Surprise! We’re in Iceland, Grandma!

When we received the invite to attend my cousin’s graduation in NYC last May, I was excited to get to go on a trip with my mom again. We hadn’t traveled together since COVID hit, so I wanted to make this trip extra special. And if you know our family, the word “special” usually is related to some kind of surprise because we just love surprising one another.

While a trip to the Big Apple will undoubtedly include some great restaurants and shopping, both of which my mom would enjoy, I wanted to add on a Part 2 to the trip that would truly blow her away. I studied Google Maps to see where Bridge and I could possibly take her. There were a few things we had to consider:

  • Can’t be an additional long haul flight because mom would need days to fight off jetlag.
  • Can’t be a place that she’s already been to before, as that wouldn’t be much of a surprise.
  • Can’t be a place that would require too much strenuous walking because mom had trouble with her knees.
  • Should be a place with moderate temperature in May, to ensure mom would be most comfortable.
  • Should be a place with a ton of beautiful landscapes, because mom loves nature.
  • Should be a place that mom would never in a million years guess that we’d be taking her.

Alas, my eyes landed on Iceland. It would be perfect, just a short 4.5 hour flight from NYC, is known for its mesmerizing landscapes, is a bit chilly but not too cold in May, and mom most definitely would not guess we’d be taking her outside of the US since we only had a week for Part 2 of our trip. As I began putting our itinerary together, I was giddy with excitement. I love surprises, and couldn’t wait to see my mom’s reaction when we arrive to Iceland.

Everything went according to plan. My mom guessed we would be taking her out of the US since we made sure she brought her passport. While at JFK airport waiting to board our flight (we made sure she wouldn’t see any of the boards that revealed the destination of our flight) she kept speculating where we’d land. Canada? South America? She started listing out possible locations, but Iceland was not on her radar at all.

We took a red eye flight which meant we arrived to Iceland in a pretty groggy state. After going through customs and retrieving our luggages, Bridge asked her grandma if she knew where we were. Still tired and dazed from the flight, my mom guessed Ecuador for some reason, lol. When Bridge finally revealed to her we were in Iceland, my mom was shocked. “Iceland?” she exclaimed. “No wonder it’s so cold!!” 😂

We spent a remarkable week in Iceland together, being mesmerized over and over again by the beauty of God’s creations all around us. From astounding waterfalls to majestic glaciers to vast lands of nothingness, we road tripped through the southern part of the country from Reykjavik to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

We started off in the capital of Reykjavik for 2 nights, exploring the small city and experiencing the glorious Blue Lagoon that is undoubtedly on every person’s bucket list, including mine! I was worried it might be overrated and overcrowded, but we ended up having a fantastic experience there. We arrived early, around 10am, to beat the crowds, which turned out to be an excellent decision because by the time we left around 1pm, it definitely got a lot more crowded. We loved being in the lagoon, with our silica mud masks and taking a ton of pictures because it was just so pretty there!

In May, it hardly ever gets dark in Iceland. The sun would set around 10pm but it never fully sets so it remains light out until 1 or 2am, with sunrise at 5am. This made the days so much longer for us and we loved it. There was a hike that we took after visiting the Blue Lagoon, to see Volcano Fagradalsgjall, which is an active volcano that erupted as recent as 2021! The hike was not too strenuous but we did get to see some bubbling lava + a beautiful view from high up.

After leaving Reykjavik, we began making our way through the Golden Circle, with our first stop being Strokkur, the geothermal geyser that erupts every 8-10 minutes, its height reaching up to nearly 70 feet! We stayed for 2 eruptions before continuing onto our next stop–Gullfoss Waterfalls! This waterfall is one of Iceland’s most iconic, as it is a dramatic and extraordinary demonstration of nature’s raw power, dropping a total of 105 feet over two cascades and into a rugged canyon below.

I booked a one night stay for us at a horse farm in the middle of the Golden Circle, to give myself a bit of a break in driving since I was the only driver for this trip. The farmhouse that we stayed in was cozy and lovely, but the best part was definitely getting to be up close and personal to Icelandic horses. Our host gave us a tour of the farm and taught us a bit about this unique horse breed that has been shaped by centuries of isolation in Iceland. One distinctive feature of Icelandic horses is their friendly and social nature. They are known for their intelligence and their ability to form strong bonds with their human handlers, thus, they are often used for therapeutic purposes, as their gentle and affectionate nature can have a calming effect on people. We can attest to that, after spending some time with them. We even saw a mare give birth to foal right before we left!

As we continued to journey through the southern part of Iceland, we took every opportunity to make spontaneous stops when we scouted a worthy view to stop for. When you’re in Iceland, there are no shortages of magnificent waterfalls and sceneries that will tempt you to make many pitstops!

We also picked some really cute places to stay along our route, such as the Magma Hotel and the Fosshotel Nupar. We especially loved the Magma Hotel which was modern with a Nordic design, located in one of the most beautiful regions of Iceland. Each “room” was an individual urban cottage with its own back porch that overlooked lush, green lands and small waterfalls.

Skogafoss Waterfall is another iconic spot in Iceland and probably the most picturesque. As you walk closer to the falls for pictures, you can really feel its power from all your senses, which was pretty magnificent. Visitors to Skogafoss can walk up a short flight of stairs to get to the top of the waterfall, where they can enjoy a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is a captivating natural wonder located on the south coast of Iceland, near the small village of Vík. It is renowned for its dramatic beauty, unique black sand, towering basalt columns, and powerful waves crashing against the shore. What makes Reynisfjara particularly striking is its volcanic origins. The beach gets its distinct black sand from the erosion of basalt lava that has been shaped and polished by the relentless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean. This creates a stunning contrast against the white foam of the crashing waves and the surrounding cliffs. We didn’t spend too much time there as it was cold, wet, and crowded, but the black sand and rock formations were super cool.

The town of Vik was tiny, but we did stop by for a brief meal and took a nice stroll up to the church.

Our most favorite stop was undoubtedly our last stop, at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach! Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a mesmerizing natural attraction located in the southeastern part of Iceland. It is considered one of the country’s most stunning and picturesque sights.The glacier lagoon is formed by the melting ice from the glacier, creating a large lake filled with icebergs of various sizes and shapes. The striking feature of Jökulsárlón is the contrast between the sparkling blue icebergs floating in the glacial water against the black volcanic sands of the nearby Diamond Beach.

We booked a boat tour that took us in the deeper parts of the glacier lagoon, enabling up to see a lot of the remarkable glaciers up close. We then spent over an hour on Diamond Beach just watching the glaciers being washed ashore, some in giant pieces and others in small, glistening pieces just like diamonds. It was a sight that was absolutely phenomenal and we would highly, highly recommend this place to everyone visiting Iceland!

I honestly did not expect to love Iceland as much as I did. I had picked it because it fit all the criteria for bringing my mom, but gosh, I totally fell in love with the country. Being in nature in a place like Iceland makes you feel alive, refreshed, and awakened. It’s hard to describe how beautiful it is. You simply have to go and experience it yourself!

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