Visiting Teotihuacan Independently

How to get to Teotihuacan Independently Without a Tour

One of the things you’re going to want to do when you’re in Mexico City is go to Teotihuacan. Located about 1 hour out of town, it’s an easy place to visit on a half day trip by public transport. Why visit Teotihuacan independently vs taking a tour? Because it’s much cheaper and much quicker. Tours generally cost about 300 pesos, take all day and include lots of stops at shops. Visiting independently costs 167 pesos including entry tickets and all transport to and from your hotel in Mexico City.Teotihuacan

How to visit Teotihuacan from Mexico City Without a Tour

  1. Catch a metro train to Autobuses del Norte for 5 pesos. This metro stop is right at the northern bus station, so you don’t need to worry about walking anywhere. Just get out of the metro station and you’re at the bus station. You can also catch an uber there from central Mexico City for about 50 pesos.
  2. From Autobuses del Norte, search for the Teotihuacan counter. It’s located right next to gate number 8 inside the bus terminal building. Ask for a ticket to Teotihuacan (there will probably be other people asking too) and they will give you a return ticket as well. It costs 46 pesos each way and the price is clearly marked on the ticket they give you and the sign behind the counter. This price will rise as time goes by, so don’t be surprised if it’s 60 pesos each way by the time you read this.
  3. Go through gate 8 and look for the Teotihuacan bus. I didn’t know which exact platform my bus was at so I had to ask. It turns out it was about 5 platforms away from the very end of the terminal (the end that gate 8 is located). There will be a sign on the front of the bus which says Teotihuacan.
  4. Hop on the bus and it takes about an hour to get to Teotihuacan. Staff will shout out that you’re at Teotihuacan when you arrive at Gate 1 so you don’t have to worry about missing your stop. You will know.
  5. Get off the bus and pay your entrance fee of 65 pesos. This price is continually rising and is displayed at the front so you don’t get ripped off. Again, prices will probably have gone up by the time you read this.
  6. Enjoy the day at Teotihuacan. Plan on minimum of 1 hour, maximum of 2 hours.Teotihuacan without tour
  7. Find your return bus. This is where things can get confusing. My ticket stated that the bus picks up from gate 2, but this isn’t true. The bus actually picked up from gate 3 because there was roadwork blocking access at gate 2. Whatever the case, go to either gate 2 or 3. If gate 2 isn’t operating, the touts will tell you go to gate 3, 300m up the road. Buses will come by every 12 minutes and will have “Teotihuacan” in big writing on the side. There will be other people waiting for the bus.
  8. From here, the bus will travel into the nearby town and pick up a bunch of passengers before heading down the freeway to Autobuses deal Norte.Dogs at Teotihuacan

And there you have it. An independent visit to Teotihuacan without taking a tour!

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

If you want to add to your daytrip, you can get off your return bus at Deportivo 18 de Marzo and catch the metro 1 stop to La Villa – Basilica (in the direction of Martin Carrera) where you can see the fantastic Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Note: you will walk about 500m inside Deportivo 18 de Marzo station because you will be catching the train on the red line whereas the entrance you will come in through is closer to the Olive line. This is easy to follow as it is well signposted inside the station – simply follow the signs to Martin Carrera. No problemo! Deportivo 18 de Marzo is 1 stop on the bus after Indios Verdes. If you miss this stop, don’t worry. You can also catch the Metro from Autobuses del Norte, but it takes just a little bit longer.Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Teotihuacan is a top day trip from Mexico City. With a side trip to Basilica Guadalupe, it’ll be awesome and cheap because you did it without a tour.

Lookout near Vik

The Secret to Travelling Iceland on a Budget: $50 per day is possible!

If you haven’t already, also check out my posts on Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle, Guide to Hiring a Car in Iceland, Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland and Driving Iceland’s Ring Road in Winter.

One of the things I read about Iceland before arriving was how expensive it is. And you know what? It can be expensive. But so can every other country. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while travelling the world is that there is always a cheaper way to travel a country and the way of doing it might not always be obvious. So I’m here to tell you just how it is possible to travel Iceland on a budget.

Transport

The first major expense when visiting Iceland if you want to get out of Reykjavik is transport. I have seen some websites recommend catching the bus around the island as a cheap alternative to tours. But the problem with catching a bus is that you are stuck when you arrive at each of the towns you plan to visit. And the bus doesn’t stop at the wonderful waterfalls or ice covered landscapes along the way. Catching the bus around Iceland is an awful idea, because you will have to pay for tours once you reach each town if you want to see the natural beauty of the place.Self-driving Iceland's Golden CircleThe cheapest way to get around Iceland is to find a cheap rental car. I managed to get my near new rental car for €20/$22/£16/AUD$30 per day. Even petrol wasn’t that expensive because the fuel efficiency of the car was incredible — about 4.8L/100km (more than 50mpg). If you’re travelling as a couple that is just $11 per day plus a bit of petrol. I only spent 16,660ISK ($131/€117/£92/AU$174) on diesel for the entire 1400km trip. This was at the extreme end of how much you would spend on petrol per day because I drove further than most people would. That’s $9 on petrol per day per person.

