Safe Travels in Iceland
Iceland is an undeniably unique place and one of the things that make it so special is its vast wilderness, its variety in landscapes, natural forces, and the seemingly endless dramatic scenery. As a result, taking off to the countryside, on foot, car, horse or bike is an absolute must for any visitor and highly recommended. Iceland is by all standards considered a very safe country but we like to err on the safe side, so read our tips and recommendations for a safe travel experience in our fair country.
The Roads in Iceland
Driving in Iceland is an unusual experience. As soon as you leave Reykjavik, amazing scenery reveals itself at every turn and once you’ve gone past the heaviest traffic around the city, you might find yourself completely alone on the road for long periods at a time. It’s absolutely wonderful, but also something to be very aware of. Long stretches of road, especially along the south coast, are notorious for speeding and just know that speeding fines in Iceland are nothing to joke about. Paved rural roads have a maximum speed of 90 km/h in best conditions, and if you find that too slow, just remember that there’s a very good reason for that speed limit. Aside from the fact that these roads are designed for this top speed, they are full of unexpected turns, single-lane bridges (yes, you read that right) and most importantly, during summer, sheep roam free along the sides of the road and sometimes very much in the middle of the road. Their judgment and ability to assess situations is somewhat lacking so honk your horn vigorously and slow down. They may very well decide to try to get to the other side of the road as you pass. Black ice and treacherous weather is very much a thing in these parts so keep an eye on websites like www.road.is for road conditions or en.vedur.is for weather conditions before you start your excursion. And finally, do not stop on the road to take pictures or take in the scenery. Find an appropriate place to park off the road for your Instagram moment or move on.
The Icelandic Highlands
Iceland has the largest unbuilt interior in Europe, covering over 40,000 square kilometers. The Highlands are magical, otherworldly and in parts, mind-bogglingly beautiful. It goes without saying that if you have a chance to visit the Highlands, you should take it because it will be a unique experience for the senses. But there is a reason they are uninhabited. This is wild country with treacherous weather, volcanoes, deserts, massive glacial rivers, and the most unpredictable weather. Don’t underestimate these natural forces. Locals planning a simple hike for a few hours in the highlands are usually very well prepared and glued to the weather forecast until the minute they leave.
The Weather in Iceland
Of all the surprising things Iceland has to offer, the weather definitely keeps you on your toes. Before heading off to the country, whether its hiking just outside the city or a driving excursion to the highlands, make sure you check the weather forecast and conditions. A popular hike over Fimmvörðuháls is notorious for starting in perfect, sunny 20°C in July only to reveal a massive fog or even a snowstorm at the top of the trail just a couple of hours in. The forecast is reliable but the biggest mistake is assuming the weather in one place will hold for the duration of your travels. But that’s also quite neat because a few days in Iceland should reveal a colorful display of all possible weathers.
Expect the Unexpected
While the weather is usually the most unpredictable thing about any excursion, it’s not just the weather that you need to stay on top of in Iceland. This is after all an active volcanic island. That means earthquakes, eruptions and glacial flooding. What’s that you ask? That’s when a subglacial volcano “erupts” without breaking the icecap and sends insane amounts of glacial water down to the planes below. This happens quite regularly below the huge glaciers along the Southcoast of Iceland. It’s not considered a huge risk since these things are heavily monitored and roads are closed at any sign of risk, but it could mean that you might have to turn around a few hours outside of Reykjavik and drive around the entire island to get to the city. Volcanoes are also very well monitored and usually give a bit of warning with unusual seismic activity at which point the authorities will evacuate the area in question, using first responders and cellphone towers to locate any travelers.
Preparation is Key
Before heading off to the country, visit www.safetravel.is. It’s designed to help travelers avoid any unnecessary risks by informing them of current conditions with accessible maps and general information about travel in Iceland. Additionally, you can submit your travel plan there with an option to check in with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) who will then monitor your trip and look for you if you go missing. You can also rent an emergency beacon to help locate you if lose your way. ICE-SAR is a national volunteer organization of thousands of volunteers that are available for search and rescue services, all year round, night and day, dedicated to the prevention of accidents and to save human lives.
The bottom line is that if you just stay informed and alert, traveling around Iceland is a unique and beautiful experience that should create magical memories that will last a lifetime. Stay safe and enjoy your travels.