Iceland Day 1: The Blue Lagoon
Iceland had been one of my most desired places to visit for the longest time. My interest was first sparked when I saw some calendar worthy shots of its limitless natural & geological wealth that my husband's coworker shot on his photography tour about 3 years ago. I remember coming home and doing a quick search only to realize that a trip to Iceland for a family of four can seriously break a bank (that has changed since then btw), so it had to wait.
This was before IcelandAir launched its now very popular free stopover break in Iceland on almost all of its cross-Atlantic routes. This successful marketing push of the airline is largely the reason why Iceland has seen its tourism industry grow two-folds in the last couple of years. So much so that the country with its small population of approximately 320K is finding it hard to keep up with the growing tourism demands while still maintaining its untouched appeal.
To put things in perspective, the city of Corpus Christi in Texas has more people than all of Iceland. Imagine! Add to this mix the relatively new & low-cost Wow Air (no need to second-guess, it's a legit airline, we traveled on it and loved it) and a trip to Iceland is now more affordable than ever.
Love the colors and the service
Going into our second and quite possibly last year as expats in Europe, Iceland was high priority on the list of trips to take. The question was not to go or not, but rather when to go. It is equally popular in Winter courtesy gorgeous glaciers and Northern Lights as it is in the Summer for its lush landscapes and fresh flowing waterfalls. We had already made a Northern Lights weekend gamble in Finland and I really wanted to see all the waterfalls flowing so we knowingly and with a heavy heart passed up on Northern Lights weather and decided to make it our Spring Break destination in April. (We eventually ended up seeing the Northern Lights on our trip to Alaska.)
Northern lights season typically runs from October to March, but they have shown up as early as August sometimes and as late as end of April. We were not counting on a miracle though and you should not either. Iceland has SO much to offer that it is best you treat Northern Lights as a bonus rather than the objective considering how elusive they can be even in peak season. There are too many factors outside of human control that need to line up. They do not call it a hunt for no reason. :)
First Stop: Blue Lagoon
Despite Iceland's countless natural wonders, the geothermal spa called the Blue Lagoon is still it's most visited sight and it is an absolute must on any Iceland itinerary, and naturally was on ours too. You'll know why it was on Day 1 of our itinerary as you read. We landed in Reykjavik around 2 pm, a little behind schedule, and the luggage took way longer than expected and we missed our 2:30 pm transfer bus to the Blue Lagoon by 5 minutes and the next transfer was not for another 2 hours. Yeah, not cool, but $h!t happens :P
We had booked what you call a combo ticket including transfer from the airport to the city with a stop at the Blue Lagoon and entry to the lagoon, and I was neither prepared to wait 2 hours at the airport for the next bus nor was I prepared to give up the entry ticket and the second leg of the transfer to the city just because our flight was 15 minutes late.
After my polite request to find an alternative solution got me nothing I could see my husband and sons disappearing behind me because they could sense a showdown. After a 10 minute heated exchange, they agreed to give me my Blue Lagoon tickets, as well as the tickets for the second leg and offered an apology and a partial refund for the first leg because we were going to take a 15 minute cab to the Lagoon on our own.
Guess what? My husband and sons magically reappeared soon after. :P All was settled, the smiles were back, and 15 minutes later than originally planned we were on our way to the Blue Lagoon. The whole experience at the lagoon was just wonderful and unlike any other spa experience.
All you need to know about the Blue Lagoon
- It is one cool place to visit and probably the coolest (read hottest) spa anyone can experience.
- It is not a natural lagoon unlike Iceland's countless hot springs. The lava rocks that dramatically shape the lagoon are natural, but the hot water is a filtered run-off from the geothermal plant right besides the lagoon, which is why it is hot.
- The Blue Lagoon is not in or close to Reykjavik. It is a 15 minute detour on the way to or from the Keflavik international airport about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik. This is why it is best to plan a trip around your arrival or departure from Iceland depending on flight times.
- Tickets must be pre-booked either on the Blue Lagoon Website or as a combo ticket through one of the transfer and tour providers like Gray Line or FlyBus. The combo tickets save you some money and time replacing three individual bookings of airport to lagoon, entry ticket, lagoon to city or vice versa.
