The Ultimate Iceland Travel Planning Guide for South Africans



Iceland is by far our favourite destination. It is such a magical place, that we still talk about it 'til this day. The landscapes are beautiful, ever changing, and there is so much to do and see. It just has this peaceful atmosphere that we have never experienced before or since.

Further Reading: Must-see places in Iceland

It should be on every one's bucket list. So here are is our MEGA guide to planning your ultimate Iceland trip.

WHEN TO GO

The first most important thing to consider when planning a trip to Iceland, is when to go. Summertime, from May to August is the most popular time and therefore high season. Days are longer and warmer with the Midnight Sun occurring until 21 June when days start to get shorter again a minute or two each day. This time of year you can also camp pretty much anywhere, which makes travelling here more affordable. Popular music festivals such as Secret Solstice and ATP festivals also happen during this time. Summer is the only time that you can access the highlands, as all the roads are closed during winter. July and early August are best for hiking here.

If you want to see the Northern Lights however, you should rather consider early Spring, Winter or late Autumn as you need darkness to see them. We went in September and saw them one night very briefly. Winter is better however, and you'll have a better chance of seeing them. Winter is also the best time to explore the ice caves.

Autumn is still relatively nice weather, warmer, but it can get really windy and rainy

VISAS

Unfortunately, South African travelers need a Schengen Visa to visit Iceland. This means you have to plan your trip to the "t" and submit supporting documentation when applying for visas. You have to apply through the Danish Embassy through VFS Gobal, the cost is approximately R1 000.00 pp. Check out my post on the application process here.

The embassy could not provide me with an answer on what to do if you are camping in summer, and therefore not officially making bookings for accommodation.

Update: I realised in the meantime, Booking.com allow you to book a place but cancel without any cancellation fees within a specific period of time, often until a day or two before your arrival. So if you are planning to camp, book one place for the entire period of your trip, and then cancel it before the free cancellation date. Try cancelling after you get your visas approved, because they often confirm with hosts, and after your first flight (if possible) in case airport officials at customs asks. So just check your dates. We did this for our Serbian visas in 2017, and had no problems.

FLIGHTS

You have to fly to anywhere in Europe then get a connecting flight to Iceland. You can also fly from America and get stop-over flights that can be extended.

At the time of our trip, we got tickets from Joburg to Amsterdam through Travelstart at R 8 227.25 pp with KLM/Air France with a stopover in Paris for an hour.

From Amsterdam, we flew with WowAir for R 3 404.00 pp. Prices vary considerably from day to day. IcelandAir has several flights per day to Iceland, but they were much more expensive at over R4 500 per person.

Notes:

  • Many other cheaper airlines fly to Iceland, depending on where in Europe you fly from.

  • With the smaller airlines, you pay separately for seats and for luggage. Make sure you take all these costs into consideration.

CAR HIRE

We were 4 adults, so we needed a big enough car for us all with luggage. I chose a 4x4 for mountain roads which cannot be attempted in a regular car. If you are only 2 people, a Jimny will do just fine. Also, if you are only sticking to tarred roads, a normal sedan, 4x2 is fine. These are also cheaper.

I booked with Go Iceland! Besides car hire, they can also arrange accommodation and plan tours and trips. They also have camper vans that you can hire with all necessary sleeping and eating utensils, but there are other companies who also offer these.

The price for car hire for our trip was R 8 020.00 for 10 days.

You don't need an International Drivers Licence.

There are many other companies to hire cars from.

Just note that they were very sticky about the "full petrol tank" upon return clause: we fiilled up the tank in Reykjavik before we left for the airport, about 25 km's away. The needle was literally just below the full line, still touching and they said it wasn't full, and we will have to pay them to fill it up, or again do it ourselves. There is a fuel station closer to the airport so we did it ourselves, They wanted to charge and extra 50 Krona.

** In Iceland you drive on the right-hand side of the road. It took some time to get used to, especially for the front passenger! We were continuously shouting, "Watch out!" because you seem so close to the edge. Also, the country road do not have a shoulder or yellow line like in South Africa, and the roads are often bevelled. It is a bit scary, but you get used to it.

NAVIGATION

Iceland is amazing for travelers as they have road markings and signs to attractions everywhere! You will never get lost. Google Maps offline will work great as well.

FUEL

Petrol stations are self-service. You have to buy a cash card inside the station to be used at the pump, and also recharge it with cash in the station.

MONEY

The official currency is the Icelandic Krona (ISK). At the time (September 2015), the exchange rate was 11 ISK to the Rand. Which sounds great, except, you have to have Euro’s to exchange and at the time, the Euro was over R15. So we lost out that way. If you use your Credit Card instead and withdraw cash in Krona, check your commission and conversion fees with your bank. Things were so expensive though that we felt we could go on a shopping spree in Amsterdam with Euro's.

SIM CARDS AND WI-FI

Every house and shop have free Wi-Fi.

