1. Driving – Some Tips for staying safe.
Driving outside of the ring roads or main paved roads in Iceland can be challenging. The weather can change very quickly and it is very important to be aware of and to keep up to date with wind and weather warnings in Iceland. Many of the roads in the interior are not spanned by bridges and fording a river in your vehicle can be very dangerous if you are not aware of the changing weather conditions, where your vehicle (and you) could potentially be taken away in flood
waters. Don’t try to do too much in the time you have allotted, there is so much to see in Iceland but if you try to see too much , you might find that you have spent most of your time driving. If you don’t want this experience and cannot stay long enough to see what you want to see at leisure, perhaps you should plan a return trip.
Iceland is too beautiful and interesting for you to be stuck in a car all day, only catching short glimpses of its sights before having to move on in order to fit in a ‘too ambitious’ itinerary.
It’s important never to stop in the middle of the tracks, this apparently is an all too common sight in Iceland, and it might seem safe, as often you will spend many hours driving and will see no other vehicles. But other vehicles there are, and they are not expecting stationary traffic or people to be parked up in the middle of a track, people have died while taking pictures from the middle of the road.
It is completely illegal to drive off the marked tracks in Iceland and the fines for off-road driving are significant. There are lots of gas stations in Reykjavik and on Iceland’s south coast, but they become rarer if you are visiting the West Fjords, North Iceland, or the East Fjords.
When travelling in the interior it is also good advice to either carry additional cans of fuel or else to never pass a garage without topping up your tank, as petrol stations are sparse and the distances between them great. All of the F-roads in the interior require a 4×4 to traverse. The speed limits on the gravel dirt tracks is 80 kmh | 50mph. Most mountain roads are closed until the end of June, or even longer, because of snow and muddy conditions, which make them impassable.
When these roads are opened for traffic many of them can only be navigated by four-wheel-drive vehicles. It is strongly advised that two or more cars travel together. Also, before embarking on any journey into the interior collect as much information as possible regarding road conditions from a travel bureau, tourist information office or the Icelandic Road Administration (ICERA)
2.Camping – Know the law and respect nature.
Since 2015 wild camping is mostly prohibited in Iceland. Visitors are encouraged to camp in registered campsites. The Icelandic Camping Card is a smart card that gives two adults and up to four children access to around 40 campsites around Iceland. The Camping Card has been a huge success with tourists and Icelanders since it first came out in 2007.
If you are not camping in a campsite, and are not a camper who has hiked to your campsite with your ground tent on your back, then you need to get the written permission of the land owner on whose land you wish to camp. So to emphasise this point, if you are camping in a 4×4 vehicle with a rooftent or campervan, caravan, tent trailer or something similar, you must camp each night in a campsite no matter where you are in Iceland, unless you have the ‘written’ permission from the landowner.
As great as camping is, it is important also to be aware again, like for driving, of the predicted weather. Even during the summer months there is the potential for high winds, heavy rain and flooding. Campfires are not permitted anywhere in Iceland unless a designated campsite has a pre exisiting facility to have one. In any case, trees, and therefore wood are a rarity in Iceland and firewood is not available in the country.
Most campsites will have drinking water, restrooms, waste facilities and showers, and some also have kitchens and laundry facilities.
Another option for accomodation while travelling is to stay in a Mountain Hut, which may be a better option on very cold nights or during very poor weather conditions. Ferðafélag Íslands, The Iceland Touring Association (FÍ) runs 40 mountain huts all around Iceland.
The huts are usually in high demand and thus it is essential to book places in them beforehand. When staying in an Icelandic hut, you have to bring your own sleeping bag as neither sleeping bags nor blankets are provided. The huts are warm, so the sleeping bag does not have to be of arctic quality. Most of the huts are open and manned with wardens during the summertime but closed during the winter months when the roads are closed.
3.Things to see- some suggestions
There is so much to see in Iceland, and we advise you not to try to see to much in one trip unless you have sufficient time, and instead to plan another trip. Having said that here are some recommendations of things to see when visiting this amazing country. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Situated at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, it developed into a lake after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The lake has grown since then at varying rates because of melting of the glaciers. It is now 1.5 km away from the ocean’s edge and covers an area of about 18 km2 . In 2009 it was reported to be the deepest lake in Iceland, at over 248 m , as glacial retreat extended its boundaries. The size of the lake has increased fourfold since the 1970s. Fjadrargljufur canyon is a 2 km long canyon in the South-East Region of Iceland. The canyon is about 100 meters deep and through it runs a small freshwater stream. It is known to be one of the most picturesque places in Iceland and has appeared in movies and music videos.
