Seashells, hermit crabs, and loose change. Those are the typical things that I would discover on a beach. But that was before I had visited Sólheimasandur beach on the south coast of Iceland.
On a cloudy afternoon, we had stumbled upon an abandoned plane wreck on the beach. Okay, maybe stumbled isn’t the word. Actually, we had an agenda. We trekked over 2.5 miles through black sand and loose gravel to see this famous site in Iceland. After 45 minutes, we finally spotted the Douglas DC-3 airplane lying lifeless in the distance. The sight was just as epic as we’d hope!
History of the U.S. Navy Douglas DC-3 Plane Crash
Here’s a quick rundown behind this plane crash. In 1973, a U.S. Navy DC-3 plane came crashing on the beach at Sólheimasandur, Iceland. The consensus seems to be they ran out of fuel. Luckily all the crew members in the crash survived. Forty-something years later, the fuselage still lies here today and is now an attraction along the south coast of Iceland. A photographer’s dream!
In the past, visitors have been able to drive along a designated gravel path, right up to the plane. But lately, the land has been misused. Tourists have been driving off the designated path, leaving a long-lasting mark on the terrain and ruining the vegetation. A big no-no. Not to mention, incredibly disrespectful to the farmers who have been working to preserve this land!
As of March 2016, you may park your car at the small gravel parking lot by the main road and walk to the site.
Keep in mind, this site is in the middle of no where. There are no bathrooms, restaurants, water fountains, water slides or whatever else you might expect from a tourist attraction. This is Iceland, after all. It’s just black sand and gravel for miles and miles. Therefore, you should prepare by bringing a water bottle, snacks, a warm jacket (preferably windproof), and proper shoes or hiking boots.
There’s minimal signage, if any, so if you’re not careful, you might drive right past the small gravel parking lot. Look for a small gate on the right side of the road (if you’re driving counter-clockwise around the Ring Road, the opposite is true for clockwise). See below for the coordinates.
The path is flat and easy, but not paved, so be sure to wear the right shoes for sand and gravel. During the walk, you won’t be able to spot the airplane until the very end because there’s a slight drop. But trust me, you’ll feel pure joy once you’ve spotted the light gray metal body. Especially after a long walk through such barren land.
When to go
The best time to visit is in the daytime on a clear day, preferably during the summer (June – August). Furthermore, I do not recommend visiting during the winter months or at night. Do you really want to get lost in the land of fire and ice? Me neither.
We went in the late afternoon in June 2016. There were a handful of visitors walking before and after us, but they were all quite respectful. Everyone got their turn with the plane.
West of Vik, Iceland (town)
About 11km past Skógafoss Waterfall
Coordinates to parking lot: (63.4912391, -19.3632810)
Coordinates to airplane: (63.27546, -19.21887)
About 2.5 miles (one-way)
About 4 km (one-way)
About 45 minutes (one-way)
Unfortunately, there has been graffiti etched on the plane. Mainly, people tagging their names in hearts on the body. Not really what I’d consider romantic… There’s even a music video where Justin Bieber skateboards down the roof of the plane. Not cool, Justin. NOT COOL!
So, if you visit, please pay respect to this extremely cool site. Everybody, even generations later, should be able to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience like this.