Ubud

Ubud was the beginning of our adventure in Bali and after 33+ hours of traveling we finally arrived at 1 pm at night. We had reservations at an AirBnB called Sayan Terrace Resort. (Sayan is a quieter neighborhood west of central Ubud.) The owner of the AirBnB set up a driver to pick us up from the airport. Our driver, Malin, was amazing and we wound up hiring him to drive us for 2 of the 3 days we were there. We arrived to the resort late at night and when we got there Malin showed us to our beautiful room with a large living room, king size bed, and a huge bathroom.

(Pictures of our accommodation provided by our AirBnB)

When we woke up the next day our jaws dropped at the view from our terrace that we missed in the darkness.

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Green. Everywhere. Palm Trees. Mountains and Volcanoes. There was a river down in the ridge. HELLO BEAUTIFUL!! Also this is interesting but our resort was right next to the Four Seasons.

Price of Four Season: starts at $497 USD per night

Price of Sayan Terrace Resort: $84 USD per night

You get the same view that the Four Seasons has for a very small fraction of the price. Yes the Four Seasons offers you ridiculous luxuries like your OWN LILY PAD, culinary chefs that come to your villa and cook for you, and complimentary overnight shoe shining but c’mon your mom can do two of those three things for you anyway if you ask nicely.

Okay back on topic.. Ubud was easily my favorite out of the three places we stayed in Bali. It’s the cultural center of the island or the heart of the jungle as I like to say.

Day One:

We woke up at 7 am, grabbed a box breakfast the resort provided us (hard boiled eggs, banana, and a piece of bread), and met Malin at the front desk. Our first destination was the Tegallang Rice Terraces – about a 40 minute drive from our place. There’s a bunch of small cafes and shops on the side. We got there so early that we were the only ones there so GO early!! There are a few smaller swings and they will probably ask for a small fee to get pictures on them (5,000-10,000 IDR which is less than a dollar in USD). Also if a worker asks for a donation just give them a small amount as well. You can just walk around and along the terrace edges and enjoy the lush green and beautiful few. We only spent 30 minutes there at most but you could easily wander around for an hour or two depending how crowded it gets.

After appreciating the Rice Terraces, we drove two minutes down the road to the Ubud Swing. These swings are a lot different than the smaller swings at the Rice Terraces because… well… they’re three times the size. There are two different companies that run these more extreme swings. The more popular and slightly more expensive one is ran by an English company and the not as popular but just as cool and slightly cheaper swing is run by the Balinese so we went with supporting the local people and I don’t regret it at all.

You know you’re at the Balinese run swing if there is a big Luwak Coffee sign outside. When you arrive, someone will take you through and show you how they make their signature Luwak Coffee. Pretty much they feed the coffee beans to the Luwak’s who eat it and poop them out, then they take the coffee beans, clean them a lot and then they roast them. That probably grosses some people out but apparently its the best coffee in Bali. Malin liked to call it cat-poo-ccino. They show you all of the spices, how they crush the beans, and then they even give you a free sampling of tea and coffee.  After this you can make your way down to the swings. There are three different swing options: couple swing, extreme swing, super extreme swing. Of course we decided to do the super extreme because go hard or go home. It was about $15 which is over priced in my opinion but SO worth it and its also a few bucks cheaper than the English run swing apparently. Overall: 9/10

Next stop was the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Now by this point it was about 10 am and it was hot and humid. Meg and I walked the ridge for about 20 minutes before dying of heat exhaustion and heading back to the car. If it happens to be somewhat cooler weather, it’s a nice relaxing place to head for a stroll but there’s nothing to exciting to see besides a few chances for some ~artsy~ pics for the gram.

(Campuhan Ridge Walk)

Next stop was Tegenungan Waterfall. You have to pay 10,000 IDR to enter which is about a dollar. There were a handful of stores on your way down to the waterfall. Be warned: there are steps.. lots of steps.. I think 160 steps to be exact. Bring plenty of water and make sure your glutes are prepared to put in some serious work when you’re heading back up from the ‘fall. There is a small waterfall to your left and when you get to the very bottom, there is also a temple you can stop at. At Tegenugan, you can usually swim in the water (so bring a bathing suit) but when we went the water was very rough and no swimming was allowed.

You can also get pretty close to the waterfall but you have to cross to the other side which of course means you have to cross the rough water I just told you about. And guess how you cross rough water like that in underdeveloped countries? Bridges. Bridges made out of sketchy wood. Bridges made out of bamboo limb tied together. Really really sketchy bridges that are guaranteed to get your heart racing while rough water is rushing through underneath you. BUUTTT its worth it. You also have to pay a small extra fee to climb more stairs to the top but hey your bum is going to look glorious.

Next, we headed to Batuan Temple. There is a small donation and they will lend you a free sarong if you don’t have one (Malin brought two for us cause hes the best). It’s a quiet and well kept temple that you’re free to roam around to take pictures of. It could be considered small compared to other temples in Bali and there are no tour guides. I enjoyed the architecture of the temple but if you don’t appreciate art or you’re not appreciative of Hindu culture, this might be slightly boring for you.

After Batuan, we were exhausted so we headed home, cleaned up, ate at our resort and spent the rest of our day enjoying our super relaxing infinity pool and pretended that we were models. Don’t judge us.

