It’s been a really busy few weeks and all my posts are in the wrong order because I haven’t had time to write them!
But now things are quieter (Ranger finances tidied up, book published, home for a few weeks etc), I have time to blog again.
Today I’m going to have a think about some of the campsites I’ve stayed on in Iceland and what I thought of them.
This was the first campsite I ever stayed at. It’s in the south of Iceland, under Vatnajökull. Skaftafell was a national park in its own right when I first stayed there but now it’s part of the Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður, the Vatnajökull National Park. It’s rumoured to be the biggest campsite in Iceland and I think I can believe it. It’s divided into eight sub-fields, some for tents and some for campervans, it’s got electricity, it’s got washing up stands and although it’s got two toilet blocks, only one of them has showers. However, they’re good showers! They’re operated by cards which you can buy from the visitor centre or from a machine on the wall outside out of hours, using your debit/credit card. It’s open from May to September but when it’s closed you’re allowed to camp there anyway.
Other than the size of the campsite, the selling point of this one is the view. There are three glacial tongues coming down from Vatnajökull, the main glacier looms over the campsite and if you walk up to the heath between the tongues, it’s less than an hour to Svartifoss, possibly Iceland’s prettiest waterfall.
I can genuinely think of nothing bad to say about Skaftafell.
As well as being a very popular day trip for tourists, you can camp at Landmannalaugar. .Most people who do so do it ready to depart on the Laugavegur trail the next morning but not everyone does. I stayed there on my way from Skaftafell to Myvatn – and stayed an extra night because I hadn’t looked closely enough at the bus timetable.
Landmannalaugar is very gravelly. Your tent pegs won’t stay in unassisted – short ones will just fall straight out of the gravel and the ground is just too rocky deep down to get storm pegs in. It’s also very windy there. I got lucky with my two nights there because it wasn’t windy at all. There used to be crates of rocks around the campsite for anchoring guyropes down but these days they’re just scattered around the site, because people just leave them on the ground when they’ve used them. You’ll need them to hold your pegs down even in still weather.
There’s a big shed-like building with the toilets and showers, which are coin-operated (and I can’t remember what coin it is!). You pay for camping at the warden’s hut and they sell maps and things like that. At the other side of the campsite are two converted American schoolbuses, the Fjallabuð, the Mountain Shop. These sell basics, from camping stoves and gas to simple food – but no bread – and hot drinks. You buy a cup and then you can make your own drink, which is my favourite way of doing it because I can make hot chocolate that’s 80% milk.
The real draw of Landmannalaugar, of course, is the hot spring.
As for the campsite – well, it’s maybe not the most comfortable or the most prone to good weather and although I adore the scenery, it’s not as obviously beautiful or dramatic as Skaftafell. But on the whole, yes, thumbs up for Landmannalaugar.
There are two campsites at Reykjahlíð, the main settlement at Myvatn. Bjarg is right opposite the long-distance bus stop. It has very soft grass and the management make you move your tent every three nights to stop the grass dying. The showers are hot and free, there’s an indoor space for cooking and eating and views over the lake. There’s a supermarket right across the road.
It’s an easy enough walk up to the local pool in the village (highly recommended!) but it’s a bit far to the Nature Baths on foot.
I’m really struggling to think of things to say about Bjarg! But it’s one of my favourite campsites and it’s really well-situated for trips in the north-east, like Askja, Holuhraun, Dettifoss and the various geothermal wonders of Myvatn.
This was another favourite but it no longer takes campers. It’s always had rooms but now the campsite has been replaced with wooden chalets and you can’t turn up with a tent or campervan anymore. However. Back in the day, it had free onsite hotpots, an indoor cooking & eating room and a troll trail on the hill. However, it gets really busy in early August with locals who think nothing of blocking in your tiny tent with their vans.
Well… Laugarvatn’s great bonus is that it’s free. Or at least, I’ve never been there when there are any staff and I’ve never found any sign that says anything like “please pay at the restaurant across the road”. But it feels weird because there are no staff. It’s got a great setting, on the lake, five minutes from Laugarvatn Fontana. It’s a nice big field, I’ve never seen it at all crowded. Despite the lack of staff, there’s a nice heated lit toilet/shower block, there’s hot water in the washing up sinks, there’s a children’s playground… but I’m never entirely sure I’m supposed to be there. Other than that, full marks to Laugarvatn.
Right out in the east, Egilsstaðir has a good campsite, right under the cliffs. Toilets, showers, washing-up all present and correct. There’s a hot drinks machine in the nice big open reception and… well, it’s a pleasant campsite. I can’t fault it.
Selfoss automatically gets bonus points because it has a dog. Morris is a retired search and rescue dog, who’s been trained to not approach people until invited to, at which point he will leap on you and lick you to death. It also gets bonus points for a big heated common room for campers, which I haven’t really seen anywhere else. It has a real kitchen so you can cook and eat in there too. There are hotpots on site but I’ve never seen them open. There’s a field for tents, with a pond in the middle, a field for campervans and there are also cabins to rent. I really like Selfoss.
Just across the valley from Deildartunguhver is a restaurant where a lot of tours stop on their way around the west of Iceland. But it also has a campsite. The shower is… well, it’s a shed with two communal showers that looks pretty mouldy. Go swimming in Borgarnes and shower there instead. The toilet block, however, is the best heated hut in the entire world, which is fitting considering Deildartunguhver is the biggest hot spring in Europe and provides heating and hot water for two reasonable-sized towns and considering a hot river runs around the perimeter of the campsite. It’s pretty basic but it’s a nice rural setting, it’s only five minutes from Deildartunguhver and from Reykholt and there’s a restaurant/cafe/bar attached.
Hverinn’s USP is the Hobbit Houses. Being in a geothermal village, they have greenhouses and they grow all sorts – they sell fresh local tomatoes from a box outside the restaurant. And they have two greenhouses available for camping in. Now, what I mean by that is two long thin polythene growing tunnels. They do mean camping – they provide plastic tables and chairs but you sleep on the ground so you’ll need your full camping gear, but instead of a tent you sleep inside the greenhouse, which is much warmer.
I am fond of Hverinn but I see that you might want something a bit more lively.
And finally, I have a soft spot for Akranes because I saw the Northern Lights here. The toilet block is a bit small but there’s an undercover area for cooking, wifi and a view right across Faxafloi to Snæfellsjökull. It’s the most urban campsite I’ve ever been to – there’s real houses just on the other side of the field, the main road into Akranes goes past and there’s a roadhouse right there. Easy access to services is a good thing and it’s not too noisy and the view on the other side is amazing. So I can’t really fault Akranes either.