Iceland – 10 Things About the Land of Fire and Ice
Meet Iceland, the land of Fire and Ice, also known as the country EVERYBODY wants to visit these days. I have to give it to the tourism national agency – well done! You guys made us crave Iceland like it’s the only instagrammable place in the world. It didn’t hurt Game of Thrones, Thor or Fast and Furious 8 were filmed here as well. After spending almost 3 weeks on this beautiful island, here’s 10 things you should know about the Land of Fire and Ice.
1. So many tourists, all the tourists are here
Here’s the deal, Iceland has around 330 000 inhabitants. In 2016 they were already receiving 1.7 million visitors and by October 2017 that number was already over 1.9 million visitors. Travelers LOVE Iceland. You can see more numbers here. Keep that in mind when you go, look at the off-peak times to go and be mindful of the fact that Iceland doesn’t have the infrastructure for all these people coming over in growing numbers. The roads are good, but the main attractions can get very crowded. And with the increasing number of buses on the roads or the cars stopping randomly to snap one more photo, the situation is not getting better. Also, there’s a poop situation going on, aka people don’t use restrooms (sometimes because there are no restrooms) but nature instead.
Personally, I’m very torn. I love the wild side of Iceland and could do very well without so many people around me. Yet, I understand people wanting to discover the off-the-beaten track. I also get Icelanders feeling overwhelmed with all these incomers who just want to get a vibe of their country. Which takes me to the next thing you should know about Iceland.
2. Tourism is unregulated, please help out
If you’ve ever been to any national park turned attraction you’ll get what I mean. How beautiful is it when you actually get to walk to a waterfall without any restriction? Or when you get to hike anywhere? OR when you don’t have to pay an entrance fee to see natural attractions?
In Iceland, you get to walk to the lagoon and play with the ice chunks the water brings to shore. You can sit on the volcanic rocks and look at the waterfall right in front of you while almost touching the double rainbow that’s forming up as we speak. At the very most, you’ll have a few stairs set up for you so you climb up the small hills for a better view. Or you’ll see a small sign saying “Please don’t pass”. Iceland is breathtaking because we get to be part of it. We get to take it in as it is, how rare is that?
So please, please, a fellow traveler, I’m telling you: don’t be an ass. Don’t pass over the signs saying “Danger, strong winds” and go up the cliff with the kids to take a better selfie. Don’t disregard the ropes meant to show where to go just for a better instagram photo hanging off the cliff. If you’re told you’re not allowed to camp in the wild in that spot, don’t do it. And unless you have a proper toilet in your camper van, maybe don’t wild camp at all. There’s no guards, there’s no cameras, there’s only simple and visible signs saying: Don’t do this, it’s dangerous. Icelanders respect nature, let’s follow that.
It’s gotten to the point where a popular black beach called Reynisfjara is cheekily named “Chinese takeaway” by the locals. Before you get angry, think about this: there’s signs showing how dangerous the currents and waves are and tourists disregard them. People have already died there because of not following a simple rule. Iceland doesn’t have a military force, so all the rescue teams are actually volunteer-based. So these volunteers are put in legit danger to rescue somebody because travelers can’t follow a sign. Look what has already happened in iceland this year alone.
3. Waterfalls everywhere! Seriously, everywhere
Swoon, baby, swoon.
4. The water is so clean you can drink it out of the waterfalls
Yaaas! No need to buy water at all, you can easily drink (delicious) tap water or simply water from your hikes.
5. Iceland is VERY expensive, but you’ll survive
If you don’t mind hotdogs, Iceland’s national food, you’ll be fine. Joke aside, I’ve had enough sandwiches and hotdogs to last me a lifetime. Get your booze from the duty free or better yet, from home. Stock up at the Bonus supermarket all throughout Iceland and think twice before eating out. If you swap your accommodation for camping (in the summer only) and fill up the car with passengers, that’s gonna help too. And try to be at peace with it: you know it’s going to be expensive so you might as well accept it and move on. Right?
6. If you go to the Penis museum in Reykjavik, you might need a minute afterwards
Might have been a bit too much for my hungover self or maybe too many visuals at the same time? Either way, it was completely worth it for getting my photo taken with a 1,7m high sperm whale phallus.
7. Iceland random fact: it has the best clouds in the world, the very best
One of my favorite things in Iceland was how you could drive for a couple of hours without meeting more than a few sheep on the way. I embraced the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere combined with stunning scenery and countless waterfalls just popping up to the right and left. So I got even more excited when I started noticing that a lot of the clouds were low and a lot of times it looked like they embraced the mountains. What a fairytale ride!
8. Go see the glaciers, it will blow your mind away
Driving towards it, looking at it, seeing pieces of ice coming off it – you can even choose your glacier activity. Or if you want more, you can choose to do a glacier walk. Having recently done the volcano hike in Chile, I didn’t feel the need to go up a glacier, but I would definitely see myself doing that in the future.
9. You gotta love the pools
Icelanders have a healthy relationship with their daily pool visit. We traveled in a big group for a while so instead of lining up for the campsite showers, we went to the pool for showering, a daily dip in the hot pots and a teeth-clenching experience in the cold pot. Mixing up with the locals and having a daily routine to follow made me so happy after months of randomness, I couldn’t recommend it enough. You can buy a 10-entrance card if you’re based in one place for longer or just get single tickets every time. Prices range from 5 to 10 euros per person.
10. Hotdogs and campsite fires are your friends
Eat the hotdogs and cook your food, save your money for the occasional splurge on homemade burgers or craft beer. Iceland is crazy on hotdogs and I put my money on the bacon wrapped one, yum!
Bonus: Follow the happy hour trail and let people know where you go
This is for Reykjavik, the locals drink out when there’s a happy hour involved. You can find the happy hours in the local newspapers or you can download the Appy Hour app to check them out. And their happy hours are long, some start as early as 11 am. *insert grin*
Traveling by yourself or a tad concerned about the difficulty of the trek you’re about to take on? Please let somebody know where you’re going. If you don’t have a 4×4 don’t head on an off-road itinerary. If it’s winter, pay extra attention to the road conditions. And I’ve heard the locals always say “have a phone on you, you never know what’s going to happen”.
Iceland is this surreal place to visit, it’s incredibly beautiful and I can’t wait to go back for more. If you’re thinking about going, this is some useful advice: Dumbest things to do in Iceland
Have you been? What other things would you add to the list?