Iceland: South

Skaftafellsjökull

Our first glimpse of the northern lights came the night before. While they were mostly hidden behind clouds, we could still see tiny pockets of color dancing through the air as we sat on top of our van – the glaciers in the background creating quite the backdrop. The next morning we had our typical oatmeal and protein bar breakfast and approached the glacier – only then we were able to grasp its size and power. Vatnajökull isn't the only glacier that makes up Iceland, but it's certainly the biggest. With glaciers occupying over 11% of Iceland's geography, it was incredible to be standing at the foot of a mammoth. The glacial tongues rolled down the hills, making way through each mountain range in front of us.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Gorge

Highly anticipated - highly ranked. One of my favorites!

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Skògafoss

If you know about Iceland, you know about Skògafoss. Arg uably Iceland's most popular tourist destination, for me it was going to be a quick get in - get out ordeal. I was so wrong. We ended up camping overnight so that we could see it in the evening and in the morning - both with significantly less people around. 

Walking up to something so massive was both thrilling and overwhelming. The magnitude of Skògafoss doesn't become clear until you are standing right at its edge. I walked closer and closer to the falls already drenched, and was completely captivated by the mist moving in waves in the air around me. The roar of the falls around me was so loud it drowned everything out. As I walked further in, it was almost like I went past a wall. Its loud and overwhelming ... and then you really step into the rush of the water and it becomes silent and loud all at the same time. Everything else is gone. For what seemed like minutes, I was engulfed by water and the deafening sounds of the falls. I stood there looking up into the mist, letting it make me feel small. 

Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach) 

Arriving here was different than I expected. There was a modern coffee shop directly next to the parking lot, and the beach was covered with hundreds of people.  Regardless, the beautiful contrast of the black sand and the water speaks for itself on why people are here.

Side note: Respect nature. These waves are incredibly powerful and have one of the strongest undertows in the world. People get swept out every year by not being careful and underestimating just how forceful these waves are, even just standing at the edge. 

Seljalandsfoss

We were also able to visit Gljúfrabúi Waterfall right next door. A much smaller and less frequented spot than its neighbor, but unique in the fact it is hidden and you have to cross through a stream to get to it.

Worth it. 

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As we were approaching the end of our trip, we were starting to worry about not seeing the Northern Lights. We'd been following several sources that kept us updated on weather, the aurora forecast and anything else we may need to know, but only saw them slightly thus far – what a tease. On our last night – night 14 of 14 – we were eating one of our only restaurant meals (fresh fish and chips of course), and Sam runs up to me yelling "a 9! They're gonna be at a 9 tonight!" Now, I don't know if you know how the Aurora forecast works, but the activity is based off of a 0-10 scale. The higher the number, the better chance you'll see them. You also have to account for cloud coverage. That nights forecast? Clear clouds and a level 9! We were so giddy as we finished our meal and rushed back to the van to drive 2 hours towards Vík to be in the best spot for them. 

Nothing can prepare you for seeing the northern lights appear before your eyes. They start off as parallel lines that appear in the sky floating side by side, and then suddenly - something pulls them together in a quick motion that creates waves of colors in front of your eyes. I can't put into words the magic that you feel when standing under a dancing sky that you can see for miles. A memory that I will hold onto forever. 

Chelsea Ruggiero