Reykjavík & The Ring Road
Self-guided tours of Iceland’s capital & natural wonders. Guided whale watching, horseback riding & snorkeling tours. Optional volunteer projects.
Dates & Costs
Available May-Sept. Choose your start date & travel companions. 2-week core itinerary from $1,470/week. 2-10 week volunteer extensions from $1,040/week.
Ages & Availability
Open to ages 18+. Book now for 2022.
Iceland. The Land of Fire and Ice. Few destinations capture the imagination like the world’s wonderland in the North. Overflowing with natural beauty – from cascading waterfalls to steamy lagoons and much more – Iceland offers something for everyone. This hybrid adventure combines thrilling, guided day tours with self-guided city adventuring and countryside camping. And good-hearted travelers wishing to give back can put their hearts and hands to work on our locally-led volunteer projects.
Vaccinated travelers can enter Iceland as long as they provide proof of vaccination, proof of a negative coronavirus test (either a rapid test or PCR test), and complete a preregistration form. Unvaccinated travelers can still enter Iceland but must show proof of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before travel and quarantine for five days upon arrival. For the most up-to-date information, please visit the embassy website and contact our team for more details.
Arrival & Orientation
The adventure begins! You’ll spend your first day in Reykjavík getting acclimated to your new environment. You’ll have a chance to meet with your in-country Host for a comprehensive orientation session, where we’ll go over your Trip Information Packet (TIP), review safety considerations, cultural norms, and more (new to self-guided travel? – see how it works). Of course, you may have many questions as you begin your journey. Your Host will help you feel as welcome and informed as possible!
Included: Airport transportation; Orientation session; Accommodations
Reykjavík SCAVENGER HUNT
Home to 60% of Iceland’s population, Reykjavík is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world. Vibrant street art, quirky architecture, laid-back locals, and jaw-dropping cuisine offer visitors endless opportunities for an urban adventure. As a fun, go-at-your-own-pace introduction to the city, you’ll have a blast on our 2-day, self-guided scavenger hunt. As you explore the city, you may find yourself sampling Hákarl (or perhaps the local licorice if “fermented shark” is not your style;), taking in breathtaking views of the city, soaking in thermal pools, and much more. And – oh yes – there will be prizes!
Included: Breakfasts; Self-guided tours; Entrance fees to major attractions; Bus transportation; Accommodations
How would you like the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim between continental plates? On this exciting, professionally-guided day tour, that’s just what you’ll do! Located at the intersection of the North American and Eurasian plates, the Silfra fissure in Iceland’s Þingvellir National Park is as unique an experience as it sounds. Deep blue waters, dark lava rock, and vibrant algae contrast to create a stunning sight for snorkelers. Thirsty? No need to wait here. Originating as meltwater from the nearby Langjökull glacier, Silfra’s water is filtered underground through porous lava rock for 30-100 years. It emerges so pure you can drink straight from the fissure!
Included: Breakfast; Silfra snorkeling tour including guides, transportation, gear, and snacks; Accommodations
No visit to Iceland would be complete without an up-close and personal encounter with the countryside’s star residents – the Icelandic horse! First introduced by Norweigan settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Icelandic descends from a breed now extinct outside Iceland’s borders. As another thrilling day trip from the modern comforts of Reykjavik, you’ll spend an afternoon riding these colorful creatures. It’s your opportunity to relax and experience a simple way of life enjoyed by many of Iceland’s rural people.
Included: Breakfast; Horseback riding tour including guides, transportation, gear, and snacks; Accommodations
Travel Deeper: Volunteer
To truly understand Iceland, you must get to know its present-day challenges. As an optional yet strongly recommended trip extension, consider contributing to our locally-led community service projects. BACK&PACK requires a two-week commitment (minimum) for the volunteer extension, yet we encourage you to volunteer longer (ten-week maximum). Volunteer projects may include hands-on work in reforestation, sustainable agriculture, and beach cleanups with local non-profits and NGOs.
