Exploring Iceland’s South Coast

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast is a must for any visitor to Iceland! It was something that we thoroughly enjoyed both times we visited this amazing country, and it’s one of the most beautiful and unique areas we’ve ever seen. Waterfalls, glaciers, and black sandy beaches await you as you drive the Ring Road away from the “big city” of Reykjavik.

After a very early landing in Keflavik we got our car and hit the road old school with no GPS and only a map at our disposal. The roads are so easy to navigate (there aren’t too many!) and the signage is pretty well posted. We passed through lava fields surrounded by not so distant mountains speckled with tiny waterfalls. At times it felt like we were alone on the road in a vast sea of lava. Iceland looks like a completely different planet. Simply spectacular!

Lava fields

Waterfalls

The first stop on the drive was to a beautiful waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and this waterfall did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal since we could climb up and walk behind the waterfall. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around, looking at it from all directions. A very cool sight indeed!

We walked about 1/3 mile to another waterfall called Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. We were able to get very close with this one! It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it (and a little bit of a walk from the more popular waterfall) not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up the rock to see the top.

More Exploring

During our second time in Iceland we decided to explore a little more. We drove up and up and up, and then around, hoping to see the Seljalandsfoss from a high angle. However, we couldn’t find what we were supposed to be looking for, which was the view from the top of the waterfall. Nevertheless, we saw some great views and it gave me a chance to practice my bathroom skills next to the car!

We continued on and drove to the impressive Skogafoss waterfall, which stands about 60 meters tall and is about 25 meters wide. The waterfall has a lot of power to it and you can hear the thundering at the bottom of it from afar. We were surprised that we were able to get so close to the base given how forceful it is. We walked up to about as far as we could get without getting soaking wet. Stairs and a path next to the waterfall led us all the way to the top to some precarious views down below. These stairs also mark the start of one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, taking you 55 kilometers to Landmannalaugaur.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Next we drove about 20 minutes to Sólheimajökull glacier. This glacier snout is part of the much bigger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. They say that Sólheimajökull is shrinking and retreating, and has retreated about a kilometer in the last decade. As you walk towards the glacier you can even see where it used to be since it is either covered by water or rough stony ground. It was pretty cool looking at a glacier that has probably been there since the Ice Age.

An Interesting Find

Our next stop is a really interesting and random find. On November 24, 1973, a U.S. Navy plane was forced to land on the black sand beach of Solheimasandur in Southern Iceland. The crew survived, but the plane was abandoned, rather than recovered, and it rests there still. Extreme weather (and looters?) has taken its toll on the plane, but the shell and half of both wings still remain.

The plane was somewhat of a challenge to get to. At the time, this site wasn’t in your Lonely Planet or Rick Steves’ books – we just happened to find it on a blog a few days before we arrived in Iceland and it gave very detailed instructions on how to find it. There are no signs from the main road and when you do come to the subtle turn off the road, there is a teeny tiny sign pointing that the site is about 5 km away.

Plane - Iceland's South Coast

The “road” to the site (packed gravel and rocks) is bumpy and full of potholes! Rocks were kicking up into the tires and metal and I was afraid that we were going to puncture something as we drove very slowly towards the south. It took a good 15-20 minutes to get down towards the water, but when we came around a small corner you couldn’t miss this incredible site. FYI, you cannot drive to this site anymore! There is a small parking area at the beginning of the gravel road and then you must walk about 45-60 min to the site.

Black Sand Beach

Continuing on we went to Reynisfjara Beach, about five minutes from the tiny town of Vik. Reynisfjara Beach was voted as one of the most ten beautiful non-tropical beaches on Earth. It was easy to see why! There’s a lot to see at this fascinating and eerie beach. In the distance off-shore you can see the Reynisdrangar rock formations, which look like spooky spindles of rock sticking out of the ocean. Legend has it that three trolls were pulling a three masted ship to shore, but were caught at dawn by the sunlight and were turned into rocks.

On the beach there are stunning basalt columns. They were created when magma cooled slowly and then cracked into columns as the surface area decreased. These were just spectacular to look at!

Also in the area of Vik is Dyrholaey. Here we saw views of the empty black sand beach. The Arctic waters crashing on them was a gorgeous sight. We spent some time just taking in the scenery and relaxing.

Exploring Iceland’s South Coast was a wonderful experience.. so much so that we did it twice! It’s a must for any visitor to Iceland. You could spend a few days in the area or make a day trip out of it from Reykjavik. Combine your trip with The Golden Circle and The Westman Islands for a great stay in this gorgeous country.