is best to have thermal underwear and snow shoes. As a solo traveller, I opted for Trafalgar Tours.
They have a short six-day tour (which does not cover the whole island) in winter, and the round-the-island 10-day tour in August/September (which I opted for).
The currency of Iceland is the Icelandic Kroner (ISK) which is about ISK100 to RM3.40.
You can’t get the currency from banks or moneychangers here, but luckily most Icelandic establishments accept credit cards for any amount, however small.
I would only change a very small amount in Reykjavik at the Keflavik Airport for emergency purposes.
Do note that Iceland is quite expensive. A souvenir fridge magnet is priced between RM20 to RM30. A basic meat sandwich is RM22.
If you’re opting cheaper lodgings in the city centre, they’re not the same quality as in Malaysia. The international and Icelandic hotel chains are more or less equivalent. Get lodgings that include breakfast to save on cost.
If you’re flying in during daylight, try and get a window seat on the right side of the plane. The views are worth it.
In summer and autumn, the days are much longer. Check the sunrise and sunset times to plan your schedule, especially if you’re planning on taking pictures.
Also, access the website of the Icelandic Met Office to check on daily weather forecast and possible Aurora Borealis sightings.
For grocery shopping, try the local supermarkets Bonus and Netto (there are others, but these generally have the best prices). Note that you can drink straight from the taps here (the water is amazing and fresh) and just fill your own drinking bottles.
For those of you who are into liquor and beer, I have bad news. Alcohol is extremely expensive in Iceland. It is best to utilise your quota from the Duty Free zone at the airport.
And almost everyone speaks English in Iceland, so if you need help just ask the friendly locals.
S.S. YOGA is a freelance editor/writer who travels as much as he can, but also can’t wait to get back to his teh tarik and local favourites.