Day Two: 

We got to start off our day by waking up at 1!!! AM!!!! ok I’m being overdramatic because our jet lag was so bad we fell asleep at like 6 pm and waking up at 1 am would be noon in Eastern Standard Time. Why would we wake up this early you ask? To hike a volcano in the dark to see the sunrise over another volcano.

(Sunrise over Mt Agung from Mt Batur)

We booked our Mt Batur hike through Bali Trekking and we were super happy with them! Our driver picked us up on time and we arrive to the base of the Volcano around 3:30 am. We met up with our tour guide who was AWESOME. This hike is no joke and he made sure we had water and hiking sticks – you need them. The climb is more than 5,000 ft and there are breakpoints along the hike every about every 20 minutes. When we got to the top is was so worth it. Our tour guide made breakfast for us (egg sandwich, banana sandwich, snake fruit, and a candy bar) over the volcanic steam rising from Mt Batur. We got there just in time as we watched the sunrise slowly rise over Mt Agung which is the largest volcano in Bali and also very active.

We relaxed and ate our breakfast before our descent back down the volcano only to be surprised by monkeys. It was a hilarious first interaction with the wild animals as they bothered countless people looking for food, especially bananas.

After getting a few laughs in at the ridiculousness of the situation – we just climbed a 5,633 ft volcano on the other side of the world at 3 am to watch the sunrise over another ACTIVE volcano that was only a mere 11 miles away and now we had to fight a band of monkeys trying to steal our beloved breakfast – we started out trek back down to our driver. Solid.

You would think after dealing with the monkeys we’d try to stay away from them, right? NOPE. We went to the Sacred Monkey Forrest Sanctuary back in Ubud. This was simultaneously one of the coolest and scariest experiences of our life. There’s multiple entrances and exits but you pay a small fee to get in and then you can stay in the sanctuary for as long as you want – its a lot bigger than it looks so make sure you explore it all. You should beware though that some of the monkeys can be very very aggressive and will attack if you have food or something it wants. A monkey almost stole Megan’s camera and while it was a terrifying experience for her, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Just be very weary and follow the two main rules: Don’t look the monkeys in the eye and don’t run. 

At the Forrest there are ladies selling over priced bananas but buying the bananas are the best and pretty much only way to get a picture with a monkey without them biting you or stealing your belongings (at least they didn’t do those things to us PRAISE THE LAWD). We didn’t buy the bananas at first but we did before we left because we adopted the “oh well f**k it, we might get rabies but hey at least we’ll have a cool pic” mindset. And here’s how that turned out:

The monkey on my head liked me so much it literally wouldn’t get off AND it got banana stuck in my hair. Very nice monkey. Would highly recommend. 10/10.

The Sanctuary is right near the village so we walked around until we were exhausted and hiked a taxi back to our resort to end another great day in Ubud by our pool.

Day Three:

This was our last day in our beloved Ubud so we had to get done whatever we could in the small amount of time we had left. Our first stop was the Ubud market to get souvenirs. I didn’t take pictures of the market but it is very large and there are hundreds of vendors. If you want to get a good deal, you need to be able to barter prices. They will notice you are foreign and will try to rip you off with right away. Whatever their first price is, divide it by two and start from there. They want 250,000 IDR? Start at 125,000. If they don’t give you the price you are looking for, don’t be afraid to walk away. There is bound to be someone else who will give you the price you want and possibly even cheaper.

Master hack: download a currency converter app before you go so you can quickly see how much you’re paying in USD. You will also need cash for the market.

After the market, we were a short drive away from Saraswati Temple. Now you probably wouldn’t even notice this temple if you were just walking down the street but it honestly was my favorite looking back at it. Its small and quiet compared to the noise and hustle of Ubud outside its walls. The walkway to the temple is lined with lotus flowers and lily pads which make the whole landscape look peaceful. I’ve never seen a lotus flower in real life so to see a flower that has been sacred to so many cultures and religions for thousands of years was moving.

Our last and final stop in Ubud was Tirta Empul or better known to westerners as the Water Temple. This temple is famous for its holy spring water where Hindus go to bathe for ritual purification. It was constructed in 942 A.D. and is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, God of Water. It is 15,000 IDR to enter (~$1 USD). Its a very large temple and it could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to embrace it all.

In the main section of the Temple there are two large purification pools with sprouts flowing with the holy water. You’ll notice them do a ritual under a spring and when they’re done they will move to the next sprout to their right. Malin told us that each spring has a different meaning so they might not wash under each one. For example, if you bought a new home, or you’re expecting a child, or you’re starting a new job there are different sprouts for that.

In the back of the Temple, you can see the Hindus pray and where the natural spring is. I thought it was fascinating and the red and orange colors of the temple are spectacular. If you enter the back part of the temple and you have long hair, it has to be pulled up in a ponytail or bun. You can also acknowledge the Presidential estate that is built on the hill next to the temple – reserved only for when the President is in town or prestigious guest. Before you leave, make sure you check out the Koi Pond and buy the food to feed them! They are colossal fish but super friendly and it was a totally unique experience.

 

We could have honestly stayed five days to a whole week in Ubud because the central to northern part of the island is bustling with places to go and things to do. So I made a small list of things I wish we could have done that we missed out on because of either time or money:

  • Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)
  • Gitgit Waterfall
  • White Water Rafting ($$$)
  • Sekumpul Waterfall
  • Nungnung Waterfall

There is also an Elephant Park near Ubud that Megan and I chose not to go to for our own reasons. First, it was very expensive. Two, it is not a sanctuary. Three, they allow elephant rides there which is torture for the animals and isn’t what either of us believe in so we chose against it. If its something you’re interested in, it might be a cool experience but you should do some research before you go on how it effects the animals!