Transport cost per day – $20

Accommodation

You can really burn through cash on accommodation in Iceland depending on where you stay. Firstly, if you camp in random spots around the island, there is no accommodation cost whatsoever. Things means bringing your own tent and sleeping bags and pitching at rest areas and other spots along the side of the road. Easy to do, but not everyone’s cup of tea, especially in winter. But entirely doable! $0Iceland Mountain Pass in WinterLet’s just say you’re like me and you prefer to have a roof over your head, you’re going to have to find hostels. And there are lots all around the island, even in small towns. Because of this, you are going to need to plan your itinerary based on where these hostels are, because outside of these areas, accommodation can be quite pricey, comparatively.price accommodation icelandThe cost of a standard hostel, depending on how early you book and the time of the year will set you back $20/€18/£14/AUD$26 for a dorm bed. You can often get a private room for 2 for slightly more than this.

Accommodation cost per day – $20 (or free if you camp)

Food

Food in Iceland can be expensive, but you have to be selective about what you want and where you buy it. Some places charge about $5 for a large pre-made sandwich and some places $3.50. Some places can sell you a whole loaf of bread for $2… So if you want to make your own sandwiches, you can really save a lot of money. Just make sure you choose the cheaper ingredients for your sandwich as some items are horrendously expensive and others not so bad. You can easily get away with under $4 per meal if you’re buying your own groceries and making sandwiches, eating pasta and doing the cheap eating thing. That’s $10 per day for food, but some people not used to travelling on a budget may want to put aside a little more than this.

Food cost per day – $10

Activities

The great thing about activities in Iceland is that most of them are free. All the waterfalls, geothermal areas and natural beauty are free and you don’t need to spend a cent. $0.

Of course, you could always shell out $50 for the Blue Lagoon, but it’s not necessary in my view. Try some of the more local thermal pools, some of which are free.Myvatn Hot SpringBe aware that all paid tours and activities are horrendously expensive. If you really want to do these, just be prepared to shell out a lot of money.

Total Cost of Travelling in Iceland

Car Hire – $11
Petrol – $9
Hostel – $20 or Camping – free
Food – $10

Total – $50 (or $30 if camping)

As you can see, it really is possible to travel to Iceland on a tight budget if you’re willing to sacrifice some creature comforts such as private rooms and pre-packaged or restaurant meals. The most surprising thing in my view is that hiring a car is such an economical option — more so than catching the bus. Check out the deals from Holiday Autos to see if you can get a car for $20 per day like I did.

Choose the right season

Choosing which season to go to Iceland in is so important to your budget. As with everywhere in the world, summer is the busy season as the whole of Europe is on holiday. Just be aware that in summer all the cheap places are booked out well in advance and you will be left with expensive options only — in other words, you’ll need to camp to make the trip cheap.

In Winter, it’s a different story. Not only do you get to see the Northern Lights, you also get much cheaper accommodation and rental car prices.

One last tip. Make sure you pick up your rental car from the airport even if you plan to stay in Reykjavik for a night or two because you will save a fortune on the bus ticket to and from the airport which is akin to highway robbery.

Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle — A Magical Day Trip from Reykjavik

In my previous posts I wrote about the practicalities of renting a car in Iceland, chasing the northern lights and driving the ring road right around Iceland. Today I’d like to focus on one of the most popular activities in Iceland, the Golden Circle.Self-driving Iceland's Golden Circle

The Golden Circle refers to the loop road that many tour buses and day trippers take on daytrips out of Reykjavik. Along this road are a variety of different things to see and it makes an easy day trip if you’re based in Reykjavik. Self-driving the Golden Circle in your own rental car (I rented mine through Holiday Autos) is definitely the way to go as it’s far cheaper and you can stop wherever and whenever you want and for as long as you want. The Golden Circle can be wrapped up before lunch and you can even continue along the south coast to some other places of interest and even make it all the way to Vik by nightfall if the weather is good.

How long is the Golden Circle?

If you do the entire Golden circle and return to Reykjavik that afternoon, it’s about 230km (143 miles) and takes about 6 or 7 hours at a leisurely pace. If you continue on to Vik, it is a long day as there are a few more waterfalls to see along the way before reaching Vik. The distance is 280km and you won’t arrive in Vik until about 5pm. This is what I did and it was a perfect distance for me and not too rushed.

Stop 1 – Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) – 40km (25miles) from Reykjavik

Almost everyone stops here as their first stop on the Golden Circle and I highly recommend getting here early so that you get a moment of peace and quiet before the tour buses arrive. The tour buses started arriving at about 9:10am and the park officially opens at 9am. Try and get here by 8:30am — you’ll still be able to go to the lookout and if you’re there at the right time of year, you’ll even get to see the sunrise with only a few other people.Thingvellir Sunrise Iceland Golden Circle

Þingvellir is the site of the first Icelandic parliament some 1000 years ago. It’s also where two tectonic plates are splitting apart from one another creating large rifts in the earth. But for me, these two things were minor attractions. I actually really loved this place because the views at that time of the morning are stunning and it’s nice to go for a walk along the nearby river on your own in the cool crisp air while most of the tour buses are buzzing in and out of there really quickly.

