With a subarctic climate and a very small population, Iceland might be a bit different from other popular vacation destinations you visit. Desolate landscapes, mountains, waterfalls, geothermal areas, and the ocean are natural wonders that are not only beautiful but can also catch you off-guard if you travel unprepared. Let these eight safety guidelines help you when you’re planning your trip to Iceland.
1. Know Iceland’s emergency numbers
First of all, if you are stuck in a dangerous situation and need immediate help, you should call Iceland’s emergency number. Just like in many other countries, the emergency number is 112. You can dial it free of charge to reach emergency services like ambulances, rescue teams, and the police. There are around 100 rescue teams in Iceland with thousands of volunteers responding to distress calls, to prevent accidents, and save human lives. Consider donating to the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) during your trip so they can keep up their good work!
2. Keep an eye on the weather forecast
Icelandic weather is changeable, and extreme weather can occur from time to time. High wind speeds in combination with snow are not uncommon in wintertime and will limit visibility by a lot. Therefore, it’s always good to check the weather forecast on www.vedur.is before you head out. You might want to travel early in the day or delay your travels for a couple hours if this means you won’t be driving through a snow storm. In summer, high wind speeds, fog, low temperatures, and rain are things to take into consideration when you plan your trip, especially when you’re hiking and camping. Knowing the weather forecast, you can dress and prepare for the weather, which will make your trip much more enjoyable.
3. Check the road conditions before you head out
While checking the weather forecast, make sure to also check the road conditions on www.road.is. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration updates their website regularly, showing when roads are closed, slippery, have patches of ice, or are easily passable. Never drive on a closed road, this can be dangerous, and you can get stuck. Road.is also shows if you need a 4WD vehicle on your route. Only cross rivers if you have an appropriate vehicle, know what you’re doing or have an experienced driver/guide with you. Read more about driving safely in Iceland here.
4. Be extra careful when visiting geothermal areas
Geothermal energy is very useful, it’s used to warm up the water in Iceland’s swimming pools, spas, and natural baths. Geothermal heat is also used for residential heating systems and even to warm up streets in winter. But geothermal energy is not only useful, geothermal areas are also a popular tourist destination, with sulphurous mud pools, hot springs, and steaming fumaroles. What you might not realise, is that the water in these mud pools can reach a temperature of up to 100°C. If you fall in, or just slip in with your foot, you will suffer serious burns, so it’s extremely dangerous to leave the path in these areas. Luckily, these areas have clear paths, so make sure to stay on them.
5. Don’t go too close to the ocean
Have you ever heard of sneaker waves? If not, you better read up on them before coming to Iceland. Sneaker waves, also known as sleeper waves, are waves that stretch out way farther onto shore then regular waves, hitting unwary shore-dwellers without warning. Some of these waves are so huge that they drag people into the ocean with tremendous force. Sneaker waves are common in South Iceland at Reynisfjara and Kirkufjara beaches, and warning signs have been put up following multiple deaths by sneaker waves in recent years. These areas are safe to visit, just remember that you cannot dip your toes in the ocean there and keep a safe distance from the water.
6. Stay on the path
Whether it’s at a waterfall, at a geothermal area, during a mountain hike, or when visiting any natural wonder, it’s important to stay on the path. Not only will nature be protected like this, it’s the safest way for you to enjoy nature. From time to time, it happens that areas are closed for nature conservation or because a path is unsafe. If you see a closed path, do not step over the line. It’s closed for a reason. As long as you respect road and path closures, you should be fine.
7. Let someone know where you’re going
This next guideline is especially important if you’re planning to go hiking, camping, or hitchhiking, but anyone leaving the city can leave their travel plan on www.safetravel.is, the website of SafeTravel, an accident prevention project of ICE-SAR. For this, you need to include at least one location per day, but the more information the better. They also ask for your details and those of an emergency contact. If you change your plans last minute, don’t forget to submit an updated travel itinerary. In case of emergency, ICE-SAR will be able to respond quicker if they have your travel plan.
8. Follow the updates on safetravel.is
We already mentioned SafeTravel in the previous paragraph, but next to submitting your travel itinerary to their website, you should use it during your stay to check on safety warnings. It is a great source of information for travellers in Iceland. SafeTravel aims to educate travellers and provides resources to keep travellers informed. On their website, safety alerts are updated daily in English, Icelandic, French, and German. If you want to talk to a safety agent in person, it’s possible to speak directly with them at the What’s On tourist information centre at Bankastræti 2, or on Skype between 08:00 and 20:00 every day.