Text by: Michael Chapman
Welcome to Iceland!
80% of those visiting Iceland come to experience its breathtaking nature. In order to preserve this beauty for future generations, please read the following information and instructions and keep them in mind during your stay.
Showing consideration for Icelandic nature:
- The nature of this northerly island is highly sensitive; it takes years for some plants to grow just a little – even hundreds of years for moss. What may at first sight look like a barren desert will have many small, hardy species trying to grow under difficult conditions. So please hurt the weak vegetation as little as possible.
- Tracks made in Icelandic soil will show up for decades and often cause serious erosion. That is why driving or parking off the roads and recognised tracks is illegal and could bring you a fine. If you aren’t sure whether a track is officially recognised, don’t drive on it. Seeing tracks from one or a few vehicles that have driven off-road doesn’t mean that you are allowed to go the same way; it just means that somebody didn’t know any better or, even worse: was disobeying the law and damaging unspoiled nature. Gravel roads in the highlands can be covered by puddles or be bumpy, but it’s always safer, both for you and nature, to stay on them.
- Iceland has some very attractive rocks and crystals. While you can certainly enjoy looking at them, please don’t loosen or move them. Also, taking rocks and minerals out of the country without a permit from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History is prohibited by law, so don’t take chances with a pretty stone.
- Iceland is a large country with relatively few inhabitants and towns, so there are no restrooms every few kilometres. Check out a map beforehand to see where there will be long distances between WCs. If you suddenly NEED a restroom out in nature, take your tissues along in a bag when finished and dispose of them in the next garbage container. If this would be really disgusting and conditions allow, dig a hole in barren ground well away from the trail or road and take the paper in a bag with you and dispose of it accordingly. If you have a lighter, the best thing is to burn it, in a safe spot(not anywhere close to moss or grass). Please don’t leave anything showing.
- Never throw out or leave behind trash of any kind, not even cigarette ends, that will spoil the scenery for other people. It is not enough to cover up plastics, diapers, female napkins/tampons and so forth under a rock or in a hole, because they rot slowly and will gradually be pushed to the surface during the next winters. Nobody likes to see trash blowing around in the midnight sun or under the northern lights, and gradually we all know that plastics and other man-made materials out in water and other nature are polluting the environment for small organisms and even larger life on earth.
- Icelandic water is delicious and can be drunk from nearly any tap everywhere in Iceland. If a tap does not have safely drinkable water, the law says that it has to be marked accordingly. Though the geothermal water in taps is also safe to drink, many people prefer to avoid its mineral taste by letting cold water run for a second through the faucet before taking a drink.
- Icelandic scenery makes it popular to take photos, and you may yourself see something you can’t hike to and want to photograph from the road. In those circumstances, the wrong thing to do is to stop the car on the road and get out there. Nor should you stop on the side of the road where there is a white unbroken line at the edge or in the middle, because it means that drivers coming at the permissible speed limit cannot see far enough to pass your car safely. The right thing to do instead is to find a hard shoulder or lay-by where you can park without delaying other traffic and causing danger to yourself or others. Then you can also stand off the road and enjoy photographing Iceland as long as you like.
- You can dispose of tins/cans and plastic bottles for recycling at many petrol service stations in Iceland, and towns generally offer recycling for other materials. Ask at the local information centre to find out where you can sort recyclable waste.
- Do you know what cairns are? They are or at least should be historical rock structures, showing people the right way or otherwise serving as meaningful markers. In recent years, tourists have sometimes piled more rocks on them or even built piles at other spots. Please, please don’t! It might just confuse someone.
- The meat of the Icelandic lamb is a national delicacy. One reason for its wonderful taste is that the sheep graze wild in the summertime. The down-side of this is that they also roam onto roads. Since they can’t be educated on road safety, it’s worth trying to educate us humans about them:
- Nowadays, Icelandic ewes usually have two lambs, so over the summer sheep largely appear in groups of three. If a ewe is situated on one side of the road and a lamb of hers on the other, the lamb will often be frightened by a car and at the last moment rush across the road towards the safety of mum. Therefore, watch out for such circumstances on and beside the road ahead.
- Where roads consist of gravel, the Road Administration sometimes applies salt; this joins with moisture to bind dust particles, forming a smoother surface that is blown much less into the air by wind and passing cars. Like many other domestic animals, however, sheep love salt. Thus they often simply stand on the road licking it, not even thinking of moving for approaching cars until forced to. With the most stubborn ones, you might even have to get out of your car to chase them off, bewaring of other traffic which might not stop.
- A similar mammal, though sturdier and with bigger horns, is the reindeer. While they hang out only in the eastern part of the island, they understand cars and roads even less than sheep. If you spot any ahead, slow down. They may decide for no obvious reason that they suddenly need to head for the opposite side of the road. Loose horses may also sometimes do this, and you should always drive slowly or if necessary stop around them and riders on or right by the road.
- If you do hit any such animal, despite being cautious and now a little closer to understanding them, please call 1-1-2. No one wants a hurt animal to suffer any more than necessary, and farmers need to find out about wounded or dead livestock.
So! Bear in mind the golden phrase:
Take nothing from nature but photos and memories, and leave nothing behind…
…no tyre tracks on the ground or vegetation
…no new or changed cairns
…no trash or messy tissues
…no hurt or dead animals
A few tips when travelling in Iceland:
- • Check out the weather forecast (en.vedur.is) and road conditions (road.is) when planning your day or coming days, especially in regard to the highlands.
- • If you are going on a hike or to any isolated areas, always inform someone of your travel plans. You can indicate them at safetravel.is, where you will find many further tips on travelling in Iceland.
When in doubt, please feel welcome to ask us!