Iceland South Coast Tour with a Private Guide (highly recommending it)
Updated: Jul 3
After the flights, the very first thing I booked for our 12 days in iceland was THIS, based on some stranger's recommendation I saw on Tik Tok! Can you believe it? And it was absolutely a highlight of the trip.
We spent literally 12 hours in the car with our guide--so thank goodness we LOVED Michal Wolodko, or 'Arctic Mike' as he is known professionally. All that time and we did NOT get tired of him one iota. From the moment he picked us up at the front door of Airbnb in Reykjavik, he filled our conversation with THE most interesting facts about Iceland and knowledgable answered all our curious questions.
Highlights of the Tour:
Gljufabui Waterfall (hidden in a cave)
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall (where you can walk behind the waterfall)
Lunch at Skogafoss Bistro
Sohkeimajokull (a little hike up to a glacier)
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Kvernufoss Waterfall (a total hidden gem)
Going around a place with a local who knows what they are doing makes all the difference in the kind of experience you have. Our guide knew absolutely the best time to go be at every attraction, he knew the closest and free places to park and he knew ALL the facts about what we were seeing and the best way for us to experience it. We are early risers so we had Mike pick us up at 7am which for many places we visited, made all the difference for our missing the masses of tourist crowds.
Mike brought us here before anyone else got near. He provided rain jackets and rain pants so we were completely waterproof for visiting this waterfall inside a cave. And boy would we have been soaked had we gone into the cave in our street clothes! We saw PLENTY of people walk past us on the trails absolutely drenched in their tees and hoodies or thin windbreaker jackets.
It was an exhilarating initiation to the tour. We laughed ourselves silly at us dressed a Minions. Then the roar of the waterfall, the thrill of discovery, climbing up the wet rocks to get our picture. We emerged from the cave breathless and joyous and ever-so-grateful for the waterproof gear from Icewear. If you want your own Minion-wear here is the link for the raincoat and the stylish waterproof pants. As an aside, you CAN get the classic yellow jacket in other colors. I realized later in the day, Mike provided us with yellow jackets because it made us easy for him to locate us in a crowd.
Just a short, short flat walk from the waterfall in the cave was this waterfall, where we could walk behind it. It was cool. Mike says he even brings people here in the winter when it is snowy and frozen making it a totally different kind of experience.
Back at Mike's truck he had prepared warm, yummy hot cocoa with whipped cream for us. He poured it out of the thermos and we got toasty warm after our initial cold water adventures.
A short drive and hike we arrived at our next natural wonder, Skogafoss Waterfall. I should tell you there are 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland--don't worry, we didn't see them all!
We discovered quickly that every water fall (foss) is different and has its unique features and personality. Each one was well worth the effort to visit. How's this one (below) for power and size?
Skogafoss included an option to hike some 400 steps up to the top for a completely different look. We appreciated the workout on an essentially car-day.
Lunch at Skogafoss Bistro
For a cafe at the foot of a major tourist attraction, I was surprised it was a full-service restaurant with a delicious sit-down menu.The only picture I have from lunch is this photo of my son's leg of lamb lunch. It doesn't look tasty at all but it really was. We all enjoyed our lunch there. I had a delicious Arctic Char and my husband and daughter each had a hamburger. I can recommend it. And the sweet potato fries were delish.
This stop is a little hike up to the the head of a glacier (jokull). By now we were out of our rain gear as it was no longer necessary. On the walk, Mike talked about how much the glacier has melted back the location of the head in a very short time and showed us photos where it was just months ago. It's melting at an almost stunning speed. Important to note that all the 'dirt' on the glacier is actually very old ash from ancient volcanic eruptions that is being revealed as the ice that previously trapped it, melts around it.
Although you are high up at this destination, you actually drive up the hill and park at the top. It's pretty high. My afraid-of-heights husband couldn't walk anywhere near the cliffs. The view is to the arches and down the black beach. It's stunning, cold and windy up there.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This is the holy grail of beaches in Iceland. It makes sense the sand would be black since it's made of the remnants of volcanic eruptions.
It's a fun and picturesque place to take pictures and during our stay in Vik, we stopped by Reynisfjara several times because it was walking distance from our Airbnb. It was always crowded. We never found a time of solace at this beach. It's warranted. The beach is a stunner. The geology is fascinating.
It is also THE place you need to watch for the rogue wave washing you away. Mike showed us several videos on his phone and the speed and surprise with which the waves wipe groups of tourists off the beach and into the churning icy water will blow your mind. Just watch this before you go and you will without a doubt know you need to be careful.
There are a couple big signs at the beach entrance with warming lights that tell you how close you can safely get to the waves--pay attention to it.
Mike says it's frequently incorrect so use good judgment. It is recommended to NOT go in the big cave. Apparently it frequently let's pieces loose on tourists heads and can be fatal.
We completed our South Coast tour with a total hidden gem. It is actually very near Skogafoss but because so many people know about and are more interested in the BIG waterfall, they completely ignore Kvernufoss. For me, it was one of my favorites from the day. There is a gentle hilly hike that takes you completely out of view from other tourists and roads. It's quiet and we were virtually the only ones on the trail, which made it special.
Cost: About $1500 USD for the four of us to have the car, the our and the knowledgeable guy Mike all to ourselves. It was SO worth it.
I booked through Tours by Locals because i was trying to hunt him down from that Tik Tok post I mentioned. I know though if you book direct, the guide will make more money and I can attest that our guide Mike is an upstanding guy you can trust. By the time you go to book, his website should be up and running and you can contact him through there.
Ours is just one of many tours Mike can host you on. You can go for shorter or even longer with overnights. When you work directly with him (firstname.lastname@example.org) you can basically customize what you want to do and see. He is very kind and accommodating.
I would hire him again if I go back to Iceland. Highly recommend him.