Ubud will always have a place in my heart. The landscape, culture, and people were beautiful beyond words and I would try to convince anyone interested to go there and experience it all first hand. You can thank me when you return.

What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Bali

Now let me start off by saying this… when I told people I was going to Bali, the majority of responses I got were along the lines of: “Where?” “What’s Bali?” “Is that a country?“. So if you’re one of those people, I’ll give you some background so you’re not completely lost. Bali is a 2,200 square mile island in Indonesia. It is composed of the main island and three smaller islands off of its eastern coast – Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida. It’s geography is quite diverse, consisting of volcanoes, jungles, and beaches with turquoise waters. It. Is. Beautiful.

(Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida)

Before you leave for Bali there are some things you should know…

For all of my international flights, I always book to fly out of New York. Whether it’s JFK or Newark, you’re going to save hundreds to even a thousand dollars on airfare. The two hour drive and dealing with New York traffic is worth it. We found an ridiculous deal with China Eastern and got a round trip ticket to Bali from JFK for $450. Yes you read that right FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS to fly to the other side of the world and back.

Now if you have anxiety with flights this might be an issue with you.. our flight from JFK to Shanghai was 15 hours. Then we had a 12 hour layover in Shanghai. Then 6 hour flight from Shanghai to Despensar (the capital of Bali). The flights are long but China Eastern airlines was actually a lot nicer than we were expecting for such a cheap flight. We had two free checked bags, a personal item, and a carry on. We also got two free meals, a snack, and the in flight entertainment was surprisingly really good. We had a side aisle seat for two and with some niiiiice sleep meds we got a decent amount of sleep.

Bali is in Southeast Asia and if you know a thing or two about that area, it’s that its not the most developed part of the world which can increase the risk of disease. Make sure you make an appointment with an infectious disease/travel doctor. You should have a rough itinerary of what you’re going to do and where you are going to stay. When I went, I just got a new tetanus shot since my old one expired and my doctor prescribed me pills to take to keep me immune to typhoid. If you do get anxiety or have trouble sleeping, I would also talk to your primary care doctor about anxiety or sleeping medicine for your flight.

Bali is known as the land of a thousand temples. Hindu is the major religion in Bali despite Muslim being the predominate religion in Indonesia. Due to their religion, every house has a temple for worship. And families have family temples. And there are public temples. And sometimes restaurants have temples. And there are temples dedicated to rice fields. And monkeys. And there are temples that have been there for hundreds of years that are now mostly just tourist attractions. There are just A LOT of temples. Bali’s culture is spiritually rooted in their religious beliefs and it was humbling to watch how dedicated they are to those beliefs. If you ever visit Bali, you’ll notice small boxes made out of palms containing flowers, rice, and sometimes even eggs or incense that they put out every morning. These are their “offerings” so try your best not to step on them or knock them over.

(Batuan Temple)

In addition to a thousand temples, there are also thousands of stray dogs – I’m not over exaggerating. So if you have a faint heart for strays and plan on traveling to Bali, I’m warning you now that you’re going to have a dying urge to bring a dog home. Especially if you see a puppy appear out of no where on the side of the road. They are EVERYWHERE AND THEY WILL BREAK YOUR HEART CAUSE THEY’RE ALL SUCH GOOD BOYS.

(I was tempted to take this stray good boy home)

Bali’s main economy is dedicated to tourism. The majority of tourist come from China and Australia but we met some people from all over the world including Bahrain, India, and South Africa. Many of the Balinese speak basic English but if they don’t they will usually give you a heads up and tell you.

Bali is also called the land of a million smiles because these people are some of the happiest people you will ever meet. It is amazing to see how happy they are with how little they have. Which brings me to my next point – Indonesia is not a wealthy country and the U.S. dollar can go a long way in Bali. We spent around $250 each on rooms there for a week that would cost 3 times as much back in the U.S. I’m talking breathtaking views, infinity pools, complimentary breakfasts all for an average of about $35 a night. When we were there I only spent $300 total (this includes a private driver each day, all our food/drinks, excursions, souvenirs, and transportation between the 3 places we stayed) and I could have spent WAY less.

Motor scooters are the main way of transportation there and they can be rented for about $5-$7 a day. Private Drivers can cost anywhere from $20-$40 total a day depending on your location and how long you’re going to use them for (You can get a whole driver for a day for the same price as your drunk Uber ride home from the bar). If you plan on seeing a bunch of sights and have a small group I would recommend a driver! If you’re only going to one or two places you’re better off saving money and just renting a taxi. In Bali, they drive on the left side of the road and there’s practically NO rules. We tried to to rent a motor  scooter and we almost crashed into a wall and off a bridge within 2 minutes so we sided with a taxi for the day. So if you’re going to rent a motorbike you should have a solid idea how to ride one because the roads are narrow, hilly, busy, and there are little to no lights or stop signs.