$1,040/week includes: Breakfasts; Volunteer placement, projects, and materials; Transportation between project sites; Donations to partner organizations; Accommodations
Southern Coast Camping
Picture yourself roaming Iceland’s southern coast, jumping from the iconic Seljalandsfoss waterfall to the Reynisfjara black sand beach to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and more. Now picture yourself spending those nights camping under the Icelandic stars. Yep, it’s life-changing! On this exciting, self-paced bus tour, you’ll explore all the best the southern coast has to offer. Bring your own camping gear or rent in Reykjavík – we’ll provide all the guidance and instructions you need to get away from the crowds and make the most of this incredible camping adventure.
Included: Ground transportation; Self-guided tour and camping instructions; Camping gear available for rent in Reykjavík
Journey To The North
Next, you’ll explore the historical landmarks, vibrant culture, and untouched nature of Northern Iceland. While based in Akureyri – Iceland’s “capital of the north” – you’ll join in on two guided day trips. Northern Iceland is well known for whale watching, and you’ll have a chance to hop on board a boat to spot some of these majestic giants. You’ll also venture inland to the otherworldly – some say moonlike – geologic and volcanic formations in and around Lake Mývatn. If the beauty of Iceland has yet to surprise you, the North will most surely take your breath away.
Included: Breakfasts; Transportation to/from Akureyri; Whale watching & Mývatn day tours including guides, transportation, gear, and snacks; Accommodations
Your time in Iceland is almost at an end. Yet many will say we’ve saved the best for last! On your final full day in Reykjavík, you’ll have a chance to submerge yourself in the tranquil waters of the famed Blue Lagoon. Rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, these unique pools offer the perfect environment to relax and reflect on your incredible adventures. You can go at your own pace and stay as long as you like on this day. When you’re ready, you’ll head back to Reykjavík and have the option to meet with your in-country Host one last time to participate in our closing activities.
Included: Breakfast; Bus to/from the Blue Lagoon; Entrance fee; Closing program & farewell gift; Accommodations
At the end of your trip, you’ll have a chance to do any last-minute shopping or sightseeing in Reykjavík before your transport to the airport. We’ll be sad to see you go, yet the end of one journey is simply the beginning of another. Whether you continue to another destination from here (Spain, anyone?!) or head home, we hope you’ve enjoyed your stay in the Land of Fire and Ice.
Included: Breakfast; Airport transportation
Start Your Adventure
After completing this short form, we’ll reach out to discuss your trip options in more detail, as well as our booking and payment process. Submitting this form is not a booking obligation – simply a starting point for our discussion!
Your journey will begin and end at Iceland’s largest airport, Keflavík International Airport (KEF). KEF typically has a wide selection of airlines and flight times, as well as very reasonable fares.
As we welcome travelers from all over the world, our pricing does not include the cost of flights. You may book flights on your own or inform our team if you wish to add air transportation to your booking. Often, we can source fares as low as $600-$1,200 depending on your origination point and dates of travel.
Note that many variables influence the cost of flights. Differences between high/low season travel, how far in advance you look, the booking service you use, even the time of the week you search can impact the fares you’ll find. That said, we recommend that you start to look for flights at least 3-6 months before your departure day. Typically, more of the cheaper seats will be available the further out you book, plus this offers some wiggle room to monitor price trends. Again, we are happy to navigate the process and find a great deal for you, all for a relatively small service fee ($35 per traveler).
Whether you book independently or with our team, coordinated air travel is of utmost importance. For those booking independently, please ensure you have e-mailed a copy of your itinerary to firstname.lastname@example.org. Then if there are any changes to your itinerary before or on travel days, inform our team immediately by e-mailing us or calling +1.720.340.1139.
One of our core goals at BACK&PACK is to deliver high-quality travel experiences at an affordable price. Our fees cover major expenses while abroad, yet we also believe in giving travelers some flexibility during the trip (the point of self-guided travel!). To assist with your budgeting, please ensure you’ve reviewed the following.
BACK&PACK fees typically cover:
- International SOS membership
- A professionally planned trip, personal mentorship, and 24/7 travel support
- Your Trip Information Packet (TIP) – delivered in an easy to access digital format – which includes detailed travel instructions, maps, in-country contacts, and medical/emergency information
- A virtual or in-country orientation focused on safety, cultural norms, travel tips, and personal goal setting
- Weekly check-ins with our U.S.-based team or in-country representatives
- Accommodations (we price based on a tiered system – BUDGET, COMFY, or SPLURGE – see our FAQ for more information)
- Some meals (see the itinerary above for specifics)
- Ground and ferry transportation (see the itinerary above for specifics)
- Guides and equipment for the included adventure excursions
- Closing activities and farewell gift
BACK&PACK fees do not cover:
- Health/travel insurance (required)
- Flight costs to/from Keflavík (KEF)
- Airport/airline taxes, baggage fees, flight upgrades, meals, etc.
