Before you go travelling in Iceland, it’s important to understand that the island is mostly untamed wilderness. While its untamed beauty is undoubtedly one of Iceland’s biggest attraction, untamed things tend to be dangerous, and this Arctic island is no exception. In order to travel safely, you need to keep your wits about you.
• Approach everything with caution; hiking, driving, even sightseeing.
• Just because there’s not a sign, doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.
• Always, always, ALWAYS check the weather, even during summer.
• Ask your guide or the locals if your travel plans are safe. More importantly, listen to their advice!
Icelanders tend to believe that by employing common sense, everyone should be able to travel safely. In reality, conditions in Iceland are very different from most other places. Many tourists don’t have the information they need to stay safe and even experienced hikers can get into trouble if they are going behave exactly the same as they do back home. We advise you to prepare yourself before travelling into the nature of Iceland and research the route beforehand.
These tips might seem self-explanatory or overly cautious, but remember; better safe than sorry!
Don’t go into the water, unless you’ve made sure it’s not too cold!
When travelling to Þingvellir, for instance, the crystal clear lakes and ponds might seem like a good place for a swim. They’re probably not. Even during the summer, the temperature might be just above freezing. The water can be so cold that it causes swimmers to cramp, which of course is extremely dangerous. If you’re looking for a swim, wait until you get to Laugarvatn where you can go for a much more pleasant (and safer) swim at Fontana Spa.
Don’t go into the water, unless you’ve made sure it’s not too hot!
Iceland has a LOT of geothermal energy. In some places, this means comfortably warm water, suitable for bathing. In other cases, this means that the water is hot enough to boil you alive. The Geysir area has a lot of warm pools of water but just because a pool of water looks inviting, with steam rising from the water, does NOT mean you can jump in!
Be CAREFUL around the ocean!
The sea around Iceland has claimed many lives throughout the years and the people in Iceland know to treat it with respect. Even if the ocean looks peaceful and calm, it’s NEVER safe to go in the water, or even near it, unless you know with absolute certainty that it’s not dangerous. The undercurrent is so strong in places that even standing near the water, not in it, puts you in danger of being swept out to sea. If you lose your feet, it can be very difficult to save you! Reynisfjara, for example, the striking black beach with imposing rocks all around, is a popular tourist attraction, but people have died there. I can’t stress this enough, even if the water looks calm, it can still overpower you if you go too close!
Never trust ice! In any form!
NEVER go onto a glacier without an experienced guide! The ice may look solid, but it’s constantly moving and crevasses open and close all the time without a warning. It’s entirely possible the glacier could swallow you whole and not spit you out until a century later, if at all. While I’m on the subject of ice, you know Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon? It’s very beautiful, with striking icebergs in blue and black sticking out of the water like floating islands. The icebergs are unlike islands in one crucial way; they can capsize at any moment and throw you into the ice cold water. Stay on the beach or take the boat tour, just don’t walk onto the ice!
Respect the weather
The weather conditions in Iceland are almost certainly completely different to what you are used to. Not only is Iceland more likely to have stormy weather, the weather here is also extremely unpredictable. Even if the weather looks lovely in the morning, by mid-afternoon things could be a lot stormier. Also, even if the weather in Reykjavík looks good, driving for an hour or two might land you in a completely different situation.
Never stray from the path
When travelling in Iceland, you won’t see many fences, signs or paved paths. Since Iceland is mostly wilderness, it isn’t usual to mark dangerous spots with fences and signs. Still, some of the most popular natural attractions now have paths leading to them. Some of them, like Gullfoss for example, also have fences and designated viewpoints. Since they are so rare, the fences and signs they do put up should be taken seriously. Climbing over the fence at Gullfoss is extremely dangerous and should under no circumstances be attempted!
Always let someone know where you’re going
If you’re travelling without a guide, make sure there’s someone who knows where you’re going and will alert the Search and Rescue team if you don’t return. You can also leave your travel plan with ICE-SAR or rent a PLB (personal location beacon) that can be activated if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.