But the people are SO nice? Our one driver cut a motorbike off and when the motorbike went around us he gave a polite honk and a thumbs up??? I thought what world is this?? That’s another thing, when people honk in Bali its usually for a heads up. Like “hey I’m just honking to let you know I’m passing you” or “hey this is a sharp turn I’m just honking to make sure you know I’m coming from the opposite direction” or “hey this is a really narrow bridge, you should come across first”. THEY’RE SOOOOO NICE. Also, if you rent a motorbike there’s no gas stations unless you’re around the city, Despensar. Instead, you’re going to have to get petrol from little shops on the side of the road. They sell them in bottles but we saw a lot of shops with them so the odds of you running out of gas and being stranded are low.

Now here’s an important topic: Money. You’re going to need cash in Bali. Some places will take card but their might be a minimum but everywhere takes cash and its always safe to have for taxis, markets, restaurants, and local shops. If I could do it over again I would order a small amount of Indonesian Rupiah ($50 USD) at least a month before you leave so that you get it in time. This is good to have for when you get there for a taxi from the airport, a quick meal, or anything else you might need upon your arrival. You can check your banks currency exchange rate but I found the lowest rates by ordering currency online through Travelex. When you get there, just take out money from an ATMand save yourself the currency exchange service charge. I would also recommend bringing at least $100 USD just in case your debit card doesn’t work with the ATM. They have a lot of money exchanges there with NO COMMISSION so you can once again save yourself from that exchange service charge.

(Enjoy this pic of the beautiful Tegallang Rice Terraces)

Now to the last topic of discussion – your phone. This got a little complicated so you’ll have to bear with me here. I have AT&T and when I travel international I usually just use their International Day Pass which allows you to use your phone as if you were home and it only cost $10 a day – I did this for our 12 hour layover in Shanghai. The only problem is that AT&T doesn’t offer the Day Pass feature for Indonesia so we decided that we were just going to buy SIM cards when we got there because they’re extremely cheap and they were the next best option. AT&T also has a Passport option which is a one time fee of $60 but you only get 1 GB of data so you can get a lot more for a lot less with the SIM card. The only problem was…. it worked for Megans phone but not mine. We figured out that because Meg bought her phone from Apple she could use different SIM cards but because I bought mine from AT&T it was “locked”. Sure, I could have “unlocked” my phone so I could buy a SIM card but I’m stubborn and I kinda liked the idea of not having my phone when we were out. I could still use iMessage and Facetime when I was on WiFi and I would use Meg’s hotspot if I really needed service. I would highly recommend looking into whats the best option for your phone before you leave!

(Dream Beach, Nusa Lembongan)

If you made it this far through this post I’m guessing you’re at least THINKING of traveling to Bali and my recommendation is this: GO. It has something for everybody and is SO worth the flight. You could spend less money going to Bali for 10-14 days than you could booking that all inclusive vacation at a mediocre resort in Cancun. Take chances, immerse yourself in different cultures, and try something new.

A Thank You

Thank you for teaching me manners.

Thank you for teaching me not to judge people by the color of their skin.

Thank you for teaching me that a person has a right to love whoever they want – no matter what gender or sex.

Thank you for teaching me the importance of sitting around the family table for a homemade dinner without phones and having that precious family time.

Thank you for everything you sacrificed for me – from the 5 am morning drives to soccer tournaments to paying for 13 years of a Catholic School education.

Thank you for making me do chores and teaching me how to basic duties around the household.

Thank you for teaching me about responsibilities.

Thank you for trusting me enough to borrow the family car.

Thank you for making me work and pay for my own purchases.

Thank you for teaching me the rewards of adopting a pet from a shelter instead of buying one from the store.

Thank you for letting me live at home in college so I could save money by commuting.

Thank you for forcing me to live at college my freshman year so I could at least have one year of the “college experience”.

Thank you for never completely sheltering me – there are some things that kids should never be exposed to but you never made me naive to the world and all the bad things that happen in it.

Thank you for being at every sporting event that you could.

Thank you for everything you given up for me – the time, the money, the patience.

Thank you for taking me different places as a child – from all around the city, to the beach, to different states, to other countries. You instilled my love for traveling from an early age and for that I will always be thankful.

Thank you for exposing me and educating me on other cultures growing up.

Thank you for making me be able to think for myself.

Thank you for teaching me to never start a fight but teaching me how to end one and fend for myself.

Thank you for letting me play boys sports when I was younger – I think I’ll forever have that grit.

Thank you for providing for our family the best you could even during the hard times.

Thank you for never giving up on our family and teaching me what a marriage means and how you work things despite everything against you.

Thank you for instilling in me what it means to be a family.

Thank you for the countless meals, the notes in the lunchbox as a child, and the daily good morning/I love you texts.

Thank you for all the advice you’ve given to me – even when I’m too stubborn to take it.

There is no way to properly repay you for everything you’ve given up and done for me over the years, just know that I have never taken any of it for granted. I will always be grateful for the unconditional love you’ve given to be and I will always be thankful for that.

Day 4: Seljandfoss, Skogafoss, Black Sand Beach, DC Plane Crash, more Northern lights

(Skogafoss)

Our last full day of our trip ended perfectly with a lot of waterfalls. *cue TLC*

Our first stop was Seljandfoss which is about an hour and a half drive from Reykjavík. There was a small fee for parking but they had a small souvenir shop and food place specializing in donuts. This was probably my favorite waterfall because you get to walk behind it! If that’s not cool enough we also got to see a couple get engaged underneath it so take notes boys cause that’s goals right there.