- Passport, visa, vaccinations, COVID testing requirements, etc.
- Any costs incurred due to medical needs/emergencies
- Personal spending money (see the “Money” note on the “Packing List” tab for more specific information on money needs)
- Meals/snacks not specified in the TIP
- Activities, excursions, or transportation not specified in the TIP
- Cell phone and internet usage
- Laundry expenses
Local time – Quito is in the Ecuador Time (ECT) zone. The Galapagos Islands are in the Galapagos Time (GALT) zone. To calculate the time difference between Quito/the Galapagos and your area, we recommend timeanddate.com as it takes into account daylight savings rules and accepts present as well as future dates.
Currency – The official currency of Ecuador is the United States dollar (symbol: $; code: USD). For current currency conversion rates, we recommend visiting xe.com.
Weather – Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are comfortable throughout the year. Whenever you visit, you won’t be disappointed. For your convenience, we have compiled the following chart of key cities with the average ranges for highs (°F) / lows / rain days per month.
|Quito||66-67° / 48-49° / 10-15||66-67° / 48-49° / 7-15||67-68° / 47-48° / 5-11||66-67° / 47-48° / 11-14|
|Puerto Ayora||77-81° / 73-78° / 10-13||74-79° / 71-75° / 5-11||71-73° / 68-71° / 0-2||71-75° / 67-71° / 1-5|
Dress code – Whatever you wear at home is likely equally acceptable in Ecuador. That said, if you want to look less like a tacky tourist and avoid unwanted attention, you should note that locals tend to dress more conservatively. We recommend you keep things simple, don’t show too much skin (except at the beach!), and stick to classic combos (jeans/shorts and t-shirts, skirts and sweaters, etc.).
Language – Spanish is the dominant language in Ecuador. Quechua (the language of the Inca Empire) is still widely spoken as well, especially in the highlands. Note that English is not widely spoken in Ecuador. In major urban centers and areas that cater to tourists, you will encounter other English speakers. However, there will be times where you should be prepared to navigate with a friendly smile, some basic gestures, and whatever Spanish you may already know. While that may be intimidating for some, do not be shy or afraid! We encourage you to jump right in, as locals are very welcoming and friendly. You may find yourself picking up the basics very quickly.
Safety – Ecuador is generally considered to be safe for travelers. However, risk is inherent to travel, and there are always safety concerns regardless of where you go in the world. For a complete and thorough list of concerns and safety recommendations, please visit Ecuador’s “Safety and Security” section at travel.state.gov. Note that while violent crime is rarer in Ecuador (especially the Galapagos), tourists are often the target of petty theft, pickpocketing, etc. Exercise good judgment and common sense, though, and you are likely to have an incident-free travel experience.
Food – Exploring all the unique foods and flavors of Ecuador can be positively delightful. Meat, rice, and potato dishes are a mainstay, and you’ll find regional specialties such as seafood in the Galapagos. As part of your TIP, we will provide recommendations on things to eat and eateries to try. Additionally, your trip booking will include some meals (noted above), so please be sure to inform our team if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies. We will forward this information along to our in-country partners.
Water – The tap water in Ecuador is not safe to drink. You should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels, and try to avoid drinks with ice. Additionally, you’re safer only eating fruits that you can peel or salads and fruits washed with purified water.
Electrical outlets – Depending on the difference between your home country and Ecuador’s electricity systems, you may need to bring a travel plug adaptor (changes the plug/outlet type) and an electric converter (changes the voltage/frequency) for your electronics to work. Ecuador’s voltage/frequency is 120V/60Hz. Voltage/frequency in the U.S. is 120V/60Hz. Thus, U.S. travelers will not typically need a converter or adapter. For other travelers, you will need to ensure your electronics can be charged at 120V/60Hz (i.e., “dual-voltage”) or bring along an electric converter and plug adapters (types A and B).