Stop 2 – Strokkur  & Geysir Geysers – 100km (62miles) from Reykjavik

Some 60km(37miles) on from Þingvellir are the geysers of Strokkur and Geysir. Geysir is where the English word ‘Geyser’ came from, but this geyser hasn’t been active since around 2000 when a nearby earthquake shut it down. Strokkur is a smaller geyser and erupts roughly ever 5 minutes. It’s pretty impressive to see that puddle of hot, bright blue water occasionally bubble up and erupt into a massive jet of water 25m (75ft) tall. Most people stick around for about 4 eruptions and then continue on to Gullfoss.Strokkur Iceland Golden Circle

Stop 3 – Gullfoss – 109km (68miles) from Reykjavik

This waterfall truly is an impressive site and would be worth visiting on its own. A wild, raging river with a massive volume of water thunders into a ravine creating the mighty Gulfoss. In winter you get a lovely frozen landscape, but I’ve also seen photos of Gullfoss in summer and it looks completely different, but no less stunning. It’s only 10 minutes down the road from Strokkur and you could come here first and visit Strokkur on the way back if that suited you better.Gullfoss Iceland Golden Circle

Stop 4 – Kerið – 165km (103miles) from Reykjavik

Kerið is the remnants of a collapsed volcano which now houses an impressive lake. It’s a b-grade attraction and is probably one you can skip if you don’t have time. It’s actually on the road to Selfoss which is convenient if you’re looping back to Reykjavik. But if you’re continuing on towards Vik, you might want to take route 30 from Gullfoss rather than Route 35 as it will shave off about 30km, but also skip Kerið completely. That said, if you’ve got lots of time in Iceland or are just travelling really slowly, Selfoss does make a good overnight spot.

Accommodation

I stayed about 20km before Vik in a lovely modern farmstay called Guesthouse Vellir. The breakfast in the morning was fantastic and the price of the room for 2 people was €79/$88/£62/AUD$117. Check the price on booking.com. 

Guesthouse Vellir

The place I had originally considered in Selfoss was Selfoss Hostel which cost €47/$52/£37/AUD$70. A good option in a good location at a fantastic price. Check the price on booking.com.

The Golden Circle is a must-do activity when in Iceland despite it being the most heavily touristed. That said, with your own wheels you don’t have to worry too much about the crowds as you can set your own agenda. We got a fantastic Hertz rental car for about €20/$22/£16/AUD$30 — but we booked it through an agent who was able to get us the car for about half the normal price available on the Hertz website. Check rental car prices on Holiday Autos.

Iceland Car Hire Tips

Hiring a Car in Iceland: Practicalities & How to Get a Cheap One

Before my recent trip to Iceland, I was really curious about how much it would cost to rent a car in Iceland. I had heard it was going to be really expensive and in winter perhaps a little dangerous. Wrong! It really can be cheap to rent a car in Iceland and it doesn’t have to be dangerous. Just follow these tips. Also read my posts about Driving Around Iceland’s Ring Road in Winter: Practicalities and Itinerary and Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland: A Practical Guide

Iceland Car Rental

Which Car Rental Company to Choose

Deciding which car rental company to go with is a difficult decision to make. The main factors are: location of pickup/dropoff, how many free miles are included and daily rental price.

Location of Pickup/Dropoff

I originally planned to pick up my rental car from Reykjavik city rather than the airport (which is 50km/30 miles away) because I thought it was silly to have a rental car sitting on the side of the road parked in the middle of Reykjavik for 2 nights not being used. But there are two reasons why I ended up picking up and dropping my car off at the airport. The first reason was that the daily rental price I got was much better at the airport. The second reason was that the cost of the bus to and from the airport is so expensive and in my case worth the equivalent of 2.5 days care rental. I saved money by renting the car from the airport even though I didn’t use it for 2 nights. Tip: Factor in the price of the bus to and from Reykjavik in your rental equation. Check the Flybus website here.Iceland Car Hire Pickup Keflavik Airport

How Many Free Miles are Included in the Rental?

Rental cars in Iceland often come with a limited number of kilometres you can drive in them before you start getting charged penalties. The penalties are so stiff that if you plan to drive any signifcant distances such as circumnavigating the island, you absolutely cannot rent a car that doesn’t have unlimited miles. Make sure you check this aspect of your car rental.

Daily Rental Price

I searched on a lot of rental car company sites for a good deal on car rental and I thought I got one for about €300 for 7 days of hire. But then I came across a car rental agency called Holiday Autos.

I’d never heard of them before, but their prices were incredible. They were basically able to aggregate all the special deals from all the different rental companies in Iceland to the point where they offered me a car with Hertz for 7 days for €166!! ($186/£130/AU$246) And on top of that, it had unlimited miles. Luckily for me, the car I booked was out of stock, so they upgraded me at the airport for free. In the end I got a medium sized 5 door hatchback with winter tyres, seat warmers, diesel engine and in perfect condition for just over €20 ($22/£16/AU$30) per day. What’s more, the fuel efficiency was out of this world with it averaging 4.8L/100km. I only spent 16,660ISK ($131/€117/£92/AU$174) on diesel for the entire 1400km trip.

And how much does gas/petrol cost in Iceland? 186ISK/L ($5.60/gal) for petrol (regular gas) and 169ISK ($5.08/gal) for diesel.Iceland Fuel Price

Anyway, the rental agency is Holiday Autos and they are very responsive to any enquiries you have and even let you cancel your rental agreement in many cases. I originally booked an even cheaper car, but changed my mind when I realised that it didn’t have unlimited miles. Please let me know if you book with this mob as well. I would really like to hear if you also have a good experience so I can share with my readers. Check Prices on Holiday Autos.

