Iceland

The Eleventh-hour Booking to the Golden Circle Tour

During my 5-day solo trip to Iceland in the darkest winter of January 2019, I had tours booked for every day except the fourth day. I thought I would spend the day in Reykjavik, but the capital city is small enough to explore during the afternoon of my first day. I needed something else to do.

Prior to the trip, I had completely glossed over the Golden Circle tour during my planning phase. It was the most popular tour in Iceland, advertised by every company there was. Being adverse to famous sights that tend to be overrated for its actual worth, I wasn’t planning to take it. But seeing that I had time, I decided to tick off the generic bucket list and booked the tour only the night before on my phone.

I booked the tour from Gateway to Iceland, who specializes in small group tours. Where a tour is required, I always try to go for a smaller group which guarantees a more personal touch and socializing opportunities. It would turn out that this tour was definitely not overrated, and was possibly one of the best tour experiences I’ve had as a solo traveller.

I was very lucky that day. Visiting Iceland in the darkest period of winter meant very little daylight (about 5 hours) and very unpredictable weather. But the sky was clear, the sun was at the right height, and the temperature was just right (unusually 17°C but I wasn’t complaining!). With this combination, the landscapes were breath-taking for all camera enthusiasts.

Dawn had just begun when we arrived at Thingvellir National Park, where we spent the most time at. We were shown where the tectonic plates meet, and then allowed time to walk through the valleys and rushing water from melting ice. I could spent all day here just for the view.

The tour was followed by Haukadalur geothermal area, which was also where the geysers are. The most prominent are Strokkur, the most active geyser, and Geysir, the largest which gave the world its word geyser. The rest stop nearby gave us a(n expensive) lunch option, but a photo of the geyser eruption was essential difficult with all tourists crowding to see it. Nevertheless, it was amazing to me whom had never witnessed a geyser till then.

Not far from Geysir is the Gullfoss waterfall, also known as the golden waterfall. It is perhaps what gave the Golden Circle its name. The majestic ancient waterfall is impressive for its power, but perhaps better visited in summer when the force of the water is stronger with possibilities of a rainbow under the sun. By the time we arrived, there was a slight drizzle, although I honestly couldn’t tell whether it was the rain or the spray. It was that impressive!

As the day began to darken early, we arrived at Secret Lagoon, the oldest swimming pool in Iceland filled with hot spring water. Only some Golden Circle tours detour to this lagoon, and it’s a great hot spring experience when I wasn’t keen about spending on Blue Lagoon. I enjoyed the warmth of the water in the dark winter day, well-rested from the ever-fulfilling tour thus far.

With that, I will no longer second guess popular tours — there’s a reason it’s one to begin with. Although I will still reconsider at times depending on many factors, such as choosing to drive through the Golden Circle instead of a tour (perhaps when I know how to navigate the icy roads), I know bucket lists can be an experience too, and that’s what matters most.

*All photos featured in this story are taken by the author.

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[…] was to take us to the glacier. The weather wasn’t the best compared to the day I took the Golden Circle tour, but I think it would be pretty here on a good […]