Cell phone – Many major cellular carriers have broad coverage overseas. Please check with your carrier for rates and coverage before travel, as many plans require you to activate international roaming before use. Alternatively, it’s often the best deal to purchase a local SIM card and calling credits, especially for extended stays in Ecuador. You’ll need to ensure your phone is “unlocked” (check with your carrier for instructions) and that it’s GSM compatible. As part of your TIP, we will provide further guidance on this process.
Wi-Fi – You will find Wi-Fi in most cities and towns in Ecuador. Many cafes, restaurants, and hotels/hostels offer free Wi-Fi – though be prepared for sometimes painfully slow connections!
Laundry – Laundry services are available in many of the accommodations we use. Typically, you drop off a load at the front desk, pay by the pound, then receive your fresh and crisp clothing the next day. Very convenient! As such, we recommend packing light then doing your laundry every week or so.
BACK&PACK can not apply for passports or visas on your behalf, yet the information below should help guide you through the process. As always, contact our team if you have questions or run into any issues.
Travelers with U.S. passports – For the most up-to-date information, please visit Iceland’s page at travel.state.gov. Travelers with U.S. passports do not need a visa for stays less than 90 days but must have 3+ months of validity (6+ months recommended) after the departure date from Iceland. If you need to apply for or renew your passport, please submit your application as soon as possible.
Travelers with non-U.S. passports – Please verify passport and visa requirements for your nationality by contacting your local Icelandic embassy or consulate. The websites embassypages.com and embassy-finder.com operate handy directories of embassies and consulates around the world. If you’re required to obtain a visa and need specific information for the application process, please let us know at email@example.com. We will be happy to assist you.
Keeping your documents safe – Please be aware that passports are quite valuable abroad. Guard your important documents as you do your credit/debit cards, and keep these items in concealed locations. Additionally, we suggest you make copies of your important documents (passport, visa, etc.) before travel. Having these copies is very useful in the event of loss or theft. You can make photocopies or scan documents into a secure yet accessible computer file (a password-protected file stored in the cloud, for example). If photocopying, we suggest you make two copies of your documents. Leave one copy at home with a close friend or family member. Keep hold of the other copy while abroad, separate from the original.
BACK&PACK can not offer specific medical advice, yet please use the steps below to guide your decision-making process regarding travel vaccinations. Note, we’ve included country-specific requirements regarding COVID-19 in the “Trip Overview” section above.
- Go to the Travelers’ Health section for Iceland on the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website.
- Read through the information carefully and consider which precautions you may want to take.
- Schedule an appointment with your physician or travel health professional. For assistance locating a travel clinic in your area, you may wish to try the Find A Clinic service on the CDC website. Please allow plenty of time before your trip to see your health care provider (CDC suggests 4-6 weeks). Let your provider know before your appointment that you are coming in for travel vaccinations. They might ask for the areas where you may visit. This itinerary typically includes urban and rural areas in/near Reykjavík, Akureyri, Mývatn, and the southern and northern coasts.
Mosquito and other vector-borne illnesses – It’s important to note that protecting yourself from insect bites can significantly reduce your risk of vector-borne diseases (Zika, Malaria, Dengue, West Nile, etc.). On your packing list, we have included insect repellent with DEET along with long sleeve shirts/long pants. We recommend you use these items during your trip when contact with mosquitos and other insects is possible (excursions in outdoor settings, etc.).
Below you will find a detailed list of our recommended items for Quito and the Galapagos. Above all, remember you will be responsible for carrying your luggage from place to place. Do not skimp on essentials but know that you’ll likely feel every ounce of weight over time. Thus, the lighter you can pack, the better. As a general rule, if your pack is more than 30-35 pounds, you’ve overpacked. Strive for less! You will have the ability to do laundry every week or two (see the “Laundry” note on the “Country Info” tab).
- Main bag (35-70 liter capacity, depending on your packing habits) – Many travelers prefer wilderness-style backpacks for ease of use in various environments abroad. Wheeled luggage or duffel bags are okay but should be easy to carry over long stretches of rough terrain (cobblestone streets, stairs, etc.).