Damage to Your Rental Car

I have heard some horror stories about rental car damage in Iceland and some people even claim there are scams operating in the country, but I didn’t experience that. One “scam” is that after there have been high winds, the rental car company will inspect the paint on the car when you bring it back and claim that it has been damaged by sand. In fact, the companies even have a specific sand damage insurance cover so you don’t get trapped. My advice would be to just keep the car away from the ocean when the wind is blowing hard. I was lucky to be inland when there were strong winds and noticed no issues with my paintwork.

Other damage which is said to be common is chipped windscreens. I can imagine this happening on some of the more distant dirt roads you come across in Iceland for sure. Cars go fast along these dirt roads… and these dirt roads are often major thoroughfares, so you don’t even have to be going off the beaten track to experience them. Just drive slowly and hope other cars do too.

Road Conditions

Road conditions across the island are affected by weather. Two sites you absolutely have to visit are vegasja.vegagerdin.is/eng/ and www.road.is. As well as those sites, read my post about driving the Iceland Ring Road in Winter.Cheap Iceland Car Hire

Speed Limits

The speed limit in Iceland is 90km/h on sealed roads and 80km/h on dirt roads. No one sticks to these limits and I had people passing me at 150 a lot. They drive fast. Still, I did see the police pull over one driver for speeding and there are a number of speed cameras around the island, mainly in the west and northwest. I can’t remember seeing any in the south, but maybe that’s because I was going too fast! Nevertheless, drive to the conditions and you’ll be fine.

Renting a car in Iceland is easily the best decision I made for my trip to Iceland. It gave me the freedom and flexibility you absolutely need in a country so big as weather impacted as Iceland. Good luck with your Iceland Roadtrip!

Iceland Aurora

Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland: A Practical Guide

The Northern Lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis, are something that many people want to see at least once in their lifetime. Today, you’re going to learn about the best way to see the Northern Lights when visiting Iceland!

Also read my other posts about Driving Around Iceland’s Ring Road in Winter: Practicalities and Itinerary and Hiring a Car in Iceland: Practicalities & How to Get a Cheap One.

Best Months to See the Northern Lights in Iceland

Although there is much discussion online about when exactly to see the northern lights, it all comes down to having enough darkness in the sky for the lights to actually be visible. This means that anything is summer is out because there is almost 24 hours of sun in Iceland in June/July.

So to increase your chances, you really want to be heading there between November and February when you have the most dark skies, although September/October and March/April are also worth it because the weather is often better than in deep winter.Iceland Northern Lights

Choosing a Spot to View the Northern Lights From

Once you’re in Iceland, you need to decide where to view them from. The first recommendation is to get out of Reykjavik as the city lights will lighten the sky and make the aurora less intense. This means you will need your own transport such as a hire car from Holiday Autos or take a tour.

Secondly, you need to have clear skies. This website –http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ – is the official weather website for Iceland and it includes a page on aurora. You must look at this site. The most important aspect to seeing the aurora is to have no cloud cover — if there are no clouds, the aurora will appear, it’s as simple as that. The second most important aspect of this site is the KP or intensity level. Anything of 2 or more will look awesome. If you get 4 or 5, it’ll be mind-blowing.

So once you know where the clear skies will be, start driving to a place which is both out of Reykjavik and has clear skies. You may have to drive all night if the clouds are opening up on the other side of the country! Remember, the lights usually start around 10:30pm and last for a few hours. Sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.Iceland Aurora

Photographing the Northern Lights

Seeing the aurora with the naked eye is an almost spiritual experience. But most people want to capture it with their camera as well. Here is the gear you will need:

  • Wide lense (20mm equivalent with a low F number – I used 12mm (18mm equiv) F2) so you can capture the vastness of the aurora.
  • dSLR or mirrorless camera because you need to use manual controls and good low light performance.

Next, the settings. The settings on your camera really depend on how bright the aurora is and whether it is in intense lines or more spread out across the sky, so you will need to experiment a little bit. But this worked for me.

ISO 1600, 13 sec, F2.

I also tried longer exposures, but for me the sky ended up being a little washed out from there being too much residual light from the aurora. I found shorter exposures showed off the intensity of the bright spots of the aurora while keeping the sky relatively dark.Iceland Northern Lights Tips

Chance of Seeing the Aurora in a Short Trip to Iceland

If you are simply stopping over in Iceland for a couple of nights on the way to Europe or the USA, you have to be really lucky to see the Aurora mainly because of weather. I was in Iceland for 7 nights and there were only 2 nights when it wasn’t cloudy. Even then, I have heard of some people heading just to Reykjavik for a week and not getting a break in the weather. So you really do need to be mobile and you need as much time as possible to get the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis.

So there you have it, my guide to seeing the northern lights in Iceland. I’d be happy to answer questions you might have!

Iceland Ring Road in Winter

Driving Around Iceland’s Ring Road in Winter: Practicalities and Itinerary

After recently completing a roadtrip around Iceland’s ring road in winter, I just had to share how I did it and what my itinerary looked like.

Before setting off on this adventure with Susan, I was scared. Real scared. Mainly about how winter conditions in Iceland affect the roads, your ability to travel around and what you can see and do. In the end, I needed have been worried because it is definitely possible to travel around Iceland in a rental car in winter. I hired a small two wheel drive Toyota and it was fine. I used Holiday Autos who were cheap and awesome.

