I'm excited to introduce our next guest writer and a close friend of mine, Tess Miller. Tess has traveled to Iceland three times over the past three years and has compiled a list of valuable pros and cons about when, how, and where to travel throughout Iceland.
Read below about her experiences of renting a car vs. participating in a pre-planned tour group:
Most of my life, the only thing I knew about Iceland was the myth that Greenland was icy and Iceland was green and that they mixed up the names to prevent people from going to Iceland. Now, I have been there three times in three years; I can’t seem to stay away. I am by no means an expert, but I have learned a bit in my experiences in the country. Even though I have been there three times, each trip was unique and I don’t think I would ever get sick of this amazing country. There is so much to see, learn, and experience; I feel as though I have only scratched the surface.
Rent a car vs. Book a Tour
The first time I went to Iceland, my brother and I rented a car and drove the Ring Road. I loved having our own car because we could choose our own stops and move at our own pace. We could stay at Gulfoss for an hour and a half waiting for a man to kayak over the falls, or sneak past Skogafoss to find another hidden waterfall without getting left behind.
We rented through Iceland 4x4, who were wonderful. They picked us up from the airport, drove us to the rental car facility, were helpful and made the process easy, and dropped us back off at the airport at the end of our trip. It is pretty easy to drive in Iceland, especially as an American because they also drive on the right side of the road.
The Ring Road is a single lane highway around the country and much of the time, you might be the only car in sight. Of course, its busier in the cities, especially Reykjavik, but not too bad. Before we went, I had read that gas stations are scarce, but we did not experience this. Just be smart about filling up when you can and don’t let it get too low. Something that could be good or bad depending on your personality, is that if you drive yourself you need to do more research.
The tours take you to the points of interest, but if you are doing the self-guided tour, you need to find them for yourself. They are well marked around the Ring Road and you could just drive and stop at random ones, but that could take you forever because there is so much to see!! The down-side to driving a rental car is that it can be difficult and limiting at times. This is rare, but depending on where you go, you may not be able to get there in a rental car. Some points of interest require fording small rivers, which is extra risky in a rental car. The roads are also very icy during winter months which would make renting a car riskier. Overall, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks of renting a car, but it is important to consider.
As for tours, there are also a lot of benefits to touring Iceland with a structured tour. I cannot speak for all of the tour groups, but Arctic Adventures/ Extreme Iceland (same company) has awesome tours. The second time I went was in the winter so I didn’t want to drive in possible icy conditions. We went on two 2-day tours, the Northern Lights and Snaelfellnes Peninsula tour and the South Coast tour.
We really enjoyed both of our guides and all of the stops we made. This was a much more educational experience because our tour guides told us about the history of the country, geological facts about the terrain, and myths and stories from the Icelandic culture. While we drove around the country, I was just fascinated without really understanding what I was seeing, but the tours answered some questions I had and and questions I hadn’t even thought of.
Of course, the downsides to the tour are that you are stuck to a given schedule and you are possibly stuck with annoying tourists. (Sometimes you make friends ;)) The tours through Extreme Iceland were a good size; we weren’t in a charter bus full of people, but we also weren’t in a small intimate group. The big thing about tours is that your tour guide could make or break your tour. We lucked out and had great tour guides who made the experience unforgettable, even on the rainy days.
I travel and then I write about it. I hope you enjoy my experiences, and can learn from my trial and errors!