On one incredibly sunny day in May, I got the chance to escape the Guide to Iceland offices to take off on a 2-hour Buggy expedition just a 20-minute drive outside of Reykjavík close to the iconic mountain, Esja.
A buggy is an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) which allows exciting access to destinations where few people usually go; off the beaten path and up rocky mountain passes, off-road across picturesque valleys, and through shallow rivers where you can make a splash, all guaranteed to get your adrenaline rushing and heartbeat racing.
ATV and Buggy tours are some of the most popular and versatile tourist activities available in Iceland’s Capital Area, Reykjavík and beyond. You don’t need any experience to drive one, you just need a valid driver’s license and a sense of adventure.
Buggy tours operate all year round in rain, snow or shine making them a robust option among the variety of outdoor activities available in Iceland which can sometimes be hampered or cancelled due to changeable and inclement weather.
The particular 2-Hour Off-road Buggy Ride expedition that I took leaves from the Buggy Adventures headquarters in the shadow of the iconic Mount Esja and runs all year round. The surrounding valley gives a large degree of protection from high-speed winds, so in circumstances when country roads are closed due to poor weather conditions leading to pre-arranged plans or tours being derailed or cancelled, you can most often rely on the Esja buggy tours to keep running!
I’m also informed that it can be exponentially more fun when it’s raining or wet on the ground as you get to splash through more puddles and slide over more mud which certainly appeals to my sense of fun.
I have a bit of experience quad-biking and snowmobiling but I had never been in or driven a buggy so I was excited to check out this exhilarating mode of transport. As a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, I’ve been dying to try a buggy since, unlike a quad bike, passengers are protected by a roll cage and seatbelts allowing for higher speeds over rougher terrains while still feeling safe. Needless to say, I was pumped for my 2-hour adventure!
I arrive at Buggy Adventures and get suited and booted for the excursion which includes full body overalls, a balaclava, rubber boots and a helmet; all of which would come in handy later; you’ll see why! The helmet comes with a double visor; the first acts as sunglasses, the second is to protect you from wind and water. You can see me in the video above deftly securing my outer-visor.
As I get into the buggy, our guide instructs the group on how everything works and it’s surprisingly easy: the gears are automatic and you basically just have to master the gas and brake to get going which does not take long. Once the group was strapped in and confident we set off through a series of backroads to make our way out to the off-road tracks that would soon take us to high into the valley.
I had the benefit of having a member of the Buggy Adventures staff with me who's more than familiar with the route and driving buggies. I start off in the driver’s seat and we get going, and I experience the vibrations from the power of the engine coursing through my legs. I start off trying to apologise to my passenger for bumps and edgy turns but I soon realise she can’t hear me over the roar of the engine so I quickly let go of my over-polite Britishness and buggy bug-outs and surrender to the thrill of the ride.
And how fun it is! We set off in a convoy on a traffic-free tarmacked road and start to collect speed going straight on clear tracks; I'm already hooked! We soon turn off onto rougher terrain where we come to a sort of obstacle course, or rather, a series of artificial bumps, slopes, and pools where we can test our newly acquired navigation skills and really get our adrenaline pumping.
Once we’ve cleared this puddle playground, we rejoin the gravel off-road path to begin our ascent up the picturesque mountain that dominates the scenery. As I take in the thrill of the ride, I also take (carefully chosen!) moments to marvel at our epic surroundings bathed in the warmth of the Icelandic summer sun.
As we come to the foot of the elevation we’re soon to summit, our convoy halts for a moment and our guide comes over to each of the vehicles to switch our buggies into 4WD. As we make our way up, I feel proud of my new-found buggy skills as I manage to navigate the winding paths at a reasonable pace while hopefully not causing my passenger too much worry!
We reach our destination, park our vehicles and shake out our buggy legs all while enjoying the view and snapping photos of the rolling green valleys against perfectly blue skies as well as stealing a few cheeky mandatory selfies. Below, you can see a picture of my buggy parked in front of the fantastic backdrop we had to relish at our pit stop.
Once we’ve had enough time to take in our surroundings, we return to our buggies, this time swapping seats so that the passenger could have a turn in the driver’s seat for the second half of the tour (should they wish, of course).
I had been anxious that my passenger might have been nervous about my driving but as she puts on her seatbelt, she assures me that she’s quite the adrenaline junkie herself and an ‘adventurous’ buggy driver. I’m excited to be a passenger.
She does not disappoint and we reach top speeds on our return leg of the trip leading me to conclude that it’s just as much fun to be in the passenger seat as it is to drive. Our guide skillfully leads our intrepid convoy down the mountain, and we come upon a series of pebble-strewn shallow streams where the fun really escalates.
My experienced driver waits for the people in front of us to fully clear the water before blasting the engine at full revs, pummeling through the stream as though our lives depended on it. What a thrill! As we hit the water a huge wave climbs over us and I really come to appreciate the sufficient headgear and overalls we have on. As soon as our windscreen cleared, we were upon another stream and the fun continued on like this for several more satisfying splashes, each more exhilarating than the last.
Just before returning to camp, we stop once more at the obstacle playground to ensure both drivers get a chance at this adrenaline-inducing rollercoaster of a ride.
As we park our vehicles back outside the office and get out of our overalls, I find my phone safe and dry in my pocket thanks to my trusty plastic phone wallet. If you don’t already have one, they are available to buy from Buggy Adventures for a great price, allowing you to take pictures without having to worry about wrecking your phone.
I ended this tour with an immediate desire to get back in the buggy and start all over again. Buggy Adventures does offer a 1-hour off-road tour covering some of the same ground as I have described, however, if you are travelling as a couple, I would highly recommend the 2-hour tour since it gives you both a full hour to zoom across the countryside.
You can also opt to ride in a buggy by yourself so you can enjoy the full duration of your tour in the driver’s seat! It only costs a fraction more, making it well worth your rev-head time and money.
Children from the age of 6-years old can be a passenger and a member of staff can be available to drive if there are not enough adults or customers with driving licenses in the group.
Buggy Adventures offers a diverse range of tours, many of which combine sightseeing with adventure including the Golden Buggy Adventure, a full day activity that sees guests undertake the whole Golden Circle route in a buggy, with added detours along highland tracks. Another half-day excursion is centred in the valley of Þórsmörk (“Valley of Thor”), where customers can marvel at landscapes varying from barren, black sand deserts to cool blue glaciers.
If you really want to experience the wilderness whilst combining sightseeing and driving, you could opt for the exciting day-tour in the Highlands amidst the picturesque, rhyolite hills of Landmannalaugar in the summertime.
It’s also possible to create tailor-made buggy tours for your group to guarantee a unique and personal experience to remember! Given their large fleet of vehicles, Buggy Adventures can accommodate up to 50 people at one time making it the perfect choice for large groups looking for an exhilarating once in a lifetime experience.
It's quite obvious in the picture above that I had an amazing time throughout my buggy experience and I would certainly go again. Personally, I have my eyes set on the helicopter and buggy tour combo for my next adventure!
All Photo Credit: Arnar Freyr Tómasson & Buggy Adventures Facebook
Do you have any questions about ATV or Buggy tours in Iceland? Would you like to share your own buggy experiences? Be sure to leave any thoughts or queries in the Facebook comments box below.