Þingvellir National Park is an important location in Icelandic history as the oldest existing parliament in the world first assembled there in 930 AD. Þingvellir has designated it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within Þingvellir is Silfra, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The rift was formed in 1789 by the earthquakes accompanying the divergent movement of the two tectonic plates. At Silfra it is possible to scuba dive or snorkel right where the two continents meet and drift apart about 2 cm per year. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly in a crack between two tectonic plates. Geysir is a geyser in southwestern Iceland. It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The English word geyser (a periodically spouting hot spring) derives from Geysir. It is mostly dormant today, however its ‘little brother’ Strokkur is nearby and erupts every few minutes. It is actually Strokkur that you see in most of the photos of Geysir. Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, found in the Hvítá river canyon in south-west Iceland.
The wide Hvítá river flows southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 metres , and 21 metres) into a crevice 32 metres deep. The crevice, about 20 metres wide and 2.5 kilometres in length, extends perpendicular to the flow of the river.
The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 140 cubic metres (4,900 cu ft) per second in the summer and 80 cubic metres per second in the winter. Askja is an active volcano situated in a remote part of the central highlands of Iceland. The region is only accessible for a few months of the year. Being situated in the rain shadow to the northeast of the Vatnajökull glacier, the area receives only about 450 mm of rainfall annually. The area was used during training for the Apollo program to prepare astronauts for the lunar missions. Askja was virtually unknown until the tremendous eruption which started on March 29, 1875. Especially in the eastern fjords of Iceland, the ashfall was heavy enough to poison the land and kill livestock. Ash, or tephra from this eruption was wind-blown to Norway, Sweden, Germany and Poland.
4. Environment – Respect Nature , be safe and leave no trace.
In Iceland the conservation of its delicate environment is of increasing concern. Iceland is one of the few remaining large wilderness areas in Europe and has many natural features that are unique. In recent years development pressures both from Tourism and also from energy production (geothermal and hydroelectric) have placed increasing pressure on wilderness areas.
Iceland is famous for its natural beauty and unspoiled vistas and the country does encourage tourism and the exploration of its vast and mostly untouched interior. However there are a number of important problems that it must combat. One of these is soil erosion, and the Icelandic government has been fighting this problem since 1907.
Iceland has also been a strong voice internationally in the fight against the pollution of the oceans. Icelandic waters are among the cleanest in the world. Iceland has taken an active role in international fora on the issue of peristant organic pollutants.
From the point of view of visitors to Iceland and of our readers, one very important thing to note is that all off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. There are no exceptions to this rule. Camping in camper vans RVs or vehicles with Rooftents is only allowed on designated camping spots. There is a zero tolerance policy on this law and if anyone sees you driving or camping illegally you will be forced to stop your travels and report to a police station and pay a large fine.
Visitors to Iceland that have been caught off road driving have sometimes also found themselves on the cover of the national Icelandic newspapers. Iceland is full of fantastic tracks, most of which are well marked with signs telling you what to expect ahead, and what kind of vehicle is needed to go further. If a track is not passable you should not drive outside the track in order to bypass an obstruction. Instead you should either wait for the obstruction to be removed or retrace your route and plan another route across approved and open tracks. Driving across the vast expanses of Iceland and across these mountain tracks is an amazing experience, and there is no need to travel outside of the marked tracks to enjoy the interior of Iceland.
5. Before you go – some important things to know
PASSPORT AND VISA REGULATIONS
Iceland is an associate member of the Schengen Agreement, which exempts travellers from personal border controls between 26 EU countries. For residents outside the Schengen area, a valid passport is required for at least three months beyond date of entry. For information on passport and visa requirements as well as the Schengen area regulations, visit the website of the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.
Icelandic is the national language. English is spoken widely and Danish is the third language taught in schools in Iceland.
Pharmacies are called “Apótek” and are open during normal business hours. Only a few are open at night. Medical Care can be obtained by visiting a Health Care Centre, called “Heilsugæslustöð” in Icelandic, during opening hours.
For information, call +354-585-1300 or visit the website about Health Care.
Medical help: There is a medical centre or hospital in all major cities and towns in Iceland. The emergency phone number (24 hours) in Iceland is 112.
Health insurance: Citizens of EEA countries must bring their EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card), otherwise they will be charged in full. Non-EEA citizens are not covered by the EEA regulations and will be charged in full.