For those of you who are considering whether to to arrange your own tour or purchase a self drive package, I thought I would share my experience.
We were in Iceland for the last week of May. As I was planning the trip I found myself overwhelmed by the options and since work commitments meant I had limited time, I eventually decided to go through a tour operator. I have been traveling for 30 years, and this was the first time I used a tour operator to plan for me, so I was a little nervous about relinquishing control and whether it would be worth the additional expense.
We opted for the South Island tour up to Hofn and back, and made some minor changes to the itinerary suggested. For one thing, we decided to stay at the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel the first night, so the car rental company sent representatives to meet us at the airport, provide us with our package from Iceland Unlimited and sent us on our way. This added to our costs given the difference in price from the hotel in Reykjavik and that we had the car for an additional day, but we knew we would prefer driving around this region over walking around the city on our first day. This also meant that I did not meet with anyone from IU before setting out on our trip, but that was fine. I was given a cell phone I could use to call them if there were any concerns, and I did not have to use this.
I was given a map with our route highlighted as well as some handwritten commentary on things I might find interesting. This was helpful, especially the first day as we were very tired and jet lagged and did not want to think for ourselves.
We opted for the upgraded accommodation package, which generally worked out fine (a nice upgrade at Hotel Ranga!), but the accommodations in Hofn and in Reykjavik were not great. In fairness I did ask for Hotel Hofn because I wanted to be in town that night, so I am responsible for that choice. The hotel in Reykjavik, however, put us in their lowest calibre room, which was very small and uncomfortable. I do not mind this if that is what we are supposed to be paying for, but since we had superiour rooms in the other hotels it makes me think that something went wrong here. I guess that is the problem with not doing the planning and booking yourself - you do not have control over the details.
They also arranged the rental of fishing equipment and a fishing licence for my husband to enjoy a day of fishing in Varma. Unfortunately it had rained very hard the day before and the river was in no condition for fishing. As my husband says "that's fishing...." so obviously I do not fault IU for that!
If I had gone with my original self planned itinerary I would have missed a number of experiences. The pacing of this tour was just right - we left the hotel every morning by 10 and and checked into our next one by 4 after spending a day of hiking and walking and enjoying fabulous scenery and views. That is where it pays to have someone who knows the area plan this for you. I do believe that if I had had the time I could have figured this out for myself, but I did not have the time and in the end it was well worth it for me to hire someone else to do this for me.