So it's midnight in California. 7am in Iceland. We just got back from an adventurous 12 day trip where we led a yoga retreat for a week, and coming off of a 15 hour travel day, I should be exhausted (and I am). But I'm so stoked on adventure and the amazing otherworldlyness that is Iceland to sleep yet and I need to download right away. We were in constant awe during our retreat of the beauty and vastness of Mother Nature. It already feels like it was just a dream.
Geologically, Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a seam in the Earth's surface under the North Atlantic Ocean where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates slide apart. The island is a hotspot for earthquakes, volcanic activity, excessive amounts of water, and due to its latitude- insane Northern Lights activity. I've never been to another planet but I'm absolutely sure what my eyes have seen is of another world.
Adventure in Iceland
After much debate, we decided to keep our trip to the southwest corner of the island for our retreat. I'm happy we did because there is so much to see that we easily could have worn ourselves out more by trying to head further in any direction, and luckily there is all of the natural phenomenon Iceland is known for everywhere- so you really can get a great holistic experience in one area.
We stayed for 6 of the 7 nights of our retreat at Hotel Ranga in Hella, Iceland, which we found to be a perfect location for all of our day trips. Its countryside location was super relaxing and serene, and amazing for the Northern Lights!
On our first full day we set off to explore the Golden Circle. This is a popular tourist loop that covers from the capital of Reykjavik to the southern uplands.
Our first stop was Gullfoss, a waterfall located on the Hvita River & fed by the Lanjokull glacier (the second largest ice cap in Iceland).
There's over 13,000 waterfalls in Iceland, and this is one of the most recognizable & well known. Gullfoss spills off the river and plummets down 105 ft (32 m) into a dramatic canyon. It was the most insane display of rushing water I'd ever seen!
Gullfoss also tells the story of the first environmentalist act in Icelandic history to preserve this area rather than harnessing its power for electricity. The entire country is run off of 100% natural energy, and I swear you can feel it in the air.
On our day long loop we also stopped to experience the field of natural fountains known as Geysir. There's several smaller geysers that bubble and erupt intermittently, and this is also home to Strokkur, the tallest and most active geysir in Iceland. It puts on quite a show, shooting bubbling hot water (200 degrees F!) out of the ground every 5-7 minutes. Pretty insane stuff from the best artist in the world, Pachamama herself.
We enjoyed lunch at Frioheimer, a beautiful tomato farm that supplies basically all of the tomatoes to markets and restaurants in Iceland. The greenhouses were beautiful and it was a nice warm touch to our day.
Our last spot was Secret Lagoon, a geothermal bath in a beautiful field setting. It was magical and the perfect way to relax after a big first day.
We also got to see Hekla volcano in the distance during our trip. It is one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland and its lava can be seen in fields all over covered with moss and dotted with autumn trees.
Icelandic Horseback Riding
On our second day we went horseback riding with a local farm called Skalakot, and it was so much fun for the whole group! We were welcomed into their beautiful guest house and barn, and rode the most elegant Icelandic horses to a waterfall near their property. We got to experience a trot & gallop, and it was pretty exhilarating when they got going fast!
Day 3 was a personal highlight for me. I love hiking, and Thorsmork is such a hidden gem. It is only mentioned briefly in Lonely Planet's Guide to Iceland and not on very many blogs. Luckily Midgard Adventures (a local adventure company who helped us with our itinerary & guides) highly recommended we go.
We set out in a Super Jeep which felt super boss and dope. Our guide was Siggi, and he actually invented the Super Jeep signature to Iceland & has the only ones in Iceland big enough for our group of 12!
We started the day hiking up a glacier to peer into an ice cave. We got to balance on sticks walking over rushing water, and then set off on a hike to the tallest peak in the area. It looked over river deltas and had multiple rocks to climb out on, and wound around to a beautiful Forrest with leaves of all colors.
The end of the hike ends with a cafe that has delish soup, bread, salad & hot tea. Perfect after a fall hike in Iceland!
We went on to the most epic canyon I've ever seen. Game of thrones films here, no big deal. It winds around a little river with huge walls and crevices. We used dodgy ropes and chains to climb around to a lovely hidden waterfall. The beauty of nature will always astound me!