Also read my other posts about Hiring a Car in Iceland: Practicalities & How to Get a Cheap One and Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland: A Practical Guide.Rental car in Iceland in Winter

Weather and Road Conditions on Iceland’s Ring Road

The first thing you do after picking up your rental car (I will write an article specifically about renting a car in Iceland later) is to check weather and road conditions are there are a few fantastic website which help you to do this.

The first and most important website is one which shows you road conditions throughout the island – http://www.road.is

Road conditions change quickly in Iceland and a sudden snowstorm can really put a dent in your plans. I was particularly worried about seeing lots of roads coloured blue on this website. The website labels these roads as “slippery”. Needless to say, I found even blue roads quite drivable despite the road being entirely covered in ice for over 100km at a stretch. For some reason, it just didn’t feel slippery and I was doing speeds of between 60 & 80 km/h while locals were doing in excess of 100km/h. Take a look at the conditions:

This green. Clear and open road with absolutely no obstacles. Go as fast as you like.

Iceland Green Road

This is yellow. A bit of snow on the side of the road an very occasionally a patch of ice on the road, but off the driving line.

Iceland Yellow Road

This is blue. Usually the road is fully covered in ice, but it’s not too slippery. Just check by jamming your brakes on at low speed to see what happens. If no skidding, you’re right to go!

Iceland Blue Road

The next website to visit often is http://vegasja.vegagerdin.is/eng/ – this awesome website shows two really important things. How many cars have passed that section of road in the past 10 minutes and since midnight and gives you live cameras from around the island’s road network. Some of the roads, particularly between Egilsstaðir and Myvatn are iced over for long periods of time and the camera view from here looks like antarctica. Wait till you get there — it feels exactly the same! But not scary, honest.

The last source of info I recommend is the Iceland weather Bureau’s app – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ve-ur/id673177417 – I found this app to be really excellent at predicting things like wind speed and general weather conditions. Wind speed is really important to ensure a safe trip around the island as anything about about 15m/s is quite strong.

Snow Tyres

Now, cars in Iceland must be fitted with winter tyres in winter, so your rental car will be too. These winter tires look like normal tyres, but have metal studs in them which really help grip ice. I rarely slid except when in a couple of icy car parks.

How many days do I need to drive Iceland’s Ring Road?

It depends, but I think in ideal weather you could rush around it in 5 days and still have a good time (including the Golden Circle). But a more realistic timeframe is 6 days like we did. If the weather is bad, 6 days won’t be enough, so just pray for good weather like we had!

Planning

Car Rental

I got a great deal from Holiday Autos. Only €20 per day! Check the price of rentals on Holiday Autos.

Petrol Stations

Petrol stations are scattered around the island and you won’t have any problems finding one. The price of petrol was around €1.20 per litre. I spent 16,660 ISK (€120) for my entire trip around the island. The car used less than 5L/100km.

Groceries

Groceries stores are in every town, big and small. The problem is that prices vary greatly between towns. I found Reykjavik to be the cheapest place to stock up on groceries.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Iceland is expensive and many people choose to stay in youth hostels. We only stayed in one of these and it was the worst place we stayed in, but still OK for a night. The farm stays are the best places to stay, although some are really expensive. A hot tip is to only book your accommodation on the day you plan to arrive at it because weather conditions aren’t always favourable. Of course, the opposite is true in Summer when accommodation is at a premium and you might miss out if you don’t book ahead.

Northern Lights

The northern lights are in the sky every night. It’s just that most nights in winter are cloudy so you don’t see them. Check the website — http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ — for the latest cloud cover forecast and stay awake after 10:30pm to see them!

Itinerary

Day 1 – Golden Circle

We set off to visit the sites on the Golden Circle early in the morning before the sun rose (I will write a more detailed post about this later). It’s Iceland’s most popular route and most people do this on tour buses. So in order to beat the tour buses, set off early to get to Thingvelir at opening time – 0900. From there, head to the geysers and Gullfoss, an amazingly powerful waterfall.Gullfoss

We were going great for time, so we decided to try and head to Vik for the night. On the way we checked out Urridafoss, Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss — all which were worth the visit.

We stayed at a farm stay called Guesthouse Vellir — really fantastic rooms, clean and massive shared bathrooms and an all-you-can-eat breakfast which included waffles, cold meats, cheese, cereal, juice, tea and coffee. So good. Price: €79. Check the current price on Agoda.

Day 2 – Vik to Djúpivogur

Dyrholaey Lookout

Guesthouse Vellir was a great place to start the day’s exploration as it is really close to Dyrholaey lookout and the rock arch. Unfortunately, the road up to the lighthouse and viewing platform at Dyrholaey lookout was closed due to snow, so we were only able to go to a nearby lookout just up the road. But that lookout alone was worth it. Simply magnificent.Lookout near Vik

Black Sand Beach

Next stop was the basalt rocks and black sand beach just before Vik. You really see the power of the ocean when you visit this beach and one unfortunate soul lost their life just a week before we were there.

Jökulsárlón

From Vik, we made a beeline for Jökulsárlón and to be honest, there’s not much between Vik and Jökulsárlón except for a few rivers and photo ops.

