What to expect in Iceland

By Jim Delmonte
This item appears on page 16 of the January 2018 issue.
Jim Delmonte in Iceland.

My daughter Jill Carrington and I did a trip to Iceland, July 14-28, 2017. 

From Keflavik International Airport (KEF), a taxi ride into Reykjavik would have cost $175. Instead, we took a Gray Line bus; the round trip cost $48. At a counter under a sign that said “shuttle to Reykjavik,” I bought our two tickets using a credit card. 

The shuttles leave every half hour for the 45-minute drive. You’re taken to their terminal in the heart of the city, then cabs (for up to six persons each) take everyone to their hotels; it’s all included in the transit price. It’s the best way to go.

We had landed at about 11:30 p.m., and it was about 2 a.m. when we arrived at our hotel, which overlooked the runway at the domestic airport (RKV), a mile or two outside of the city. The next day, we went to a B&B-like place that I had booked on Expedia.com that was close to the main shopping streets.

For part of our stay, we rented a car in town with Avis for $119 a day. Definitely, get a GPS! Jill did the driving, and we were guided well to all destinations. We copied down destinations from brochures and visited them all for pennies on the dollar.

Iceland is amazing! There are waterfalls everywhere that rival those of California’s Yosemite. One valley had 12 falls that came from the ice caps on the mountain. Oh, so beautiful!

My daughter Jill in Iceland. Photo by Jim Delmonte

The country is the new “in” place for the younger generation, with pristine air, open seas, beautiful mountains and places to camp. While renting a car from Avis, we saw several rental station wagons that were equipped with sleeping bags.

We went on a glacier one day. They have GPS showing locations of crevasses to protect you from falling in.

We also viewed Iceland on an 11-day cruise with Ponant (New York, NY; 888/400-1082, us.ponant.com), paying around $12,000-$13,000 for both of us. This wouldn’t be for everyone, but it offered a nice way of seeing the country (and the whales) close up.

Iceland has changed a lot since my wife and I went there 20 years ago. Huge cruise ships line the harbor. Places where we used to be the only people are now crowded with tourists. Around Reykjavik, it’s almost like Disneyland.

We saw waterfalls all over Iceland. Photo by Jim Delmonte

Prices seemed to be fixed on the high side. Expect to pay double the prices you see in many other places. A chicken dinner cost $51; soup was $20; a haircut cost $44, and a bottle of water was $5.95.

Entry to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa now costs $60 a pop, with reservations that are often sold out. We skipped it on this trip.

We talked to several Icelanders, and they said they love it there. Their only other choice would be Denmark.

After the cruise, we used the other half of our transit ticket to take the shuttle from the city back to the international airport, spending our last night in Iceland at the Airport Hotel Aurora Star (Blikavöllur 2, 235 Keflavík Airport; phone +354 595 1900, hotelairport.is), steps away from the terminal. It cost $295 nightly.

The Aurora was like an upscale Motel 6 — clean and new. There were no restaurants in the area except at the hotel, where the food was only OK. There was nothing to see from the hotel, and it was limited in things to do, but we had an early flight out and it was convenient. It also was the only hotel there, and you should make your reservations well in advance or you could end up staying miles away. 

Massive waterfall in Iceland. Photo by Jim Delmonte

Iceland can be reached by WOW air (wowair.us), with fares as low as $195 one way from San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, at 6'8", I flew in first class on Icelandair (Quincy, MA; 800/223-5500, www.icelandair.us). Nice people and nice service.

Honolulu, HI