Snowmobiling on a glacier
This was another huge highlight for us... And super adrenaline pumping! Our group went off roading for an hour in a Super Jeep to get to the top of the glacier. The views were epic and our driver Hilmar of South Coast Adventure knew how to build the suspense at the top of huge rock structures and on crazy thick ice. Like most things, the journey there was half the fun!
We went two to a snowmobile and got to go all over a vast bright white glacier. We got to face fears, and really feel in it all together. It was absolutely thrilling 😎
Vik & the south coast beaches
We ended our day of snowmobiling at the black sand beach on the southern facing village of Vik.
There's rocks and pillar formations that locals believe are petrified trolls. We got to see the sun go down over a mountain and the wild Atlantic Ocean.
The Blue Lagoon is obviously a must if you go to south Iceland. Geothermal pools are a leisure pastime like the baths of Budapest, and the Blue Lagoon is the queen of them all in Iceland.
We got a welcome drink and mud & algae masks with our entrance. There's even a photographer there that picks the perfect lighting & sends you your shots right away so you can just relax phone/camera free!
Yoga in Iceland
We were happy to be able to lodge our group at Hotel Ranga, conveniently located in the middle of all of the adventure the south part of the country has to offer. Our yoga space was in a cabin and overlooked sunrise at one end and sunset on the other!
For the last practice of our retreat, we practiced at the beautiful Yoga Shala in Reykjavik. The atmosphere was so beautiful!
After the retreat, we stayed for the weekend and enjoyed an inspiring practice at Reykjavik Yoga. The studio was centrally located, had an awesome urban vibe and caters to travelers, and even a cute cafe right below. It was perfect!
Healthy eats in Iceland
Iceland is a meat eaters heaven. Vegan and vegetarian is a little bit trickier, but we found deliciously satisfying options all over.
Here's the places that nourished us throughout our time in Reykjavik.
- Your hearts delight: Vegetarian Indian & Mexican options. Two of our favorites, enough said. We opted for the vegetarian nachos.
- Kaffi Vinyl is an amazing all vegan restaurant + record shop. They have delicious juices, smoothies, soup, snacks and even wine, beer, coffee & tea. A perfect place to chill or get some work done.
- Lavazza on the harbor. We ventured down to the harbor a few times from the city center. It's a beautiful walk, and we found this gem and got their vegan soup sando combo for super cheap! (eating in Iceland is expensive)
- Julia and Julia is a great cafe & bakery that we visited on our Foodie Tour. We tried out their veggie quiche, and their soup of the day always vegan!
- We got ginger shots and juice at Joe & the Juice, a healthy chain restaurant, regularly.
- Last but not least, we were tipped off to Burro for their Latin vegan options (which were delicious!- get the guacamole, taquenos & vegan ceviche), and we stayed for the disco bar up top. A must visit.
The Northern Lights
We were blessed to experience the Northern Lights four separate nights on our trip. It is much easier to see them out in the countryside, away from any street lights or air pollution from the city. On a clear night, they are as bright as the pictures you see... with brilliant shades of blues, pinks, greens, purples and white dancing from one end of the sky to the other. They'll start faint, seem to swirl up out of nowhere like a howling wind, take over vast time and space and then return to just a calm dusting in the sky. It was truly the most magical thing I've ever witnessed! Download the Aurora Forecast app to know when your best bet is while traveling.
Hotel Ranga does it right, too. You can get on a call list so if there's activity in the middle of they night they call your room to notify you. They have huge warm suits that you can throw on at the front door and a telescope room for nights when the lights aren't dancing but the stars are bright.
Getting Around Iceland
Iceland is extremely expensive compared to the U.S. (even California). For your adventures outside the city, we recommend you rent a vehicle with all wheel drive and get an updated GPS. When staying in Reykjavik, your best bet is to find a guest house accommodation in the city center. Any extra money you feel like you're spending by staying central, you will save on transportation. Reykjavik is fun and walkable!
For transportation from the airport, download the Grayline Bus app, for low fares and frequent pick up. The Flybus is a little more expensive but also a great option.
The Roaming Yogi Experience
Our retreats are a safe haven for people to be themselves. We invite friends, acquaintances and total strangers to come as they are and feel seen, understood and accepted. Through all of the adventure and amazing parts of the world we see, it has been experiencing human connection and personal growth through group travel that has been one of the most rewarding and best parts of our retreats. We hope you will feel called to join our tribe! There's a huge world out there waiting for you to discover yourself alongside it.