Jökulsárlón itself is an interesting place to see icebergs, seals and icebergs stuck on the beach. There honestly isn’t that much to see or do here, so you don’t have spend too much time hanging around. Free toilets at the cafe in the carpark.Jokulsarlon

From Jökulsárlón, most people turn around and head back to Reykjavik which means the roads clear up a lot as you travel east. Hofn is a popular stopping point after Jökulsárlón, but the weather was so good that we decided to keep going to Djúpivogur and I’m glad we did because that night we saw the northern lights.

In Djúpivogur we stayed in a fantastic private cabin for the price of a hostel — they upgraded us for free. Not only that, the lady at the front desk was so so lovely. Price: €63. Check current price on Booking.com.

Day 3 -Djúpivogur to Mývatn

Day 3 was another stunning day with hardly a cloud in the sky. Given that Egilsstaðir was so close, we decided to try and make it all the way to Mývatn which we did with ease as the road was much faster to drive on than I had expected despite being one massive ice sheet.

Rugged Scenery

The drive from Djúpivogur heads through a massive tunnel at one point and then over another mountain covered in snow as you descend into Egilsstaðir. I was shitting myself at this point and the locals must have thought I was an old grandpa driving so slow. Anyway, the views were amazing.

The Mountain Road

We stopped in Egilsstaðir for petrol (a pretty big town) and kept driving towards Mývatn. It’s here that the road in winter is often poor because of cold temperatures and high altitude. It was -8ºC as we went over the mountains, but it’s often a lot colder than that. The road condition was pretty good despite being covered in ice for about 100km. All the fresh snow had been ploughed away and the ice was packed hard, but still rough enough to get grip on. I did between 60 & 80km/h, but I was overtaken by big trucks and a fast sports car. People were doing way over 100km/h at times. It wasn’t slippery, but I was cautious anyway.Iceland Mountain Pass in Winter

Hverir Geothermal Area

Just before Mývatn is the Hverir geothermal area. For me, it wasn’t a big deal as I’ve seen lots of this sort of stuff in New Zealand and Indonesia already, but those who haven’t seen this sort of stuff before, it’s definitely going to be interested. Steam vents expelling hot gas, hot mud pools… you know… volcanic stuff. One point to note was that the access road was covered in snow and it was deep. We still got through though as did other 2WD cars.

That night we slept at Vogahraun Guesthouse which also has a pizza joint. Pizzas are expensive, but delicious. A really complete breakfast was included. Price: €90. Check current price on Agoda.

Day 4 – Mývatn to Blonduos

Mývatn Nature Baths

We came to Mývatn because I really wanted to try the hot springs here and I am so glad we made it. We arrived at opening time, 12 midday, paid our 3,500 ISK (€25), had our mandatory naked shower and hopped in the pool. We were first in! Let’s just say that it was absolutely freezing outside and perfectly warm in side the pool. So cold outside in fact that the temperature gauge read -6ºC. After an hour or so of splashing around here, we set our sights on Akureyri via Godafoss.Godafoss

Akureyri

There’s not a whole lot to see and do in Akureyri itself and some people even make a detour before getting here up to Husavik to do whale watching. We took a look at the church here as it’s supposed to be the little sister of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik. Umm… A bit of a disappointment to be honest. Don’t be afraid to skip it.

Blonduos

We ended up in Blonduos where we got a massive 2 bedroom cabin with hot tub. It was -8ºC outside at this stage, so even though I set the hot tub temperature to 42ºC, it was only luke warm by the time it had filled up. -8ºC combined with wind and wet, naked skin is a disaster. My hair was already frozen and I ran straight from the hot tub into a hot shower in the cabin — a truly Icelandic experience. To cap it all off, the northern lights fired up again. Price: 10,000 ISK (€70). Check current price on Agoda.

Day 5 – Blonduos to Borgarnes

Hvitserkur

Because we were making such good time on our roadtrip, we decided to take a few detours today. The first was to head out along the peninsula to Hvitserkur. The road was a dirt road, but you wouldn’t know it because it was covered in ice. Temperature outside was -11ºC.Hvitserkur

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The next detour was the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We had intended to go right to the end of the peninsula, but it was just taking too long and we didn’t have enough time. So we got to the small town of Stykkishólmur, took a few photos and cut across the peninsula. That meant we missed out on some good sightseeing opportunities further down the peninsula, but you can’t do it all.Stykkishólmur

We arrived at the Borgarnes Hostel with enough time to head to the supermarket and cook some dinner. The hostel itself was just OK, but it was cheap. Price: €47. Check current price on Agoda.

Day 6 – Borgarnes to Airport

We had planned on this day to visit the Blue Lagoon, but we didn’t realise you had to book in advance. Not only that, the price is €40 which I think is a bit much. Not sure whether it was a good idea to skip it or not, but in the end we had no choice. We didn’t book. So we instead headed back to Reykjavik to get something to eat, to have another couple of coffees at the awesome Reykjavik Roasters and see Perlan.

At this stage it was time to take the hire car back to the airport and wait for our flight out of Iceland. All my fears about circumnavigating Iceland in winter were unfounded. Of course, the great weather really made our trip much fast and much safer. No one knows what the weather is going to be like when you visit, so you have to play every day by ear.