Next we took a 20 minute drive to Skogafoss. At Skogafoss you can climb to the top of the waterfall (if you can make it up the 400+ steps) and there’s even more waterfalls behind it. Devin and I made the climb and realized this but we didn’t have enough time to fully walk the trail (I think it’s like 26 km long so no one actually has that time) but I would say to take the venture to the top because the views are so worth it.

Reynisfara Beach or “Black Sand Beach” was our next stop, only about a 15 minute drive from Skogafoss. There’s a parking lot and a small restaurant with public restrooms (that you have to pay for) right off the beach. There a huge cave from the salt rock formations and large rocks out in the ocean that remind you of The Goonies. Anyhow, stay away from the water and waves. They’re SUPER strong and have taken people out in the rip current and never brought them back – there’s even a few signs that say this at the entrance to the beach.

At this beach you really get to see the diversity of Iceland’s landscape. Mountains with glaciers in the distance, flat farmland, a small lake, cliffs, and a black sand beach next to the ocean. We literally stood there and took it all in awe.

On our way back to Reykjavík, we pulled into the parking lot of the DC Plane Crash that led to a path that took you to the actual plane. Only problem was that it was a 45 MINUTE WALK and when you spend your whole day in car and traveling the last thing you want to do is walk 6 miles in an hour and 30 minutes. Don’t get me wrong – the history behind the plane was cool. It was a Navy plane that crash landed in WW2 when it ran out of fuel and everyone on board miraculously survived but it was just not worth the walk to me. SORRY. If you have bikes or take a tour, I’d probably check it out just to see people that climb up on top of it try to get down again but other than that it’s just eh.

On a high note from our disappointing and tiring walk from the plane, it was a clear night and you know what that means… NORTHERN LIGHTS HUNTING. We were all exhausted but Devin and I finally got the energy to travel back to Thingvellir to give the lights one last shot and BOY am I happy that we did. First, if you appreciate a clear sky full of stars you will LOVE Iceland. I’ve been to some desolate places and saw a lot of starts but I’ve never seen so many stars in my entire life. They were everywhere and it was jaw dropping. Anyway…. we saw the greenish gray streaks that I described in my other post but after waiting about 20 minutes and traveling to a few spots we finally got to see what we were dreaming of!! I was getting a picture of Devin with the green streaks when I noticed that they were getting brighter and brighter. All of the sudden it looked like the streaks exploded and the lights started to dance all across the sky!

I won’t lie.. we both cried a little but seeing he Northern Lights has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl so I got a little emotional because it exceeded my expectations and it was the best possible way to spend our last night there. And we were bumping Lil Uzi the whole ride home to cap off the best trip of my life!!!

Thank you Iceland for all the memories. If I ever get another chance to come back, we’ll meet again.

Day 3: Kerid Crater, Wild Horses, Geysir, Gulfoss, Northern Lights

The third day of our adventure was probably our most adventurous/spontaneous day of our trip.

We originally set off to see Iceland’s most famous waterfall, Gulfoss, and stumbled upon 3 completely unplanned but super cool things on our drive.

About an hour into our drive from Reykjavík we saw a bunch of cars in a parking lot on the side of the road. Mind you were in the middle of nowhere and Iceland only has a 1/4 of a million people so if you see that many cars in one place you know something is going on. When we pulled into the lot we found out that we arrived at Kerid Crater. It’s a $4 entrance fee to walk around the crater which has a lake (looks more like a pond) in the middle. Since we went in the fall, the red and green colors of the land mixed with the blue and green lake was awesome but it was SUPER windy. If you’re a nerd like me, you look into the geographical history of it. The crater is a part of Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone. They believe it use to be a volcano that collapsed in on itself and the water at the bottom is equal to the water table, not from rainfall which is neat.

After Kerid, we saw a few wild horses on the side of the road and pulled over. Believe it or not, this was one of our favorite parts of the trip. They’re a lot smaller and have a thicker coating than horses in the States for obvious reasons and they are SO friendly but also a little timid. When we ran up (out of excitement) we initially scared them off but they soon warmed up. We fed a few of them and all were gentle besides one. If you get a chance to pull over and experience this DO IT. The horses are fenced off so they don’t run onto the road but I love animals so it was such a great moment for me.

Our third spontaneous stop was Geysir also known as “The Great Geysir”. If you couldn’t guess by the name, it was a geyser we saw there. Honest to god we were just following directions, driving along the road and BAM so many cars and buses, shops to the left, and steam rising from the right. It was a perfect place to stop for a restroom and lunch break. There’s a bunch of mini geysers and steam in the area. Geysir however will erupt every 5-8 minutes so you just have to be patient and have your cameras ready. Make sure you stand behind the rope though cause the water is obviously boiling hot and it goes at least 60 feet in the air.

On the windows of the shops across the street they have a lot of history of the Geysir written on them (me being a dork once again read them). Geysers are rare and Geysir was the first one found and described in modern text. You can see the difference in the spellings because all geysers were named after Geysir and they changed the i to an e to differentiate between them.

Okay ANYWAY, it’s a cool place to stop. How many times are you going to see a geyser in your life?! Probably never so check it off the bucket list and see the first one ever recorded.

After all this we finally made it to our original destination in the first place – Gulfoss. There’s not to much to say about it because well, the pictures speak for itself. There’s a few steps to climb down to and you can walk up pretty close just be careful cause it is slippery and COLD – so bundle up. Explore the whole area, you can also see a HUGE glacier in the mountains from afar too. It’s Iceland’s most famous and popular waterfall for a reason so seriously don’t miss it.

