An Adventure in Iceland as a Solo Female
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Ice Caves, Ice Climbing and more!
After almost two years of dreaming about the Land of Fire and Ice, I bought a ticket to Iceland and planned my entire 6-day solo adventure. I rented a 4x4 camper and hit the road on one of the best solo adventures of my life.
I began my trip with the ultimate adventure ice climbing, glacier hiking, and exploring the ice caves. I booked my trip through Ice Pic Journeys, which I highly recommend.
Ice Climbing, Glacier Hiking, and Ice Caves
My private guide, Mike, and I met at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and drove to the hiking trail. We began our journey before sunrise and hiked up the Vatnajökull Glacier - the largest Ice Cap in Europe - in search of ice caves. The glacier has not moved forward (net movement) since 1895, so each year the caves are farther back than the year before.
We hiked to a huge cave, and I was rendered speechless by the bright blue ice. We had a blast photographing and gazing at the large bubbles and tiny cracks caught in time. We hung out until the sun came up, and then we put on our large spikes and hiked up the glacier for ice climbing.
This was my first time ice climbing, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As Mike prepared everything and repelled down to check the area, I began to feel nervous. Once I was harnessed and began repelling over a 60-meter hole, things got very real for me. Mike taught me how to climb back up using the spikes and axes. As an experienced climber and guide, he really made me feel comfortable out there.
The entire day was an adventure of a lifetime, and this experience was a huge reason I went to Iceland in winter. The ice caves were spectacular. I did a lot of research ahead of time and chose Ice Pic Journeys based on their extensive experience. They worked with me on a private tour, which is really the only way to go.
What To Wear
I wore my new KÜHL Frost Pants and my trusty KÜHL Spyfire Jacket, and I was perfectly outfitted. The pants are lined, and when paired with my base layers, they kept me comfortable and warm on the glacier. My Spyfire Jacket is always my go-to for adventure; it’s lightweight and super warm. I was almost too hot sometimes, but I’d rather be too hot than cold.
The Northern Lights
The other reason I visited Iceland in winter was to see the Northern Lights. The very first night I was there I saw a beautiful green band above the snow-covered mountains near my campsite at Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. I was so excited to capture the lights and see this phenomenon in person. And it didn’t end there!
Around 5 AM the next morning, I woke up to get ready for my travel and couldn’t believe what I saw. The Aurora was dancing beautifully across the entire night sky, so graceful in green and purple! It was the most magical thing I’ve ever seen. I was so excited to capture it with stunning images and a time lapse. From that night on, I couldn’t sleep, as I kept waiting and watching the Aurora.
To view the Aurora, you need to have a clear sky and be in the right place at the right time. The Southern Region of Iceland is the best place to view the lights. I was able to see the Aurora perfectly near Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, the town of VIK, and even by Kirkjufell Mountain.
I did some research ahead of time and downloaded an app called “My Aurora Forecast & Alerts” to help determine the estimated schedule. This app was super useful as it showed me the time in my exact location to view the lights, as well as how strong the Aurora was. Honestly, you can’t miss the Aurora once it’s out; it’s magnificent and you’ll feel its presence.
Iceland has waterfalls around every corner, and they’re massive and stunning. I traveled each day to check them out and learned very quickly that you need to get to the falls before sunrise to beat the crowds. They get very busy and rightfully so.
My favorite was Skógafoss. I camped here overnight, and it was amazing. Waking up to the waterfall outside your window is priceless.
Brúarfoss Waterfall is totally worth the out-and-back hike. You walk along a beautiful, bright blue river the entire way and finally hit the bridge where the fall is just gorgeous with this spinning pool of water at the bottom of it.
I saw a few other waterfalls along the Golden Circle. This route is highly suggested during your trip to Iceland. I did find that the more popular falls are a drive from one another, so I’d pick which ones you want to see and plan them along your route. For example, Skógafoss is about a two-hour drive from Brúarfoss, so I had to plan it out. To plan your itinerary, check out the Top 20 Most Beautiful Waterfalls from Guide to Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon
On my final day of winter travel and sleeping in my rig, I treated myself to a visit to the Blue Lagoon. I arrived at the earliest appointment possible and enjoyed my last sunrise there. This was a perfect end to the trip and truly relaxing. I tried various mud masks and enjoyed the free beverages as I swam around in the bright blue water. This was THE perfect way to end my solo adventure to Iceland.