Tips:

  • Don’t book your accommodation until the day you are planning to arrive. You just might not make it.
  • I relied on Booking.com and Agoda.com for my bookings and both worked well.
  • Buy a sim card in Reykjavik before you hit the road so you can check road and weather conditions in advance.
  • You don’t need a four wheel drive.
  • Test your brakes every now and then at slow speeds when on the ice to get a feel of how slippery it is.
Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung

Summerbird: Boutique Hotel in Bandung

Summerbird is a funky boutique hotel in Bandung which is perfect for kids of the Instagram generation due to its unique style and trendy fitout. Located in the centre of Bandung just off Jalan Pasirkaliki, Summerbird is close to the Bandung train station, Istana Plaza, Paskal Hypersquare and Jalan Cibadak. You can even walk to Pasar Baru from here if you feel like it.

Summerbird is a small hotel with only 3 levels of rooms, with each of the rooms surrounding an open courtyard area which gives the entire hotel a bright and airy feel. Construction is based on bare steel, lots of wood and a liberal usage of bricks which gives a very modern, fresh feel.Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung Bathroom

Rooms at Summerbird are themed — French, Scandinavian, Industrial and Vintage. We stayed in both the French and the Scandinavian rooms and to be honest, they are one of the funkiest rooms we’ve ever stayed in. Oh, and perfect for taking great photos of. We even saw a couple doing a pre-wedding shoot while we were there.

Each room comes with air-conditiong, private bathroom with Western toilet and hot water, a big comfortable bed (seriously, it’s really soft and fluffy), cable television and free WiFi. The other thing is that the rooms are really clean and some of the fittings they use are seriously expensive and imported meaning you can immediately feel the quality of the room. Take the shower fittings for example — classy toto.Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung

Breakfast is included in the room price and is served in the cafe downstairs. We had nasi goreng and coffee and it was perfectly adequate for the day ahead. You’re also able to order other things off the menu for an extra fee, just like a regular cafe and we can people coming and having other meals here too.

We were initially worried that the massive glass wall in the bathroom would be a problem as far as privacy is concerned, but it turns out that they have blinds which you can pull down. all the way meaning you don’t have to worry about anything.

So what’s our verdict about this place? We really love it. Not only does the hotel look good in photos, it actually feels good to stay there. The beds are awesome, the air-conditioning icy cold and the room feels homey especially on a rainy Bandung day.

Summerbird Hotel
Jalan Ksatriaan no. 11. Bandung
Standard: Rp. 439.000
Superior: Rp. 489.000
Deluxe: Rp. 539.000

Check the current price on Agoda

Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View 2

A Motorcycle Journey Across Northern Thailand – Phayao, Lampang & Surrounds (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my motorcycle journey through northern Thailand. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

After a chilly night under a thin sheet at our flop house, we set off for Chae Son National Park primarily to check out the waterfall. And what a waterfall it is. Six separate tiers and a hike and a half to the top, it was a great way to start the day. Even better, Susan got in for the Thai price of 20B whereas it cost me 100B — apparently 50% cheaper than it used to be. There’s also some hotsprings in the national park which are only marginally interesting and apparently a hotspring spa. I can imagine what it is like, so we didn’t bother checking it out. Besides, the sun was beating down hard by this stage and the last thing I wanted was a hot bath.Chae Son National Park Chae Son National Park Waterfall

From Chae Son National Park we headed down the mountain enroute to Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn. Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn is basically a spectacular temple at the top of a mountain about 60km north of Lampang. We got to the parking area, had lunch and waited for a Songthaew to take us to the “top” — 100B for a return trip and no additional entry fee. When we got to the “top”, we realised we were only about 3/4 of the way up and that there was a staircase for the rest of the way. Brutal. The views along the way, however, were excellent and once we reached the top, we were rewarded with this.Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View 2

I reckon this is one of my favourite wats in Thailand so far. A wat’s a wat, right? Well, this time it was interesting to get a view as well and it really did feel special. Surprisingly there were a few other foreign tourists here as well, although most sounded like the expat types who either teach English or have a Thai wife. Anyway, this place is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the area.Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn Wat Prajomklao Rachanusorn View 3

Next stop was Lampang and I gunned it down route 1035 all the way into town where I had planned to stay in a proper hotel rather than one of those guesthouses with thin walls. That turned out to be a good idea as Pin Hotel turned out to be good deal at 550B with AC, hot water and wifi.Lampang River View

I really like Lampang. It has a charm about it that is lacking in many places in Thailand, especially the bigger cities like Chiang Mai. I really loved the old shop houses, their idea of a traffic jam and the gentle pace of life along the river. While there’s not much to see and do in the town itself aside from the odd wat (and let’s face it, we’re all watted out by now), it’s an enjoyable place to stay with some good food options.Lampang White Wat

We tried Long Jim’s New York Pizza (quite decent), a good chicken rice place and a funky cafe (with attached hostel) called Homsook Homemade — great cakes!Home Made Lampang

Again, there were multiple ways of getting back to Chiang Mai and we chose the route which hugs the train line through the mountains. I highly recommend this road! It’s a narrow, quiet road which winds through the mountains, up to a national park and down into a valley on the other side. There’s a bunch of stuff to see and do if you’re not lazy like us — we skipped the train tunnel and mountain viewpoint, but I regret it now. In the valley, we stopped at an organic shop for a coffee — perhaps the first person to do so in about 15 years. And then it was a direct route straight back into Chiang Mai where we dropped off the bike.