After leaving Gulfoss, we really had an adventure. We planned on seeing Gjain and Haifoss but our little car could NOT handle the challenge of the off roads. It was a bummer because Gjain and Haifoss are distant and in the middle of nowhere so we had an hour long drive there just to turn around.The entrance to Gjain at least had a sign that said 4 wheel drive only but we learned the hard way at Haifoss. On the bright side, I have some hilarious videos of Devin driving along the super bumpy road and she’s a boss for doing it. YOU GO DEV. If you have a 4 wheel drive rental car, please go experience it for me. Haifoss especially looks amazing so I personally was super bummed. The drive there was obviously also amazing but then again all the views are.

Have you ever seen a prettier PB&J?!

After being bummed about not seeing Haifoss or Gjain, we went home and decided to give the northern lights another try. We went back to Thingvellir (I’m not joking when I said we went there every day) and parked our car at the park office. It was a really cloudy night but I stepped out of the car and there were two streaking lines that looked different from the other clouds, almost like a grayish green. I told Devin and my mom it was them but they thought other wise. Two minutes later a few British guys get out of a car parked near us and say that they are the northern lights. I think we were all initially disappointed because we expected these big, bright, beautiful dancing lights before us.

The streaks weren’t that green when we were actually standing there. My Nikon actually picked up a lot more of the green since I had it on a long exposure and a high ISO. Not until we looked at my camera were we like WOAH those really are them. Within the next 5 minutes, two northern light tour buses pulled up and dozens of people poured out to stare at the lights you could barely see because of the clouds. These tour buses honestly made our night. The drivers were so kind they gave us the best hot chocolate I’ve honestly ever had and homemade, heart shaped ginger cookies. The one driver, Atley, talked to us the whole time (cause we’re a better time than his tour group) and gave us a whole insight on the northern lights and Iceland. He was SO helpful and I’m naming my first born son after him so sorry in advance to my future husband.

(Thanks for the hot coco and ginger snaps Atley)

He helped us properly pronounce Reykjavík, gave us a 101 history and political course on Iceland, and told us dumbfounding stories about tourist breaking rules and getting hurt/in trouble for doing so. He also told us that the northern lights stay in those long strips of greenish/gray clouds and then they get brighter and brighter and they burst like an explosion and that’s when they start dancing in the sky. We couldn’t really experience it that night due to the cloud but I got an okay picture of them dancing. If you’re thinking about doing a Northen Lights tour, do it with Atley. He was the one who convinced me to write a blog and he was one of the best parts of the trip. Also I think it’s super important to interact with the local people in order to fully understand the culture of where you’re visiting. He gave a different point of view and I really enjoyed all his input.

Day 2: Blue Lagoon and Thingvellir National Park

Our second day started off super early, waking up at 6:30 am (2:30 am EST). We made a reservation for the Blue Lagoon – yes that sky blue natural hot spring that you always see pictures off. We made our reservation for 8 am a few weeks in advanced. If you know you’re going to visit the Blue Lagoon (you HAVE too – it’s amazing) make your reservation at least a month in advanced and make it for 8 am or 9 am. The Lagoon is practically empty that early and you’ll get a locker. Once 10 am comes around, the Lagoon gets packed. We left around 10:30 and everything was crowed, the locker rooms were full, there was a line for the showers, and we even heard from an employee that there was a party of 125 people coming on top of all of that. It’s not as enjoyable when it’s packed so go early so you can get dope pics like this where you can’t really see anyone in them.

You can purchase your ticket on their website (www.bluelagoon.com). We purchased the comfort package which included both face masks (algae and silica), a towel, and a free drink! You can purchase extra towels or bathrobes there. When you enter, you’ll meet people at the front desk. They give you a band that will give you access to everything including your locker and drinks – don’t lose it. Whenever you buy something, you use the bracelet to pay and at the end you pay the final amount on your bracelet at the register on your way out.

Silica face mask (white)

Algae Face Mask (green)

Before you enter the Lagoon, it’s required that you shower… naked. The showers have frosted glass that make it hard to see you and probably no one would be able to even tell if you actually took off your bathing suit or not if you’re self conscious. There is also free body wash and conditioner in the showers for you to use. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT LET YOUR HAIR GET WET IN THE LAGOON. The elements in the Lagoon dry it out and it’ll be feel gross and smell like sulfur for days. If you don’t know what sulfur smells like, it smells like farts. Gross but true so use the conditioner. When I left I had about half a pound of conditioner left in my hair to try and treat it.

There’s a swim up bar where you can get drinks – smoothies, wine, beer. I got a glass of white wine because it was 8:30 in the morning and why the hell not. With our package they give you two masks, one silica and one algae. I’ve always had the luck of being born with really good skin but oh my goodness the masks make your skin look flawless!! Just leave them on for as long as they recommends, it’s about 10 minutes. You won’t regret it. If you only purchase the Standard package, you’ll only receive the complimentary silica mask. Explore the whole blue lagoon – it’s huge, there’s a spa and sauna we didn’t go into. There’s also a small waterfall coming from the building that dumps water on top of you and surprisingly feels really refreshing. When you leave, there are have blow dryers for you to use. We only stayed until about 10:30 am and then got lunch at KFC. Yes we went to Iceland and got KFC and I’m telling you right now the chicken is better there than it is here. We were balling on a budget give me a break.