Iceland Adventure Planning Tips
Planning your adventure can be a bit overwhelming as a first-timer, but you've got this! One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that locations can be hours from each other, and your timing will really depend on the season you travel. Winter travel is risky with the weather, but there are fewer crowds and you can do all the glacier ice adventures. Create a route that works best for you, I mapped mine out with my furthest destination being my first location visited, then worked my way back.
Below are the main locations I mapped out based on my planned adventures, first to last, during my 6-day adventure. Everything else along the way was a bonus:
- Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
- Diamond Beach
- The town of VIK
- Skógafoss Waterfall
- Brúarfoss Waterfall
- Kirkjufell Mountain
- Blue Lagoon
There is so much to see in Iceland, and six days wasn’t enough for me. I accounted for the drive time between locations, but the weather can change your plans. There may be times you have to wing it for a day and adjust. For a winter adventure, I’d suggest a 10-day minimum.
I rented a 4x4 SUV from KUKUCAMPERS. It was fully equipped with a bed, cook stove, sink, cooking items, fridge, and most importantly a heater that ran at night. They also have sleeping bags and other items you can rent. I got the WIFI adapter and the inverter to charge my camera batteries while I drove. If you’re looking for the freedom to enjoy the island, this is the way to go. They were great to work with. There was no crazy deposit, and they even sent extreme weather warnings.
KUKUCAMPERS has several options for rentals, and I found the 4x4 SUV was perfect for me. However, even though it can sleep two, I would suggest a bigger option if you're traveling with a lot of gear. I highly suggest renting a 4x4 campervan that sleeps four if you have a travel companion. I travel with a lot of camera gear, so the extra space is nice, and you want a 4x4 to adventure off road. Get the extra insurance - it’s worth it.
If you rent a campervan or an equipped vehicle like I did, you can camp at open campgrounds. Your vehicle rental company will give you a list of sites that are open during the season, and you can research online.
Important: “wild camping” is not allowed. You cannot camp on the side of the road, only in designated site. If you don’t want to sleep in a campsite, there are several hostels all over the island with "room for rent" signs. Lodges are also available.
I found it challenging to find camping near my first destination, the Glacier Lagoon. I ended up camping at Skaftafell Campground for a few nights. It was bit of a drive but in a good location with a gas station and restaurant nearby. I also camped at Skógafoss Waterfall, and Kirkjufell Mountain. Please note: they take a picture of your vehicle at Kirkjufell Mountain (and other locations) so make sure and pay at the pay station before leaving.
Stop by the grocery store and stock up. It’s the best and most cost–effective choice. I kept it super simple and made my own food. I also brought snacks and tea from the US with me. There are some great, local places to eat. My favorite was soup on a cold winter day; it hit just right.
Helpful Hints & Lessons Learned
I had an epic trip but faced a few small challenges. The biggest challenge was timing since most of the locations I wanted to see were 2-5 hours in drive time from each other.
Here are my tops tips from my trip:
- The weather can change drastically. Keep an eye on your weather apps so you don’t get caught in a bad storm. The car rental agencies will warn you about this, so heed their advice. The wind is different on the Island, it’s harsh.
- Daylight is limited in the winter, leaving you less time to adventure during the day. Try to do your driving in the early or evening hours.
- The roads are single lanes with some random sheep along the way. Drive safe and slow. Iceland has traffic cameras at random spots, and they are strict about obeying the speed limit.
- Wear windproof and waterproof outerwear and wool base layers to stay nice and cozy!
- Book a private guide instead of a tour. Spend the extra money for a more memorable adventure. The group tours are jam packed. Try and do things on your own or with a private guide.
- Get coins at the exchange to use in the showers at the campgrounds. There are also some restrooms that require coins along your drive, so have them handy.
- Read blogs for tips. I found them so helpful when planning my trip.
- Make sure you know how to shoot the Aurora ahead of time to avoid fumbling around in the dark and cold night.
- Make sure you know when and where to pay for parking.
- Take a credit card or bank card with you that has a PIN number for the gas stations. If you don’t have one, you can go in and pay, but some stations don’t have attendants.
- Bring your camera gear, including your drone. Some areas do not allow drones, so pay attention to signs.
- Bring an extra light for inside your rig inside; I used mine every night.
Most importantly, enjoy yourself out there! Get that ticket and plan your trip.
Royce Fonseca is an avid outdoorswoman, professional photographer, world traveler, believer and doer. Follow her at www.roycefonseca.com and on Instagram @casunshine0508