We purchased 2 Siminn sim cards, one with data only, and one with airtime. Both cost us 2000 ISK (R 260.00). You get 3 Gigs of data on the data card and the other 100 sms and 100 minutes. Recharge airtime was 990 ISK (R108.00) for 100 minutes talk time.

ACCOMMODATION

I booked apartments through Booking.com and AirBnB. We chose 2 bedroom apartments as we were 2 couples; they were not much more expensive than a 1 bedroom with bunk beds/sleeper couches.

Hostels are much cheaper, often sleeping in a dorm, some have one bedroom rooms too with shared bathrooms. Many people rent out rooms in their house with sharing bathrooms.

If you bring your own bedding/sleeping bag, many places offer further discounted rates.

**A further bonus on cheap accommodation: if you go in summer, you can camp for much less. There are several campsites, and you can often sleep anywhere in any dedicated spot or even in your car in a parking lot :-). As I said though, I am not sure how this will work when applying for your Visas, as you are required to attach your complete itinerary and confirmation of hotel bookings. I suppose you can book on Booking.com with free cancellation and then cancel it once your visa is approved.

Accommodation Suggestions:

  • Reykjavik:

Mengi Apartments: Super stylish with modern finishing touch, in the heart of Old Town close to shops and nightlife

Eric the Red Apartments: We called this the Hobbit hole. It was a bit small, but had 2 bedrooms

  • Stykkisholmur:

Our Home Apartments: A bit more old fashioned with a steep narrow winding staircase. It looks like a block of flats but it is quite comfy with an outside balcony.

  • Akureyri:

Apotek Guesthouse: This place was huge, with 3 bedrooms, but similar in price to a 2 bedroom place.

We booked a really nice apartment with AirBnB (get R600 in travel credit if you sign up through our link here!)

WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT

Fermented shark is traditional food. If you are brave enough to try it, you can get it at several restaurants.

We ordered a Taster Platter at Islenskia Barinn in Reykjavik with the Shark, Whale, Puffin, and Herring. The shark was disgusting, instantly triggering your gag reflex, although it does not smell funny - don't be fooled!


Plokkari, a traditional Icelandic dish of fish and mashed potatoes is absolutely delicious on a cold day. I even make it at home now :-)


Supermarkets

The Bonus supermarkets are the cheapest option to buy food and make it yourself. We also ate a lot at Habibi, serving middle eastern food in Reykjavik Old Town for about 1000 ISK pp (R108).

TO DRINK

Try Icelandic Schnapps made of moss. Different, but worth a try. The local beers are also great. Favourites were Einstok and Viking.

Note: Alcohol is extremely expensive in liquor stores and restaurants. Even the cashiers at the local liquors said we should buy from the airport – duty-free and much much cheaper.

NECESSARY CLOTHING

We visited in September, autumn. It was cold, 6 degrees on most days, dropping to minus degrees in certain parts, and raining most days.

If you plan on going during autumn, winter or even spring, you should pack clothing and gear for all weather conditions and higher up in the mountains and glaciers it is always cold. During the summer months it is quite warm so you can get away with a thin jacket and some jeans mostly for warmth.

As FNB clients we earn eBucks that we can spend at Cape Union Mart, and get most of our clothing and gear there.

  • Hiking Boots: Comfortable, with good grip, waterproof preferably. If you are planning glacier hikes, you need boots, you cannot attach the crampons to tekkies or trail runners. Both of us have Hi-Tec hiking boots and they were comfortable. Remember to wear in your boots before taking them on long hikes.

  • Thermal Underwear: As uncomfortable as it might be, believe me, it will save you from icy limbs. Look for natural fibers such as wool or even hemp when possible.

  • Shell Jacket: Layering is important, and a shell jacket under your raincoat or all-weather jacket provides extra warmth. On warmer days they are handy just for a cozy cover-up. We both have K-Way Shell 2 jackets, similar to this one for women, or this one for men.

  • All-weather jacket/weatherproof jacket: 3-in-1 jackets are perfect. You have a shell inner and the rest is waterproof and wind proof. Ski jackets like this one similar to ours from Cape Union Mart is perfect.

  • Waterproof pants!: We did not take any, boy did we regret it when we got caught in a hectic rain storm whilst walking to to a glacier. Our jeans were soaked, even our thermals. The weather in Iceland is unpredictable, in fact, you can even buy souvenirs saying: "If you don't like the weather in Iceland, wait 5 minutes". Be prepared for anything!

  • Gloves, beanies and scarves are always important. Fleece or natural materials like wool are the best to block out the cold and retain heat.

GUIDE BOOKS

To plan our trip and learn more about the different things to see in Iceland, we used the Lonely Planet Iceland Guide. We highly recommend this book as it has detailed information about each place in Iceland, what to see, do and where to eat and sleep.


We hope this helps with your trip planning. But, if you have further questions, drop us an email or comment below.

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