We went home and relaxed and then drove to Thingvellir National Park. Side note: Sunday night we went to Thingvellir to see the northern lights but it was too cloudy to see them so we left. So when we went Monday and it was sunny we could not believe what we missed in the dark. Driving into Thingvellir, the mountains are huge and the pictures we took don’t do it justice. We also got lucky enough to see not one but TWO rainbows on our drive there and we couldn’t believe it.

It’s about a 45 minute drive from Reykjavík to Thingvellir. We didn’t go into the park that far because the park is massive and we didn’t want to get stuck driving around after dark. There’s no street lights and the roads are narrow and 80% of the time on a cliff. A difficult drive for our little rental car. We went about 15 minutes into the park and parked on a pull off section and got these amazing views at sunset. If you have more time than us, you could easily dedicate a few hours and possibly even a day to explore the whole park.

Thingvellir has a very historical background in Iceland – it was the first parliament there. It also sits right on the two tectonic plates and you can actually scuba and swim in between them. If you’re really into the history of Iceland and aren’t crunched on time I 100% recommend doing a tour of the park. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, there’s also areas of the park where they shot parts of the show!

The drive into the park is also awesome for some pictures. The mountains, lakes, windy roads, and lack of cars can make for a spontaneous photo shoot.

Everyone that goes to Iceland should see the Blue Lagoon. It’s super touristy and expensive but it’s so worth it. I would go the day after you arrive in Iceland because it’s super relaxing after a day of traveling and you can unwind.

We traveled back to Thingvellir to also see the northern lights, I’ll be talking about that later but I’d tell everyone to go there. Even just driving through and admiring the views is enough especially because it’s in such a close proximity to Reykjavík!

Day 1: Reykjavík, Iceland

Sooo since I’ve been home, I’ve had multiple people tell me their next trip is going to be to Iceland which makes me SO happy because it’s amazing. Usually the next thing they say to me is asking about where we went and what my favorite parts were. Instead of explaining it to 20 different people I just decided it’d be easier to put it all on a blog.

DAY 1 (Sunday):

We landed at Keflavík International Airport around 6:30 am. We went through the typical customs and baggage claim and then proceeded to get our rental car – I talked more about this in my last blog post if you want more info. But since our check in at the Air Bnb wasn’t until 2 pm, we drove to the Bridge between Two Continents which is about a 22 minute drive from the airport.

Pretty much you get to blow a Walk to Remember away and stand on two continents at once instead of two states. This bridge connects the Eurasian and North American plate and if you went as early as we did, you’ll also get an amazing sunrise.

What to put into maps: Skógarbraut 945, 235 Reykjanesbær, Iceland

After, we went into Reykjavík which is about a little less than an hour from the bridge. The city’s main section is small and very walkable if you can handle the hills. The view from some of the streets is gorgeous with the hills, colorful buildings, and mountains in the background scenery.

Iceland’s biggest industry is tourism. There are so many souvenirs stores along their main strip. What many people know about Iceland is that they are known for their nightlife, but after some research you’d also find that there are A LOT of coffee places. Our personal favorite was Braud & Co (16, Frakkastígur, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). You can’t miss it when walking by – it’s a tie-dye building. I didn’t try their coffee but my mom and Devin said it was their favorite. Every baked good we tried here was DELICIOUS. Try it, trust me. My favorite was hands down the cinnamon croissant.

The most surprising thing we stumbled upon was the amount of graffiti in the city. Almost every building had a graffiti tag on it and some building were even covered in it as you can see below.

In the middle of the main part of the city, there’s a large Lutheran Church called Hallgrimskirkja. You literally can’t miss it, if you pay $9 inside you can take a trip to the top of the tower where you can get a birds eye 360 degree view of the city. I personally thought it was worth the money and if you go into the church you can see the huge organ they have in there – it’s unreal.

If you’re looking for an Airbnb in the city, I’d recommend searching around Hallgrimskirkja. You can see where our place was in the picture above from the top of the church. It was SO easy to walk around from there and we were in a quiet yet central location in the city. It slept 3 people comfortable and you get to experience more culture than just staying in a hotel – plus it was a lot cheaper.

Spending the first day in the city was the way to go because we were all exhausted, jet lagged, and slightly delusional. There are so many cool shops and places to see, it’s totally worth a whole day!

Iceland: Getting there, staying there, and what to expect.