All in all, a bloody fantastic roadtrip once again in northern Thailand. Can’t wait to do another one next year.

Dirt Road Through Jungle

A Motorcycle Journey Across Northern Thailand – Phayao, Lampang & Surrounds (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my motorcycle journey through northern Thailand. Part 1 is here.

It wasn’t so much the taste of the noodle soup that put me off, but the colour. It was a pinky brown coloured broth which I suspect was made from blood. I’m no fan of blood in my soups and I only finished half before hitting the road. Today we were heading for some temples on a mountain and Chae Son National Park.

From Phayao there are basically two ways to get to Chae Son National Park. The first way was to backtrack for about 60km of the previous day’s ride up through the mountains. Whilst the road was great and the views magnificent, I’m not one for backtracking. So we decided to take the scenic route across the mountains as seen on google maps. As usual it turned out the be a good decision and a bad decision. The good part was that it was a totally remote part of the country with steep mountains and pristine valleys and the odd village. The bad part was that the road was dirt for about 50km.Northern Thailand View

The dirt started as it always does just after a random farming village. Up until this point it was concrete and there was the hope that it would be concrete the whole way. But we’ve done enough of these trips to know that if you go too remote, the road just stops. Last year in Mae Hong Son was truly terrifying as we spent 5 hours in the jungle on a foot track with a motorbike and we had to cross many rivers, climb inummerable muddy tracks and basically beat a path to the next town. The hope was that this time would be different. And it was.Northern Thailand Jungle

While the road was dirt, contained lots of incredibly steep hills and generally made the entire journey slow, it was manageable. I had no fear the motorbike was going to break down, run out of fuel or fail to get up some of the hills. Last year in Mae Hong Son I truly feared the bike was going to break, I almost ran out fuel and there so many dirt hills that the bike couldn’t physically get up with 2 people on board. Even with 1 person it struggled.Dirt Road Through Jungle

After a few hours in the jungle this time we came out into a village with a nice concrete road and a petrol station. I filled the front tyre with air as I had thought it was deflating, but perhaps it had always been that way — I’d just never noticed it. We promptly grabbed lunch at a random restaurant and set about finding a place to stay in or near Chae Son National Park.

We ended up getting a room at a random flop house on the side of the road on the mountain road on the way to the national park, route 1252. While the room was basic, it wasn’t bad. But if we had known what we know now, we would have rented a bungalow in Chae Son National Park itself. The National Park is fully equipped with a decent restaurant, lots of space for camping and some bungalows.

Distance travelled: 132km with about 50km of dirt.
7-11 toasted croissants consumed: 1
Adorable kittens encountered: 1

If you liked part 2, check out part 3 here!

Phayao Lake Sunset

A Motorcycle Journey Across Northern Thailand – Phayao, Lampang & Surrounds (Part 1)

There’s something about motorcycle journeys. Sweeping from one corner to another, stopping off for a coffee to soothe aches and hitting the road once again to destinations unknown.

Susan and I recently hit the roads of northern Thailand much like we did last year. This time instead of heading west to Mae Hong Son and Pai, we decided to head east to Phayao and Lampang with detours along the way to some of the region’s little known attractions. We had originally planned to head all the way east to Nan, but because were only planning to be on the road for three nights, it seemed a bit rushed to get all the way to Nan only to have to immediately high tail it back to Chiang Mai.

On day one we raced straight up route 118 out of Chiang Mai, a massive 4 lane highway which allowed us to get the bike to top speed for large sections — top speed being about 85km/h. This part of the journey was the least interesting and in previous journeys to and from Chiang Mai, getting in and out of the city has always been the least interesting part.

After a while, the traffic thinned out a bit and we started winding up into the mountains. Because it was still early morning, it was really cold on the motorbike and I had three layers on top and a pair of long pants on the bottom and I was still cold. After a couple of hours we stopped at an awesome place for coffee with fantastic views. If you’re planning on heading this way, stop at this place for a coffee. Highly recommended.

Soon after the coffee stop, we turned right onto route 120 and made a beeline for Phayao. Of course, because of aching body parts, we needed to stop for another coffee in yet another wonderful spot. This time it was a viewpoint about 40km out of Phayao. From this point, it was all downhill and the sweeping curves as we cruised out of the mountains were so enjoyable to burn around. At a few points I thought I was going really fast only to be overtaken at phenomenal speeds by big motorbikes some of which I reckon were getting close to 200km/h.Phayao TempleWe arrived in Phayao in late afternoon and made our way to Win Hotel. It was a pretty crappy hotel, but was cheap and had hot water and air-conditioning. Check price on Agoda. After this we decided to check a couple of the towns “attractions”. A wat and the lake.Phayao LakeThe lake was photogenic at sunset, but to be honest the town really does lack in attractions. It’s sort of the place you come to on the way to somewhere else.Phayao Lake SunsetThe food situation in Phayao is pretty ordinary in my view. We grabbed some OK khao soi for lunch and some pretty good pizza for dinner at Forno — fast wifi, good pizza, cute cat.

For breakfast the next morning we found some basic noodle joint and headed off towards Chae Son National Park via “the scenic route” aka getting lost in the jungle.

Distance covered: 155km
Coffee breaks: 2
Bum rest stops: countless

If you liked part 1, check out part 2 here!