- There are several ticket options to choose from based on what all is included in the price. All tickets get you entry into the same one big lagoon. I recommend the comfort ticket (like premium economy in flights) for the best blend of value and convenience.
- If you have the combo ticket with transfer your only option is standard ticket, but you can individually add anything to the base ticket for about the same price. The more expensive tickets in my opinion are like paying business class and first class ticket price and then getting to use the business or first class lounge, but you still get to fly economy. Why would anyone do that?!
- Make sure you pack your carry-on luggage with whatever you may need based on your ticket package. There is a convenient storage for check-in luggage at the entrance. Hand luggage can be stored in the small lockers inside the dressing rooms. Do not sweat if you forget to pack something as almost anything you may need is available for free or for rent at the Lagoon. From towels to robes and swim suits to slippers.You do not need to carry shampoo, conditioner or hair dryers in your hand luggage as there are plenty to use, free for all.
- They have a very state-of-the-art facility and you get these neat wrist bands that serve both as a key to restricted areas like your locker inside the dressing room, as well as your charge card for anything you may purchase or rent at the Lagoon. Just be sure to not lose one as they are pricey to replace and come off very easily.
- You need to get butt naked for a complete shower before and after getting into the lagoon. Thankfully, there are plenty of stalls including some with doors and locks that are very nicely maintained and continuously cleaned. Warning! Be prepared, you'll get to see more pubic hair than you have ever seen or wanted to see in your entire life. :O And, my loyal informants tell me it was just as pubic in the men's dressing room. I am thinking they do not offer shavers for rent at the lagoon? :P
- The water is comfortably hot, toxin free, safe to swim and float in even for children. Children under a certain age must wear provided complimentary arm floats. The edges are really shallow and at its deepest we felt it was about 5-6 feet deep. Plenty of guards to watch or stop people from being idiots, but watch out for the lava rocks as you swim up to the edges.
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
- The water can potentially ruin your hair and will leave them really coarse and dry for days if you do not tie them up, apply loads of leave in conditioner or wear a cap. There is tons of conditioner in the shower stalls free to use for anyone.
- Be sure to wear
- your sunglasses and sunblock if it is sunny as there is no shade.
- Do not forget to get your photo taken by the greeters on one of the decks who are happy to email the photo to you for free on the spot. Also, if you want more photos of your own be sure to take care of your camera and phone and some thing to protect it from water damage.
- The silica mud mask is included in all tickets. Be sure to apply it. Perhaps after a few nice photos unless you do not mind looking like a zombie in them. :P
- There is a convenient swim up bar for drinks and refreshments that can be charged to your wrist band and the prices are not bad at all. For food, there is a casual cafe inside the building that we did not try and a fancy restaurant, which I hear is good, but pricey.
- If you step out of the lagoon for pictures or something be prepared to freeze you butt if you are visiting anytime outside the 3 months of Summer.
- Lastly, all you really need to know is that you must go! :)
We caught the 7 pm transfer to our apartment, which took about 45 minutes. We liked our distinct yellow building apartment in Reykjavik for the prime location, if nothing else. It was less than half a block from Laugavegur, which is Reykjavik's main street. Everything form 24/7 grocery stores, shopping, restaurants, bars, port and sights were within a comfortable walking distance. The apartment was clean and furnished with Ikea supplies so nothing fancy, but sleek and totally comfortable for a short stay and a good deal in the notoriously expensive Iceland.
We were super hungry after all that cardio at the Blue Lagoon so we left for dinner soon after check-in to this place close by called Noodle Station that I had read about. Simplest menu ever!! Pho like Noodle soup with chicken, beef or Vegetables. We had the spicy chicken version and were amazed at how flavorful it was. Just a perfect cheap (by Icelandic standards) snack-ish meal on a chilly night.
It was Friday and things were open late and Reykjavik was totally happening so we went for a walk along Laugavegur and picked up some doughnuts from the popular Dons Doughnut truck. They are amazing and kinda tiny so you'll need at-least a dozen. Eat them warm on the spot, if you can, for a sweet end to a a good day in Iceland :)