- Smaller bag for day trips, sightseeing, and weekend excursions
- Valid passport and visa (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of travel documents (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of flight documents/itinerary
- Debit/credit cards and cash (see “Money” note below)
- Insurance cards (see our FAQ for more information)
- Student ID or other identification (optional – student IDs can sometimes get you discounts abroad)
- Electronic or physical list of phone numbers, addresses for postcards, etc.
- Lightweight short sleeve shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Long sleeve shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Lightweight pants or long skirts
- Nicer outfits for going out
- Warm pants
- Warm upper layers/sweaters/jackets
- Raincoat/outer shell
- Warm hat
- Snorkeling gear (optional but recommended)
- Wetsuit (optional but recommended)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Flip flops or sandals
- Sun hat or cap
- UV protected sunglasses
- Mesh laundry bag labeled with your name
- Travel plug adaptors and/or electric converter (see the “Electrical outlets” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Cell phone and charger
- Tablet or laptop (see “Valuables and electronics” note below)
- Headphones (optional)
- Camera (optional)
- eReader (optional)
- Locks for luggage (optional)
- Journal (optional)
- Water bottle (see the “Water” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Quick-dry towel and washcloth
- Soap or body wash (see “Eco-friendly products” note below)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Lip balm
- Eye care supplies (glasses, contact lenses, etc.) and spares
- Hairbrush or comb
- Any necessary razors, trimmers, and shaving cream
- Nail clippers and tweezers
- Medications (see “Medications” note below)
- Personal first aid kit (see “First Aid” note below)
- Waterproof sunscreen (SPF 30+)
- Small bottle of insect repellent with DEET (25-30% concentration)
- Earplugs and/or sleep mask (optional)
- Any personal items you need not on this list (feminine hygiene products, etc.)
Valuables and electronics – Note that BACK&PACK is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items. You are free to bring a tablet, laptop, camera, jewelry, watch, etc. – but if you are concerned about losing/damaging an item, then it’s best to leave it at home.
Eco-friendly products – For your toiletries, please consider traveling with reputable “green” brands to help reduce environmental impacts. For soap/body wash, we’re fans of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, for example.
First Aid – We recommend that all travelers come with a basic first aid kit for personal use. Supplies may include Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, pain/fever medication, cold medicine, antidiarrheals, mild laxatives, Pepto Bismol, anti-itch cream, decongestants, cough drops, etc. We HIGHLY recommend including Dramamine as well for seasickness during ferry crossings. While you can purchase premade first aid kits, these products tend to be bulky and don’t always contain sufficient quantities of certain items. Alternatively, you can think about what you like to have on hand when you get a cold, the flu, upset stomach, bug bites, etc. Purchase necessary items (in sufficient quantities!) at your local pharmacy, then pack everything together in a ziplock bag.
Medications – You are responsible for the proper administration of any prescription and over-the-counter medications. Note, some prescription medications are difficult to find in pharmacies abroad. Please consider taking precautions to reduce the risk of loss. For your flights, ensure prescription medications are in your carry-on bag, NOT checked baggage. They should be clearly labeled in their original packaging/with instructions, as required by the airlines. Then when in Ecuador, you may wish to err on the side of caution by securing prescription medications in a bag with luggage locks. Luggage locks can be purchased at your local Walmart, Target, travel store, etc.
Money – Ecuador is a largely cash-based society. As such, we recommend traveling with a few days worth of cash from your home country, then converting upon arrival in Ecuador. Note that money changers in Ecuador are notoriously picky. All cash you bring must be in excellent condition – without tears or blemishes (even tiny ones!) – as many vendors and exchange houses abroad will not accept “damaged” bills.
We also recommend traveling with a debit/ATM (for additional cash withdrawals) and a credit card (kept in separate, concealed locations). Each offers distinct advantages abroad, plus having two cards is very useful in the event of loss, theft, or denial of one by a particular vendor.
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted cards in Ecuador. Your cards will need chip technology and a 4-digit PIN. If you have questions or concerns regarding your debit/credit cards, contact your card provider. Also, be aware that some cards charge significant fees while traveling (e.g., 2-3% foreign transaction fees), so please budget for your card’s total cost of use. It is also critical to inform your debit/credit card providers of your international travel plans before departure to avoid suspension of your account (i.e., fraud protection).