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This trip was a trip of a lifetime for me. Iceland is literally the island of fire and ice. (I’m a big game of thrones fan so that whole fire and ice vibe was right up my alley). It has volcanoes, mountains, glaciers, geysers, lakes, valleys, hot springs, and black sand beaches. There’s not many, if any, destinations where you can get all of those things. While I was gone, most people called it a vacation for me but in reality it was an adventure. Long days of road tripping and seeing things that few people will get to see in a lifetime. If you want to be one of those people, this post is to help get you there and to know what to expect.
Here’s some background on our trips and tips for anyone planning on going:
From Philadelphia, we flew with Jet Blue to and from Boston (1 hour flight) and got our connecting flight to and from Keflavík International airport (5 hour flight there, 5.5 hour flight back) through Icelandair. Keflavík International airport is approximately a 40 minute drive outside of Reykjavík. Reykjavík has its own airport in the center of the city but it’s much much smaller – Keflavík is the main airport. If you don’t like layovers, Icelandair flys directly out of Philadelphia from May through September. We had really good experience with both airlines and I would recommend both. There’s also another airline called WOW that you could look into.
Everything was booked through the website, Kayak, which I use for all my trips to find cheap flights – it has a feature on the app that’ll send you notifications when prices drop and it’s super helpful. It wound up being about $500 round trip per person after all the taxes and travel insurance. My advice be to start looking for flights at least 6 months before your trip.
Iceland is right outside of the Arctic Circle and therefore has long days during the summer (May – September) and long nights during the winter (October – April). This is important to know when planning your trip because if seeing the northern lights is an important part of your travel (they should be) then you should consider not going in the summer. The odds of you seeing them with the long days is extremely limited and you’re going to want to see them, they were hands down my favorite part of the trip. Going at the end of October we had a close to normal day with sunrise around 8 and sunset around 5:30 and we saw the northern lights twice (I’ll give more details about them in my next post). The sun never completely rose so if you’re into photography, the lighting is PERFECT because it almost looks like the golden hour all day. Also we got super lucky with the weather when we were there. Iceland is the third windiest place on earth so even though the weather was in the mid to high 40’s all week it could sometime feel like low 30’s. It is an island so it’ll sporadically rain but we had mostly dry weather even though it is gray and cloudy a majority of the time. But you know what they say in Iceland “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes”.
There are a lot of options on where to stay and how to get around Iceland. We stayed in an Airbnb right in the heart of Reykjavík and it was so perfect for us. There is of course always the hotel option but I love Airbnb because for one, it’s usually cheaper. Also, you get a more authentic experience that has a homier feel. If you plan on traveling around the whole coast of Iceland, I would recommend just renting a camper van. You can reach the northern part of Iceland during the summer months but it can become quite dangerous during the winter months due to the snow. We mostly stayed in the southwest part of Iceland and it still offered SO many cool things to see.
From Reykjavík you can get to many of the sights and attractions by car. There are also a lot of tours that depart from the city. However, I would really really REALLY just rent a car if I were you – it’s honestly worth the money. The tours can be expensive and you’re on their time schedule for the most part. We rented a mini car (Hyundai i10) from Avis and it was great. I also found the car deal for cheap on Kayak again!
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We had the option to stop when we wanted, where we wanted, and for how long or short we wanted to stay at certain places. Trust me, we stopped 5 or 6 times because some of the views were so breathtaking that we had to get a picture. There are also a lot of wild horses in Iceland that are really friendly and will come up to the side of the road and let you pet them – a bus tour won’t give you this opportunity.
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But it’s super important to know that there are specific pull off spots on the road that will have signs 200m before to give you a heads up. The last thing you want to do is just stop on the side of the road in Iceland because the roads are narrow and you’re seriously going to put yourself and other drivers at risk.
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(as you can see – there’s little to no shoulder)
 
The only problem with our little meatball of a rental car was that it didn’t have 4 wheel drive. This is an issue if you want to see Haifoss or Gjaín which need a 4×4 vehicle to access the unpaved roads so we missed out on those so if you have the money, get a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Also if you have the money get the full coverage on the rental car insurance just in case (it is super expensive). Iceland can be a very dangerous environment so it’s better to be safe than sorry. We didn’t have the money so we did the bare minimum coverage which included gravel – it was $37 a day. When you see some of the roads there’s, you absolutely need to have the gravel protection. I lost count of how many times rock and gravel bounced up and hit our windshield and the rest of the car.
Iceland is like America in that they drive on the right side of the road there (thank god). You also don’t need an international drivers license. All you need to rent a car is your passport, a registered state drivers license, and a credit card.
Iceland is very expensive to begin with since almost all of the goods are imported but gas is especially pricey so do your research and make sure the car your renting has a high mpg to save money. If you’re planning to go on a road trip, fill up your gas before you leave the city. Once you’re out into the country there’s a limited amount of gas stations and you don’t want to breakdown with an empty tank in the middle of no where. Also when renting a car, make sure the transmission is automatic if you don’t know how to drive stick. Manual transmission is a lot more common in Europe and I accidentally booked manual instead of automatic at first so I don’t want anyone else to make that mistake.
In Iceland, you generally don’t need to go to a currency exchange. Credit and debit cards are taken everywhere and rarely do you ever see anyone use cash. If you plan on using your credit card you should know what your pin is just in case because some gas stations will ask for it. I know what you’re thinking, “who the hell knows what their credit card pin is?”. Call your bank account before and ask for it, it’s good to know in case of an emergency. The conversion of USD to ISK (also called Kr) is pretty simple. 1 USD is equal to 106 ISK. I found it easy to just move the decimal in the ISK over to the left 2 places to get the USD amount. For example, if a bottle of soda was 398 ISK I assumed it was $3.98 (it’s actually a few cents less).
In order to save some money, my genius friend Devin packed some dry foods from home such as rice, peanut butter (to make sandwiches), chocolate, and granola.
Finally, depending on your phone carrier you should invest in a Wi-Fi plan. I have AT&T and you just pay $10 a day and you get to use your phone with unlimited data like you get to do at home. This is amazing because I used it to use my phone as a GPS and we saved about ~ $17 a day by not renting a GPS from the rental company. I’m not sure about how Verizon or other carriers work but AT&T’s service was really impressive.
There’s a lot to know and research before traveling to Iceland but it is SO worth it. If it’s a place you want to visit, just go. Stop making excuses. You won’t regret it, I promise.