Text by Angel Rivero
Photos by Jakob Kurc
IT’S HARD to find a country more intriguing than the so-called “land of fire and ice” — a place born out of volcanic eruptions over millions of years, formed somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean and just barely skipping the Arctic Circle region.
Among its first powerful settlers, the Vikings found this land sometime in the ninth century and thought it was so special they decided to name the place “Iceland” in an attempt to fool other humans into thinking that it had a harsh and geographically unattractive environment.
Meanwhile, they named their neighboring island in the farther north “Greenland” — a sly, but undeniably smart tactic to divert other settlers to that place instead which, in reality, is less inhabitable because most of the land is frozen. In the end, they succeeded in cornering this land as their own. And today, Iceland remains a nation of Nordic culture — rich with Viking heritage and countless, passed-down sagas.
The country has, in the last few years, boomed in terms of tourism. As a matter of fact, if you choose to visit anytime within the Western summer months, you will almost certainly be met by large, (occasionally annoying) crowds who plan to go Instagram-crazy over locations of social media fame — most of them conveniently located within the country’s Golden Circle tourist circuit.
The Golden Circle is an approximately 300-kilometer-long route in Southern Iceland that includes a multitude of extremely picturesque, natural formations that are easy to visit and quite close to one another. It is very conveniently accessible from the capital, Reykjavik, and is thus one of the busiest and most touristy destinations in the entire country.
Rather than joining the typical tour group, I highly recommend a comfortably paced self-drive through the main attractions instead. In fact, I strongly suggest not only exploring the Golden Circle tourist stops, but also opting to drive around the entire country once! Believe it or not, Iceland’s Ring Road — the national road paved roughly around the perimeter of the entire country — is only a bit over 1,300 kilometers long. In theory, one could drive around the entire country nonstop in less than a day.
Being unexcited about large tourist crowds and rather seeking the quiet magnificence of Iceland’s occasionally desolate landscapes, my husband and I chose to drive around the country once — completing the Icelandic Ring Road from point to point, but stopping overnight in several towns along the way — and we did it in a fourth-generation Subaru Forester.
An important factor to consider about Iceland is that the country’s weather shifts swiftly and dramatically — from biting cold, to intermittent rain, to vicious winds, to a surreal sunny moment (in the spring). Road conditions are certainly not for frail vehicles, and the Subaru Forester totally fits the bill with its crossover versatility combined with its iconic, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. The SUV is perfect for a road trip here because it offers sufficient creature comforts within the cabin that merit continuous, lengthy drives spanning several days across remote towns and national parks, without sacrificing utility and performance on demand. Spontaneous road closures are not uncommon in this unforgiving but magnificent land, and the Forester is ready to take on any type of terrain, as it is also especially gifted with an X-mode function that can be activated when more challenging, off-road action is required.
Furthermore, the Forester’s hefty ground clearance of 220mm is always a plus when having to traverse more rugged terrain. Its built-in safety features and preparedness free worries from your head. At the end of the day, the one thing a vehicle should be able to give you for an epic journey like this is the confidence of being able to drive anywhere you’d like to go.
Iceland is crazy expensive but is well worth being one of the epic trips of your lifetime. From volcano trekking, to glacier hiking, to marveling at some of the grandest waterfalls in all of Europe… From relishing the eerie black sand beaches and ruggedly beautiful lava flows that crawl far into the horizon, ever beyond what your eyes can see… to even “fan-girling” at some famous Game of Thrones shooting sites — there is so much to discover in this land of light and darkness. The country undergoes constant reshaping via powerful subterranean forces — and therefore no two visits will ever be exactly the same.